Dinner and Drinks for 40?
With just a quick peek at a couple of places, $90 should be very doable. Heaven on Seven on Rush charges $33 for 4 hours of open bar with premium liquor (and $23 for beer/wine/soda). With food you'd be at no more than $70 plus tax and gratuity.
Heaven on Seven
600 N Michigan Ave, Chicago, IL 60611
Yes, it's possible, absolutely! Lots of restaurants have rooms for private parties. So you have your own room where your guests can mingle and be seated.
Lots of places can do this for $90 per person. Alcohol is typically the biggest variable, so you will need to discuss how to handle that with your private party coordinator.
Where is everyone staying or coming from? (What hotel or a nearby intersection.) That's important, because with that many people, it's a whole lot more convenient to have it nearby, than having 40 people scramble for cabs or having to arrange a shuttle bus. So if everyone is staying or coming from a particular suburb or area, you might choose a place in that area, rather than downtown (and vice versa).
Also, any particular needs as far as kinds of food, type of atmosphere, etc? Are these adventurous type eaters, or more the meat-and-potatos kind of folks?
How soon will this be?
Thanks so much! It's a holiday party for former classmates coming from Oak Park on December 10th (I know, not the greatest timing). They met at Rockit one year, and were on their own with hotels. I would say River North, Gold Coast for location, and they want to eat from 7 to 10, and then go out after, so nearby nightlife is a plus. I think more meat and potato than foie gras ice cream, if you know what I mean.
The good news is, you have time to plan it. The bad news is, it's a Saturday night AND it's in the middle of the holiday season when lots of offices are throwing their holiday parties. So even though it's five months away, you should start making calls right now, and you're going to find that a lot of places are already booked. Many offices make reservations for their holiday parties in January every year.
When you call places, the first two questions they will ask will be how many people and what date, because if they don't have an appropriate size room available for you on that night, they won't be able to do anything for you. I don't offhand know which restaurants have rooms that hold 40 people comfortably. But there are two places you can find places quickly. One is Lettuce Entertain You. They have 40-50 restaurants, most in Chicago and mostly downtown (River North etc). They have one centralized group that plans private parties for all of their restaurants, as well as some others that are not part of LEY (e.g. Maggiano's). That group has its own website and contact information at www.lettuceparties.com I'm not trying to push LEY - I have no association with them - but it's a good way to get your feet wet and get thinking about things that will determine where and how to hold your party. Lettuce can be a bit less flexible than independent restaurants where you may be discussing your needs with the owner. But it's nice to have one point of contact who can advise you about multiple restaurants, rather than having to call each restaurant individually.
The other listing that's very helpful is on Opentable, where you can see a listing of Opentable's restaurants with private dining rooms, showing the size of the rooms available, etc: www.opentable.com/info/banquets.aspx?m=3 There are boxes to check on the left where you can narrow the list down to places with rooms for a given size group. You can narrow the list down to places in the hotel district (River North, Gold Coast). You can check their website menus to get an idea of the food that they serve and how it is priced. However, prices tend to run higher for private parties; service charges will be added to your bill, and some places may also hit you with a fixed room charge. The key is to keep your budget in mind and to work with them to meet your bottom-line target (and remember, EVERYTHING is negotiable!). The really good private party coordinators can be quite flexible in coming up with solutions to meet your budget. There are all different ways to do so - not just selecting the menu so that you don't have the most expensive item (there's a reason many banquets often have the so-called "rubber chicken" although that doesn't mean you have to do so), but also considering how many courses you have (e.g. Do you really need an appetizer AND soup AND salad, or can you get by with one of those three?). The initial consultation with these private party coordinators is free, so feel free to contact a lot of places to see what they can offer.
That ought to get you started, thinking about places, and you'll need to make some calls. Once the private party coordinator has asked you about date and size, they'll ask about budget, and they'll tell you what they can provide within that budget. You'll have to discuss with them how they handle the open bar. An open bar tends to be very expensive, but you can do it. I've arranged numerous private parties and the alcohol is always a sticking point, because the restaurant doesn't want to end up providing an unlimited amount of alcohol and loses money on the event as a result. And whoever is responsible from your end - you personally, perhaps - won't want to end up losing money because of the open bar, either, and you also don't want to have everyone pay a lot of money for that privilege. There are ways to ensure that that doesn't happen. For example, you can have an open bar but only for the first cocktail hour, then have the tables set with a pre-specified number of wine bottles. At the events I've planned, the individual attendees had to pay to attend, and we needed to keep the cost within reason. So we needed to limit our financial exposure, and we also had concerns about possible liability (most of our attendees were driving afterwards). We almost always ended up deciding to have a cash bar rather than an open bar, as a way of addressing those concerns. In some cases we had a certain number of wine bottles set on each table, as I just mentioned. Another thing we have done in some cases is to provide each attendee with several coupons each good for an alcoholic beverage, so they were able to imbibe as part of the cost, while still providing a limit on how much could be consumed on our budget (the bartenders could take cash for those who wanted more than what was provided).
One final word. The best restaurants for a private party are not necessarily the best ones that you would go to in a group of two or four. Places that have a lot of experience with large parties know what they need to do to serve 40 people at the same time. We've had problems with others that don't have such experience, such as taking over an hour to serve each course. Chances are, a place that has a private room for 40 has a fair amount of experience serving large private parties. As you speak to multiple private party coordinators, you will see that some know exactly what they're doing, what to ask, and give you great advice to help you decide, and some others may not. Chances are better that a place with a truly helpful coordinator will also have the expertise to pull off an enjoyable, problem-free event for your group.