Ideas: Company Party, 300 employees, Innovative Cuisine
Hi Chowhound board!
I'm wondering if anyone might have a recommendation for...
- a Chicago restaurant (in the city)
- that seats up to 300 (may have to rent out the space, have an earlier seating)
- with a creative chef/s
I'm on a committe to help plan my company holiday party, and instead of renting out a nightclub, I wanted to come to the table with a sit-down dinner idea. However, I work at a workplace that is "creative" and the upper managment would only support an idea for a restaurant that features a creative chef and cuisine.
I'm not that "up" on the latest restaurants and who the innovative chefs are, but places like Next, Alinea, Aviary, Charlie Trotter's came to mind - but I don't imagine they care to do this sort of thing.
As someone who has planned events which include dinners of that size, I'll give you a few things to beware of right up front. First, you really REALLY need to have this done by a chef/staff that has extensive experience cooking for this many people. The skills needed to produce 300 meals at exactly the same time involve much more than the same thing when done for groups of 2 or 4 or 10 at a time. We learned the hard way when we tried to hold a dinner at a place that couldn't pull it off, and it took them two hours to serve the main course to the entire room. 'nuff said. (One way to tell whether a restaurant has that kind of experience is whether they have a large enough private room at their facilities; if they do, then they probably have a fair amount of experience serving that size group.)
The other caveat is that if you're doing a holiday party for this coming December, your options will be limited. Most offices start planning their next year's holiday parties and reserving space in the winter, right after their party takes place in December. If you're looking for a big space on a Saturday night in December, most will have been reserved many months ago. Again, 'nuff said.
I would start with two places where you can find information about rooms for private parties for many facilities. One is the private party planners at Lettuce Entertain You. LEY has about forty different restaurants in the Chicago area, including some of our finest and most creative establishments (Everest, TRU) as well as others in all price brackets. They have one centralized private party planning group which can advise you about holding an event at any of their venues. They even have their own website, at www.lettuceparties.com What this will let you do, especially this late in the year, is avoid having to call dozens of places and being told over and over by each one that their weekends are booked in December, or that they don't have enough space for you; one phone call and you can find out availability for any of their 40 or so places.
The other resource is Opentable, the online reservation service used by most of the nicer, more creative restaurants in Chicago and many other cities. They have a listing of the private dining services and their capacities for the restaurants whose reservations they handle, so you can see at a glance which ones have rooms sufficient to hold your size party. You'll find the listing of private banquet places at www.opentable.com/info/banquets.aspx?m=3 On that web page, you'll see that there are choices on the left that will let you narrow down your listing by size (for example, over 150 people), location, cuisine, and price.
Also, you should be aware that restaurants generally charge at least as much, and often more, for a private banquet, compared with their normal menu prices. So a place that costs $200-300/person or more for their normal menu, like Alinea or Charlie Trotter's, probably isn't going to be able to come in at $80-90/pp for dinner for a private party. Especially if alcohol is included.
One final comment - I wouldn't rule out using a catering service and a venue other than a restaurant. Some of the caterers around town can turn out food as creative as many of our finer restaurants. Just a thought.
I've had been to work functions at Sushi Samba Rio in which the company rented out the entire restaurant. (not my company), The food was very good. The had people walking around with trays and a couple concrete serving areas IIRC. Not exactly sit down but not nightclub either.
Sushi Samba Rio
504 N Wells St, Chicago, IL 60654
That will push the envelope on potential restaurants both on price and capacity. I'd suggets looking into Mercat a la Planxa, which can accommodate 300 in 2 seatings (with no room to spare) and hits your price point. May not hit your "creative" point, depending on how it's being defined, but is creative enough. OpenTable lists the capacities of some of the more popular spots for banquets:
Mercat a la Planxa
638 South Michigan Avenue, Chicago, IL 60605