Big tables—six-, eight- or ten-tops—or a private dining room, to seat a crowd. Trendy cuisine and craft beers, but also steaks and familiar fare. Good old-fashioned hospitality in the dining room.
All are important for attracting and keeping a business clientele, according to a panel at last week’s National Restaurant Association Restaurant, Hotel-Motel Show.
Underscoring the importance of this lucrative clientele, panelist Santosh Jayaram, cofounder of Table 8, a restaurant reservation app, cited research indicating that business diners spend 1.6 to 1.8 times more in restaurants than typical clientele.
Panel moderator Mary Wagstaff, president of Wagstaff Worldwide, singled out business diners in the Millennial generation as “the wild card” in the discussion, particularly deserving of restaurateurs’ attention.
“They are involved in startups and digital businesses and social media,” said Wagstaff. “They know food and use restaurants to move their businesses forward.”
Jayaram vouched for the interest of younger business clientele in trending restaurants: “We are starting to see the Millennials going to newer, classier, hipper restaurants for business.”
Also noting the movement of Millennials to “the new, hot restaurant” was panelist Peter Frost, food, beverage and dining reporter for Crain’s Chicago Business. Yet he saw “almost a disconnect” about conducting business in a setting as boisterous and bustling as a trendy eatery.
Hip restaurants aside, Frost also observed that the classic steakhouse is still a hot destination for business dining, at least in Chicago. “We have 60 steakhouses in this town and they do well,” he said.
There was a consensus on the panel about the growing importance of larger tables and private dining rooms in restaurants to accommodate the groups that business diners often travel in.
“Every restaurant in Chicago is highlighting its private dining room,” said Frost.
“Six-tops are de rigueur now,” said Jayaram. “[Business diners] come in packs, and they don’t always know where to get a six-top.”
Panelist Ti Martin, co-proprietor of Commander’s Palace in New Orleans, advocated the “old school” way of currying favor with business diners by remembering their names, birthdays and favorite dishes and generally lavishing them with personalized attention. Menu-wise, it pays to include familiar meat items they will be comfortable with as well as “the chef’s playground,” or creative cookery, she said.
Frost warned that today’s business diners won’t stand for pedestrian food and beverage. “Now everyone is a foodie or an aspiring foodie,” he said.
“You also need a nice, big list of craft beers, from local breweries, on draft,” added Frost. “That’s very important for Millennials.”