Tired of the parties around you? Need to reciprocate for all those parties you’ve attended lately? Do you have a big celebration coming up? Whatever the reason, perhaps it is time to throw a party like a boss! We’re always offering up tips on how to host the coolest house parties (because we love those), but sometimes the house party isn’t quite the answer. If you suffer from ‘small apartment-big city’ syndrome, chances are you’ll need to consider hosting a party at a restaurant at some point or the other. When that time comes, here’s everything you need to know so you can ace it — without having to stress out and learn the hard way!
GET STARTED: IDENTIFY THE VENUE
The smartest thing you can possibly do when looking to host a party at a restaurant or bar, is choose a place you are familiar with. If you go there often and you love it, chances are your guests will love it too. There’s nothing better than ‘tried and tested’ when it comes to selecting a venue for your party. If, however, you’d like to try some place new, we have a few tips to help you along. Start by identifying what is most important to you (and your guests): is it the cuisine, décor or location? Are you trying to impress and do you, therefore, need to pick an über-posh, totally upscale place (like the Mumbai restaurant Gauri Khan recently designed the interiors of)? Do you want a laid-back vibe (for which your local pub may be perfect) or are you looking for a sit-down, multi-course meal to really romance the pause like royalty?
There are a dozen relevant questions of this sort that you should ask (and answer for yourself) before you settle on a venue for your private party. Once you’ve got that far, draw up a list of at least four possible venues that meet your requirements (and we’ll tell you why soon enough). It may help to consider restaurants that have private dining rooms (the PDR is an amazing insider’s secret) or large, communal tables (like Le Pain Quotidien, for instance).
GET GOING: HERE’S WHAT YOU NEED TO DO NEXT
There’s a reason we suggested starting out with multiple venue options. For one, the restaurant or bar you want may not be available on the day you need it. Or perhaps it is available, but it’s all covered up in tarp for the monsoons and looks awful! It is important to keep the weather in mind when you identity your space, but most important of all: never make the mistake of booking a venue without visiting first. Scout the place out with your party in mind, closer to the date of your event — this is invaluable advice, so don’t ignore it! Perhaps the steps you’ve never paid heed to will be a problem for your elderly guests and there’s no elevator or ramp. These are the kind of things that generally don’t occur to us unless we are on a specific recce. Now, assuming one of your preferred venues ticks all the boxes and is available, be sure to check if they have anything else going on at the restaurant on the same night as your party. If you aren’t using a separate section (like a PDR), it may really annoy you to discover at the last minute that it is ‘Bollywood night’ at the bar and they won’t be playing any of that cool jazz you were hoping for!
PLAN, PLAN, PLAN AND COMMUNICATE CLEARLY
At the outset, ask for a single point of contact with whom you can plan your party. If more than one person is assigned to you, be sure to meet each one. Once this is done, you can move forward. Some venues will allow you to carry your own alcohol (they may charge you corkage, so do ask about that), while other venues may require a liquor permit to be organised for the night. Watch out for hidden costs and be clear on what the venue will provide and what they expect you to do. There are restaurants that have a policy against outside food and while you think this does not include your birthday cake, you may be shocked to find that it does! If you plan to carry your own cake (or favourite scotch whiskey for that matter), talk to the venue about this in advance and get an approval. The same goes for décor. If you do opt to add to the restaurant’s décor, discuss this in detail. Can you have personalised table decorations placed on the counters that you are using for your party? Is it okay to bring your own balloons and flowers? Does the venue have a designated decorator, or can you use your own vendor? Chances are, you may not need additional flowers or balloons at a nice looking restaurant, but if you do, the paramount point we’re making is don’t assume anything. Ask.
Beware of the ‘minimum guarantee’ clause. Perhaps you will be required to assure the venue that a specified minimum number of guests will be attending. If you guarantee 35 people, for example, you will be charged for 35 guests even if they don’t all show up. Conversely, if you share a number that is much smaller than your actual guest list, you may run short of food. It’s a tightrope walk and the only way to navigate it safely, is to call all your guests personally and have them RSVP as accurately as possible. Thankfully, not all venues require this — in fact, that’s one of the advantages of hosting a party at a restaurant, as opposed to having a house party professionally catered. Once you have ironed out all the nitty-gritties, we recommend paying a generous advance. We do not, however, recommend paying the entire bill beforehand. Always hold something back, so you can negotiate a settlement should anything go wrong. Hopefully nothing will… and if you get great service, be liberal with your tips! Either way, you should pay your bill in a timely and private manner — your guests should never see the bill.
NOW YOU NEED TO EAT AND DRINK TO BE MERRY!
Superb food and great drinks will certainly make your guests happy and you can achieve this without much stress by planning forward. We highly recommend sitting down with the chef/manager/owner and working out a menu specifically for your party. One way to approach the food is to offer a buffet meal. However, if you have fewer guests, a table d’hôte menu is ideal. A smaller, curated menu will help limit the choices, the costs and the confusion. If you don’t want your guests to order the restaurant’s most expensive dish, don’t include it on your party menu! It’s a good idea to choose several appetizers and then limit the main course to three or four dishes. Keep any guest allergies in mind and inform the venue as well. Make sure you have a fair selection for vegetarians, non-vegetarians and pescatarians alike. Offer at least two desserts and ensure one is eggless. Print out your personalised menu, or ask your contact at the venue if they can print it for you.
Next, it’s on to the bar. If you can’t work out a fixed per head rate for the alcohol, you’ll do well to buy a certain number of bottles in advance. This will be significantly more economical than paying by the glass for your drinks. Just remember to tell the bartender to check with you before he opens up a bottle you haven’t accounted for. You must also identify what you will serve and what you won’t. If you are trying to be cost conscious and don’t want to offer champagne, for example, instruct the wait staff to inform any guest who requests some that it is not available. While you can restrict the range of your beverages to a certain degree, you should definitely offer all the basics without any compromise on quality.
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