For many restaurants located in communities that don’t attract tourists, summer can be a very challenging season. As the weather improves, more diners are choosing to stay home and grill out. When school lets out, families go out of town for extended vacations. But at the same time, there’s a lot of untapped opportunity in the summer months for restaurants.
The season of “grads and dads” is in full swing once June begins, and the celebrations don’t stop there. May through August accounts for nearly half of all weddings year-round, and with weddings comes receptions — not to mention bridal showers, bachelor parties, and rehearsal dinners. Is your restaurant prepared for the influx of business these special occasions could bring to its bottom line? Is it even on your radar?
Before summer gets away from you — and opportunity passes — we have 12 tips and tricks to get your restaurant ready today to host celebrations for many happy tomorrows!
Prep Your Menu
1. Brunch it.
It’s not just breakfast, and it’s not just lunch, but brunch is a consistent crowd pleaser that offers your customers the best of both worlds. A great opportunity to try out some new ideas, brunch can combine omelets, salads, light sandwiches, French toast, and any number of other dishes that might be too outside the box for first thing in the morning or late in the day. And don’t forget add-ons like a carving station or other make-their-own stations to impress guests with customization that is relatively easy to execute.
2. Save on resources with a buffet.
If you have the space to manage it, and can drive enough business to limit waste, a buffet style menu for large parties is totally the way to go. Customers can serve themselves at their leisure, allowing for small talk and festivities to continue on at their own pace. Buffet also lets you more easily fix prices per guest (drinks included or excluded) and keep the bill more easily tallied at the end of the event.
And you will save on staff, letting your team concentrate less on moving between kitchen and table, and more on just fulfilling drink orders and managing the rest of your non-party dining space. Do be careful not to let trays go empty or nearly empty, however. The buffet line for guests you have already welcomed into your establishment is not the place for FOMO (“Fear of Missing Out”).
3. Offer a custom drink.
Speaking of drink orders, offering a special cocktail (or mocktail) to match the theme of your scheduled party is a low impact way of making a great impression on your guests. It takes some of the guesswork out of ordering for the attendees (although it is always advised to have iced tea, soda, coffee, and tea available as well). Plus, if you are creative enough, your custom cocktail can be a great topic of conversation for the afternoon — and beyond. Remember, great word of mouth about your restaurant reaps benefits more than any other form of advertising.
4. Don’t forget vegetarians.
It’s important to make sure that whatever items you serve your party-goers, there needs to be clear options for those who don’t consume meat. Attending a grad party or bridal shower isn’t the same as choosing a restaurant for dinner. Guests are coming for the event itself and probably not checking the menu ahead of time. Maintaining some variety in your event menu will ensure that everyone goes home happy and satisfied. (And be prepared for custom orders as well, in case some guests are need gluten-free options, have surprise allergies, or are just a little bit picky.)
Prep Your Staff
5. Train for large groups.
Serving guests at an event like a wedding reception or rehearsal dinner is not the same as regular dinner service, and your staff will likely need additional training to keep service top notch. Hold a small staff meeting specifically to walk through how to serve event guests, perhaps even doing brush-ups immediately before the event itself with specific instructions tailored to the expected crowd. Special attention should be paid to the guest of honor, of course, but every guest should be made to feel like they are being catered to.
6. Break up responsibilities.
In all likelihood, you’ll end up with less staff per person working an event than you would with standard dining room service. But that doesn’t mean service has to suffer. Make sure duties are clearly understood and broken apart for maximum efficiency, with one server acting as point person for the host, overseeing everything. Keeping drinks filled, dirty dishes cleared, and special requests fulfilled is a big job, but be careful also not to be too hasty or intrusive. The “private” in private party is important to remember, as well.
7. Sell it to current customers.
One of the easiest ways to get the word out about your ability to schedule and host private parties is to have your staff spread the word. A quick comment when a server drops off the dinner check or as a regular dinner guest is exiting is the perfect way to plant the seed for future events. If your regular dinner service was a hit (and still top of mind), there’s no reason to think your restaurant won’t be the perfect place to impress friends and family, too!
Prep Your Customers
8. Promote your event space.
The idea that “if you build it, they will come” is nice, but the reality is, you need to sell everything that you do to ensure it can be a financial boon to your business. Reach out to local bridal or party businesses and let them know you have space — and are willing to make special accommodations — for family-style events. Share your ideas for grad and bridal parties on social media and post table tents with party information your diners can read in-between courses. Don’t be afraid to mention party reservations as an option when guests call for general information.
9. Set expectations for event hosts.
It’s important to be able to accommodate the special needs and wants of party-planners, but it’s also fair to set limits if you feel the need. Not every space is going to be able to accommodate large amounts of decoration, but you should be prepared to allow banners, some table decorations, streamers, and balloons. Also, be sure to allow for time before and after the event for host set-up and take-down, and let them know clearly what your staff can and can’t do to help.
Prep your space.
10. Table it.
Make sure tables are arranged in such a way to allow moving around without impeding your service. Always provide enough space for each guest to have at least 18 inches from the edge of the table to the back of their chair, and allow at least 6 to 8 inches between each seat. This will let your servers move freely and give your guests a relaxed experience more akin to regular dining service.
11. Make room for gifts.
A special gift table is usually standard fare for event spaces, so be sure to plan for one in arranging your party space. You’ll want it to be out of the way of any buffet area, but still in plain view for all the guests. Allowing for extra space where the party honoree can sit and open the gifts, if desired, is also a smart move. Along the same lines, is there entertainment involved in your event? Do you have space set aside for that? Live music, even karaoke machines, can take up an enormous amount of room — much more than you anticipate — and require easy access to power outlets.
12. Watch the temperature.
Party rooms, particularly smaller spaces, can heat up pretty fast with an influx of guests. Setting an enclosed room to 65 degrees before any guests arrive is generally a good starting point. Be sure to keep an eye on the temperature and adjust accordingly as the party goes full swing. This will be particularly important if your party features a buffet with sterno or other warming tools. Keep tabs on the guest of honor (particularly at baby showers) to make sure they are comfortable and the atmosphere doesn’t need adjustment.
If your party room doesn’t feature independent temperature adjustment from the rest of your establishment, put that item on your list of upgrades for the near future. It will make a world of difference in keeping your party guests happy and recommending you to their friends for future events!
Want more tips on how to make summer work harder for your restaurant this year?