How to Have a Restaurant Party

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Throwing a party in a restaurant can be more expensive than hosting one at home, but there are several major advantages: You can gather a large group of friends together and serve them special food—and you don’t have to clean.

•  Choose your spot. Go with a restaurant where you know the staff and food. Talk to the manager in person and choose the exact table you want. I prefer to be in the main dining room, not a private area. Part of the fun is being around the energy and intrigue of a great restaurant.

•  Give notice. I send out written invitations at least two weeks ahead of time. You want to convey that this is a party, not just an ordinary dinner with friends. Invite a few core friends along with a few wild cards.

•  Plan the food. Work with the restaurant manager to create a special menu; this will cut down on confusion and cost. Choose several appetizers and three main courses—one fish, one meat, one vegetarian. I also like to offer two desserts and have the waiters alternate them; that way, people can share with the person next to them. Order both white and red wine; you need about one bottle for every two people. If someone in your party asks for the 25-year-old scotch, waiters can be prepped to discreetly say, “I’m afraid that’s not available.”

•  Set the scene. Get to the restaurant 30 minutes before the party and liven up the table. Add a few floral arrangements and some votive candles. Put out bowls of nuts or olives and open a few bottles of wine so the first people to arrive can have a glass. (Be sure to let the manager know you’ll be doing this; he should be fine with it, particularly if you’ve charmed him.)

•  Settle up. I like to pay in advance; the restaurant can add incidentals to your credit card later. If you do pay on the night of the party, approach the maître d’ during dessert; your guests should never see the bill. Typically, restaurants include a gratuity, but I think it’s nice to be a bit more generous. Big tables are a lot of work.