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5 questions to ask before booking private events

March 2, 2017

This post is part of our “5 questions” series, helping merchants ask the right questions before making key business decisions. Read the entire series here on the Clover blog, and explore for more better business tips and tactics.

Do you ever host private events? If you’re running a successful restaurant or bar, chances are good that at least one customer has asked you this question. And even if you’re working in another industry, you may have gotten the question from a customer who just loves your space, or has a unique idea for a corporate retreat or an offbeat wedding.

Private events can be a great way to promote your business, build deeper connections with your best customers, and boost revenue on a traditionally slow night. But there are plenty of potential pitfalls to watch out for. Book the wrong night, and you might lose revenue, or alienate regular customers who suddenly can’t get their usual Friday night dinner reservation. Bungle the planning, and you’ll generate bad word of mouth that could affect your underlying business.

Before you jump into hosting an event, make sure you’ve got a solid plan for pulling it off. Here are 5 questions to ask before you book a private event:

1. Where do private events fit into your marketing strategy?

A private event can be a great way to showcase what your business does best and connect on a deeper level with some loyal customers. A couple who holds their wedding reception at your restaurant is likely to come back for regular visits, assuming everything goes well. And event guests who haven’t visited your business before will get a great introduction to who you are and what you’re capable of.

If this is your first time hosting an event, look at it as a test case. This could be a great way to promote your business, but only if you work all the angles. Who from your staff will be on site during the event? What opportunities will you have to promote your business or make connections with potential customers? If you’re hosting a corporate cocktail party, you might have a chance to hand out coupons or mingle and chat with the guests. If it’s a wedding, explicit promotion will feel tacky—the quality of your service will have to speak for itself. Whatever the type of event, ask in advance if you’ll be able to use photos in future promotions or on social media.

2. Who’s organizing, planning, and managing the event?

You’ll need to answer this question on both sides—who from your own staff is running the show, and who’s the point person on the customer’s side. It’s best to designate one point person on each side, so that the lines of communication are clear and nothing gets lost.

Planning an event can be a stressful and nerve-wracking experience. Keep in mind that your customer is likely to be anxious about getting all the details in order and making sure guests have a good time. Constant communication should be your goal. Never make the customer chase after you for information.

Read more: Marketing & Promotions tips and tactics

3. Are you charging enough?

If you’re closing your business during a time you’d normally be open to the public, you need to make sure that you’re charging enough to cover your lost revenue. Make sure you check a community calendar to ensure you’re not closing your bar on the night of the big game, or otherwise giving up on a big opportunity.

Of course, you’ll also want to figure out what hosting the event will cost you, so your fee covers staffing, food and drink if you’re providing it, and so on. Shop around in your area to make sure that your fee is in line with what similar venues in your community are charging.

4. What’s your timetable?

Especially if you’re new to hosting events, make sure you’re giving yourself plenty of time to plan. Make a calendar for when key decisions will be made and milestones will be met and get your client’s buy-in, so everyone understands what has to be done, when. Don’t forget to build in time for the client to test out any audio-visual equipment they’ll need. If any outside vendors are involved (for food, beverages, equipment rentals, and so on), build in time for those vendors to walk through the space and talk to your point person about what they’ll need. And always add extra time to your calendar in case any problems come up.

5. Have you covered all the details?

Before you move forward with an event, make sure you understand all the legal requirements. If you don’t normally serve food or alcohol, do you need to get any new insurance, or a liquor license? Will outside vendors’ insurance cover damage to your facilities or injury to guests while they’re on the property? Will your event be in compliance with building codes, fire safety, etc.?

You’re going to want to create and sign a formal contract with the client outlining who’s responsible for what, including who is insured to cover what liabilities. Get a deposit when the contract is signed to cover your costs in case anything goes wrong—and ensure the client is serious.

[image: Private party by Trammell Hudson on flickr]