Parties Are Big Business


Marketing tactics to attract new revenues.

In 1989, Marc Epstein, owner of the Milk Street Café in Boston, jumped into catering as a competitive play against major chains. He developed a catering menu, gathered a sales team, added delivery staff, and invested in a separate kitchen.

Two decades later, Milk Street Café’s catering arm flourishes. On one Wednesday in September, for instance, Epstein’s Boston eatery corralled $32,000 on 131 catering orders.

Not a bad day’s tally.

“We might have a limited amount of seats in our restaurant, but we have the ability to produce more food in our kitchen,” Epstein says.

Eager to maximize a restaurant’s revenue potential, many operators follow Epstein’s logic and turn to catering and private parties to capitalize on kitchen capabilities and marketplace opportunities. As Epstein’s story shows, looking beyond the dining room can be a boon to restaurants’ bottom lines and a strategic play in the battle for revenue dollars and customers.

To be certain, generating private party and catering business is no easy feat, and the competition for “bulk orders” remains fierce, as restaurants big and small have gotten more strategic, intense, and organized to woo the business.

To feed the masses and earn the rewards, industry veterans offer the following best practices:

Get intentional

When it comes to private dining and catering, consumers face a litany of options. From national forces to local operations, the flourishing private party and catering outlets make such business a prime focus.

“To be successful, you can’t just have a host answering the phone with a date book in hand,” says Patrick Torres, western region director of sales for Morton’s Steakhouse. “Those who help with every detail and are attentive throughout the process distinguish themselves from the competition.”

The first step in a successful private party and catering business is as simple as it is necessary: Get intentional.

“Too often, restaurants open the doors and hope,” says Beth Standlee, CEO of TrainerTainment, a Texas-based provider of sales training for group events. “By getting intentional, you define your commitment to this segment of the business.”

Set specific revenue goals and booking objectives for the week, month, quarter, and year. Examine the particular days, dayparts, or times to target. Understand the needs of guests and the requirements that will be placed on the restaurant. And, finally, extend the mission beyond the holidays, when catering and event planning typically climaxes.

“Get intentional throughout the year, which will help establish your restaurant’s standing,” Standlee says.


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