By Invitation Only

At Absinthe Brasserie & Bar in San Francisco, private-dining checks average $100 per person.
At Absinthe Brasserie & Bar in San Francisco, private-dining checks average $100 per person. The Absinthe Group

Hosting groups, large parties, and events brings many advantages, not least of which is a boost in revenue.

Savvy restaurateurs know the benefits of private dining, a side business that will typically boost the bottom line, enhance a brand’s reputation, and keep staff busy and happy.

“If à la carte dining is the cake, private dining is the icing and decoration,” says Steve Zagor, dean of culinary business and industry studies at the Institute of Culinary Education in New York City. “It makes a business so much more profitable. It often makes the most money after the bar and can really become another part of the business.”

Case in point: Private dining constitutes 30 percent of the revenue at Louie and Chan in lower Manhattan. And the icing on this value-add initiative: The profit margins for its catering business are 10 to 15 percent higher than the restaurant, says owner David Wiesner. The average check for private dining runs $120 to $130 per person, which is 20 to 25 percent higher than in the restaurant.

Louie and Chan’s secret to success is offering their space as a home away from home. The restaurant is located in an old tenement building, and its private-dining space is two doors down in a separate enclave called The Louie. There’s no rental charge for the space, but the restaurant does require a minimum of 10 guests.

It serves food family-style—to create that home-away-from-home feel, as well as for more practical reasons: Plated food would get cold quickly, traveling from the kitchen, along the street, and into the 400-square-foot private-dining space. And serving individual plates would require many more journeys for the wait staff. Serving food family-style also helps keep the profit margins healthy.

The private-dining room comes with a private butler (almost always the same person) and during the week the space belongs to one group of guests for the night. On the weekend, the space is booked for two seatings, at 6 p.m. and 9 p.m., but Wiesner offers the first party the option of continuing their event at a private booth within the restaurant—with a bottle of bubbly on the house.

Like at Louie and Chan, the private-dining room for Absinthe Brasserie & Bar in San Francisco—owned by The Absinthe Group—is separate from the restaurant, located two doors down the street, but connected to the restaurant at the back. However, unlike Louie and Chan, private-dining meals here are plated. Although guests don’t place orders in advance, the executive chef creates a prix fixe menu for private affairs. Absinthe’s private-dining checks average $100 per head, with prix fixe dinner menus priced $75, $85, and $95 per guest.

The important thing to remember with private dining is that it may not bring in more money than the restaurant in gross sales, but it may be more lucrative in the percentage of profits, Zagor says. “You know what you’ll be making, and it’s a very planned experience. Also, you are customizing the event so you can charge top dollar for it [that] can create a really strong percentage on your bottom line. It’s also a great way to maximize revenue over fixed costs.”


Add new comment