10 Tips to Know Before Planning a Party at a Restaurant or Bar
If you live in a small apartment in a big city, it can be hard to host an elaborate party at home. The 60 people you want to invite over for a holiday happy hour on Saturday, December 12, cannot all fit into a junior one bedroom. Luckily, big cities are full of sleek restaurants and sexy bars, and a savvy hostess knows that she can transform a beloved eatery or speakeasy into a venue for her next soirée. Trust me, you can host any kind of party—be it a blowout 35th-birthday bash or an intimate anniversary dinner in honor of your parents' 40 years together—at a restaurant or bar. And you can do it without spending a fortune. Here’s how it’s done.
It’s important to start planning your event early. Any successful party should be planned in advance, but since you don’t have control over every aspect of the venue (as it’s a restaurant or bar that you don’t own), there are more logistics you’ll have to nail down. Begin by thinking about the type of event you want to have. What are you envisioning? Will it be a sit-down dinner in a private room on a Saturday night at 7 p.m.? Or do you want everyone to get together after work for a happy hour that extends into dinner and dancing later on in the evening? Choose a date for the event and narrow down a theme. Answer these questions before you contact any restaurants or bars.
Once you’ve figured out the basic details, get online and research possible restaurants and bars to host it at. If you want it in a private room, search for restaurants that have private rooms. If you want to host a less casual event like a brunch, search for restaurants that have large communal tables. If you want it in a bar, search for bars that have multiple rooms and separate drinking areas. Make a list of five to eight possible venues, grab a friend, and scout them out. Want to have a party on a Friday at 9 p.m.? Go to the bar on a Friday night at 9 p.m. This way you’ll get a good feel for the vibe of the space and see what the crowd is like. Narrow down your selection to one spot and move into the next phase of planning.
Okay, so you’ve got your venue picked out; now you have to reach out to the space's team and make it all happen. Go to the restaurant alone during a less busy time like a weeknight evening. Get to know the bartender and waitstaff. Bring a friend and go again the next night. Ask to speak with the manager and explain your proposed party plan. Tell the manager everything. If it’s an upscale restaurant, they may refer you to the venue's event planner. If it’s a bar, they may refer you to the owner. Initiate contact with the key players and build a positive relationship with them; then ask if you can host a party at their restaurant or bar.
Set up a meeting with the owner during normal business hours to discuss all of the details of the event. Ask permission to bring in any outside food (like a cake) and decorations. Can you bring in vases with flowers? If so, what time can you get them there? A restaurant might not let you bring in your own taper candles but may allow you to tie balloons to the back of each of the chairs, so be prepared to compromise. Don’t assume you can do anything—restaurants and bars have to abide by the laws of the city and fire codes. You don’t want your new favorite restaurant to be fined! Tell the team how many people you expect to come well in advance so they can staff an extra bartender if necessary.
Some people like to host a party in a restaurant and expect their guests to chip in and pay for their portion of the bill. If you want it to be like this—more of a group dinner where the guests chip in—send a casual email rather than a formal invitation. Explain that “a bunch of us are going to go out to dinner for Sonia’s birthday. Do you want to come?” Send transparent invitations and no one will be confused. Make it clear from the get-go that you want your guests to pay. On the other hand, a more formal invite that’s printed or sent over Paperless Post implies that you're hosting the party. Hosting means you should pay for the guests who attend your event.
If you’re doing a dinner at a restaurant, work with the chef to come up with a smaller curated menu. The kitchen staff will appreciate this, as they won’t have to make 20 different dishes all at once. Have a few appetizers served family style; then let guests select from three salad/soup, entree, and dessert options. Go all out with wine pairings if you want! Print out menus, or ask your contact at the restaurant if they can print them for you.
It’s a party, so make the space feel festive and fun! Arrive early if need be to set things up. Add balloons, tie ribbons around the restaurants cloth napkins, place colorful flowers on the tables. Decorate the space like you would in your own house.
The day of the party, keep the restaurant staff informed of any changes. Your vegan brother surprise you by flying in? Let the kitchen know he’ll need a vegan dish. Your parents stopping by for a drink? Tell the staff to keep an eye out for them and point them in the direction of your table. Good communication is key.
Even though the party isn’t in your personal home, don’t forget that you're the hostess, and it’s your responsibility to ensure everything runs smoothly. Don’t get drunk before the salad has been served. Introduce people who may not know each other. Make your guests feel comfortable. When they arrive, point them to a glass of champagne or their seat at the table where they can place their purse and jacket. Let your friends know where the bathroom is. If there is an afterparty, provide the details to all guests in attendance.
If the party is a fabulous success, reward the staff who served you with a generous tip. Pay your bill in a timely and private manner. Send a handwritten thank-you note to the restaurant—specifically thanking all of the people involved in your event—a few days after the party. In many cities, bar and restaurant owners have more than one establishment, and if you develop a good relationship with the team, you could host your next event at one of their other locations.
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Have you ever thrown a party in a restaurant or bar?