How to organize (and survive) a group dinner in 15 easy tips

We as humans for no simple reason love putting together a number of people inside a restaurant to do two simple things: eat and talk. Looks easy, right? But let’s face it, your birthday is coming, or you decide to organize a surprise lunch for a good friend of yours or finally throwing a dinner that has been delayed for ages with your ex-colleagues.

Wherever the reason behind it, making a group booking in a restaurant nowadays requires a bit more skills and if you want to be a memorable host (the type who might be officially hired and crowned the new Ellen DeGeneres) you must pay attention and never compromising two E’s: experience and engagement.

Make sure you follow the tips below and your offsite event will be for sure a success:

#1. Start planning the worst case scenario type of thing. Don’t get stuck to a specific date that might not suit everyone or even the restaurant you’re trying to reserve. Think and put aside 2 optional dates and make the booking at least 2 weeks in advance, depending on your group size, just to make sure you don’t get frustrated at the end.

#2. No reservations, no fun. I believe some restaurants are taking Anthony Bourdain’s No Reservations show way too far. This is a deal breaker for me, if the restaurant doesn’t allow reservations at all, don’t risk it, it’s not a good idea to go blind and play in the dark.

#3. The best restaurant in town. You went there and you had the most amazing experience ever with all the pampering service you deserve, killer food presentation, etc. and you decide to have a group dinner there… Wrong! This tends to happen all the time and once you notice you’re screaming with the Chef because your friends didn’t have the attention you had, didn’t eat the smoked 5 ways duck leg confit with dried sweet yet sour jelly pineapple jam (bla bla bla). Some restaurants are meant to be for individual guests, other for groups and very few can do both, so choose wisely!

#4. Excuse me, you have 10 seconds to drink your coffee. The first thing that crosses my mind when the waiter says something like this is: “What happens if I don’t drink it within that time?” If the restaurant has different shifts, go always for the last one. It’s a waiting game and you can only win it by choosing the last shift offered. You can rarely be a winner if you have 45 seconds to multi-task: eat dessert, drink coffee, finish your conversation, go to the bathroom, check the bill, pay and… leave a tip! Uff… stressful to say the least.

#5. What time should I be there. This is a common mistake due to our sense of justice but in the end it backfires on you everytime. Your friend ask and you start sweating because you know by telling the truth, you’ll screw up all your timings. So go for the personality of each guest and play with it! To the ones you know who will be late for sure since it’s already in their blood and they can’t avoid it, say 30 minutes earlier – they’ll show up just on time with a smile on their faces for being on time… this time! And never (ever) tell that “we are just waiting for X person to begin eating… “. What about the Y, G, K, B, U already there?

#6. Free parking areas nearby. Unless your friends are all addicted and super Uber fans (which they should be), you must know where are the nearest car parking areas – ideally for free.

#7. Silence and awkwardness killer. Nobody likes to arrive and immediately seat on a table especially if they don’t know anyone. Offer a welcome drink upon arrival and you’ll see your friend’s face just relax. This is something you can have for free if well negotiated with the restaurant. Your friends will commend you for that!

#8. Staring olives. We are all up for a catchy table with plenty of food, so make sure you place some appetizers along the tables straight away. It’s the best visual invitation for guests to seat without you forcing them.

#9. Hey guys, this is my friend Ryan Gosling. Do a proper introduction of all your guests, making them feel welcome and appreciated for arranging time to be present. I like the concept of storytelling your friend in 20 seconds to other people – make the best of it!

#10. Welcome to Easy JetDon’t leave to the gods the seating plan. You’re in charge of seating people wisely, include always additional empty seats for someone that might show up last minute and please one long rectangular table (or U shape) is the worst layout ever – why not having big round tables where people get to switch after each course?

#11. I don’t eat anything yellow that might turn blue. Yes, my dear – this can be a request and the best thing is – you’ll have to handle it. You can’t force everybody to eat the same dish – that’s so back in the days! Now you have to please every mouth and make sure both of your wannabe foodie and Paleo diet follower friends are happy! Therefore, you must consider a mini à la carte menu with a few dishes to be chosen on the day, a mix tapas combo and always a “hidden dish” for that friend who doesn’t like anything, the type you don’t even know why was invited anyway.

#12. Where is my glass?! Yes, this already happened to you, don’t lie. You were calmly sipping your wine while discussing a hot topic with the person next to you and once you noticed… your glass is gone! Unless your friends become knocked-out after 2 beers, ask for the drinks to be served during the entire meal duration. Don’t get fooled about the 1/2 bottle of wine per person allowance because by the end of the night, you’ll have someone complaining that didn’t have the chance to try any – even if it isn’t true!

#13. What’s the password? If you don’t agree as this being the most common question nowadays, you’re living in a cavern. It’s no crime being connected and you should be the one promoting that by giving your guests the (written) wifi password as well as the right # for the event (let it be Instagram, Facebook, Zomato, Pinterest, Twitter …). There’s no such thing as virtual engagement.

#14. Bills, bills, bills. It all comes down to money – do they accept debit, credit cards, only cash? If no cards’ payment is possible, make sure you refer that in advance and worst case scenario, point out the nearest ATM. This will definitely kill my buzz after a good meal in a restaurant.

#15. Received receipt. In Portugal, we consider asking for the receipt after purchasing a service as a consumer right / duty (plus we might win a car!) so be ready to have your guests asking for a receipt at the end.