Party booking dread and how to avoid it
Group or party bookings are a real paradox for most restaurant, pub, bar or café owners. On the one hand, they are the big wins and a golden ticket to big profits; on the other – and after the euphoria of confirming a big win has died down – they can become a real headache to deal with and a sense of dread can set in.
In this short blog, we suggest some ideas for ensuring your party bookings go off with the right kind of bang.
Understand the booker
When a customer takes responsibility for organising their office party or family celebration with you, they are putting their reputation firmly on the line among their peers. This puts enormous pressure on them because they feel the need to deliver a fantastic experience for their group. They will set their standards very high, and push restaurant owners hard to deliver – if it all goes wrong or something isn't right, they will blame the restaurant.
It is important to get into the shoes of the lead booker at an early stage and understand what is driving them, what's important, and identify the critical success factors of the event.
It goes both ways
For a party or group booking to be successful, it is essential that restaurants outline their own stipulations to the lead booker at an early stage, too. Simply saying “yes” to the lead booker's demands without thinking about the part they will play in making it successful is going to cause problems further down the line and create a blame game they can do without.
Restaurants must explain what is possible within the confines of the restaurant's business model operating environment, so that expectations can be managed. To this end, it is as vital for restaurateurs to lay down their own requirements to the lead booker as it is the other way around.
In simple terms, this means explaining to the booker what you require of them to enable you to deliver to the specification they have requested, and if necessary point out what will happen if they do not fulfil their obligations. Examples include when the event must be paid for, or the deadline for menu choices.
It is all too easy for the achievement of taking a big group booking to cloud the judgement of restaurateurs, by focusing on the “win” and not the money. It is critically important to fix the booking in stone as soon as possible, so the event becomes financial reality rather than the big fish that got away. Nobody wants hero-bookings which don't actually happen.
Customer commitment is key here. In the excitement of planning a party, the lead booker can create “mission creep” whereby the scope and detail of the event expands as their enthusiasm for what's possible grows.
What starts off as a simple party booking for a few friends can quickly become something quite different, with the phrase “...can you just...?” frequently thrown into conversation. “Can you just change the napkin colours, please?” is quite manageable for most restaurant owners, but “Can you just get Rihanna to do a gig in the garden and end with a huge firework display” a little trickier. The answer, generally, is to agree what's possible and fix it in stone with a clear commitment point.
Taking deposits or even full payment is the obvious answer here. Not only does this technique begin to convert a booking concept into booking reality (and provide a boost for the restaurant's coffers) but it shifts the lead booker from a conceptual position to committed position, too. Plus, of course, asking a lead booker to cough up in advance for what they've asked for will quickly weed out the time wasters, if they are - how can we put this? - living in dream land (Rihanna's fee is allegedly circa $8m*, incidentally).
Don't leave menu choices to chance
From a restaurateur's point of view, a key measure of success is whether or not the lead booker and his or her guests is happy afterwards. Obvious, right? But there are other critical success factors which the business owner will have in mind, including the extent to which the restaurant was able to deal with the booking efficiently. In effect this means counting up the pinch points experienced and, obviously, the less of those the better.
The area most likely to cause grief on the day is menu choices. We've all been there: the choices of each guest are confirmed way in advance yet come the event everything has changed and nobody knows why. Thus a blame game ensues, fuelled by our lead booker's desire to be seen as blame-free among peers which unfortunately means one thing – the restaurant gets blamed for Uncle Stan not getting his steak and ale pie and instead being served spinach, coconut & turmeric baked eggs with paratha. By that time the damage is done: Uncle Stan isn't happy so the lead booker isn't happy, regardless of who is at fault.
Make sure the lead booker understands the part you expect them to play in being absolutely clear who is having what, and by when you need the choices to be 100% fixed. Restaurants have a part to play here too, because not having a robust and fool-proof way of recording choices (and when changes were made, any by whom) is a recipe for disaster. Disparate Word and spreadsheet files scattered around various computers, or even worse choices scrawled on long-lost bits of paper is something very much to be avoided.
Let's not forget, too, that having menu choices firmly agreed well in advance has very significant benefits when it comes to inventory planning (and keeping chef happy).
Long after the lead booker has revelled in the success of their event and bathed in the adulation of their peers, you not only want them to come back again but their own guests to book their celebrations with you. Leaving a fantastic review online would be a real bonus for you, too.
Meticulous planning is vital and by following some of the steps outlined here will achieve a great result. But is there any icing we can put on the event cake? Without going overboard, the answer is a firm “yes”.
It is the small touches which will be remembered almost as well as the big-ticket items, so think about which low cost but high value trimmings can be sprinkled into the mix. Staff should be thoroughly briefed on not just the mechanics of how the event will run, but why the event is happening at all. Team members who clearly appreciate what the party is about, who are the key guests (and their names) will provide much better service on the day.
By contrast, a heartfelt congratulation to the guest of honour for becoming an octogenarian is likely to be memorable for the wrong reasons when, in fact, it is their sixtieth birthday party. Understanding the event via thorough staff briefings is essential.
Finally, there are lots of little things which can be added to make the event special, for not much money. An investment in themed table linen and flowers will generate a wow factor, and nicely printed place cards make the guests feel special while minimising seating confusion.
Faced with the reality of endless paperwork, demanding bookers, capacity considerations, never ending phone-calls, constantly shifting demands and on-the-fly changes, restaurateurs can be forgiven for dreading the reality of group and party bookings.
It all starts with building a great relationship with the lead booker, and setting expectations for quality, quantity and content on both sides. Deliverables should be clear and objections overcome well in advance of the event.
It is important to counsel the lead booker over mission-creep, and test the mettle of their true commitment by asking for a deposit in advance, at the same time outlining the payment process, deadlines and cancellation sanctions.
A successful and memorable party is defined as much by how well the restaurant executes it as much as the food itself, so menu choices must be agreed in advance to avoid unnecessary service issues on the day irrespective of how or why they are caused.
Finally, don't forget the little touches. First class food and service is a given – it is the attention to detail which will be most memorable to the lead booker and their guests. These don't have to be expensive – items which cost the restaurant very little but are high value to the eyes of the party guests is a winning formula.
You'll never dread party bookings again with Favouritetable restaurant management software. It contains all the functionality you need to ensure a fantastic guest experience and efficient behind-the-scenes operations:
- Take online deposits and pre-payments
- Send automated payment reminders
- Set auto-cancellation rules
- Take online menu choices mapped to specific guests
- Produce place cards
- Create kitchen sheets
- …and lots more.
For a demonstration, call us today on 033 0124 4785 or email us at email@example.com and see why favouritetable is the best value full-feature restaurant management system on the market.