Large parties present a difficult choice for restaurant managers. How many times have parties of 12, 16, or even 20 shown up at your restaurant ready to experience the great food and service you have to offer?
Your initial reaction is probably: “Great! We love more customers!”
Of course you always want to have a packed house. And that party of 12 is a great way to fill the front house quickly. But, as most of you already know, that party of 12 can also turn into a headache very quickly.
Think about how the night progresses:
A good portion of your “turn & burn” four and two tops are gone for the night. Not only does your wait and buss staff have to scramble to put together a section for the large party, but the inevitable disruption this creates disturbs other diners and distracts the staff. And you know this party will probably be there for a good portion of the night, meaning a table you might turn three or four times in a night is no longer available.
Your best server(s) are also gone for the night. Handling a large table is not for the new guy or the faint of heart. You’ll probably assign your top wait staff to handle the large party, and this will keep them occupied, and not serving other important guests, for the rest of the night. Plus, large parties are notoriously bad tippers, and the automatic gratuity is usually less than what the server earned and more than the guest wants to pay.
Your kitchen gets slammed. You’ll do your best to get all those entrees out at the same time, and inevitably that’s going to cause problems in the back of the house as your kitchen staff scrambles to get out the big order and fill all the other orders at the same time.
Other guests feel ignored. Big parties make lots of noise, and draw a lot of attention from your staff. This leads to other guests feeling like they’re being ignored, and they may be annoyed by how loud the large party is being. Seating 12 does you no good businesswise if you lose other loyal guests in the process.
Many restaurant managers are probably reading this and thinking to themselves:
- I’d still never turn down a large party; most of those people have probably never been here before and this is my chance to show them what we’ve got
- My staff is trained to work as a team and we’ll show them what good service is all about
- If I don’t seat them, they’ll go somewhere else. What if those tables sit empty for the rest of the night?
- We can handle it, and a packed house is always best
The key to serving large parties is to set parameters and not bite off more than you can chew.
Large parties demand an extra level of service because they are so large, and taking on a large party can actually hurt your business if overall product quality and service suffer. Anyone who has been in the food service business has seen a large party negatively affect overall product and service quality.
Some strategies for handling a large group:
Separate them as much as possible, but not too much. If you have an area of your restaurant that is off to one side or separated by dividers, place large parties there whenever possible. This strategy is a double-edged sword, however, because large parties usually don’t want to feel like they are being stuck in a forgotten corner either.
The customer is always right, except when they’re wrong. It is vitally important when handling large parties to draw the line when accommodating their requests will interfere with the quality of your service. Separate checks on a group of 20 is going to lead to problems. Seating them in the bar area so they can watch the game means you can’t keep track of who sat where since they keep moving around.
Maybe you’re able to handle these particular examples. Either way, something will come up eventually that will affect your ability to serve a large group. Know when to say no.
Don’t get too greedy. If you have the dubious luck of having more than one large party walk in to your restaurant on a given night, be careful. Don’t automatically assume you can handle the business. Remember, creating a situation where overall service and product quality is affected is going to cost you more customers over the long run than you’ll gain with this one large party.
Rock Bottom Brewery handles a lot of large parties, and their strategy is to have the host communicate directly with the kitchen, and if the kitchen’s “plate count” (unfilled orders) gets too high, they alert the host and he or she doesn’t seat anybody until the plate count goes down. Make sure you have some system in place to evaluate your capacity to meet incoming demand and adjust accordingly.
Get all hands on deck. Make sure your staff is supporting the server or servers who are working the large party. As the manager, you’ll probably end up getting personally involved with the large table and doing what you can to expedite service to a large group.
Whether you consider large parties the bane of your existence or the butter on your bread, coming up with an effective strategy to handle them is an essential part of doing business. What are your strategies for handling a large party? We’d love to hear from you. Leave a comment below!