Private Dinner Primer: 7 Pointers

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Skillfully arranging small, intimate dinners for company senior officers, VIPs and select groups of other stakeholders during a larger business meeting or event has always been an important part of a planner’s toolbox. Ten years ago, a boardroom or other small breakout room in an out-of-the-way corner of a large hotel might have sufficed with the in-house chef doing the cooking. No longer.

Dinner guests’ palates have grown too sophisticated, regional cooking has become more refined, and the basically neutral decor of most convention hotel boardrooms and breakout spaces generally remain bland and uninspiring.

As a result, planners increasingly had no choice but to look outside the hotel for that hot new restaurant, often in an emerging neighborhood, where the chef had managed to create a buzz for the authentic food and ambience. There had to be a private dining space, of course, or planners could arrange an exclusive where the dinner party took over the run of the house.

It wasn’t long, of course, before hotel managers got wind of the changing attitudes and started taking corrective steps. The 801-room Hilton Austin is a current example. One of this fast-growing Texas city’s established convention hotels, located across the street from the Austin Convention Center, the 13-year-old Hilton was planning a $50 million renovation that included new concepts for its food and beverage outlets.

atp-combined-hipsterThe goal became to make these restaurants (and a brand new event space), which include three private dining rooms, the equal of the casual yet sophisticated ambience of the city’s famous Austin City Limits music venue: heavy use of natural materials and a lot of local color, not to mention up-to-the-minute technology. A far cry from your grandfather’s bland meeting-cum-dining room.

When it comes to the food, hotel general manager Robert Watson and his culinary team’s marching orders were simple: Planners and attendees should be able to “taste our city on their plate.”

Planners arranging private dinners during their events may want to keep these six pointers top-of-mind:

  • Granted, keeping these dinners on-site means more revenue for the hotel, but also gives the planner greater leverage in negotiations over room rates and other costs. The more business you bring to the negotiating table, after all, the better position you’re in.
  • Cost savings accrue to the planner, meanwhile, from not having to provide transportation to and from the off-site restaurant.
  • Senior executives and VIPs’ time is always at a premium, so these diners, often tired from traveling to the destination, will appreciate not having to travel to dinner.
  • Security is always an issue when you go off-site. Less so when you stay on-site.
  • Discretion is typically also a concern with private dinners. Given the people involved and possibly sensitive nature of the topics under discussion, the less visibility, the better. (No mention on signboards the way there might be outside a meeting room, for example. Likewise, no mention on printed meeting agendas.)
  • Unlike dinners at a public restaurant, where you’ll be billed separately, charges for private dinners on-site can be added to the event’s master account (much less of an accounting hassle).
  • While authentic local cuisine, no matter how high-end (barbecue, biscuits and fried chicken in the case of Austin) will work for some, others may have other culinary preferences. So work with the chef and/or hotel catering director to create a customized menu satisfies both camps. Ditto the beverage menu (i.e. both a signature cocktail and craft beer).

Photo credits: Shutterstock.com, courtesy of Hilton Austin.

 

Bruce Serlen

Bruce Serlen

Bruce Serlen is a veteran travel writer, based in New Jersey, who has written extensively on meetings management and hotel operations. Most recently, he was executive editor at Hotel Business.

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