Inside NY's Private-Dining Boom: 10 Rooms to Book Now
The New York Yankees-themed NYY Steakhouse that opened in Rockefeller Center just before Thanksgiving has an extremely impressive collection of baseball memorabilia - including contracts for greats like Mickey Mantle, Yogi Berra and Joe DiMaggio, and even the famous papers that brought Babe Ruth to the Yankees from the Red Sox. But most diners will never see any of these treasured objects, because none are hanging in the main dining room. Instead, they're in one of the three private banquet rooms.
NYY Steakhouse's decorating choice is a prime example of where many New York City restaurants are focusing their energy - on the private-dining market. Lafayette has devoted an entire floor to parties, Le Bernardin is opening a new space (called Bernardin Prive) on the second floor exclusively for banquets, and nearly every new restaurant that has the footage is adding catering facilities.
“As the economy comes back, there is more and more demand for private dining rooms, but the classic corporate experience is being replaced by rooms with more character,’’ says John Meadow, co-founder of LDV Hospitality, which recently opened American Cut with two large private rooms.
Banquet rooms are no longer used just for special occasions. “Now, instead of sitting around a corporate room, companies choose to hold meetings or video conference in a prettier environment that might be inspirational,’’ observes Donna Rodriguez, VP of Public Relations at BT Guest, which owns Atlantic Grill, Ruby Foo’s, Blue Water Grill and Blue Fin, among other establishments with private spaces, all equipped with AV technology for such occasions.
The level of the food has also been elevated beyond what people used to think of as standard catering food - poached salmon with some limp asparagus, or dry boneless chicken breast with mealy mashed potatoes. “I have seen Cipriani doing risotto at the last minute for 800,’’ says Le Bernardin chef Eric Ripert. “We will prepare everything at Bernardin Prive as if people are ordering à la carte at the restaurant.’’
The reason for all these new spaces is simple: private dining is a financial boon to restaurants. “Food costs are so high now that white-tablecloth restaurants make about 5% to 10% profit, but in private dining the profit is more like 50% to 75%,’’ points out restaurateur Don Evans, a partner at Loi, which has three banquet spaces, on the Upper West Side.
Private dining also benefits other restaurant guests, who are spared the disruption of large groups. “If you are having a romantic dinner and suddenly you are seated next to a table of 10, the intimacy is lost,’’ says Georgette Farkas, owner of the recently debuted Rotisserie Georgette. “Having a unique, private room is standard now when it comes to building a smart restaurant.’’
Read on for some of the city's most unique private-dining spaces.