“Meat and Greet Services:
Eatertainment companies focus on group events”

By Bob Andelman
Motivation Strategies Magazine
(Motivation Show 2006 issue)

Even a 35-year-old venue with locations worldwide can still learn new tricks when it comes to hosting group business.

That’s what happened in February, when the Hard Rock Café chain hosted a 12-city, multi-venue video sales conference. The client imagined holding its event at the Hard Rock in a way that the restaurant chain itself hadn’t considered before.

“This company knew it could pick from the banquet menus we had,” says Kevin Kirby, senior director of sales for Hard Rock International in Orlando. “They had an A/V company that came in and did the hookups. It was a morning day part; we weren’t open to the general public. This company got its message out and didn’t incur the cost of flying everyone somewhere else.”

As obvious as it seems in retrospect, running a meeting or special event at multiple Hard Rocks – or any eatertainment venue, for that matter – was actually an “a-ha!” moment for the parent company.

“It was interesting to us and we’ve put the team to thinking about how we’d do this again in the future. It really worked quite well,” Kirby says.

In the case of the video sales conference, the client originally approached individual Hard Rocks in the cities it was interested in before corporate headquarters became involved as a unifying force. From there, everything fell into place, including a special limited brunch menu.

“Ironically, it gave them a unifying experience as best they could without being in the same city,” Kirby says. “And this wasn’t an over-the-top experience relative to high-end budgets, either.”

The Hard Rock, for one, has greatly evolved in the last decade.

“It’s been a revolution with what we do with hotels, casinos and live concert venues,” Kirby says. “We’ve reached out to groups and can offer a diversity of experiences they’re not used to from the Hard Rock Cafe they might remember from 15 years ago. A lot of the programs we’ve been implementing have more global scale and synergy with the cafes and how they’re positioned to the group marketplace. The seeds have been planted; it just needs to be communicated to the marketplace. If you want a unique experience and high energy, this is the place to go.”

Each Hard Rock – and there are now 132 of them worldwide – is different. Some are stand-alone restaurants; some are part of a casino, whether in Las Vegas or Tampa; still others are part of a concert venue. Some can accommodate a group of 50; some 200. Many cafes and casinos have private rooms. “There are a number of different ways you can go about it,” Kirby says.

Places such as the Hard Rock Café, Dave and Buster’s, Planet Hollywood, NASCAR Café, GameWorks, and Harley-Davidson Café are known for their specialized motifs, classic menus, souvenirs and many for their food. Why not consider holding an event at one – or several?

Dave and Buster’s bills itself as “the perfect location for business meetings and events all in one facility,” according to the Dallas-based chain’s director of sales, Ty Watson. “We give them the opportunity to meet, network, play and build tremendous relationships all under one roof. We offer everything that a hotel can offer for the actual meeting itself, but then so much more in the way of team building exercises and the social aspect of what we can do after the meeting is complete. We also offer many chef crafted buffets that are competitive in pricing, if not lower than most conference centers.”

Dave and Buster’s is in 44 North American cities; if you’ve never been to one, it is the ultimate electronic game arcade, minus the gambling, plus a full menu. The typical location ideally can handle meetings for up to 200 or special events for up to 2,000.

“The largest advantage of holding a meeting at Dave and Buster’s is the true interpersonal relationship building factor that our facilities provide,” Watson says. “By offering an all-inclusive destination, attendees can experience a first-class meeting environment while networking and strengthening relationships within the organization through team building exercises and other competitive games. We specialize in customizing all-inclusive packages for meeting planners to include meeting rooms with state of the art A/V equipment, multiple buffet options, hundreds of drink combinations, team building exercises and all the fun you can imagine in the Million Dollar Midway. It is truly a more complete option than using the familiar hotel banquet space that spills out into an empty banquet foyer.”

The Harley-Davidson Cafe in Las Vegas features private and semi-private areas; the entire venue can be rented for an evening and can hold up to 1,400 guests for a corporate reception or theme party.

“We offer a variety of banquet menus or we will custom-create a menu specifically tailored to the demographics of our clients,” says Kate Mazzarella-Minshall, director of sales and catering for the Harley-Davidson Cafe. “We are customer-service oriented, flexible and accommodating and we offer quality and consistency in our food at competitive pricing.”

Because these places are used to serving a lot of volume – in terms of people and food – they can often be booked on shorter notice than other types of venues. But not too short.

“A lot of people have waited to book their reservations, but we encourage them to do it further in advance,” Kirby says. “But a week or two weeks? We can do that. Hard Rock Café Times Square on a week’s notice, however, we might not be able to do. We don’t want them to have an unfavorable experience.”

Choosing an appropriate venue is always an issue for corporate groups, of course. Hard Rock Café or Planet Hollywood might be considered too risqué for a group’s function; the same folks might be more at home among the games at Dave and Buster’s and GameWorks or the race cars at NASCAR Café, however.

“Rock ‘n’ roll can be deeply personal or something you do with a group of people,” Kirby says. “It appeals to so many people in so many different ways – people that you wouldn’t think of as headbangers or enjoying a certain music genre, will still surprise you by appreciating the memorabilia and experience. A Hard Rock really is a place for people of different classes of society and love of music to come together.”

There are a few things you can’t do at an eatertainment venue that you can do in a hotel or banquet hall, such as transforming the venue into something else. The genre relics on the wall stay; no exploding volcanoes will be built center stage, thank you.

Many of the cafes have gone through A/V upgrades and some have their own in-house A/V staffs, large projection screens TVs, PowerPoint and video hook-ups? And if they can’t do it, they typically have a local production partner that can.

Costs for an eatertainment venue will likely compare with conference centers.

“If it’s a meeting, it would probably be no different than what a venue rental would be,” Kirby says. “We would need staff, of course. In the case of the multi-venue, multi-city client, we had to be staffed in the morning – a time when we’re not usually open – and be able to deliver. And we don’t charge the same price in every café. There’s nothing we do that’s different than anybody else. If we don’t charge a venue fee, we’re looking at F&B minimums, no different than a hotel would do.”

And then, of course, there are the cool souvenirs.

“If a customer does a bulk buy, we have taken some of our shirts and put the name of company X or the name of their product launch on the sleeve,” Kirby says. “If the company’s not willing to offer something to attendees, we offer a gift-with-purchase strategy. We do try to incorporate the merchandise with the experience. We like to do a t-shirt, something they’d wear and be proud of and it would resonate for a while.”

So the Hard Rock Café merchandise store would likely be open even if the venue were rented out for a special event?

“The fact that I would have it fully stocked is coincidental,” Kirby says, laughing. “As much as we believe our food drives people back, it’s the service and the merchandise.”

Eatertainment Directory

NASCAR Cafe Corporate HQ
(865) 637-2324
Theme: Racing

Harley-Davidson Café – Las Vegas
(702) 740-455
Theme: Classic motorcycles

Planet Hollywood International Corporate HQ
(407) 903-5500
Theme: Movies, Hollywood

Dave and Busters, Inc. Corporate HQ
(214) 904-2241
Theme: Games

Hard Rock International Corporate HQ
(407) 445-7625
Theme: Rock ‘n’ roll

GameWorks Corporate HQ
(818) 254-4263
Theme: Games