“CLOSED FOR PRIVATE PARTY”

You know the drill.

It's a Tuesday evening and a friend you haven't seen “in forever” is in from out-of-town. You'd like to catch-up and you “know just the place”. You coordinate schedules, taxis, cars, parking spaces, approach the front door to find it bustling inside and as you reach for the door, a piece of paper unceremoniously taped to the door is already mocking you:

“CLOSED FOR PRIVATE PARTY”

Something about the all upper-case type seems to pound the point home even harder. There's a party going on inside and you're not invited. You may have spent thousands of dollars in this restaurant over the years, but tonight, you mean nothing to them.

I completely get the business case here. Tuesdays are an “off” night and while filling the tables is unlikely, breaking even would be nice. From the restaurant's perspective, it's tempting; 30 people - guaranteed - will eat, drink, and be merry (and spend money).

However...

Meanwhile, 12 regulars came by and were denied access by that infernal sign; like jilted lovers handed a "Dear John" letter and now seeking to understand this sudden and inexplicable rejection.

It's surely a difficult decision for a restaurant; do you take the quick money and hope that the previous love you've given will carry over the next time?

Surrounding any such restaurant are plenty of others ready, willing, and usually able to take up the overflow. If a flagship restaurant decides to close its doors to all but the invited, all others must look elsewhere to smaller places perhaps eclipsed by the larger restaurant. It is on just such a night that culinary infidelity begins; those diners seeking to be satisfied by their regular dining establishment are forced to shop around.

Dan Gordon, one of the two founders of Gordon Biersch brewery/restaurant, was asked about the line outside his restaurant during World Cup. To the casual observer, it's a clear sign of success. "Quite the opposite", he said. "There is no worse stigma than being thought of as a restaurant that no one can get into. Because, after a while, they don't even try." If the first time you visit a restaurant, you find the doors unwelcoming due to a buy-out, that's the first impression you'll always have with you.

To restaurants that close completely to cater to a private party, I say watch your ass. Smart restaurants don't turn themselves completely over to reservations, nor should they to a private party. Close off part of the restaurant, not the whole thing, and profit from the regulars, and the occasionals, at the same time.

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