Planning a theme night

26 April 2005
Planning a theme night

Is your business in need of a boost? Do your staff need perking up? If the answer is yes to both questions, then a theme night could provide a much-needed lift to both a restaurant's finances and personnel.

Not only do such events create enormous good will - customers appreciate the effort that goes into making an evening out a little more fun and special - they can also provide you with valuable publicity which will help promote business long after the event itself is over.

There are a host of different themes you could build a special evening around. Consider:
Diary dates
• - Regional or national cuisines - French (and it need not be generic, you could hold a special Alsace, Perigord or ProvenÁ§al evening), Italian (specific regions which could be featured include Tuscany, Piedmont and Sicily), Spanish, Greek, Mexican, Russian, Thai.
• - Specific ingredients or wines - an entire menu can be built around one ingredient, such as garlic or truffles, while wines from any main wine-producing country or region of the world form an ideal platform for themed dinners.
Specific subjects or events - for a more fun option, where the food and drink is not central to the major theme of the evening, use major national or international events to inspire the event. How about a Hollywood night to celebrate the Oscars or a football night to mark the holding of the World Cup?

Organising the event Involve the whole staff, both in the kitchen and front-of-house. Hold a meeting and brainstorm ideas. Once a theme has been chosen, start planning the event by drawing up the menu. This can then be used to entice customers to the event.

When writing the menu, consult recipe books specific to the style of food you plan to feature. Talk to chefs who are specialists in the cuisine and specifically ask which dishes work well for large numbers. Look on the internet for inspiration.

Allow enough time to practise the dishes. Trialling a dish as a special of the day enable you to see if the dish works from a practical point of view and it will also give a chance to gauge customer reactions.

If specialist ingredients are required, ask suppliers if they are prepared to donate the goods or offer at a special price in exchange for a mention on the menu or for an invitation to the event.

Selecting the wines Use the menu as a basis for selecting the wines. Hold tasting sessions with wine suppliers and encourage them to give you a good price, again in exchange for some publicity or a place at the dinner. You may wish the supplier to introduce the wines to customers and give a brief talk about their provenance.

For help with props, contact the national embassies and travel offices of the countries you may be featuring. They are usually keen to provide posters and literature which will help promote their country. Or if you are featuring a specific ingredient, find out, via the internet, if there is a marketing company which promotes the product and ask for support.

Select appropriate music to play in the background, if required. Or you could use the event as an opportunity to bring some live music into the restaurant, for instance a steel band for a Caribbean evening.

Consider using the event to make a donation to a local or national charity. Doing so will help increase your publicity of the event and create widespread goodwill.

Marketing There are a number of ways you can promote your themed event:
•To capture regular clients, put out tent cards on tables or highlight the forthcoming date on the menu. Also encourage staff to talk to customers about the event.
•To advertise to occasional customers, send out details of the event to your mailing list, if you have one.
•To capture new business, put a poster in the window and advertise in local newspapers, magazines or radio. Even better, write a short press release with a headline that will catch the editor's eye. Follow up the release with a telephone call to the editor. If the event is being held in aid of charity, there is a greater likelihood that a newspaper will cover the story. Offer to provide photographs to accompany a news story after the event. Promote the event on your website, if you have one.

Post-event analysis
After it's all over, analyse the results of the event. Did customers enjoy themselves? Did it increase revenue? Were staff motivated? Were there any specific problems?

If the general consensus is positive, then it is most definitely worth doing again. It may even be worth drawing up a calendar for the whole year and planning one event a month or every two months.

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