As the Balmoral Hotel in Edinburgh opens its first-ever Private Dining Room within the renowned Number One restaurant due to increased demand, it appears private dining is trending in the eating-out scene across Scotland.

Chef Tom Kitchin of the Michelin-starred restaurant The Kitchin, the Bonnie Badger restaurant with rooms, and Kora and Scran & Scallie neighbourhood restaurants, says private dining is increasing in demand by 15 to 20 per cent each year, and it’s a matter of “thinking outside the box” to offer guests something different and memorable in an evolving eating-out culture. Both the Kitchin and Bonnie Badger have a PDR (private dining room) and Kora and Scran & Scallie have semi-private spaces. Producer and supplier and guest celebrity/author/chef events hosted by chef Tom himself are proving popular at the Bonnie Badger, while tailored packages, complete with bespoke table plans and room settings personally designed and curated by Michaela Kitchin, are a unique offer at The Kitchin’s stunning Scandi-style, sound-proofed PDR for both corporate and family events.“It’s very important to create something special by working with our customers and clients to understand what they want and creating a fantastic ambience and a good flow of service,” says Tom. “It’s a big pressure but we need to embrace this emerging trend.”

At the five-star Cromlix, recently relaunched under the ownership of tennis star Andy Murray and wife Kim Murray, executive chef Darin Campbell says private dining takes on various forms: he calls it tailored dining. A new PDR, the Study, has recently been created to complement the existing Drawing and Garden Rooms due to increased demand for corporate and family private events. They cater for 200 private dining covers a month and counting, for parties of various sizes.

“From our experience there is more private dining but not necessarily what you might think it is,” he says. “There are many more various events that people are planning for, and private dining can offer a completely different experience from eating in the restaurant. We recently had a couple on honeymoon who asked for a bespoke menu which we offer for a bedroom or a private room. And a buffet in the Garden Room for a family event felt like a new experience, with eight children aged eight to 20 free to move around and photographs being taken. We’re probably seeing more family events and reunions where people feel they can completely relax.”

In terms of menus, he says private dining can offer a less formal style of food where guests can order three to four plates each and try them out. A platter of whole roasted turbot was recently ordered for a BBQ by the Loch event for guests to take as much or as little as they want.

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Is increased demand a result of lockdown and social distancing? “During lockdown people cooked for themselves at home and became more adventurous,” says chef Darin. “Now they want to eat together under one roof and they want to try more fantastic memorable experiences.” Cromlix has just appointed a Food and Beverage Manager, a new role, to co-ordinate between the restaurant and private dining. It is also expanding its front-of-house staff and is in the process of building a new kitchen to grow the business.
“We’re looking to create an African tent in the garden with a different offering to our existing BBQ by the Loch offer and the Gate Lodge. Private Dining is not just about Private Dining Rooms – it comes in lots of different guises. It’s not as straightforward as it used to be,” he adds.

James Murray, head chef of Michelin-starred Timberyard in Edinburgh, agrees private dining is popular. His PDR is called The Shed, a brick and stone outhouse apart from the main restaurant, complete with wood-burning stove, for up to 10 people. It’s usually occupied at least three times each week, at £800 per event with chef’s tasting menu, plus more for any additional special requests. It has a sound system, two dedicated staff, and is soundproof. The split between business and personal use is 50/50.
“It’s a soft room with low lighting, lots of candles, textures, brickwork and natural wood, and it’s pretty unique in Scotland,” he says. “I see people treating special occasions with more seriousness, especially with the cost of living crisis. They want their evening or lunch to be a memorable experience.” Offering private dining in addition to the main 45-cover restaurant creates two dining rooms, but chef says in terms of the menu people generally want the same Michelin star experience, but just in a special setting.

Does being in a separate building give guests licence to behave badly? 
“Luckily it’s soundproofed for those who want a bit more fun,” says chef. Of course, not all restaurants offer private dining, either because they don’t have the space or simply because they feel it’s not necessary.

As chef Graeme Cheevers of Glasgow’s independent Michelin-starred Unalome says: “We can offer exclusive use of the whole restaurant and occasionally I do outside catering but essentially our diners come here for the complete Michelin experience. For me, my restaurant comes first and I’d never put that at risk by stretching myself too far.”