By Brian Jewell
Finding a restaurant that can serve 20 to 40 travelers easily and quickly is not always a simple task. Establishments that do well with groups can be great assets for travel planners. And conversely, a thriving group business can be a wonderful asset for a restaurant company.
Because of this mutually beneficial relationship, some local and national restaurant operators have begun to enter the group travel industry and market to tour operators with special packages. NTA has reported that seven new restaurant companies have joined their association in the past year.
We spoke with representatives of two of those companies to find out how they’re courting the group travel market.
Packaging for Groups
Patina Restaurant Group (PRG) operates dozens of restaurants in cities across the country, with a variety of different culinary concepts and price points. Four of those properties are in the Downtown Disney area in Southern California, and the sales team there undertook a project last year to try to capture more of the tour business they saw coming through their region.
“We were looking at how to expand our client database and get into markets we hadn’t touched before,” said Patty Leemhuls, director of sales for the PRG properties in that area. “We had a couple little tour groups here and there, but not really many. So we reached out to a few of our past groups and talked to them about what they were looking for, and came up with some packages that we felt would be good for them.
“We used the packages as a test, then started branching out. By the end of last year, we were ready to begin reaching out to tour operators who weren’t familiar with our properties. The market has done really well for us.”
Leemhuls said that many of the tour operators that she works with bring youth and student groups to the Disney parks. She has packages at two restaurants — Tortilla Jo’s and Naples — that include a preset menu and a soft drink for $18 per person. That moderate price helps to keep tour operators within a youth-appropriate budget.
Perhaps just as important as the budget, though, is the speed of service.
“Groups want to be able to get in and out of the restaurants in 60 to 90 minutes so they can go back to the parks,” she said. “Our menus are generally served family style, so we get all of the group dishes out to the table quickly.”