Have you ever attended a birthday party, holiday gathering, or business meeting at a restaurant? Although you may not have considered those occasions “events” at the time, that’s precisely what they were, and restaurants host more of them than we think. As the demand for private events grows and booking windows get shorter, more customers are looking for restaurant event spaces that meet their needs.
In this guide, we cover the ins and outs of restaurant events. As you move through, you’ll learn which restaurant areas are best for private events and public gatherings, how the rental process works, and much more. Whether you’re looking for fresh ideas to revitalize your current restaurant event spaces or advice for hosting special events in the future, you’ve come to the right place.
How to turn restaurant event spaces into major money-makers
Appealing events can attract new customers, help grow clientele, and distinguish your restaurant from nearby competitors. Hosting events is an excellent way for restaurants to diversify their revenue streams and increase profits. Acting as an event venue opens restaurants to the revenue potential associated with event rental and catering services—revenue with higher profit margins than traditional food service. On average, restaurant events produce a 20% to 40% profit margin, significantly more than the 9% to 10% they receive from a la carte ordering.
You shouldn’t have to change up your entire business to accommodate events if you utilize restaurant spaces well. Hosting an event at your restaurant can be as simple as renting out a spare dining room, repurposing unused space, or turning the dining room into a stage for local entertainers.
What types of events can restaurants host?
Restaurant events fall into two major categories: public and private. In this section, we explore both, examine the pros and cons of each, and discuss how restaurant event spaces can accommodate diverse functions.
Public restaurant events
Public events generate buzz in the community and help attract new customers to your event venue. Restaurants may host public events to attract a specific customer demographic, raise their local profile, generate future business, or achieve other goals. The types of public events restaurants host vary from business to business, but some of the most popular restaurant events include:
- Trivia nights
- Speed dating
- Fundraisers and charity events
- Wine tastings
- Food and wine pairings
- Networking mixers
- Guest chefs
- Tap takeovers
- Diverse food tastings
- Cooking classes and workshops
- Community events
Organize and host events tailored to your target audience. If you’re looking to attract a younger crowd in a college town, game-day specials could help draw them in. Organize a martini night in a city full of working professionals to entice the after-work crowd. Promoting events on social media will help spread the word.
Private restaurant events
While public events are essential to raising and maintaining a restaurant’s profile, private events are powerful revenue drivers that can help businesses attract more business when they need it most. Many establishments turn to private event rentals to drive revenue during the restaurant’s slow season or help the business survive an economic downturn. To maximize revenue opportunities, restaurants may host a variety of private events, such as:
- Birthday parties
- Corporate luncheons
- Rehearsal dinners
- Awards ceremonies
- Wedding receptions
- Holiday parties
- Team-building events
- Client appreciation events
With so many different styles and sizes of private events to cater to, restaurants can build event offers and party packages centered around what their unique location provides. Work with the space you have, and look for opportunities to increase profits—in and outside of standard business hours.
Restaurants with ample event space can host private events during regular business hours, even as the restaurant floor bustles with patrons. While lunch occurs in the main dining room, your establishment could host a private luncheon or birthday party in a separate banquet room, simultaneously driving revenue from two channels.
What makes restaurants great event venues?
Restaurants are highly sought-out venues for many events, from corporate meetings to private gatherings, casual parties, and fine dining affairs. With built-in food service available, guests never have to worry about their food getting cold as it travels from the kitchen to the event.
Restaurants lend a certain degree of flexibility to event planning; they can accommodate various event styles, sizes, and guest food preferences, making them popular venue options amongst professional and private planners alike. Depending on a restaurant’s layout, they may host public events, private parties, or both, using comfortable gathering spaces like:
- Private dining rooms
- Separate floors
- Banquet rooms
- Outdoor patio
- Bar or pub area
- Private chef’s table
Guests and planners are often willing to pay more for an exclusive, private dining experience, providing restaurants with an exciting opportunity to maximize profits.
How do restaurants become event venues?
Many restaurateurs don’t take advantage of event rental opportunities because they do not see their business as an “event venue.” This may be because they lack extra event space or because they don’t have experience in the events industry. However, every restaurant has the potential to benefit from events, whether large or small, fine dining or casual service. Follow these tips to determine what kind of events your restaurant is best equipped to host and set your team up for future event success.
1. Identify potential restaurant event spaces
Determine which areas of your restaurant can be used to accommodate events, both public and private. Assess the space and availability you’re working with, answering questions like:
- Do you already have private event rooms?
- How much square footage do you have to work with?
- How large is the bar area?
- Does the restaurant have multiple floors?
- Are you maximizing floor space potential?
- Is there an outdoor patio, terrace, or rooftop access?
Look for opportunities to use your current setup and work with equipment already on hand. For example, restaurants that host live music may already have a stage and audio equipment onsite. How could that setup be used for other events?
2. Get to know restaurant event spaces
Before promoting or hosting events at your restaurant, you should know every detail about the business, from the square footage to the available backup inventory. Determine which setups can fit in different restaurant spaces and how many guests each area can accommodate. For example, an outdoor patio may accommodate 50 people for a cocktail party or networking event but only 25 for seated dinner service. Be prepared to answer any questions a potential client may ask, such as:
- Do you have private, semi-private, or public restaurant event spaces?
- What kind of events have you hosted in the past?
- How many guests can you accommodate?
- When do you have availability?
- What is the rental fee?
- Do you offer per-person all-inclusive pricing?
- Is there a minimum attendee count or rental fee?
- Do you have time or noise restrictions?
- Are parties responsible for cleanup?
- What added fees are associated with pricing (e.g., taxes and gratuities)?
- Who is the on-site event contact?
- Do you have audio-visual equipment available for guests?
- What layout options are available?
- Do you provide linens, centerpieces, or any other event decor?
3. Establish event prices and booking policies
Determine event rental costs based on the time of day, week, and year the event takes place. Determine how much revenue the business usually generates during that time, how much business will be offset by the event, and the venue’s production or setup expenses. Factor production costs, licensing fees, and other charges when calculating the restaurant’s event expenses.
With this information, establish minimum event rental fees that make sense. For example, you may want to offer lower costs during the off-season and slow demand periods to maximize revenue opportunities. Next, outline your team’s policies and procedures for public and private events.
- Establish booking policies for restaurant event spaces. Is a deposit required to reserve restaurant event spaces? Do you have booking minimums in place? What are your event cancellation policies? Are quoted prices all-inclusive, or are taxes and gratuity charged separately? Before renting restaurant spaces for private events, establish a concrete set of booking policies, and confirm that any employees quoting or booking events are up to speed.
- Create a revenue strategy. Identify how the restaurant will profit from hosting public and private events. Will public event attendees have to pay a cover charge to enter or purchase a ticket at the door? What is the target profit margin for private events? How will you approach fundraisers and non-profit events?
4. Select event service styles
Determine which food service styles the restaurant will offer for events. Are you already set up for catering service? Which service styles will be most straightforward for the restaurant to accommodate? Which will be most challenging for the staff? Will you offer fine dining or budget-friendly catering? There are many different food service styles restaurants can choose from, including:
- Reception service: Guests grab finger and fork-friendly foods from a buffet-style display while they mingle. Commonly called “walk and talk” service, reception service accompanies events where guests are not expected to sit down.
- Family style: Seated event guests share from large bowls and serving platters. Dishes are either passed down the table or displayed on a lazy Susan, making it easy for the entire table to access them.
- Cafeteria-style service: Service staff serves guests from behind a buffet line, plating up food previously prepared and set out by the kitchen.
- Plated buffet service: Guests select from a buffet table of pre-plated foods, such as pre-mixed salads or desserts.
- Action stations: An exciting part of any buffet line, chefs prepare food and serve guests at action stations (e.g., roast beef carving station).
- Pre-set dining: When guests arrive, dining tables are already set with dishes. Bread, butter, and room-temperature-friendly appetizers are commonly set out a few moments before guests arrive.
- Plated service: Guests are served pre-plated dishes from the kitchen while seated at tables. This is the service style we typically see at restaurants, but preparing the plates too far in advance could lead to less-than-desirable dishes.
- Hand service: All guests seated at a table are served at precisely the same time by highly trained white-glove service staff.
- Hors d’ oeuvres service: Servers pass through an event with small bites on trays. Guests serve themselves from the trays using cocktail napkins or small plates the server provides.
Establish which event food service styles can occur during regular business operations and which will require the business to shut down standard service. Create event packages that align with the restaurant’s layout, hours, and staffing capabilities.
5. Invest in additional training
Event service can be quite different from waiting tables—in both volume and style of service. For example, certain luxury service styles, like white-glove service, require servers to follow particular rules and etiquette standards. If your restaurant intends to offer any such service, you must provide your team with thorough training and time to develop new skills.
Make sure people know that your restaurant has expanded into the events business. If you’re new to event rentals, host a grand opening to launch your venue services and promote your establishment as a restaurant and event venue. Invite local planners, community organizers, and residents to stop by and check out your space.
What event-related concerns should restaurants look out for?
Opening your restaurant for private booking may sound intimidating, especially if you’re new to event planning. While no amount of preparation can prepare you for everything, there are a few things restaurants should be on the lookout for to help events run smoothly, such as:
- Outside food: Protect restaurant profits by making catering a mandatory part of private event bookings for clients who want to serve food. We recommend prohibiting outside food and drink at all events—public and private.
- Overbooking: Double-booking or overbooking restaurant event spaces can increase staff stress and decrease customer service. Identify which dates are open for events, and make sure everyone who handles event bookings knows when they can and cannot book.
- Low inventory: Before an event, double-check event inventory to ensure you have everything you need—from extra table linens to surplus toilet paper. Stock up on quality restaurant event and catering supplies, including serving equipment, dinnerware, coolers, beverage dispensers, insulated food pans, countertop induction cookers, chafers, and chafing pans.
- Unwanted guests: Uninvited guests can become an issue at any event venue. Party crashers and intentionally uninvited guests may show up unannounced, which could disrupt the entire event. Create a guest list for exclusive events and private parties, or ask the contact to provide the names of potential unwelcome visitors. Institute a safety and security plan to protect guests and staff in such circumstances.
- Dietary restrictions: Work with planners and organizers to confirm any food allergies, manage guest dietary restrictions, and confirm special requests. Build accessible and versatile event menus with vegetarian options and vegan-friendly versions of your best dishes.
- Overserving: Venues are responsible for the alcohol guests consume at their establishment. Create clear guidelines for staff serving alcoholic drinks, and detail the restaurant’s cut-off policy in event contracts. For community events, like open networking mixers, implement a ticketing system to help keep track of consumption and ensure you host a responsible event.
- Extra cleanup: Parties and celebrations are one of the main reasons people book restaurants for events. With good food and drinks flowing, these events may get a little raucous, leading to extensive or expensive cleanup efforts from the venue. Outline any attendee cleanup responsibilities in the contract, such as requiring them to place all trash in cans or place any moved furniture back in its original position.
- Damage: Always walk through restaurant event spaces before and after events. Inspect the area directly before an event, so broken furniture, stains, or damaged items stand out during the post-event walk.
- Bad weather: Have a plan B for outdoor events, Schedule a backup or “rain date,” or plan to move the function indoors if the weather turns sour. If ample space is available, set up an outdoor event tent to protect guests from the elements.
Restaurant event planning and preparation tips
Whether you’re new to events or looking for ways to streamline the planning process, follow these tips and best practices to improve your approach to events:
- Create a signature event, like a watch party or game night, and host it regularly to generate buzz for your venue. Market a monthly trivia night or quarterly wine pairing dinner via social media, email, and creative cross-promotional campaigns with other local businesses.
- Make the most out of the booking process. Ask a lot of questions, and embrace having in-depth conversations with party planners and other clients. Review the contract terms, booking conditions, minimum event requirements, and restrictions with clients in great detail before finalizing or signing an event agreement. Ensure that all involved parties are on the same page and that expectations are clear before moving forward in the event planning process.
- Use checklists. Create a customized event planning checklist to keep track of your to-do list and staff preparation activities.
- Create a day-of event strategy. Decide who will be the on-site contact for the event, often referred to as the day-of event coordinator. Establish how transitions will occur, what event logistics will be in play, and other essential details.
- Streamline the planning process with powerful software. Take advantage of helpful tech and mobile event planning tools, like free event planning software and tools from Social Tables.
- Reach event planners where they are. Advertise restaurant event spaces where planners are most likely to see them, such as special event and venue-specific directories. For example, restaurants that host wedding events, like rehearsal dinners and wedding receptions, should list their business in wedding-specific directories like Wedding Spot.
- Hype public events. Drum up local excitement by promoting public events, like karaoke or trivia nights. Build buzz and increase event attendance by requiring trivia teams to register online in advance or asking karaoke participants to share their favorite sing-along song on social media.
- Follow-up after events. After hosting a public or private event, check in with clients and team members. Host an event debrief with your staff to identify what went right, pinpoint any issues, and discuss how you should tackle events differently in the future. Request feedback from clients in a post-event survey. Were they satisfied with the service they received? Was anything missing? What would they like to see in the future?
Put your knowledge of restaurant event spaces to good use!
Now that you know all about restaurant event spaces and the types of events restaurants can host, you can capitalize on event needs in your market. With tips, tools, and best practices in your back pocket, you’re ready to fill the restaurant’s calendar with public and private events.
Up next, we dive deeper into the role caterers, vendors, and other service providers offer as we examine the true role of food and beverage in meetings and events. Restaurants, planners, and other event professionals can benefit from understanding the importance of food and beverage service at events and why it’s about so much more than feeding attendees.