Hosting a group in a restaurant is sometimes seen as challenging, but with a little forethought it can be easier than many think. With business from groups being so lucrative, here are pointers on how to make group dining a smooth and pleasant experience for everyone involved.
What makes a great group restaurant or a distinctive dining experience for larger gatherings? Some places seem to welcome groups effortlessly, while other gourmet destinations are thrown into a panic. The signs of a restaurant incapable of meeting the needs of a group dining together are obvious; panic-stricken staff cramming tables together in the corner and hastily covering the table gaps with extra tablecloths, grumpy waiters thrown into confusion by wine orders that include both red and white, group members still waiting for their food by the time others have finished, and confusing bills at the end that are incorrect. So how can a restaurant ensure that they are ready for groups? Here are GTW’s tips for providing a great group dining experience, along with some examples of restaurants that have got it right.
Make sure that all your publicity asks groups to book ahead if possible. But your responsibility doesn’t end there! As soon as a group booking comes in, you need to make all relevant staff aware of the fact, including the restaurant manager. It should not be a surprise to anyone on the night when a group arrives. Someone must be given responsibility for arranging tables suitably in advance and it is also important that enough staff are available to serve the table properly. Staff must be willing to work together, with a clear division of responsibilities on the night. The kitchen staff, too, need to be ready to prepare lots of meals which will all be ready at the same time; this may require extra staff, or a rearrangement of kitchen equipment. If it can possibly be avoided, restaurants should try to allow groups to choose from the entire menu, as forcing them to pick from a set menu does not give a great impression.
Example: Mint Leaf
In the heart of the West End, minutes from Trafalgar Square and Piccadilly Circus, Mint Leaf Restaurant and Bar is a large and versatile restaurant on Haymarket. They serve inventive, colourful Indian cuisine along with an incredible array of cocktails. Mint Leaf is fully prepared to welcome groups and has designed the space accordingly. The restaurant can accommodate 220 guests in total, but clever use of dark American walnut wood panelling means that the space includes intimate settings and semi-private areas for groups, all without losing an overall sense of space and size. The slatted panelling means that groups can enjoy some privacy without being cut off altogether and without feeling they are no longer part of the restaurant’s buzzing atmosphere. A few steps down or up into these semi-private areas adds to the feeling of sociable separateness. As well as being fully prepared in terms of the space and layout, the waiters and waitresses at Mint Leaf are used to dealing with groups of any size, and deal efficiently with taking orders and serving food and drinks. Mint Leaf also offers groups a sharing menu if they would like to take advantage of being in a group and sample lots of different options from the kitchen.
VALUE THE BUSINESS
Groups dining together in a restaurant are often seen as hassle by the staff, and treated accordingly. It is not acceptable to give group members a poorer dining experience, however. All staff need to remember the huge business boost that a large group eating together will give to the profits that day – and waiters serving large groups will often be rewarded with large tips, as well. Groups are often celebrating very special occasions, so it is down to restaurants to ensure that they play their part in creating a great evening. Often, group members and group organisers are aware that they may present a challenge to restaurants, especially if group members have particular needs, but this should be seen as a chance to rise to the occasion and show just how competent and committed a restaurant and its staff are.
Example: Hard Rock Café London
Well-known for looking after groups properly, Hard Rock Cafés don’t just deal with groups efficiently, they welcome them with open arms. Hard Rock Café London can seat 230 people in total, spread over two floors, a layout which is flexible enough to accommodate all sizes and types of group. The staff play a vital role in ensuring groups have a great time, and are efficient, friendly and accommodating all at the same time. The experience that the waiters and waitresses have in dealing with groups dining together really shines through, as every request is met with cheerfulness and a ‘can do’ attitude. More than one waiter or waitress serves each group table, making sure that everyone receives their meal at the same time – a vital part of looking after groups properly. The fact that Hard Rock Café staff are enthusiastic about their jobs and trained thoroughly is a large part of their success in the group market, since parties dining together are never made to feel like they are a problem – staff join in with the party atmosphere, which enables everyone to relax and enjoy themselves.
MAKE IT MEMORABLE
A group of guests dining together means that there are that many more people present who can be ‘sold’ the restaurant and the experience. If customers have a wonderful evening, especially as part of a large group, they are much more likely to remember the night and return, both as a smaller party such as a couple or a family, but also with their own group on their own special occasion. Groups may sometimes be distracted by all the different people to talk to, or by the special event they are there for, but restaurants should go the extra mile to play their part and create a dining experience that is memorable and special in its own right. Offering something extra is an excellent way to attract groups looking for something out of the ordinary and will also enable groups to make the most of their time together, since it gives them the chance to enjoy entertainment as well as a great meal.
For a meal out with a difference, taking to the Thames with a group onboard one of Bateaux’s bespoke vessels is likely to fit the bill. Bateaux London runs dining cruises on the river, taking in London’s most iconic sights along the way. Private dining spaces are available for groups, and all the boats boast huge glass windows and exterior decks, so everyone can make the most of floating past some of the world’s most famous buildings. In addition to sightseeing and excellent food, however, it is also possible to take to the water and add live entertainment into the mix. Bateaux’s Thames Dinner Cruises include live entertainment from their resident band – or their Afternoon Tea Cruises combine the traditional spread with music from a solo pianist. Sunday Lunch Jazz Cruises offer music from a jazz band. The combination of freshly-prepared food (Bateaux boats all have onboard kitchens), London’s finest sights and quality live entertainment creates a package that is ideal for groups, an experience that won’t be forgotten in a hurry.