Christmas in July?
Booking holiday events now allows companies to reap an array of benefits.
New Orleans has over 1,000 restaurants and event spaces, but don’t let an abundance of options make you think you can leave holiday planning until the last minute. From getting your choice of venue, to getting the ear of your event planner, the slow summer months provide a perfect time for companies to get a jump on planning holiday events.
The Early Bird Gets the Worm
First and foremost – if you book early, you’re more likely to get your choice of time and place. High-demand New Orleans institutions like Galatoire’s see their holiday calendar fill up fast. Lisa Larsen is the director of sales at the fine-dining establishment.
“A lot of dates will book a year out, some even further than that – particularly Friday lunches,” Larsen says, “but it’s still possible to reach out to us during the summer and get some good dates.”
Creole Cuisine Restaurant Concepts manages 20 restaurants and venues in the city, ranging from upscale to casual-dining options. Director of sales Valerie Landry says holiday events often have to compete for space with other large events.
“I have people that call me for venues like Marché and Tommy’s – really large venues for 200 people – but those venues will book a year in advance because of our wedding business,” Landry says.
Fleming’s in Metairie and Briquette in the Warehouse District are both newer restaurants in the area that opened last fall, right on the cusp of the holiday event season.
Most companies had booked their parties by the time Briquette opened its doors October 5, 2017. “We did get a few last-minute parties,” said restaurateur Anna Tusa, “but hopefully this year we’ll get a strong push of people wanting to book early.”
Fleming’s was facing holiday crunch time when the restaurant opened in November 2017. Private-dining director Kelsey McClary says the late start didn’t hurt business.
“A lot of people left it to the last minute, but we were able to accommodate them,” McClary says. “We opened up not knowing what to expect, so this year we definitely have a lot more time…to plan menus and to offer those extra holiday enhancements that we might not have been able to offer last year.”
Both restaurants offer incentives for companies that book early.
“We offer an upgraded bar package as an incentive for people to get their parties booked early,” says Anna Tusa. “If you buy the call bar, we upgrade you to premium. If you buy the house bar, we upgrade you to call.”
McClary says Fleming’s always offers a promotion to incentivize early bookings. “In the past, we’ve offered free champagne toasts, or $100 back for every $500 spent, or complimentary cocktail receptions with dinner,” she says.
Beyond enjoying your choice of date and venue, and early-bird incentives, planning holiday events during the slow summer period means businesses are likely to get more personal attention from an event planner.
“Summer is historically a little less hectic for restaurants,” says Kyle Barnett at Carrabba’s Italian Grill. “This will ensure the staff and leadership will be able to better prepare for, and devote more time to, your event.”
“The summer is a really good time that businesses can connect with people and really get the information they need before restaurants get into busy season — dealing with weddings, corporate events and all the conventions that come in,” says Valerie Landry at Creole Cuisine. “It gives businesses a lot of time to actually research, and the sales team is typically slower, so you tend to get a lot more one-on-one time with different vendors to see exactly what you want for your party.”
The biggest factor taking a salesperson’s time away from planning your event is actually running someone else’s.
“Events take precedence over our time,” says Laura Ponoroff, event and sales manager at The Parlor. “Even though we want to work forward with our other clients, we can’t respond to an email within minutes if there’s an event taking place.”
Planners say it’s wise to avoid the fall rush.
“In my experience, the majority of companies start looking to set up a holiday event sometime around October,” adds Barnett. “That coincides with a lot of other fall events for charities and schools that may lead to a little bit fuller schedules for restaurants and caterers. You may not get the undivided attention you would by booking earlier.”
Schedules also tend to just be more flexible in the summer.
“You have a lot of time to go do site surveys during the week and meet with people – I don’t want it to sound like we’re too busy to talk to anybody in the fall, but summer is definitely a slower time,” says Landry.
BOOKING AN EVENT:
Things To Consider
Lisa Larsen, director of sales at Galatoire’s, says people should consider three main things when booking an event. The first is the kitchen need.
“At Galatoire’s we have four kitchens, so whatever’s going on in this building is not going to affect your event, because your event is going to have its own dedicated kitchen,” Larsen says. Ask your event planner if your event will have its own kitchen, and if the restaurant volume might affect your event.”
Second, consider your location relative to options after your party.
“You want to make sure you’re postured for the after-party, because nobody stops when the event is over,” Larsen says. It’s good to have nearby options where people can continue socializing and celebrating.”
Finally, consider interactive options and trends – chef stations, festive cocktails, a photo booth with themed props, live music or even entertainment from local buskers – think card readers and on-site poetry writers.
“Remember, do something, says Laura Ponoroff, event and sales manager at The Parlor. “Corporate parties book somewhere and have food and drinks and there’s nothing else to it. Make your event memorable, make it fun, make it so people want to go.”
It’s also important to keep people’s schedules in mind when booking your holiday events. For instance, if you’re hosting a party on a weekday, consider that people might be coming straight from the office.
“A lot of people are having holiday parties from 5-8 p.m., or 4-7 p.m., where it’s after work but it’s still a fun party – not a whole late-night event,” says Valerie Landry, director of sales for Creole Cuisine Restaurant Concepts.
You also want to make sure to plan adequate food for the time of any event.
“If you have a party at 7 o’clock on a Friday after your employees worked all day, probably rushed home to change, took care of kids, whatever they had to do, and all your party offers are small bites and a bar, people will be hungry,” Landry says.
A FEW OPTIONS FOR HOLIDAY EVENTS
From old establishments to new venues, traditional New Orleans fare to modern cuisine, area restaurants offer a wide range of options for your company holiday event.
1. Briquette is housed in an old molasses refinery in the Warehouse District but offers a contemporary experience with a modern approach to classic New Orleans favorites. The restaurant’s open floor plan allows every seat a view of the kitchen, and two large communal tables provide a social atmosphere. The venue doesn’t have any private space, so most events are total buyouts, but Briquette does offer semi-private events, cocktail receptions and large seated events.
2. Boasting a menu composed of Italian food made from scratch plus seafood and steaks, Carrabba’s Italian Grill can provide off-site catering or delivery if an event is being hosted at a venue without a kitchen. The restaurant also utilizes a trailer with a portable grill and stove for on-site cooking. Both catering packages and a la carte options are available, along with private dining for up to 100 people on weekdays at their Metairie location.
3. Creole Cuisine Restaurant Concepts has a wide range of restaurants in the French Quarter, from upscale dining to casual bar options. The company’s various properties can accommodate anywhere from 25 to 700 guests, with menus focusing on authentic New Orleans cuisine that incorporates current dining trends.
4. Fleming’s is Metairie’s newest fine-dining concept, featuring a contemporary art-inspired restaurant, bar and convertible open-air patio. The restaurant’s menu offers hand-cut aged prime steaks and premium wine pairings. It has two private-dining options (with capacity from 25-70 people) and a semi-private option for up to 30 people.
5. The Parlor at the Pontchartrain Hotel is a 2,790-square-foot venue with exposed brick walls and crystal chandeliers that can accommodate anywhere from 100 to 250 guests. Event catering is provided on-site by QED Hospitality, with a customizable food and beverage menu specializing in traditional New Orleans cuisine and seafood.