We’ve heard it all before from—“we don’t have the space” to “customers want complete customization”—certain myths keep circulating around the private dining and event management industry. Amid the bustle of managing a restaurant and building out the bottom line, it can be hard to decipher which ideas and beliefs are fact versus fiction.
Though myths can be rooted in truth, navigating the private dining and events space is full of nuances that result in there being no one-size-fits-all answer for every business. Just because your restaurant has experienced a decline in foot traffic doesn’t mean your revenue goals are doomed. Similarly, not having a huge private party room doesn’t have to dictate whether you can successfully host a special event.
It’s all about perspective, opportunity, and sometimes getting a little creative.
Identifying some of these common misconceptions helps restaurant managers and operators avoid falling into the trap of thinking only high-end restaurants with ample room and the ability to fill up their tables every night can grow their bottom line.
We all know that’s just not the case. Here are the statements typically associated with event and private dining management myths and why you shouldn’t let them knock you off your game.
“You need to fill tables to drive the greatest profit.”
Yes, filling tables is important to any restaurant. Look no further than the steady decline of casual and full-service restaurant chains to see just how crucial it is. In fact, research firm The NPD Group found total foot traffic was flat for eateries across the U.S. in the second quarter of 2016. Restaurant visits during the lunch hour specifically dropped 4 percent from the previous year, which can have huge implications considering lunch hours typically account for 33 percent of all restaurant visits.
However, all hope is not lost in facing the decline of foot traffic. Rather than focusing solely on what’s keeping diners out, many restaurant owners and operators are thinking of new ways to bring diners back in. By exploring secondary revenue streams, you can be strategic about new services and offerings that may keep your business thriving. From takeout and delivery to catering and events, there are ways to supplement the lost business of regular diners by introducing additional revenue opportunities. Embarking on special and private events programs, for example, can help restaurants get people in the door on a night that may have otherwise been slow.
"We don't have the space."
Having a private back room or a fancy side-bar can be a great benefit when hosting special events. However, not having that type of space in your restaurant doesn’t take you out of the running for hosting private dining and events. Whether it’s a back parking lot that’s not being used to its full potential or a unique rooftop space with a cool view, all it takes is a little creativity to expand your event space options. If an outdoor venue isn’t a possibility, managers and operators can still get creative by curtaining off a section of the dining area or utilizing an unconventional type of space.
One example of thinking outside of the box (or dining area) is to open your kitchen to special event guests, providing them with a behind-the-scenes look at where the magic happens. You might even consider shutting down the restaurant entirely to accommodate a larger corporate event if that means you can earn more returns than you would on a slower night of dining.
“It’s safer to stick to the way we’ve always done it.”
Just because something worked successfully in the past doesn’t mean that’s the way things should stay in the future. Unfortunately, many restaurant owners and operators can easily find themselves getting stuck in the “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” mentality. It’s understandable, especially for those who have remained in business for years by sticking to the “safer” ways of operating.
The reality is, using old-school processes can hinder a restaurant’s ability to grow and adapt to changes in both the market and consumer expectations, particularly when it comes to coordinating private dining and events programs. Though it can be easy to become a “creature of habit” by relying on what’s always been done in the past, there are many benefits in finding new ways to improve private dining experiences.
Tossing out pen and paper-based logging, booking and management opens the door to greater efficiencies driven by new technologies and innovation. This can include using tools for simpler and faster communication, as well as leveraging online-driven processes for bookings, contract management and calendar updates. By investing in an event management platform, you can experience the advantages that come with more streamlined operations.
"Customers want complete customization."
Customization has become a way of life for today’s customers. From shopping to travel, people expect brands to rise to the challenge of delivering unique and personalized experiences that cater to their expectations and behaviors. The same can be said in the private dining and special events space.
But this goes further than just upgrading a drink package or providing a customized menu. While those perks are great, managers and operators can take personalization to a new level by thinking smarter about their approach. This means taking things into consideration like the time of year, type of event or even who may be in attendance at a certain event. Upgrades and customization can go from average to hyper-relevant by focusing on the specific types of value-adds that will work for the guests in mind.
When doing the job right, event managers can deliver unique and highly-personal experiences that will set their events apart – think signed cookbooks from the chef or providing guests with a few of their favorite bottles of wine on the house. Even decorating the venue in accordance with your guests’ preferences, such as fresh garland during the holidays or adding vintage lighting for ambiance, can leave a lasting impression.
The myths swirling around the private dining and special events space likely won’t be going anywhere any time soon, but being aware of them can be a helpful reminder that there’s more than one way to expand your bottom line.
Alex Lassiter is the co-founder and vice president of customer experience at Gather, an event management software company. Thousands of restaurants, venues, and hospitality companies use Gather to manage and grow their events business, serving as the anchor between management, events teams and their customers.