Expert advice: How to hire top talent for private dining events

Craig Richards, chef at St. Cecilia, and Kellie Thorn, bar manager at Empire State South, on how to bring in a ringer
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Illustration by Jochen Schievink
Illustration by Jochen Schievink

What’s the best way to approach someone about a private event?
Richards Book through the public relations or marketing person at the restaurant. I’ve also had regulars just approach me directly.

Thorn Keep in mind that Friday or Saturday nights are going to be a little tougher. Try for a weekday or a Sunday.

Does the size of my party matter?
Richards I prefer an intimate gathering (about 12 people) because the fun part is interacting with everyone. People can hang out in the kitchen and ask questions, or I can come out and talk about each course as it’s presented.

Thorn If it’s a large gathering (about 50 people), you’ll need a second staffed bar station or a self-serve drink, like a punch.

My kitchen is tiny. Is that a problem?
Richards I’ll usually check out the house ahead of time and work the menu around any limitations. And more often than not, the kitchen is nicer than the one that I work in every day.

Thorn Communicate clearly what the bartender will need and what you will provide. Bartending tools are one thing, but don’t ask them to lug bags of ice to chill the beer.

How much will it cost me?
Richards Expect to spend more than you would on a caterer, but keep in mind, you’re buying a much more personal experience. It also depends on the chef; Ford Fry is going to be way more expensive than I am.

Thorn Offer a minimum of $150 for the night; otherwise, it’s not worth it to skip a shift at their regular establishment. Set up a fair fee up front, and don’t worry about tipping. It’s awkward to set up a tip jar at a party.

This article originally appeared in our April 2015 issue under the headline “Pro tips: Bring in a ringer.”

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