Planning a meeting or event in a restaurant has several advantages, especially for small to mid-size groups:
- Typically, there is no room rental fee, just a food and beverage minimum.
- Restaurants tend to be more atmospheric than hotel ballrooms.
- Menus may be more creative and of the moment than standard meeting venues.
- No additional décor is needed.
- Chefs can engage and educate attendees about the restaurant’s philosophy and menus.
- Groups are treated the same whether or not they are staying in town overnight.
Different types of restaurants offer different perks and, in some cases, built-in entertainment. For example, one that is helmed by a “Top Chef” alumnus or a celebrity chef can create a real buzz among attendees; and those chefs may be available to do a cooking demonstration or sign books. Even restaurants with celebrity owners, like Vince Carter’s in Daytona Beach, carry a certain caché. At many Hard Rock Cafés, the dining room is adjacent to a concert venue; at all of them, the rock ’n’ roll memorabilia offers a built-in theme. Game-centric venues like Dave & Buster’s have team-building programs, interactive dinner mystery shows and an arcade in addition to sophisticated meeting and presentation space. Some restaurants offer unusual gathering spaces, such as wine cellars or rooftop patios. In San Antonio, Texas, Boudro’s can serve diners multi-course meals aboard a river barge. In Breckenridge, Colo., planners can arrange to have their group taken to dinner via horse-drawn sleighs or dogsleds during winter months.
The possibilities are literally endless, so to narrow down the options, answer the following questions:
- What is the purpose of this meeting? (e.g., team-building, presentation, celebration)
- Who will be attending?
- How many people will there be?
- What do they like/dislike?
- What are the restrictions? (e.g., food allergies, cultural preferences, mobility)
- What will the timing of the meeting be?
- Is a private or semi-private space needed?
- Is a buy-out necessary?
- What are the A/V needs and requirements?
- Is entertainment needed?
- What should the guests feel/experience?
During site tours, there are some very important questions that need to be asked of the venue, namely:
- What is the alcohol policy? Do they have a liquor license or can liquor be brought in?
- Is additional décor is available?
- What’s the parking situation? (e.g., free, paid or valet)
- What kind of in-house A/V equipment and presentation space does the restaurant have?
- What dining venues are available? Are they only available at certain times of day?
- What else will be going on the day of the event? When will the group’s space be free?
- Can you get references of similar-type groups that have held events there?
- Can the menu be customized?
- Are there any fees for labor, set-ups, linens, A/V, etc?
- What kind of entertainment is available?
- Are there any restrictions the space has? (e.g., electrical outlet access, noise ordinances, no liquor on Sunday until after noon, etc.)
Plan Your Meeting’s culinary expert Claire R. Gould of Rx for Catering recommends always bringing a camera to tastings to make sure that the food looks as good as it tastes. Having a photo to show the chef also ensures that the food will look the same on the day of the event as it did during the tasting. Gould also recommends going through the timeline of the event and getting it in writing to make sure the kitchen and banquet staff are all on the same page.
If additional décor is needed, consider projecting logos on the walls with customized gels in gobos or using a projector. Instead of a paper menu, think about either projecting it or printing it on an edible or reusable surface, like a sheet of chocolate or wildflower seeds. Something as simple as a lazy Susan or family style food presentations can spark conversations and break the ice. Another fun way to get tables talking and working together is to have appetizers or desserts they need to assemble displayed in the center of the table alongside trays of individual ingredients.
Depending on the restaurant, there may be more restrictions to work around than at a traditional venue. But the value and quality of the food and beverage received may be hard to match elsewhere. And, more and more restaurants are offering sophisticated amenities like Wi-Fi Internet and tele- or webconference capabilities. So the next time a day venue or an off-site alternative is needed, investigate what restaurants are in the area. With a little preparation, they can set the stage for a truly memorable event.