Boost Your Banquet Business

Boost Your Banquet Business

—Traci Gere

SET TO SERVE: With plenty of floor space available at every unit, Dave and Buster's can handle private meeting and events for as many as 2,500 guests.

Banquets, with their higher checks, lower food costs and reduced staffing requirements, can be the most profitable area of restaurant operations. Operators know this and are moving into the banquet business in greater numbers. But in the past few years, the hotel industry has been cranking up the competitive heat in this lucrative segment. Today, several restaurant chains are turning the tables on hotel competitors and increasing their banquet business with the help of centralized computer systems and tactics that customize banquet offerings to sync with customer expectations.

"Because Dave and Buster's is so competitive within the event industry, we require an exceptionally competitive sales team and supporting sales software package," says Ty Watson, director of sales for Dave and Buster's, Inc. "With that, we are continuously growing our banquet and event business, year over year. We saw a demand for corporate banquets and special event services 23 years ago and haven't stopped growing the special events side of our business.

"Today," he adds, "we are constantly upgrading our offering and improving our systems to maintain revenue growth." Banquets and events comprise more than 15 percent of the company's business, and sales are growing because Dave and Buster's exceeds customer demand.

Dave and Buster's 48 locations nationwide have between 30,000 and 80,000 square feet. All of these locations maintain private meeting and event facilities that accommodate up to 250 guests, offering event space for groups up to 2,500. "All our locations offer a ‘Million Dollar Midway' with the latest interactive games the industry can offer," Watson says. "We upgraded our corporate sales and banquet event technology with the Daylight solution from Newmarket International."

Dave and Buster's uses the Daylight system to centrally book events, track sales leads and maintain menus for event and meeting planners.

"Since every item—including food, beverages, powercards, and team-building options—are in our system, our sales team can click on an individual item to build a contract automatically," he adds. "This creates a professional-looking bid quickly, with minimal data entry, and pricing is more accurate." With all of the banquet and team-building options that Dave and Buster's offers, leveraging powerful automation is essential to keep up with special events demand.

In Las Vegas, China Grill Management's four locations also compete against hotels for banquet business, but its position is unusual.

"Banquets are a growing percentage of our business and more profitable than anything else we do. What makes our operation different is that most of our business is from out of town," says China Grill's Las Vegas regional director of sales and catering, Mark Kozak. China Grill's 25 locations include Red White and Blue, Red Square and rumjungle. All are showplaces and great banquet venues.

To streamline sales tracking and boost operating efficiency, the company automated its entire chain on a central database sales and banquet system in January, 2007. "The lion's share of our business comes from the convention crowd and hotel guests," Kozak says. "Our rum-jungle nightclubs can accommodate groups up to 1,200, and we often handle big events."

"Thanks to our centralized restaurant technology, I can track sales for all our locations throughout the chain," Kozak points out. China Grill's tech provider partnered with the restaurant chain's team to shape the system to China Grill's unique requirements. "Our vendor really understands the banquet and restaurant business and showed us how to leverage our data," Kozak says.

He explains that he competes head to head with Strip hotels using the system. He uses the data from his restaurant application to evaluate the profitability of all proposals and contracts for all his locations. Additionally, his team now captures contact information on every telephone inquiry in the system to build a growing lead database.

"The big hotels in Las Vegas do a huge banquet business," said Kozak. "But we offer a fresh alternative, and we are absolutely capturing trade from the local hotels."

Maggiano's Little Italy, a Brinker concept, is another chain restaurant operator with a successful banquet business. Most of its locations offer banquet space for 250.

"Banquets are a large part of the revenue at our 40 locations," says Mary Machul, Maggiano's banquet solutions manager. "As they should be, our individual operators are focused on running restaurants—not evaluating banquet revenue sources or global sales strategies. Banquet sales are a strategic part of our business. That is why we adopteda proven banquet optimization system."

Maggiano's also is increasingly competing with local hotels for banquet business, but turned to specialized multi-unit-restaurant computer technology to streamline its business and tie locations together to cross-sell leads via national sales.

"We've taken the step of creating a national sales program, with a sales manager who handles our banquet business for all restaurants on a national level," Machul points out. "Using this tool, the national sales manager has access to the company's database and can respond to leads from all Maggiano's locations, sell more effectively and represent the chain more professionally."

Additionally, the restaurant company uses its system to generate attractive banquet proposals and menus that are consistent throughout the chain.

"We reduced the time it takes to create and distribute a menu by almost 100 percent," Machul adds. With centralized menu control, the corporate office can quickly update menus and distribute them to all locations instantly for more streamlined banquet management.

"By automating our operation and focusing on running an efficient, sales-focused operation," she adds, we are increasing our banquet event share."

Traci Gere is director of marketing for Portsmouth, NH-based Newmarket International.