February 14, 2019 06:08 PM
When a customer reveals their plans to propose at your restaurant, treat it as an event or catering order and make sure to get all of the details. (Photo: Merla/Shutterstock)
by Joni Sweet
It may sound cliché, but getting engaged over a romantic meal is still a dream for many couples. In fact, proposals happen almost daily at restaurants, delighting the entire dining room and turning the couple into customers for life.
So when a guest decides to get down on one knee at your restaurant, you’ll want to pull out all the stops.
“When you have a proposal at your restaurant, you want to make it the best day of the couple’s life to date,” said Jessica Jordan, a wedding planner and former hotelier. “These couples are putting everything on social media these days, so there’s lots of potential for marketing. Plus, that couple might bring their engagement party or rehearsal dinner back to your restaurant.”
Most of the time, your guest will give you advance notice of his or her plans to propose. But even if it’s a spontaneous event, there are ways your restaurant can make the engagement special. Here’s how.
A customer calls your restaurant and asks to make a reservation. Then, he reveals that it’s going to be a momentous occasion: He’s going to ask his girlfriend to marry him. What do you do?
“When a guest approaches you about proposing in your restaurant, treat it as you would any event or catering order,” said Michael Maxwell, partner at Blue Orbit Restaurant Consulting. “On an event order form, record the date, time, guest contact information and all critical details.”
Don’t just focus on the basic info, though. Dig a little deeper to find out ways you can tailor the experience for the couple, said Jordan.
“Customization is huge. Ask the proposer about his or her partner’s favorite foods and ingredients. Then, have the chef prepare a menu with their favorite amuse-bouche, appetizer, drink, entree and dessert.”
When the couple arrives, hand them their special menu or have a server read off the personalized meal as the special.
“When he or she realizes it just so happens to be all of their favorite foods, it makes the night a lot more special,” said Jordan, adding that the couple may repeat some of these recipes at their wedding.
If engagements keep popping up at your restaurant, you might consider setting up an engagement package.
“You could treat it like a one-stop proposal shop — offer three to six courses (people usually want a longer dinner for their engagement), photography services and champagne after the proposal,” suggested Jordan.
Your staff may be eager to congratulate the happy couple, but be careful not to do it too soon. (Photo: WeAre/Shutterstock)
It’s hard not to brim with excitement when you know something big is about to happen. But be careful not to blow the secret, said Maxwell.
“Just as with any other event, only brief the people involved with servicing the party with the details. Bringing the entire staff into the process increases the odds of giving away the surprise.”
Your staff will be eager to congratulate the couple, but be careful they don’t do it too early. Set up a system to keep essential staff up-to-date on how the evening’s going.
“Predetermined code words or hand gestures are essential for the server or manager to get the timing right,” said Maxwell.
If it’s the first time your staff is running a proposal dinner, or if it’s a particularly complex engagement, a practice run could help get everyone on the same page, said Maxwell.
“When you have a proposal at your restaurant, you want to make it the best day of the couple’s life to date.” -Jessica Jordan (Photo: Jessica Jordan)
When it comes to big public proposals, people are split. The person proposing might love an audience, while his or her partner would prefer a more intimate experience, said Jordan. She recommended erring on the side of caution and seating the couple at a private table in your restaurant.
“A lot of times, that means a chef’s table or private room next to the kitchen, or another VIP space,” she said.
A private photographer is par for the course for most proposals these days. While you should give the couple some solitude, make sure that their photographer has a clear view of the table, said Jordan.
The degree to which the restaurant is involved in popping the question will depend on the guest’s preferences. Some will want you to incorporate the engagement ring into the food or drink.
“If the guest wants the ring in a glass of champagne, add a ribbon to it so their partner will notice it right away. People can be nervous and they might start sipping if they don’t see the ring,” said Jordan.
Dessert is a particularly sweet time for a guest to get down on one knee. However, baking the ring into a cake is an obvious choking hazard, so you’ll need to get creative for a happy ending.
“Get the ring to the server and have them bring by a dessert tray, describing each of the desserts and finishing off with ‘and each of the desserts is served with one of these,’ while handing the box to the proposer,” said Maxwell.
You won’t always have the opportunity to help a guest plan a proposal in advance, but there’s no reason you can’t make an unexpected engagement just as magical for the couple.
“Spontaneous proposals are curveballs for restaurants. The most important thing is bringing out champagne after they get engaged. If you have something exciting, like a dessert with sparklers, that would be really fun and create some gorgeous photos,” said Jordan.
You’ll need to use your judgment about the amount of attention you give the newly engaged couple. If the guests seem like the quiet type, help them celebrate in a more intimate way.
“A perfect scenario is simply to have the manager offer the two guests a nightcap (on the house) at a secluded table before they head home. This setting provides a wonderful and romantic backdrop for a proposal,” said Maxwell.
It’s unlikely that a couple will forget about the night they decided to spend the rest of their lives together. But giving them a keepsake will keep the details of the memory alive for years to come.
“I like to leave the couple with something they can keep forever to remember the moment. My favorite is a copy of the menu with the date on it and a ‘best wishes’ note signed by the manager, server and any other staff member that was involved in the process,” said Maxwell.
You also have the opportunity to present a more personalized keepsake based on the notes you took ahead of time, said Jordan.
“If you learned that the person being proposed to is obsessed with macarons, perhaps you can give them a takeaway box of macarons. If you incorporate their favorite things into a takeaway, I guarantee it will stay with them,” she said.
The wedding industry is valued at around $60 billion per year. By showing your guests’ proposals some extra love, not only will your restaurant get a piece of the wedding pie, it will also secure a place in couples’ hearts for life.