With the holiday season in full swing, restaurants are juggling their typical service (already busier than ever) with private events, from intimate dinners to corporate parties and celebrations. At The Vestry in San Francisco, these events run the gamut. That’s largely because the restaurant shares a roof with The Chapel, one of the premiere music venues in the city.
“We’re able to host lots of events under the same roof — we’re a one-stop shop for folks who want to dine, see a show, or even get married,” says RaeAnne Turner, Director of Sales & Marketing.
The Vestry just turned four years old, and RaeAnne says the events program has taken off during that time, growing from 15-person dinners to full venue buyouts. This year they’ve hosted corporate groups and gay pride events, as well as a Dia de Los Muertos-themed wedding. “It was an unexpected major component of what our business model has become now,” says RaeAnne.
Here, she and Paul Chalker, who heads up marketing and PR for The Vestry and The Chapel, share their top tips for pulling off exceptional events and taking your program to the next level.
Streamline your internal communication. Between dinner service, the bar, shows up to six nights a week, and private events, many teams have to work together as part of the The Vestry’s daily operations. The team insists on constant communication between the dining room, bar, music venue, chefs, marketing — even security. “The benefit of someone having an event here is that we can also provide the food and the drinks,” says Paul. “That’s important for anyone trying to use their space during dark periods.”
Offer your space to the community. The Vestry works with many local organizations and nonprofits (it’s one of their company values) so they are constantly lending space to local writers, artists, readers, and fundraising efforts. “Being pillars in our community and supporting them how we can has benefitted our entire operation,” says RaeAnne. Word-of-mouth marketing has been instrumental to them in building the events business.
Provide support on multiple levels. Paul’s tip: offer different packages with events, and offer your team as a package. When people are renting equipment for events, include rental companies in the price. If they need help selling tickets, loop in your marketing team to support. Include a coat check or valet service as part of your package. “Going above and beyond for clients translates really well through word of mouth,” he says.
Change and evolve. RaeAnne uses analytics to enhance the events program on an ongoing basis. “We solicit feedback from every event, look at what worked and what didn’t, and are honest with ourselves about what we can and can’t do,” she says. That’s feedback from both clients and service staff. Over the years they have fine-tuned their execution, which has allowed the program to grow quickly.
Make use of your dark periods. That’s one of the most important things a restaurant can do, Paul says. RaeAnne works closely with the talent buyer and General Manager to make sure they have something going on every night of the year. “Everybody’s working towards the same end goal.”
Do the unexpected. “The more laid-back and open the planner is, the more crazy we get,” says RaeAnne. The staff has dressed up as ’70s disco stars; they’ve made it “snow” for the last hour of a party. “The unexpected is what people remember.” Take your client’s pulse and offer fun — maybe outrageous — at times that are unexpected.