Nothing brings people together more than food. If you stop and think about your favorite holidays or social events (birthdays, graduations, anniversaries), chances are there's a great meal or possibly even a favorite restaurant involved -- so it makes perfect sense that as you think about your big day, you might consider a restaurant. Sure it may not be what you pictured as a child; and you may have to forego the conventional wedding, but if food is important to you and your fiance, then a restaurant just might be the way to go.
The beauty of planning a wedding at a restaurant is, unless there is a specific look you are hoping to achieve, everything you need is included: tables, chairs, linen (though some restaurants only offer basic overlays, so be sure to ask), dinnerware, decorative elements, and staff.
If there's a restaurant you enjoy, start thinking about the existing decor. Does it speak to you? If you planned your wedding style around these elements, would it still be true to who you are? Would it be an appropriate backdrop for your wedding photos? If you answer yes, then contact the restaurant to find out more information about hosting a wedding there. Most restaurants will have a sales manager or private events manager. Below are a few things you will want to consider:
- How many guests can be accommodated for a seated reception vs. a standing reception?
- Is a brunch/lunch wedding an option?
- Can the ceremony be hosted there as well, and is there an additional cost for this?
- If dancing is important to you, find out what (if any) your options are in the space?
- Is the menu for events completely different than the restaurant menu or is there any overlap?
- If you want a wedding cake, does the restaurant provide one or is there a cake cutting fee to bring one in?
- Does the restaurant require you to work with specific vendors?
- What is the average per person cost for the type of menu you are interested in?
BUDGET AND GUEST COUNT
One obvious way to save money and plan for a restaurant wedding is to cut down your guest list as much as possible. Some restaurants' private rooms can accommodate large parties, others require a full buyout, which can be pretty costly.
Tip: If you have trouble minimizing your list but are in love with a restaurant venue, take time or day into consideration as a creative negotiation tactic. For example, our private dining space at Sepia is perfect for intimate weddings of 60 or less for seated lunch/dinners, and 100 for standing cocktail receptions. However, if brides and grooms are having trouble keeping their guest count within our capacity, I encourage them to consider a daytime reception. We are fortunate enough that our private dining room is a separate space from the restaurant, so they can have their ceremony and/or cocktail reception in our private dining room and move over to the restaurant's main dining room for the reception. Because the restaurant is closed for lunch on the weekends, the couple saves on the buyout fee. There are time restrictions to this option, though, and it is important to know the restaurant's policy for extending the reception time in advance. If we are hosting a lunch reception and not charging a buyout fee, we do have a hard-stop time so our team has enough time to flip the room for regular dinner service that evening.
You many want to impress your friends and family by starting your dinner with a foie gras torchon, offering a five-course dinner, or serving late-night snacks. Talk to the restaurant and try to understand what is possible for your wedding and your party size. Keep in mind, serving a table of five in the restaurant is very different than serving a party of 100 at once. There are times a chef may not recommend a certain dish or adding a course in order to avoid compromising the food, service, and your experience. If this happens, ask for suggestions for something comparable.
Tip: On the topic of late-night snacks, unless you plan on dancing until the break of dawn in the restaurant, either keep them simple, or forget about them. So many couples waste their money on late-night snacks thinking they're going to be the greatest hit only to see them go straight to the trash. The problem is, most people aren't interested in eating an hour after they had dessert...or they're caught up on the dance floor so they miss the snacks...or they've gone home already. If you're going to offer late-night snacks, consider cold or room temperature items and ordering for half guest count or less.
Work with your sales manager/coordinator to find out what's feasible in the space. If there is a specific florist you love, see if the restaurant will allow them in. If there's a style you are interested in, but you don't know who to work with, ask for a preferred vendors list or referral. If you have a wedding planner, meet with him or her to discuss a layout and find out if the restaurant can coordinate specific rentals on your behalf, if needed. Find out what seating arrangements will look like, so you know how many tables you will have and what their dimensions are. Your florist can then make appropriate recommendations for centerpieces.
Tip: Ask for photos of previous weddings. Perhaps there is something that works really well in the space, and you may want to mimic this for your own wedding. Sepia has a very specific look and color scheme so it is sometimes difficult for people to visualize adding a contrasting element; but the fact is our space, though very refined, is neutral and lends itself to many different styles. For example, our private dining room has gorgeous tony duquette chandeliers that make people think the space is too elegant to do something rustic, but it is possible. A farm table adds a touch of understated elegance to the room. Old family photographs in antiqued frames highlight the vintage appeal of the restaurant, and an antique typewriter plays on the old printshop that existed long before the space was renovated to be a restaurant. Planning doesn't have to be difficult, just find out what works and stick to it.
If I had a dime for every time a bride or groom told me they were worried because it was a month/week/day before their wedding, and they weren't stressed, well, let's just say I'd have a lot of dimes. However, reduced stress is a big perk of getting married at a restaurant -- that and the certainty that the food will not only not suck but it will be delicious and memorable, and it could possibly be the great meal that you associate with your new favorite 'holiday' -- your anniversary. --A.A.
Andrea V. Adame is the Private Events Manager of Private Dining at Sepia located in Chicago, IL. She has 8+ years of experience in catering, wedding, and event planning.
Photo credits – In order of appearance: Spark + Tumble Photography (http://www.lbanderson.com/love), Jacob Hand Photography (http://jacobhand.com), Paul Strabbing Photography (http://www.paulstrabbing.com), Cristina G Photography (http://cristinagphoto.com/), Spark + Tumble Photography (http://www.lbanderson.com/love/), Cristina G Photography (http://cristinagphoto.com/), F and L photography (http://www.fandlphotography.com/), T&S Hughes Photography (http://tandshughesphotography.com/)