People turn to their favorite restaurants when they want to hold special events, corporate parties and other functions. Private dinners, wedding-rehearsal meals, showers and community fundraisers provide great opportunities to generate business and attract new diners. Small restaurants can open after hours or on days when they are normally closed. Restaurants with private party rooms can host rehearsal dinners, business lunches, holiday parties and family reunions without interrupting the regular flow of business.

Fundraisers Generate Favorable Publicity

Hosting charitable and community fundraisers is an excellent way to generate favorable publicity, attract new customers and get involved with the community. Restaurants can target local schools, festival committees, civic organizations and area businesses. Owners can volunteer their restaurants for socializing after a charity walk or marathon, host outdoor events during good weather or work out dual-hosting credits with local suppliers, charities, bakeries or farms.

  • Restaurant week is a good time to find a local tourist organization, hotel or chamber of commerce to co-host a special event.
  • Holiday parties for Christmas, New Year’s Eve, Mother’s Day, Valentine’s Day or local commemorative days can generate big revenue and generate favorable publicity in local media.
  • Restaurants with slow lunches could host business meetings; restaurants with slow dinners could hold tasting dinners or kids’ events in the evening.
  • Marketing materials can increase exposure for these events. Create special drinks, encourage people to dress up, dress down or wear costumes.
  • Restaurants can provide sports jerseys or printed T-shirts for the event.
  • Issue a press release to local papers, magazines and news organizations to promote the event.

Holiday Parties

Holiday parties can generate incredible revenue, but planning is critical for success. Set the mood by decorating for the season, providing noise-makers and champagne goblets and creating a festive air. Other tips for generating successful bookings that don’t interfere with regular business include the following advice:

  • Define available space. Restaurants that are inexperienced with hosting large parties might need to change their tables and chairs to create more modular seating possibilities.
  • Check staffing schedules. Large parties need extra attention, more line cooks and advanced kitchen preparation. Make sure that there are enough workers to handle the load, or consider hiring seasonal help or temporary workers.
  • Review take-out menu and inventory. People order more of all kinds of foods during holidays. Baked goods sell especially well as take-out orders, so make sure that the planning process prepares for extra take-out business.
  • Plan for extended waits. Unexpected business during peak times leads to some longer waiting times. Prepare for this possibility by creating diversions for customers and their kids.

Managing Special Events Intelligently

Seasonal promotions, special events and private dining parties can bring in customers, fill slow periods and generate excitement, but owners run some risks from hosting these events. Concentrating too much on special events could alienate regular customers, so managers need to schedule these events in ways that will not compromise regular service.

  • Hiring additional staff for service or scheduling extra help for both FOH and BOH operations may be necessary.
  • Private rooms are ideal, but outdoor dining, patios or discrete restaurant nooks can serve as venues for special meals.
  • Owners and managers face tremendous burdens when they try to handle all these extracurricular events personally, so learn to delegate duties.
  • Developing a structured plan for special events can eliminate the need for owners to work each event.

Each event will either have a special menu or allow guests to order from the regular menu. If guests are allowed to order from the menu, managers shouldn’t restrict choices because this strategy could backfire. Customers become unhappy if they cannot order their favorite choices when attending special events. Of course, ordering from the menu means that restaurants must plan to carry sufficient inventory.
Another problem is planning or scheduling events. Owners who devise a planning process for all types of events make it easier to schedule these parties online or through the designated managers on duty. People get impatient if they cannot get some immediate answers regarding availability and costs, so creating a scheduling and pricing plan allows several designated people in the restaurant to handle any event inquiries.
Special events can bring in lucrative revenue, increase regular restaurant customers and cement loyalty with established patrons. Well-planned events can generate extraordinary publicity, establish a positive reputation for community service and generate business during slow times of the day or year. Creating a special events template for scheduling and pricing these events can save a lot of headaches for restaurant owners and ensure that these events run smoothly.
In all, if you set up a step by step plan (both with marketing and operations) to expand your special events business, you will be able to count on special events as a significant (although somewhat variable) revenue source.