How to Host the Ultimate Dinner Party Away from Home
Photos courtesy of Drake Hotel Properties
‘Tis the season for holiday gatherings. But really, when you’re a busy city dweller, any time of the year is the right time to play host to great company. And while entertaining at home is all fine and dandy, urban flats can often fall short when it comes to accommodating groups of people. (Plus, there’s also that whole cleaning up thing.) Instead, save the hassle and consider hosting your next fete outside of the home. No stranger on the matter, Dave Elliott, Senior Sales and Events Manager at the Drake Hotel, has all the tips on your restaurant dinner party do’s and don’ts.
If a person is looking to host a dinner party or exceptional corporate dinner, what are some considerations to be aware of?
When it comes to arranging a corporate dinner it’s important to delve a little deeper into the specific occasion that is being celebrated. A business meeting over entrees requires a bit more tradition whereas a celebratory occasion allows for a bit more creativity on the part of the planner.
For a meal where business is the focus, it’s important to determine whether a private space is required or if the meal is better suited to a reserved section of a public space — the location in the restaurant can make all the difference. Have a little fun by inquiring about personalizing set menus, including a welcome cocktail (our classic Pisco Verde or custom Queen Street Swizzle are both popular choices at Drake One Fifty), or planning an office-appropriate outing to wrap the meal (a venue with live music in the later hours is a great two-for-one.)
If you’re planning a more festive occasion and can be a little more playful with your planning, ask the restaurant if they’ve done anything special or custom for other groups in the past. It’s always best to let someone else pilot an experience before taking your team to bat. If you’ve got a close-knit group it might be worth investigating a more ‘hands on’ dining experience with a Chef inclusion. If you’re looking for something in between traditional and left of centre, ask the venue if they do family-style meals like our Groaning Boards, which allow guests to break bread whilst getting to try a little bit of everything instead of their committed plate.
Insider Tip: Always consider the ratio of men to women when planning custom cocktails and menu experiences, as their needs can be quite different
Do you have any suggestions on how to personalize the experience?
Always ask your reservationist if the venue is famous for any special ‘add-ons’ to elevate the guest experience. At The Drake we are famous for our experiential take on cocktail making, called DRINK WELL, where intimate groups learn the theory behind some of our famous Drake cocktails along with a quick lesson of how to mix them.
As well, a host gift (something small) is a great takeaway and can be paired with some work materials to ensure that the office collateral makes it back to the desk safely. Our Drake General Store has a bevvy of great picks, whether it’s a homemade pantry item from our line of offerings (perfect for corporate) or a personalized flask (perfect for a bachelor/bachelorette party). What better way to up the energy than some take-home swag?
In your experience, what have been some interesting requests that have been made?
Original requests typically come by way of personalization to the menus. When clients tend to deal with a specific product it’s a guarantee that they’ll ask to have their product incorporated into the menu offerings in some way. Whether it’s mimicking a logo into a sushi platter, using specific products for food service, or as straightforward as asking for menu items to be designed around a particular ingredient, I’m always happy to hear that a venue is open and flexible to accommodating guest requests. If a venue gives you a straight-up no to a request of this nature I would be inclined to think that it’s an indication of the over all experience to come.
Similarly, what are some ways that a restaurant can go above and beyond to ensure the success of such a dinner?
This comes down to empowering the front line staff to make the necessary decisions to exceed guest expectations. I’ve worked events where the service staff were able to knock guests’ socks off with their over the top hospitality with one Drake staffer even having given the dress off her back to a young attendee. It was during TIFF and the guest in question was a HUGE fan of the themed outfit that the server was wearing so between courses the server changed into her civvies and gave away the dress.
What are the typical rules of etiquette that people should be aware of before booking?
My number one suggestion is to be as diligent with your invite list as possible. A Facebook invite simply does not suffice as people are inclined to say they’re attending when they have no intention of doing so. There is nothing more defeating than giving away a portion of your reserved space an hour after arrival because people have decided not to come.
If you’re looking to enjoy the dinner as a guest (rather than as a host), get all of your ducks in a row before the big day. Send along any dietary restrictions or allergies, confirm payment arrangement and find out if the table itself is required back at a certain time.
How far in advance should people consider making a booking for something special like this?
This all depends on the venue, as some require a longer lead-time than others. If you opt for one with multiple spaces it’s more likely that you’ll be able to find a spot last minute. At The Drake we pride ourselves on our ability to accommodate last minute reservations — just bear in mind that you might need to be flexible regarding the menu, timing or space in which you’re seated.
I always suggest calling a venue directly (as opposed to emailing) as tables can go in the blink of an eye. Don’t forget to get the name of the person you spoke to as with a busy shift changeover it’s not uncommon that the next person manning the host stand can connect with your contact to confirm what was discussed.
What are the parameters around creating a custom menu?
Many restaurants are more flexible than others in allowing groups to order a la carte, as opposed to using a set menu on an off peak night. The reason venues opt for set menus is to simplify the execution of the dinner and ensure that your guests (as well as regular patrons) are served in a timely fashion.
Many Chefs are more than happy to be tapped for their creative minds and will often come to speak to the table directly. Like anything custom, this usually means an increase in the price point due to the custom nature (and extra work required) to pull off such a feat.
What are your thoughts on wine bottles being placed on a table and uncorking fees?
I’m never a fan of wine on the tables for large parties — in fact I don’t allow service staff to do it. I find that having servers top-up wine offers a heightened serving experience while ensuring that guest consumption levels are moderated. There is nothing worse than having someone have one-too-many before the mains arrive!
Corkage is an option I suggest when a venue has a limited wine list. Always be sure to ask if they permit, and what the price is upfront. Many venues will not allow you to bring in your own bottle of wine if they carry the label in their inventory.
What are some expectations that need to be set beforehand?
I always like to be clear with the coordinator as to what is permitted on part of the host tab (read: the bill you’ll be paying). Confirming bottled wine ahead of time helps to regulate costs, addressing additional food orders helps to manage waste, and ensuring that there is a cap on the bar will ensure that there are no surprises come bill time.
It never hurts to be overtly thorough ahead of time as the more questions you ask beforehand means the clearer the instruction will be on the night of the reservation. There is no greater feat than being able to enjoy a group dining experience as a guest so kick back and enjoy the fruits of your labour!