avenue Jeri Houseworth

Developing a profitable events program

Operators can fill tables and reach more customers by offering event space

What if you could eradicate slow days and attract more customers, all at the same time? The good news is, you can.

Corporate happy hours, bridal events and large birthday parties take place in restaurants like yours every day. The best part is you already have everything you need to rent your space for these types of celebrations.

“Restaurants have a certain number of seats and a certain number of fixed costs. So when those seats are empty, it’s not a good thing for the business,” said Nicholas Miller, CEO of Gather, an event tech startup. “Events offer a way to spin up another revenue line and bring folks in in a different way.”

Revenue from private events has the potential to be more profitable than a typical two-top or four-top, Miller said.

“Profits are usually higher because you can plan your food costs ahead of time, the ticket size is typically larger, and there’s usually more spent on beer, wine and liquor at events,” he said.

Westroot Tavern

 

Beyond profits, operators offering event space also enjoy welcoming new faces into their establishments.

“Your biggest benefit to offering event space is getting new guests in the door,” said Kevin Alsobrook, general manager of Westroot Tavern in San Diego. “In any group, 25 percent of them have never been in your building. So to get someone in your building, get your product in their mouth and show them what you can do, to me is one of the biggest benefits.” 

Another benefit: Relationships that can last a lifetime.

“They start with the wedding and then they end up booking their children’s birthday parties, baby and bridal showers, dinners, etc.,” said Thierry Carrier, general manager and director of operations at Avenue in Long Branch, N.J. “It’s really a lifetime of events.”

Westroot Tavern

Explore your options

When considering your restaurant for events, take a look at the overall layout of your space. Where can guests gather for private or semi-private gatherings? Bars, rooftops, patios and separate rooms are great places to start.

Westroot Tavern is a popular choice for birthday parties and office happy hours, according to Alsobrook, who said there are several event space options, including a back bar, patio and even the entire restaurant.

“You want guests to have a feeling of seclusion, but also a spot where you can provide them with great service,” Alsobrook said. “Most people are fine with semi-private areas unless they’re giving a presentation that has sensitive material.”

Alizabeth Weisberg is the sales and events manager at Ocean Prime in Beverly Hills, Calif., which offers seven event spaces that can seat 10 to 300 people. 

“Our guests are evolving to more of experience seekers, so you can sell your events in main dining or bar spaces,” Weisberg said. “Utilize a bar for a great cocktail party or a seated dinner. Make an outdoor area for drinks and appetizers, or a birthday party with a dance floor. We have had parties on the terrace for a small 25-person birthday event with many different buffet points, as well as seated dinners for 120 people.”

Ocean Prime

Accommodating weddings could also open more opportunities.

“On our outside deck, with a swimming pool that overlooks the ocean, we’re able to book weddings between when the beach club closes around 4 p.m. and when the nightclub opens,” said Carrier of Avenue, who added that the establishment averages three weddings per week from April through October. “If the client wants a daytime beach wedding, we just close the beach club early.”

At Delmonico Steakhouse in Las Vegas, by chef Emeril Lagasse, 650 to 700 events are held each year, according to Elizabeth Conn, senior group sales and special events manager for Emeril's Homebase. The space can be configured to accommodate 15 to 500 people for social gatherings and corporate events, she said.

“We primarily host corporate events that are held during conferences or tradeshows taking place at the Venetian,” Conn said. “But we also host social events such as bachelor/bachelorette parties and weddings. Every square foot of the restaurant can be rented; it just depends on the details of the event and where it would work best.” 

Delmonico Steakhouse

Create dining packages and spatial diagrams 

People want to feel special when celebrating a wedding or birthday, so work with your chef to create separate menus that guests can select from during the planning stage. These can offer food options and prices per head or a la carte.

“It can be complicated for the kitchen to put on an event where they’re firing all of the appetizers and entrees at the same time for a large group,” said Miller of Gather. “Being prepared and coordinating with the kitchen on the menu is really important.”

“We have several different packages, from buffet to seated dinners to cocktails,” said Alsobrook of Westroot Tavern. “Once the guest contacts us, we walk through everything and tailor the event to what they want.”

Westroot Tavern

“At Delmonico Steakhouse, we offer breakfast for private functions, but we’re not open for breakfast,” Conn said. “It’s about offering something creative and being flexible during your down time. We have our kitchen staff here early prepping for lunchtime, so they’re able to help with early-bird events, if needed.”

Diagrams of available rooms and spaces can go a long way in helping guests visualize the area for their event.

“A good diagram of the space is a great tool to help your clients see the options for booking, space dimensions, etc.,” said Weisberg of Ocean Prime. “Offering visual collateral, such as specially designed set menus, helps to streamline the experience and help guests stay within an agreed upon budget.”

Delmonico Steakhouse

Assign a point person

There are a lot of moving parts when scheduling and organizing events, so it’s essential to have someone in charge who can respond to inquiries in a timely manner.

“Planning events can take over a lot of your time, so it’s very important to have someone who’s dedicated to it. You have to be able to respond to the guest’s requests immediately,” Alsobrook said. “We have an events manager who plans our events part time, and the rest of the time she’s bartending.” 

Availability is key.

“The guest will have a lot of questions leading up to the event, and you have to be able to answer them the same day,” Carrier said. “At Avenue, if someone calls our host, they are transferred to our event manager. If she’s not available right then, she gets back to them by the end of the day.”

Avenue

Get the word out

Word-of-mouth advertising is great for events, but if you’re just starting out, you’ll need to use additional tactics to spread the word about your offering.

“Meeting people face to face creates a great base relationship. Make sure to bring your sales collateral so you have something to talk about,” Weisberg said. “Go out and join your local chambers and convention boards, go to local community mixers — anything and everything to be seen and heard.” 

Traditional and digital media are other marketing outlets.

“We advertise in wedding magazines and websites, post on social media and we have event brochures,” Carrier said. “We also send email blasts to existing customers around the holidays reminding them that we can host holiday events for their family or their business.”

Ocean Prime

Bring them back

Once you’ve impressed guests during an event, how do you make sure they’ll return?

“So many bookings in the event space are repeat business, whether it’s an annual holiday party or a weekly happy hour, so it’s really important to follow up with customers and develop a relationship,” Miller said. 

Whether it’s a follow-up phone call, email or handwritten thank-you card, keep in touch with those who book your event space. They have the potential to be some of your best repeat customers.

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