EAGLE COUNTY — The experience of dining out offers us social creatures the opportunity to combine two fundamental pleasures: enjoying the foods we are most in the mood for (prepared by expert hands, even better!), and sharing that experience with our community.
Sometimes, “our community” is made up of people from the general public who just happened to have chosen the same restaurant we did that night. And other times, when we’re gathering for a special event — a wedding rehearsal dinner, anniversary party or business retreat, for example — our community is pre-determined, intentional and specific. We want privacy, exclusivity and focus. We want a private dining experience.
But not every restaurant is equipped or willing to accommodate private dining requests. Reserving an entire restaurant, or even a single dining room, for a party of 30, for instance, can tax kitchens with smaller staffs beyond their capability. (It’s one thing to produce 30 entrees spaced five minutes apart, another entirely to get them out — well-prepared and at the right temperature — all at once.) And because many restaurants depend on at least two turns just to break even each night, devoting an entire evening to a single group can throw a financial wrench into what’s often an already inconsistent source of livelihood.
In resort communities like ours, a higher percentage of restaurants than usual offer private dining options. (We are, after all, celebration destinations.) Even so, variables such as size of the group, time of the year and type of menu and drink make a big difference in terms of advance time required for reservations, and total cost of the event. Here’s a quick sampling of three local restaurants that make private dining a priority and what their basic perimeters are.
A PRIMARY FOCUS
At the base of Vail’s Golden Peak, Larkspur Restaurant focuses exclusively on private dining year-round. This allows them unique flexibility to tailor each event to their guests’ specific needs, no matter how small or large the party.
“We’ve always had an exceptional commitment to integrity, in both food and service,” said Nathalia Souza-Chin, Larkspur’s director of special events. “Now we’re channeling that commitment to our area of expertise: customized private gatherings and celebrations. From our chefs creating unique menus to our hospitality team tailoring details of decor, and everyone on our staff is devoted to infusing personal touches throughout every aspect of each guest’s experience.”
Flexibility is Larkspur’s forte, Souza-Chin said.
“Not only is there no party too small, we can comfortably seat parties as large as 200 in the restaurant,” she said. “Even during the winter season, when we’re open to the public for lunch and happy hour, our private dining room is available for groups up to 35. Several corporate groups have even arranged for a private breakfast or brunch prior to hitting the slopes.”
Because there are a variety of spaces at Larkspur — from outdoor venues including the garden and patio to the relaxed bar, elegant large dining room, intimate smaller dining room or the open great room — and because each menu is custom-designed, there’s no flat fee for private events. “We can be surprisingly affordable,” Souza-Chin said.
UPSTAIRS IN THE VILLAGE
Just a few blocks down the cobbled walkway is Vail’s La Bottega, located in the heart of Vail Village. Chef-owner Steve Virion says private dining requests are a substantial part of his business, particularly during wedding season.
“The majority of our guests will order from the menu, but sometimes there are customized requests (for dietary or cultural preferences),” he said. “Either way, we are happy to work with people to make the event what they want it to be.”
For food, wine, hors d’oeuvres and tips included, guests can book the entire upstairs area of the restaurant, which accommodates up to 30 people comfortably, for approximately $5,000. In terms of when to make reservations, availability is largely affected by the seasons. “We always do our best to accommodate,” Virion said, “and if we have the space, we make it work. But of course, for large groups, the more notice we have, the better.”
OFF THE BEATEN TRACK
At Avon’s new Boxcar, parties of up to 60 people can book the restaurant’s back dining room, with a full view of the open kitchen, for a private event. The cost is between $4,000 and $6,000, depending on the exact number of people and the details of the chosen food and beverage.
“We’re still working with landscapers and designers to put the finishing touches on our patio, which should be completed by the end of July,” said Hunter Chamness, Boxcar’s co-chef and owner. “That will be a great place for a private group to start out with appetizers, drinks and views of Beaver Creek Mountain. And when everyone moves into the dining room, we want to make sure they have the kind of evening they want. So Cara (Luff, Chamness’ business partner and also co-chef of the restaurant) and I are both happy to work with the host of the party on the details of wine and menu. We can either design it for them or work with the host to come up with something tailored for their event.”
And if $4,000 is outside your budget, give Boxcar a call. Depending on number of people and details of menu, Chamness and Luff say there is some flexibility.
Above all, a well-planned private dining reservation removes the worry that hosts of group events may feel. When all the details are taken care of in advance, there’s no wondering whether gluten-intolerant Aunt Freida will get enough to eat, which wine should be served when (and how much of it!), or what the total bill will be. In other words, it allows the host to relax and enjoy the special evening along with everyone else.
Madeleine Berenson is a freelance writer contracted by Larkspur Restaurant. Larkspur has been serving American classics with a fresh interpretation since 1999. Visit www.larkspurvail.com for more information.