What is considered a large party at a restaurant?

When planning a dinner for a group, one of the first things you’ll need to decide is where to host it. For smaller gatherings of around 2-4 people, hosting at home is usually easy and inexpensive. But as your guest list grows, most homes don’t have the space or supplies to accommodate more than 6-8 guests comfortably. At that point, it’s time to start looking at restaurants.

But what’s considered a “large party” in a restaurant setting? When do you need to think about making a reservation or calling ahead? Are there special rules, restrictions, or fees associated with large parties? This guide will walk through when a restaurant considers a party “large” and what that means for planning your group dinner.

When Restaurants Consider a Party “Large”

There is no universal definition for what constitutes a large party at a restaurant. The size at which a party is considered “large” can vary significantly based on the restaurant’s size, layout, and policies. Here are some general guidelines:

– Parties of 6-8+ – For most average sized restaurants, especially with a more intimate layout, parties of 6-8 people or more are often considered “large”. The restaurant may require a reservation or take special considerations to accommodate your group.

– Parties of 10-12+ – Once you get to parties of 10-12 people or more, almost all restaurants will classify you as a large party. Reservations are usually required, and some may have restrictions or fees.

– Parties occupying multiple tables – If your party size requires occupying more than one table, you are generally going to be considered a large party regardless of exact number. Coordinating service across multiple tables makes you large from an operations standpoint.

– More than 20% of capacity – If your party makes up over 20% of a restaurant’s total capacity, the restaurant will want to plan accordingly. Even if you have less than 10-12 people, taking up that much real estate classifies you as large.

– Call ahead if unsure – When in doubt, call ahead. Let the restaurant know your expected party size and see if they consider you large or have any restrictions. Don’t make assumptions.

So in summary, parties of 10-12, parties requiring multiple tables, or parties over 20% of capacity are almost always considered large parties by restaurants. But the exact cutoff can vary. When planning group dinners, it’s smart to call ahead once you exceed 6-8 people just to be safe.

Why Party Size Matters to Restaurants

You may wonder why party size is such a big deal to restaurants. Here are some of the logistical considerations for them when accommodating large parties:

– Table spacing – Restaurants optimize table spacing for 2-4 person parties. Larger parties may require moving or removing tables which affects the whole layout.

– Seating space – There needs to be enough physical space at a table or tables to seat everyone. Large parties may not fit at certain table arrangements.

– Serving staff – More people require more servers to provide good service. Large parties may make it hard to adequately staff all tables.

– Kitchen capacity – The kitchen has to be able to cook for big influxes of food orders all at once. Large parties strain kitchen bandwidth.

– Pacing – Order timing, coursing out meals, and pacing service is challenging with large parties. The experience is better when this can be planned for.

– Other patrons – Other customers may be annoyed if a large party dominates the restaurant making it noisy and cramped. Restaurants want to provide the best experience for all.

The bottom line is large parties put strain on a restaurant’s physical layout, staffing levels, and operations. So they need to plan ahead to make sure they can accommodate both your party and their other customers smoothly.

Typical Restaurant Policies for Large Parties

What types of policies might you encounter when planning a large party at a restaurant? Here are some of the most common:

Reservations Required

Most restaurants will require a reservation for any party considered “large” in their space. This allows them to plan table arrangements, staffing, and the flow of service. Make sure to call far in advance, as prime times book up. Also provide an accurate count so they can set the right table sizes.

Limited Availability

Restaurants will often have policies limiting when large parties can be booked. For example, they may only allow parties over 8 on weekdays, or only seat large parties during early/late service. Limited availability makes coordinating large parties more challenging.

Fixed Menu

Some restaurants require large parties to order from a fixed, limited menu rather than their full menu. This simplifies kitchen operations. Make sure to ask about menus when booking and plan dishes accordingly.

Limited Table Time

In addition to booking limits, some restaurants will limit how long the party can occupy the table. For example, they may ask parties of 12+ to limit meals to 90 minutes. This helps them turn tables efficiently. Keep such time limits in mind.

Minimum Spends

Especially for very large parties, some restaurants require a minimum spend per person or for the full party. This guarantees they will make a profit from the time and effort to host you. Expect minimums at higher end establishments.

Service Charges

Instead of or in addition to minimum spends, some restaurants add mandatory service charges (usually 15-20%) for large groups. These essentially help cover tips for the extra staff required to serve you.

The bottom line is calling ahead about policies is crucial when planning any large dinner party at a restaurant. Don’t assume you can book whenever with full menus and flexibility. Know the policies to make coordination smooth.

Strategies for Booking Large Restaurant Parties

Follow these tips to seamlessly book a restaurant party for a large group:

Call Far in Advance

Especially if you want a Friday/Saturday night, book your large party reservation 1-2 months in advance if possible. Prime weekend slots go fast, so the earlier the better.

Have an Accurate Guest Count

Provide the restaurant an accurate guest count when booking to ensure they set up the right table sizes. Only give a final count less than 48 hours before your reservation – they may not accommodate additions.

Ask About Restrictions

Specifically ask if they limit when large parties can book, how long you can occupy tables, menu options, any minimum spends, and additional fees. Get all details upfront.

Consider Private Spaces

If budget allows, booking a private dining room or banquet space can be a great option for very large parties. You’ll avoid many restrictions and get customized service.

Have a Fixed Menu

To simplify kitchen operations, design a party menu ahead of time and get orders from guests in advance. Don’t wait until the last minute.

Book Transportation

Coordinate transportation like limos, party buses, or Uber XL if needed to ensure your entire group arrives and departs seamlessly. Don’t leave at once if cabs are limited.

Tip Accordingly

Remember that large parties require extra work from restaurant staff. Tip at least 20% (more if service is excellent) and follow any service charge policies without complaint.

The key is communicating early, clearly, and directly with the restaurant about your plans and needs. With some advance planning, you can ensure a seamless large party dining experience.

Ideal Restaurant Spaces for Large Parties

Certain restaurant spaces tend to work better than others for hosting large party dinners. Consider these options:

Banquet Halls

Banquet facilities are designed specifically for hosting private special events of all sizes. This makes them a popular option for milestone birthdays, weddings, graduations, and corporate events. The spaces are flexible to accommodate groups from 20 up to 300+ guests. Catering and alcohol service make planning easy. Banquet halls provide customizable, dedicated event spaces without size limits or competing restaurant guests.

Family Style Restaurants

Casual dining spots like diners, pubs, and family style chains often have party rooms available for reservation. Accustomed to handling big crowds and noisy environments, they can easily adapt for large party events. The food also tends to be budget friendly and appealing to all tastes at these more casual concepts.

Ethnic Restaurants

Many ethnic restaurants like Chinese, Italian, or Mexican places have large communal table seating perfect for big crowds of up to 50-100 guests. Authentic global cuisine also adds fun flavor to a special event. Just be aware noise levels can be high.

Private Rooms

Some upscale restaurants offer private dining rooms able to accommodate 20-50 guests or more. You get exclusive use of the space along with customized menus and decor. While pricier, it provides intimacy and exclusivity even for very large parties.

Outdoor Spaces

For more casual large gatherings, restaurants with outdoor patios, decks, or garden spaces can be great party spots in nice weather. Outdoor areas provide fresh air and relaxed environments good for groups of 30-60+.

The key is picking a restaurant whose layout and vibe matches the type of event you want to host. Prioritize flexible spaces that can easily adapt to your group size and needs.

When to Avoid Large Party Restaurant Bookings

While restaurants can accommodate large parties, there are certain situations when it may be better to consider other venues or options:

Peak Dining Hours

Friday or Saturday evenings at 7-9 pm are the busiest, most crowded times at most restaurants, especially in cities. Avoid large party bookings then unless you have a private room. Noise, service issues, and patron frustration are likely.

Understaffed Restaurants

With staffing shortages, many restaurants are understaffed and overwhelmed right now. Don’t book large parties at places already struggling. It creates a poor guest experience for all.

Very Upscale Places

Ultra-high-end tasting menu or fine dining restaurants emphasize intimacy and precision. Large parties disrupt their vibe, so book elsewhere.

Remote Locations

If the restaurant is remote with limited parking/access, it can be problematic for large groups to get there. Pick somewhere central.

Tight Layouts

Avoid booking large parties at places with cramped quarters between tables or in entryways. You’ll be disrupting service and foot traffic.

High Noise Levels

Similarly, very loud restaurants won’t allow proper conversation with a big group. Book somewhere you can actually talk and connect.

While any restaurant may take a reservation for 10 or more, it may not actually be conducive to a good experience. Use discretion when evaluating venues rather than just book wherever can fit you in.

How Large is Too Large for a Restaurant Party?

At a certain point, even the most accommodating restaurant reaches a maximum party size they realistically cannot host well. So how big is too big?

Here are some tips on where to draw the line:

– If seating your full party requires taking over more than 1/3 of the restaurant, it’s too large. You’ll be overwhelming the space.

– Parties requiring accommodation across more than 2-3 large banquet tables or 4-5 smaller tables are likely too big for most restaurants.

– If your party would exceed roughly 30% of the restaurant’s stated total capacity, find a more group-friendly venue.

– For high-end restaurants focused on quality over quantity, parties over 12 often diminish the experience.

– If you can’t host your party on one end of the restaurant without disturbing all other patrons, it’s too big for the space.

– If the restaurant seems reluctant, recommends alternatives, or has to make major exceptions to accommodate you, take the hint.

The bottom line is to use good judgment based on the restaurant’s layout and your party size. A party of 12 may overwhelm an intimate bistro but is easily hosted at a spacious bar and grill. Consider the big picture before committing to a large party restaurant booking.


Hosting dinner for a group? Understanding when your party size becomes “large” in a restaurant’s eyes is an important planning consideration. You want to make sure the space can actually accommodate your guest count comfortably and provide a seamless experience for both your party and their other patrons. Call ahead, be transparent about numbers, and follow any special restrictions. With good communication and advance coordination, you can successfully plan large party restaurant dinners as part of milestone celebrations. Just use discretion – not every restaurant works well for huge crowds. When in doubt, booking a private banquet room is usually a safe bet for very large groups of 50+ diners.

Leave a Comment