London is a favoured venue for private dinners, thanks to the wide variety of venues which offer this option – and the fantastic scenery which surrounds some of the city’s top restaurants, providing great views and local experiences long after the dinner is over.
In this blog, we’ll guide you through some of the crucial steps to planning your own perfect private dinner in England’s capital…
Decide why you’re planning the dinner
For locals living nearby, small living spaces can make it difficult to host a lavish dinner party. If there are many people you want to invite to your home, there could simply not be enough space to do so, making it essential to find a venue which caters to your needs. For visitors to the city enjoying the best London hotel deals, a private dinner can simply be an opportunity to add something extra-special to their itinerary while staying in London.
In addition, planning a private dinner means there’s less pressure on you to do the cooking (and the washing up!) so you can enjoy the experience along with your dinner guests. Whatever kind of party you’re looking for – from birthday bashes through to anniversary meals – the city offers restaurants and bars ready to cater to your needs.
Plan in advance
Once you know the reasons why you’re throwing this private dinner, it’s now time to get planning! Planning ahead will help ensure everything runs smoothly, so think carefully about the kind of event you want to have and begin to look at it from a logistical point of view.
While choosing a venue outside of your own home can take some of the pressure away from the experience, it also means there are more variables which seem outside of your control. After all, you don’t own the restaurant or bar, so there is only so much you can do to control the event.
During your planning stage, think carefully about the mind of private dinner you have in mind. Is it casual, or more elaborate? Do you plan to invite guests to sit down in a private room, or would you rather things were left more open to allow for greater interaction, or perhaps drinks and dancing elsewhere after the meal? Hammering down as many of these details as you can by visualising the event long before it happens will help you with all of the smaller details along the way.
Choose a date
Pick a date for your event, as otherwise you could end up realising a venue you’re keen on has no vacancies on that particular day or evening. This will also enable you to tell guests the date you’ll need them to be free (even if you’re not sure where you’ll all be headed, yet). The date could be particularly important if you’re hosting the dinner at the weekend, when people can often be pre-booked far in advance.
Consider your theme
Deciding the theme you want for your big event will help ensure you choose the right kind of venue to accommodate it. This is where thinking about the tone of your private dinner becomes particularly important, as there are so many different types of location to choose from throughout London, yet not all of them will necessarily afford the surroundings you’re seeking.
If you’re sticking to something fairly straightforward, then your options are much greater than a rigidly themed dinner which requires certain surroundings to be carried off in style.
Do this before you contact venues
Be sure you have the date and the theme established before you begin contacting bars and restaurants to make enquiries. This will not only help to limit any wasted time on your part, but also ensures that you will not be simply sending out endless questions and losing track of the venues you’ve spoken to – and can quickly establish whether a particular location will be suited to your basic requirements.
Find locations with private dining areas
Since a private dining room is something of a specialist requirement, ask each venue you speak to if this is something they are able to accommodate. With such a vast selection of great eateries in the city, some don’t have the space or interest in this area of hospitality, so it’s essential to establish at the outset.
While reserving a table is a common occurrence in London, many of these spaces are more casual in their approach and may not give you the privacy you need.
Scout out your venues
If possible, organise a brief trip scouting out venues you like the look of. Keep your shortlist to around 8-10 locations, and consider taking someone you trust along to get a real taster of what it’s really like there.
Lots of places look great on paper, but once you arrive they can lose some of their shine. If you’re not local to London, then find some accommodation in London City and make a real occasion of your scouting mission! If possible, visit your chosen location at approximately the time you plan to host your event.
This approach will ensure that you have an authentic feel of what to expect when your event takes place, and could even help you make your shortlist a little shorter!
Get to know the staff
Once you’ve decided where to throw your private dinner – and made a reservation – now it’s time to get to know the team you’ll be working with to make it happen. Reach out to the staff and have a discussion of the things which you need to happen ahead of the night itself, and how you would like the dinner to unfold.
Depending on the formality of the venue, the people you speak to could differ dramatically. You may be referred to the bartender to discuss any drink requirements, or in the case of a restaurant or hotel-led restaurant such as Montcalm at the Brewery, you could be assigned your own event planner to help things run smoothly.
It’s essential to build a positive relationship with the staff member or staff members who will be helping you make the most of the event – this will also help you to avoid any potential miscommunication.
Depending on the type of venue, you may wish to call them or go along at a time when they aren’t particularly busy for an in-depth discussion. Initiate this contact and ensure the lines of communication remain open at all times.
Talk about the details
Once you know the point of contact you have at the venue you’ve chosen, now it’s time to get involved in the details of the dinner itself. For this stage, it’s best to remain professional and come equipped with a list of any questions you might have for the owner or your liaison at the restaurant or bar.
We recommend setting up a meeting during business hours, where you can talk about everything which you need to know – and they need to know – before the evening itself.
Key concerns for many people would include everything from asking whether you can bring food from elsewhere (such as a birthday cake), or whether everything needs to be prepared in-house. Can you bring your own table settings or floral arrangements? When do they need to be brought to the venue, if so?
No matter how small the issue may seem, plenty of great events have gone awry as a result of forgetting small details – so don’t worry if you feel a little silly. The person you’re talking to will have heard it all before, and would probably rather have too much information at the outset than risk lots of last-minute surprises!
It’s important not to assume that anything goes, as some venues will be bound by strict restrictions on what can or cannot be done on their premises, including laws regarding fire safety and capacity. This is yet another reason why checking will help avoid disappointment and confusion.
Be sure of your numbers
One of the most important things to assess early on is how many people will be attending your private dinner. This will vary wildly depending on the type of event; for instance a small celebration for two has very different requirements for the restaurant or bar than a large-scale dinner for ten or more guests.
While you may not be able to give the venue exact numbers at the outset, you should certainly tell them a rough estimate. Not only will this help ensure they can prepare accordingly, but it will also make sure that they definitely have the capacity for you and your guests.
When you know the details, you can start to send out formal invitations to your guests. By this stage, you should have a clear indication of the tone the event will take, as well as its exact time and location.
You may have already spoken to some of your guests to discuss what time and day will suit them, but sending out invitations (and an RSVP in the event of larger-scale dinners) will give peace of mind and act as a handy reminder of the upcoming dinner.
Be sure to indicate any guest requirements on your invitations. Depending on the type of dinner, you may be asking them to chip in with the cost, or you may simply be inviting them to come and enjoy the fun. Either way, let them know of any applicable details including dress code alongside the other key information such as venue and the time you’d like them to arrive.
If you’re not a fan of formal invitations, simply send your guests a friendly e-mail or social media message providing the details and asking for a reply.
Organise the menu
If you’re hosting a smaller dinner, then talk to the chef about the dietary requirements which can be catered to at the venue, and curate a menu which suits your guests. You may already know of any restrictions they have, but if not, it always helps to add a request for this information to your invitations, or send a quick follow-up to brief guests on what to expect.
This approach may feel overly complicated, in which case simply opt for a few options including starters, mains and desserts, providing enough variety to please most people.
Once you’ve got the go-ahead to add some personalisation to the space, look at how you can do this, and don’t be afraid to be creative! Popular options for events such as this include everything from special napkins to ribbons, balloons and novelty touches which make all the difference.
Customise your approach in accordance with the tone of the evening and the venue you’ve chosen, as well as paying attention to any restrictions which have been placed by the space itself.
Stay in touch with the venue
If there are any unexpected changes to your event, be sure to tell the staff at your chosen venue. Most restaurants and bars will expect a few changes, but they’ll also appreciate being kept notified so they can act accordingly.
These changes could be anything from unexpectedly high/low attendance numbers to sudden dietary requirements; whatever it is, let them know. This is another cornerstone of great communication with the staff who are there to help you get the best from the day.
Be a good host
While the staff is there to help, remember that ultimately you’re the host – so you’ll be on your toes to help ensure everything runs smoothly! Act as you would if the event was being held in your own home; point guests in the direction of the food and drink, and offer any advice you have on choosing dishes.
Let them know where to put their bags and coats (if applicable), and let them know a little about the venue. This is a wonderful way to show how much care and attention has gone into planning the dinner, and will certainly be appreciated by your guests.