Courtesy Cracker Barrel Old Country Store
Besides a place to spend the night, the most consistent issue facing group travel planners and tour operators is providing three meals a day for a traveling group.
Although a variety of meal options can be offered at a destination, finding a good dining experience within the necessary time constraints while a motorcoach is traveling from one place to the next can be a challenge.
One solution is to look for regional or national chains that have a record of consistent quality, service and price and are geared to handle motorcoach business.
Here is a look at how some restaurant chains that actively seek group business work with motorcoach groups.
“Tour groups are an essential element to the success of Cracker Barrel,” said Julie Davis, senior director of corporate communications for Cracker Barrel Old Country Store. “We work hard to be able to meet their needs when they stop in.”
Davis said the Lebanon, Tenn.-based company, whose first store opened in 1969, has learned over the years several things that groups appreciate, especially consistency in the quality of food and hospitality.
“They always know they will receive a warm welcome when they come through the doors,” she said. “And they like that they can get breakfast any time of the day.”
Group leaders and tour operators who are on a schedule also appreciate the way Cracker Barrel handles groups.
“We excel at getting people in and out of the door,” said Davis. “A whole bus is when we are at our best, hopping and making sure things are happening fast.”
Cracker Barrel’s Country Coach Service allows group leaders to book a particular restaurant ahead of time online or by calling a toll-free 800 number. “We will be ready for you,” said Davis.
“They can also purchase gift cards either for individuals within the group or as one big group card the tour leader can use to take care of the whole group. There are no fees or expiration dates.”
The gift cards can also be used in the stores’ famous well-stocked gift shops.
“They still want good food, but we have the added benefit of some nice shopping,” said Davis.
The driver and escort receive complimentary meals with groups of 15 or more, and there is designated motorcoach parking at most of the company’s 600 locations in 42 states.
“It [group business] is a very, very important piece of business for us, and a growing piece of our business,” said Julie Diamond, director of tourism and national sales for Buffets Inc., which includes Old Country Buffet, Hometown Buffet and Ryan’s.
“We have chosen to go after this industry because we are perfect for it. At a buffet, everybody can get something they like.”
Diamond said that last year the company instituted a group certification program “to show the industry we want the business.”
“All managers that come into our restaurants are trained in how to do group business,” she said. “We teach restaurant management teams how to work with groups, how to greet them, how to make a great experience. After all the managers have completed the training, the restaurant is deemed certified.
Diamond said one of the keys to attracting and maintaining group business is to make a good first impression. “We make sure we have a manager prepared to go out in a lot of cases to hop on the bus and greet them, let them know the specials of the day and what will happen when they go in.”
Groups have a special separate entrance. “They don’t have to wait in line, we have an area set aside for them,” she said. “In this industry, they are on a time limit, and we have to get them in and out in under an hour.
“We have servers assigned to get their beverages. We make sure the hot food is hot and the cold food is cold and the restrooms are clean. And we send them off with a box of cookies.”
The company has all-inclusive pricing at its more than 500 locations nationwide, free meals for the driver and group leader and designated motorcoach parking.
Buca di Beppo
When Planet Hollywood purchased Buca de Beppo in September 2008, one of its major focuses was to drive more motorcoach business to the Italian restaurants.
“Our No. 1 focus is getting motorcoaches into that brand,” said Kerry Montgomery, national sales manager tour and travel for both brands. “It has been our focus from day one, getting that brand out to operators and group leaders.
“It has been all hands on deck, from sales and marketing to operations. It has been extremely successful for us. If they are traveling on a motorcoach, we want them to identify Buca di Beppo as a group-friendly restaurant.”
Montgomery said the keys to attracting groups are consistency, “over-the-top hospitality,” food quality and prices that are consistent, inclusive and competitive at its 87 locations nationwide.
“You can call one number to book across the country,” she said. “We have simplified the process.
“We made sure that we did a full educational process with all our chef partners and general managers across the restaurants, one on one, about how we cater to group business from the moment they arrive, greeting them on the bus and walking them into the restaurant.”
Montgomery said that because of its restaurants’ unusual décor with themed rooms, open kitchens and family-style service, Bucca di Beppo is more than just food. “We try to create an experience rather than just another meal on the road,” she said.
“We do a quick tour with a group. We walk all groups through the kitchen and the rooms. For example, we have a pope room with a bust of the pope on a lazy Susan and a wine room with wine bottles all over the ceiling.
“The family-style dining they don’t get in other group restaurants,” she said. “It is a little different than they are used to. It engages the groups more in conversation. It is a more laid-back atmosphere.”