Food, as every bride knows, is the way to a guest's heart, making the crowd feel warm and welcome. One way to guarantee that your guests have a four-star experience is to book your celebration at a restaurant whose cuisine you know and love. A restaurant wedding is also an easy choice for couples who want the full wedding experience, but who don't want to sweat the details, since everything—from chairs to chafing dishes to a check room—is already in place. Here, the logistics of having a wedding in a setting where the fare is fabulous.
The Food Factor
Naturally, the area in which restaurants really shine is food. Do you want to serve your guests a particular cuisine or dishes that generally aren't considered wedding-menu fare? A pair of sushi lovers, for example, might be happiest having their wedding at their favorite Japanese restaurant (you'll want to balance the raw fish with other Asian fare). And unlike wedding venues where you're a one-time-only client, restaurateurs hope you'll return.
For that reason, they tend to make sure that the food and service are superlative—this is their chance, after all, to strut their stuff in front of a large audience of potential customers. One downside: Unlike many other sites, restaurants are going to be fussy about allowing you to bring in food made by outsiders. If the restaurant has a pastry chef, for example, the manager might not be keen on letting you bring in a cake from your favorite bakery.
The cost of a restaurant wedding depends in large part on how much of the place you'll be using. If you plan to take over the entire facility, you'll most likely have to compensate the owner for all the business he will be giving up on your account. (Most restaurants "turn tables" two to three times an evening, and also depend on bar tabs.) That can be especially pricey on a Saturday, the most profitable night of the week. Still, it is possible to have a restaurant wedding on a limited budget. The most obvious way is by choosing a spot that has more than one dining area, or private dining facilities, so the proprietor can keep his main dining room and bar open.
Also consider a venue that's normally closed during the day (you could host a brunch or lunch), or closed on the weekend (you could have a Saturday-night wedding at a business-district eatery). Finally, ethnic restaurants can be a less pricey option. A well-regarded neighborhood Mexican restaurant can probably throw a wedding at a fraction of the cost of a so-so Continental place just down the street. And didn't you two meet over frozen margaritas?
Decor du Jour
Unlike reception halls with neutral decor designed to be transformed with linens, china, and flowers, most restaurants come with their own distinctive look, which might include unusual art and vivid colors. Presumably, any place you're interested in will have a look you're happy with, since chances are you won't be able to alter the general design. Still, every bride wants to customize her space, so make sure that you're allowed to bring in the flowers and other decorations you want.
Also pay attention to what gives a restaurant its ambience. If it's the evening skyline, schedule cocktails to take advantage of the spectacle. If it's a glass-enclosed patio, have a daytime reception that will show off the surroundings.
It's important to find out up front—before you've put down a deposit—how many people the restaurant can realistically accommodate. A band or DJ, dance floor, and an area for the ceremony all take up room. That's why the number of wedding guests the restaurant can handle is not the same as its maximum diner occupancy. Ask the manager how many people you can invite to eat, drink, and dance in comfort. Is the restaurant made up of a series of smallish rooms? If so, some people may feel isolated during dinner, unable to see the bridal party or other guests.
If the restaurant primarily has tables for two and four, everyone will be sitting in small groups (although you may be able to push tables together). Think twice before booking a restaurant full of banquettes, which will give you even less flexibility. Also check out that there are an adequate number of bathrooms. The last thing you want is for your guests to be standing in a restroom line when you're cutting the cake.
Restaurants that are accustomed to holding weddings often have a separate space or small room that can be used for the ceremony. Before you sign on with a particular restaurant, see if the management has creative ideas for taking advantage of available space throughout the wedding. For example, a terrace that's used for a ceremony might become a lounge area with cocktail tables later on that evening.
Depending on the length of your guest list and the size of the space, you may not have room for a band. If you have your heart set on dancing, make sure that you'll be able to have at least a DJ and a dance floor. Also, since most restaurants are designed for quiet background music, they might not have appropriate soundproofing to keep neighbors or diners in adjoining rooms from complaining. Ask the manager how loud your music is allowed to be. A jazz combo may be fine, but if you're thinking about hiring something more lively, like a zydeco band, you could be out of luck.
If the restaurant you're booking is in a crowded urban area, it's not likely to have a lot of parking space. If so, check out lots and garages near your chosen site. When you send out the wedding invitations, include on a separate card the names and addresses of the garages. As an alternative to parking that your guests will pay for, find out if a nearby church, office building, or even another restaurant might sell you space in its lot at a reasonable rate. Include a card with the invitation that guests can leave on their dashboard, showing the parking attendants that the garage fee has been paid.
Unless you're taking over an entire restaurant for the night, or you confine yourselves to a separate dining room, you'll have to deal with privacy issues. Are you considering using just a portion of the restaurant? Unless yours is a very small, very informal gathering, ask yourself if you'll feel comfortable conducting your reception—making toasts, cutting the cake, tossing your bouquet—within full view of the restaurant's regular patrons.
Some restaurants will allow you to designate a special smoking room, or if your reception is in a private room, the restaurant's main bar area might be available for smoking. A growing number of states and localities have ordinances that strictly limit smoking. Check with your restaurant to see what they can do to accommodate your needs.