As the parents of a daughter in travel sports, we often find ourselves participating in out-of-state tournament play. When on these sports trips, there are two undeniable facts…the players need to rest and they need to eat. Often getting together for a meal can be a team-building event, however organizing it is no easy feat. As a team manager, or mom, I’m sharing my tips on how to put together a successful team dinner and managing large groups at restaurants.
Order Up! Tips For Managing Large Groups At Restaurants
There are a lot of factors to consider when choosing a restaurant for a large group. These include food allergies, vegetarianism, veganism and just all around picky eaters. You certainly don’t want to be blindsided with on the day of the event. Sending out an email ahead of time to find out what everyone’s special dietary needs are BEFORE you book the venue can be very helpful. Make sure information such as food allergies and how many players, parents and siblings will be attending is noted before you start selecting eateries.
First Course: Restaurant Research
This is the single most important task when organizing a team dinner and cannot be taken lightly.
What is your schedule like? Is this team dinner taking place between games or after a game, and what time of day will it be? When you will be dining is just as important as where. If possible, schedule the team outing during restaurant off hours. You will have better service and reduce the risk of interfering with other diners. Also, if you are between games you want to think about appropriate choices for your athletes’ performance. A Las Vegas buffet just an hour before your tournament game is never a good idea.
TravelingMom Tip: Location, location, location. You might be dying to try that pizzeria you heard about from a local parent, but if it’s twenty miles from your hotel or next destination, it may not be the best choice. Take into consideration geography and know that some of your more directionally challenged parents (hand raised) will appreciate not having to go far or make so many turns in a strange city.
The Internet Can Be Your Best Friend
The internet is your best friend for viewing menus and even seeing what the place looks like. Is it wise to choose a tiny bistro for your outing? If you have thirty plus people you may want to keep scrolling. Larger places that have separate rooms are ideal for these types of dinners or lunches. It is never fun to be crammed into a corner or worse yet, in the middle of the restaurant wreaking havoc on other patrons. The ideal situation is for the kids to have their own table so the parents can take somewhat of a breather.
Calling restaurants is not the time to be vague or coy. Let the restaurant know exactly what you are looking down – the team allergies, number of people and if there is a time constraint. It’s best to know from the get go if they can handle your party because waiting around for food and then slamming it back is no good for anyone’s digestive system. Be honest about how long you have and make sure they have an appropriate space for you. Just because they say they can seat you doesn’t mean that the space is ideal.
Second Course: Meal in Motion
When you get to the restaurant, enlist a few helpers to keep everything in line. Especially with younger players, things can get a little unruly and when you are the only parent running from table to table busting up spit ball fights and Tabasco drinking contests (true story) it can be very frustrating. Call for backup!
TravelingMom Tip: When ordering, do it by the numbers – the players’ numbers. By using the player’s jersey number you eliminate confusion on who ordered what and who gets charged what at the end of the meal. No jersey numbers? Using the player’s last name works just as well. This system has a great track record.
It’s always a good idea to become friends with the wait staff. Let them know that you are there to help with anything and that you can even return empty pitchers for drink refills to make the process a little smoother.
And speaking of wait staff, do tip over the standard large party gratuity if the service warrants it. Nine chances out of ten this person, or persons, is going to be doing a lot of running back and forth and large parties, especially those with kids, can be very taxing.
Final Course: Pass On Dessert
It’s never really a good idea to order dessert. Even if the time is right for it, say after a game, dessert will only drag the meal out longer and the kids will start getting antsy. Organize a dessert/drink/coffee get together for parents at the hotel if you would like to continue mingling. When there are players in tow, the rule is: get in and get out.
TravelingMom Tip: Encourage your parents to use cash when the bill comes. Credit cards are time consuming forms of payment. Cash is easily doled out and change is readily available. This is particularly helpful when you are short on time, and wait staff is generally going to be appreciative if you skip the plastic.
Snack Time and Speedy Eats
Is your team really crunched for time? Then fast food may be the only option. It’s a simplified solution to time constraints not only because everyone orders, pays and seats themselves but it is cost effective as well. Not all fast food is created equal however. Be mindful of the fact that you are feeding players often before a test of their athletic prowess. Our hockey coach is a particular fan of Chipotle because of its fresh and generally healthy options. Other favorites have included sandwich shops and delis where soups and salads are on the menu.
Know that you will never make everyone truly happy with your selection. The idea is to get the team a semi-nutritious meal, in a timely fashion with minimal fuss. If you can serve that up then, you have yourself a winner of an outing!
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Sharon Enck is a writer and blogger who credits her traveling chops to being a hockey mom. With dozens of sports related trips under her belt, she can navigate a tournament weekend and massive amounts of gear with ease and a sense of humor. From packing tips suitable for even the finickiest of airlines to managing fun and function on trips, Sharon and her teen daughter are sports travel aficionados. She chronicles their misadventures while keeping the world of youth hockey real and real funny on her blog Puckgal.