Graduation season is upon us and, over the weekend, I had to say goodbye to one of my oldest and best friends as he graduates from law school and prepares to move back to California. His parents hosted a small dinner and the planner/control-freak side of me was on-duty to make sure everyone enjoyed themselves so they wouldn’t have to deal with all the “little things.” Here are my tips for planning a celebration dinner at a restaurant.
Pick a place you have been to before and enjoy not only the food, but the service. Service makes such a difference when you have a big crowd and if they can’t get it right when you go on regular night, having a large crowd isn’t going to be any easier.
What to do before:
When making the reservation, go in-person. It is important to know who you are dealing with and that they understand your expectations for the evening.
If you are having a large dinner, and guests are going to split the bill, I recommend a prix-fixe menu. When I planned my 30th birthday dinner at a local restaurant in my neighborhood, it was a small place that didn’t generally do big dinners. They were happy to put together a prix-fixe menu with my favorite dishes…all I had to do was ask. I included the amount on the invite and it was so much easier at the end of the night.
What to ask:
-What are the menu options?
-What are the options for vegetarians, etc.?
-Is the price based on the number of people? What is the guaranteed number of people needed and when do they need to have that confirmation?
-Will they print a special menu? If not, consider making your own.
-What will be set on the table? Don’t assume they will have votives, and I like to make sure they have water glasses with pitchers of water pre-set on the table.
-What alcohol is included? Depending on the type of restaurant, having red and white wine pre-set on the table will help get everyone seated and comfortable.
-Is gratuity included?
-What time will the tables be ready?
-Who will be the staff person on-site that will be your point person should you have any questions?
Seating: assigned or open?
I am working on an entire post dedicated to the art of seating, but my short answer is ASSIGNED. You know all of the people attending and some of them might not know each other. Use this as the opportunity to make that introduction.
What to do when you arrive:
Introduce yourself to your server and let them know who on your side is the “point” for any questions. For my friend’s dinner, I took that role so he could enjoy the evening and all the small details like, “Are you ready to sit for the first course,” or “Can we clear the table for dessert?”
After the main course, arrange for one of the staff to take a group picture. It is always nice to have for posterity and you will be happy you did it.
I know I have said it before, but it is worth repeating. Have fun! If you are, so will your guests.