In restaurants, consistency can be a polarizing word. In some instances, it can mean the same specials every day served by the same person who greets the table with the same spiel. But it can also mean a solid meal at the right price in a reasonably short amount of time—every time.
Consistency of the latter nature is exactly what business diners are looking for, according to a number of independent restaurant owners and chefs.
“Business diners, more so than any other segments, need to be very confident that they will be able to get a seat, order, eat and return to their day in a reasonably short time,” says Chris Bisaillon, c.e.o. of Bottleneck Management, which operates the South Branch Tavern and Grille in Chicago. “Our goal is 15 minutes or faster from when the order reaches the kitchen.”
At South Branch, approximately 75-80 percent of overall revenue comes from business diners. Echoing sentiment from other restaurant owners around the country, Bisaillon says business revenue has been up over the past few years.
Various data and analysis point to an upward trend in corporate spending. Overall restaurant spending by clients of Dinova, which helps restaurants build relationships with corporations, grew 7.1 percent year-over-year in the third quarter, the company says. A Concur study shows business dining has averaged a 5-percent increase year over year since 2011, growing at a much faster rate than leisure dining.
More business diners can require slight tweaks in operational strategies. Along with consistency, Bisaillon preaches reliability.
Business diners are “more sensitive to quality than price, as they don't have time for mistakes, re-fires in the kitchen, lost orders, etc.,” he says.
“The business diner desires an assurance that all of their needs, including service, food, wine and hospitality, are seamlessly met without complication,” adds Adam Jones, owner of Grace restaurant in Fort Worth, TX.
Jones says business meals are often where partnerships are formed and deals are closed. It’s up to a restaurant to facilitate the right environment for that to occur, he says.
“While their focus is to sell the guest on their service or product, our focus is to produce a complimenting meal and glass of wine.”
But you can’t rest on your laurels. The business dining segment is always evolving, and today business people are eager to discover new dining options.
“It is no longer only about a basic business meeting in a restaurant; it is now about dining in the right setting, enjoying quality food and receiving great service,” says Amir Vahdani, director of food and beverage at the Four Seasons in Beverly Hills.
Different business diners value different things, of course, depending on what they’re trying to accomplish on top of seamless service and a good meal. So don’t be afraid to ask questions to find out just what kind of experience they’re looking for.
“I believe business guests value a quiet environment conducive to conversation, as well as quick and efficient service,” says Emmanuel Nony, owner of Sepia in Chicago, where some 75 percent of total lunch revenue comes from business lunches. “Value and the restaurant's reputation are also major factors when selecting a restaurant.”
Stay tuned: Part three of the Return of the Corporate Card series will discuss ways to attract more business diners.