Amarys Koenig Herndon and Jordan Herndon (Palm & Pine, New Orleans), Gabriel Banderas (Zuzul and El Cabo Verde, Shreveport, LA)
Welcome to Two-Top Talk, a monthly series where we drop in on a friendly chat between two restaurants about pressing industry topics. As operators swap stories and learn from each other’s failures and successes, you’ll find inspiration and ideas to apply to your business. With holiday season around the corner, our first participants discussed their experience using Resy Events to create memorable guest moments.
Gabriel Banderas, chef-owner of Zuzul and El Cabo Verde, and Amarys Koenig Herndon and Jordan Herndon, chef-owners of Palm & Pine, all run restaurants in Louisiana. Read on to see their frank discussion of how success comes from failure, why a cancellation policy is essential, and how bending over backwards for a guest isn’t always the right answer.
On Testing and Learning
Koenig Herndon: We always knew we wanted to do events because they are a chance for us to do something different—something that we just wanted to try. The hardest part about trying so many different things during the pandemic was realizing that if we’re going to be taking all these shots, we’re going to miss on some of them. We couldn’t waste time trying something more than once [if] it wasn’t working. We needed to move on to the next thing. That’s a lot of the reason why we were able to make it through the pandemic in the way that we did.
Herndon: We learned this from our past experiences starting as a pop-up: You’re not going to succeed at every single thing and you learn quickly.
On Thinking Through the Details
Banderas: You really have to think through when you’re setting up any event on Resy. Because there’s all kinds of questions you’re going to have from customers. For us, that’s the biggest challenge.
For our second-year anniversary, we did a four-course Spanish dinner with wine pairings [on Nov 16]. We had a lot of questions we had to answer for ourselves when we set up the event: do we want patio dining [or] do we want inside dining? Do we want guests to be able to sit at the bar if they want to? We put all the information [on] Resy so we can all—the restaurant and our guests—be on the same page.
Koenig Herndon: We always make sure there’s a full description of any event in Resy of what we’re doing. And we use the double-confirmation functionality so guests know what they’re agreeing to with an event, like if it’s a multi-course tasting menu. You don’t want someone walking in and saying, “Oh, I thought I could just order off the à la carte menu.”
Pro Tip: See how to set up your own Resy Event here.
On Setting Boundaries
Banderas: I have a question for [The Palm & Pine team]: Do you have a lot of cancellations, and do you have a cancellation fee?
Koenig Herndon: Across the board for parties of five or more, we have a 24-hour cancellation policy. If you don’t show up, you get charged $25 per person. For events, we’ll take a deposit of, say, $15 or $25 and apply that to their bill.
A great example: When we thought we were going to actually have Jazz Fest, we took $25 per person for a cancellation policy—no matter how big the table. It’s too big of a day to not have people show up and we all know how notorious people can be about not showing up. And some don’t care: They’d rather make three reservations and they’re okay with having to pay $25 per person for a table they didn’t show up for. Then, if they don’t show up, we can book that table to a walk-in and at least we had our bases covered with that $25. We have taken it too far in hospitality at this point, of always coddling the guest. We have to sustain our restaurants.
Koenig Herndon: It’s rude to just not show up for your reservation. If someone calls me and their flight was delayed, sure, I’ll sometimes waive the cancellation fee. But usually I’ll say I have a cancellation policy and hold them to it. Make them be accountable.
Pro Tip: Learn how to set up cancellation policies at your restaurant here.
On Getting People in the Door
Banderas: We haven’t had to do a lot of advertising for our events. Our servers promote the events to our own customers. For the holiday season, we have a New Year’s event and probably next year we’ll do Valentine’s Day.
By the way, I want to commend you, Jordan and Amarys. I follow you on social media. You guys are pushing it and keeping your business afloat. I saw the late-night burlesque event you are doing, and it’s so great. You’re thinking outside the box. You have to be brave to do these kinds of things. I’m a fan of you guys.
Banderas: We live in a time when social media is a go-to. Every once in a while we’ll also use text or email marketing through Resy, too. But I’m not typically the kind of person who likes to do that. Too many texts or emails from business annoy me. I’d much rather it be social media: Instagram, Facebook; Twitter.
Koenig Herndon: Social media is really what we depend on for events. Once we started using the events feature on Resy for Burlesque, we realized that anytime someone goes to make a regular reservation, the event shows up too. With our guest base, social media is a great way to communicate.
Pro Tip: Read "How To Make It Work: Instagram for Restaurants" for more social media advice.
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Scott Hocker is a writer, editor, recipe developer, cookbook author, and content and editorial consultant. He has worked in magazines, kitchens, newsletters, restaurants and a bunch of other environments he can’t remember right now. He has also been the editor in chief of both liquor.com and Tasting Table.