Reservation Rules for Large Parties

Nearly every restaurant has specific rules when taking large group reservations. Those rules have become industry standard, and for guests they are the cost of doing business. They might be group minimums for private dining rooms, minimum down payments to secure a reservation, per-person minimums to ensure a room will be kept private, or restrictions on how long the group can stay.

For many restaurants, these rules become more restrictive during the holiday season or busy times of the year. This is true for good reason – owners have to indemnify themselves against no-shows or poorly attended groups. Giving away large chunks of available space on a promise alone is risky at best.

But eliminating restrictions on large groups is a great strategy, especially for a new business looking to carve into clientele with established large party habits.

Guests are Relieved

Eliminating rules can shock prospective clients checking over the phone or in person on availability and pricing. In fact, it can make the choice to reserve a room much easier. Guests who book large parties are usually accustomed to hearing the litany of rules they must abide by, and often dread the process of booking a room for a party.

The refreshing idea of just making a reservation, without having to put money down or guarantee a minimum, can often be a deciding factor on where a large gathering will enjoy dinner. It’s important to be clear: this is a long-run strategy that is much easier said than done. This is especially true the first time 4 people show up for a private room 18-top, leaving staff standing around and the manager hearing crickets. A no-rules policy is about the big picture, and can be difficult for the most devout believer to stick with.

Rules can be Recommended

The most important rule governing large parties for many restaurants and kitchens is a limited, multi-course, fixed price menu. This can be easily and strongly recommended as serving the best interests of the guests for generating a uniform per-person price and making service more efficient.

The same is true for reserving rooms and ordering wine/appetizers. A manager can recommend any of those as serving the best interests of most guests, and helping to meet the needs of the individual. Recommendations instead of rules convey a manager or restaurant rep as having the guest’s interests in mind.

Corporate Groups Are Dwindling

Many restaurants that cater to corporate groups around the country have suffered proportionately with the stagnating economy. This is especially true for the thousands of restaurants that worked with pharmaceutical and medical companies in the past.

Rules are much easier when large group reservations are reliable and when a restaurant has an established a niche. But many restaurants that lack that niche can help themselves by doing away with the rules guests are used to hearing.

It’s a Celebration

The recitation of rules goes against the spirit of hospitality. Managers hope that guests see it as an inconvenient byproduct of large group reservations. However, a reservation that seems to go well can leave a bad taste in the mouth of the person in charge of a group.

It’s worth remembering that many large group reservations are once-in-a-lifetime celebrations. A manager who matches the tone of the reservation maker sets the stage for a memorable night, and one that could be a big money maker. Making recommendations instead of rules is part of helping guests celebrate, avoiding customer complaints, and ensuring that they’ll return.

You Need the Repeat Business

Perhaps you’re one of the few businesses who doesn’t need to be any busier. But repeat business is the foundation of almost every restaurant, and can take any restaurant to next level. Repeat customers know what to expect, appreciate consistency, and usually walk in anticipating a great time. They’re the smilers in the lobby, the quick orderers, and the guests your staff knows by name. Cherish them by cultivating more whenever possible.

The people who make large reservations have to be valued in this way. A great reservation-making experience can be as valuable as a great dining experience on occasion. Reducing rules sends the signal that you value their questions when making reservations.