Private dining rooms (PDRs) are separate rooms in restaurants that are designed to host intimate dining events, personal or business-related, with smaller groups of people. PDRs are also extensively used by restaurants to offer diners a bespoke experience – with curated menus, beverage pairings and personalised service. Guests enjoy an exclusive and intimate dining experience, in a quiet space away from the sounds and sights of a busy main dining room, even if, as in some cases, the PDR is placed in the centre of the restaurant.
Once considered to be a unique offering of star hotels because of the availability of space to create private niches, today many standalone restaurants offer PDRs as a way to differentiate themselves from their competitors, and to attract guests looking for a distinctive dining experience.
“A lot of the PDR culture comes from the Far East, where people have always preferred a little privacy while dining,” says Zubin Songadwala, Area Manager South, ITC Hotels and General Manager, ITC Grand Chola, Chennai. “Especially in China, Japan and Korea, you have little Karaoke spaces that act as a party room. You can get your food there and entertain yourself. In Tangra, Kolkata, the bastion of the Chinese community, there are numerous standalone restaurants with such PDRs in them. In Bombay, they were called a family room, with a little curtain for privacy. The concept is not new to standalone restaurants or hotels but, hotels have enjoyed the luxury of space”.
Chef Manu Chandra, Founder-Partner, Manu Chandra Ventures agrees with Songadwala. “For the longest time, hotels were considered the only experiential destination to dine out for much of the demographic that would feel the need for a PDR. The standalone restaurant culture is in itself fairly nascent in India, especially in the luxury space. More recent still is the move in consumer sentiment to treat standalones at par with the 5 stars. Therefore, the entire PDR phenomena in the standalone space is still a budding concept, but one gaining traction rapidly”, Chandra says.
The Multi-Faceted PDR Experience at The Lovefools in Bandra, Mumbai is a big house with many rooms. The flexibility of space has been a great selling point here, as also the culinary experience of global tapas that they offer, believe Executive Head Chefs Sarita Pereira and Aniket Sawant. This house has been designed to have multiple PDRs, seating different numbers of people. The Proposal Room is ideal for 2, the Colaba Room seats 12, and the Bazaar is the common room with configurations of six, four and two. The courtyard can be booked on its own and all spaces put together can accommodate 50. The chefs also work on curating menus for each of their PDR bookings.
“While we function as a regular restaurant too, the flexibility of our PDRs has worked well for us. Our rooms have been booked for corporate meetings and parties of all kinds, including weddings, where the entire house is taken up. Guests get to customise décor too. When we opened in 2020, we were expanding from being a community table venture to a bigger space and were worried about losing out on the private dining aspect. With the PDR concept, we are big, yet intimate,” say the duo.
Across the country, PDRs come in all shapes, sizes and offerings. In New Delhi, the contemporary Japanese restaurant Kampai in Aerocity has two PDRs each seating eight to 10 people. Designed like a Japanese Tatami room with low seating, it offers the regular menu of the restaurant and an Omakase (chef’s special) too. Rooh, the progressive Indian restaurant in Mehrauli, offers bespoke dining experiences for groups of nine and above. At Deja Brew in Greater Kailash, a choice of cigars along with craft beer, gourmet coffee and a specially crafted menu can be had at the cigar lounge.
At Yi Jing, the Chinese restaurant at the ITC Kohenur, Hyderabad, the main PDR is centrally placed in the restaurant and is elevated, with glass walls around it. At the ITC Grand Chola, Chennai, the restaurant Pan-Asian takes things a step further and has a chef’s studio attached to its PDR. “There is no cookie-cutter model we follow, but each PDR is created with the idea of allowing the guest to have an exclusive experience,” says Songadwala.
The PDR at Chandra’s Lupa in Bengaluru offers the best vantage point for diners, above the central dining room, flanked by two grand staircases. Seating 12 at a large oval marble table the space is bespoke with leather seats, special glassware, cutlery and crockery and elevated menus. This PDR also features a credenza with cooking equipment for chefs to finish off sauces and garnishes right before guests are served, making the experience engaging.
For PDRs to work, it is how the concept of the restaurant, the food and the ambience all play together believes Pereira. “On its own, the idea of PDR may not work and can alienate people. Diners also come to a restaurant and want to be able to see others. How the space is conceptualised then becomes important," notes Pereira.
The business side of things
From the conceptualisation of the space to the financial viability of a PDR. The experience in PDRs is premium and has to be managed along with the running of a regular restaurant. Moreover, there are rarely, if ever, table turnovers for a PDR. When creating a PDR, several factors must be taken into account to ensure financial success.
“The per square foot revenue generated from a PDR must be considered, particularly in areas with high rental costs, such as Delhi or Mumbai. This helps determine whether a PDR is justified,” explains Avantika Sinha Bahl, founder and managing director, Kampai. “Secondly, the concept being offered plays a vital role in determining financial viability. A fine dining restaurant may require a PDR to provide an exclusive experience but a casual café may not because its atmosphere is more relaxed, and guests are not necessarily seeking private spaces”.
“If sold and marketed cleverly, a PDR can give you incremental and additional revenue. PDRs are booked for a purpose and it is unlikely you will have a turnover here. That is a potential risk in terms of revenue loss but, one can make up by selling it in a package that ensures a business gets a minimum revenue out of that space,” says Songadwala.
“Making a restaurant with strong USPs’ and high standards usually ensures its longevity because it is a hard model to replicate or compete with. Having said that, when one designs and programs a space like this (a PDR) in a high-end restaurant, the idea is more than business optimisation, it is also a way of establishing the culinary or service chops of the establishment," says Chandra.
Overall, the popularity of PDRs continues to grow as more restaurants recognise the demand for such experiences. However, their availability and popularity may vary depending on the location, type of cuisine, and the specific needs and preferences of the restaurant's clientele.
Also read | New ways to make chaat and chutney fashionable
Ruth Dsouza Prabhu is a Bengaluru-based journalist.