A streamlined service is essential to creating a valuable customer experience your guests will be happy to share, but this is easier said than done in the face of 18 boisterous party goers descending on your business. Whether it’s gravy down the CEO, drunken office juniors or chasing payment from Audrey in accounts, Christmas party bookings can be quite the challenge.
Good preparation starts long before your customers have even considered Christmas. Whilst their still enjoying long nights in the beer garden, you should be planning what's going on the Christmas menu. You might want to run your festive offering in tandem with your normal menu or replace it entirely. Are you offering a set menu or are you happy for your guests to mix and match corses? For the sake of a quick service, consider restricting large bookings to a set menu. A limited menu ensures your kitchen can concentrate on creating a few high-quality dishes quickly, but for the sake of inclusivity, be sure to cater to the needs of vegetarians and people with food intolerances.
Know your limits
Although it can be tempting to bite off more than you can chew where revenue is concerned, a poor customer experience can be hugely damaging to your reputation. If you're tight on space, time or staff, don’t run the risk of giving less than adequate service as this will come back to bite you in the long run. You may want to consider restricting the number of covers per table depending on the size and layout of your restaurant. There's only so many times you can stick a chair on the end before it gets uncomfortable.
While customers can resent paying deposits it can be the only way to protect yourself against a critical number of no-shows. People think twice about not bothering to show up if they’ve already paid towards their meal, and you can be sure if one person bails they won’t be the only one. How much you want to charge is up to you and should be reflective of your pricing. A good rule of thumb is to make the deposit chargeable per head, a round number large enough they won’t want to forfeit, but low enough to not put them off. Of course charging a deposit is down to personal choice, but if you don’t think you'll survive the sting of an empty restaurant at peak time, consider taking a cash deposit. This can be deducted from the overall bill at the end of the meal.
Preordering means you can adequately stock your kitchen, staff are prepared and starters can be served as soon as the table are seated. It also means your wait staff can keep track of any dietary requirements and spot missing dishes before it becomes an issue. Another benefit is that each person will have a good idea of what they owe, rather than shrugging their shoulders or quibbling over who had a side of the extra side of onion rings. It’s also worth considering how you plan to serve drinks, whether that's leaving it to the guests to decide, advising them to buy drinks from the bar or splitting the table into smaller sections with separate bills for each. Epos Now’s bar tabs function allows you to set up numerous drinks tabs, allowing you to quickly and easily keep track of what each sub-group have had with the ability to customise by name and set a spend limit, if required or requested. It can be difficult for wait staff to be heard amongst rowdy groups jubilant with Christmas cheer. Most large parties will have a begrudging spokesperson for the group. Encourage your staff to identify these individuals early and use them as a point of reference throughout the night.
Knowing you're going to get slammed provides you with a unique opportunity to manage the little things ahead of time. Do you have enough floor staff rotated on or will they need some additional support? Is the kitchen adequately staffed? Asking these questions early on will reduce the pressure on your staff during the course of the evening, ensuring service goes without a hitch. It might be worth getting a member of staff to come in early and prepare for the evening ahead. This could include refrigerating tap water, preparing sauces, ensuring cruets are full and the cutlery tray is stocked. They may only be small things but it’s the small things that can put you behind, risking customer satisfaction and reputational damage.
The bills arrival is usually marked with a collective groan or a number of individuals leaving to ‘go to the toilet’ and never be seen again! Decide beforehand if you are going to allow separate payments or you require one transaction from the whole group. Offering a number of payment options can assist in efficiently processing transactions, such as cash, card, vouchers, or Apple and Android Pay. Utilising mobile POS is an effective way of taking payments quickly at the table side. Streamlining the payments process is essential to tuning over tables quickly in order to set up, prepare and get the next sitting in to do it all over again!
As daunting as large party bookings may be, they can also be incredibly rewarding and lucrative. Hospitality businesses who effectively pull these off get good press, by word of mouth and online and regularly secure repeat business. This is a great opportunity to improve your customer retention and get referral business from happy customers. Preparing for all eventualities will ensure you deliver fast, friendly and efficient service, much to the delight of your customers and your business' bank balance!