How to Make Your Restaurant the Best Spot for Birthdays

Celebrations can bolster your bottom line and encourage repeat business from customers.
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Diners want birthday dinners to feel special. Use decorations and a complimentary drink for the birthday guest to stand out from other restaurants. (Photo: DGLimages/Shutterstock)

People are always looking for fun places to throw their birthday parties. But if they choose to host the event at a restaurant, the celebrants don’t just want it to feel like a regular dinner out — they want a special experience that requires some advance planning from restaurant owners and their staff.

Birthday parties can bolster a restaurant’s bottom line in big ways, said Jason Apfelbaum, owner of Sushi Roxx, a restaurant with live performances in New York City.

“People who celebrate birthdays at restaurants tend to buy more drinks, and large groups make them more profitable,” he said. For some guests, it may be their first time to the restaurant, “creating opportunities for first-time guests to become repeat customers and bring their friends.”

So how do you give your restaurant a reputation as the best birthday spot in town? Here, Apfelbaum offers tips on creating an entertaining environment and offering distinctive service to people celebrating their big day.

Create a party package

No one likes ending a fun party at a restaurant with a headache over split checks. Prepaid party packages can ensure a seamless experience for guests celebrating birthdays.

“We pre-contract parties over six people with prix fixe menu packages,” said Apfelbaum.

You could consider offering tiered packages to allow guests to customize the party package with the amount of food and drinks they want. Giving guests details on exactly how much the party will cost per person and what’s included will help them focus on having a great experience.

Set up the space

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Set up larger birthday parties away from other dining guests, and include streamers and balloons for extra flair. (Photo: BlueOrange Studio/Shutterstock)

While you don’t need to offer birthday parties a private dining room, sprucing up the space can make a big difference in guests’ perception of your restaurant as a place to throw celebrations.

You should strive to give birthday parties “a combination of comfortable seating, wide enough tables, lighting, music and location,” said Apfelbaum.

Set the table apart from others in the dining room with some festive decorations, like balloons, streamers and fresh flowers. Guests might bring along presents, so dedicate an area for gift bags and cards.

Offer a welcome drink

Partygoers’ first impressions of your restaurant will set the tone for the entire evening. Greet the group with enthusiasm and a freebie to get the party going on the right foot, said Apfelbaum.

“Generally, I’ll walk up to the table and find out whose birthday it is. I’ll ask if they like vodka or tequila and bring over a shot for our guest to get the night started.”

Shots might be perfect for a restaurant that already has a party atmosphere, but a glass of champagne or a martini will offer the same effect at a high-end establishment. The idea is to make the birthday celebrant feel special right away and set a mood for the partygoers to have a ball.

Related: How Generous Should Your Bartenders Be?

Create large-format drinks

Your restaurant might already have a signature cocktail and a drink menu that customers love. But if you want to satisfy a birthday party, put together a few big drinks that people can enjoy together, said Apfelbaum.

“We do a lot of large-format drinks for birthday parties, like large punch bowls, party bowls and even bottles of wine.”

One of the biggest benefits of getting an entire party to sip on a single drink is minimizing the likelihood of backing up the bar, said Apfelbaum.

“Alleviating bar issues in terms of turnaround time keeps guests happy,” he said.

Related: Could Your Bar Business Profit from Buying a Pedal Pub?

Give them a spotlight

Making the birthday person feel special doesn’t stop at the welcome drink. Shine a spotlight on them throughout their party.

At Sushi Roxx, Apfelbaum incorporates the celebrant into their live show.

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At restaurant Sushi Roxx, Jason Apfelbaum (center) includes birthday guests into the evening’s live show. (Photo: Andrew Werner)

“We will make sure they are a part of the performance and tell their friends to have their cameras ready. Our performers will sing happy birthday directly to them to make them feel special.”

Even if your restaurant doesn’t have professional performers on staff, you can still put the person celebrating their birthday in the limelight by giving them a prop (like a funny hat), snapping a few photos and including their name when you sing “Happy Birthday.”

“Every time you sing it, it has to be like the first time.” -Jason Apfelbaum

“Every time you sing it, it has to be like the first time,” said Apfelbaum. “Your guests want to feel special. The song has to feel authentic.

You should also personalize the dessert, perhaps by writing their name on a cake or in chocolate syrup on the plate, Apfelbaum added. The degree to which you customize the experience and make it fun will be reflected in the memories of partygoers — and their eagerness to come back.

Related: 5 Clever Ways Restaurants Can Use Instagram Stories

Keep an eye on the party

Birthday parties give you a chance to introduce your restaurant to customers who might otherwise have not known about it. Visit the table frequently to wow these first-timers with great service, and make sure the party runs smoothly, said Apfelbaum.

“As a business owner, I will always touch the table three times,” he explained. “I greet them, tell them if they need anything to contact me directly, and thank them before they leave. This way, they’ll leave happy and always come back generating additional business.”

You don’t need to go overboard to make a birthday party special at your restaurant. Providing great service, treating the celebrant like royalty and creating an atmosphere for revelry will make the experience memorable for all the guests — and encourage them to come back for future celebrations.

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