How to Plan a Restaurant Wedding Reception

A restaurant wedding offers much more than great food. Here's what else is on the menu.


bride and groom kissing in reception room
Photo Credit: Kelly Prizel Photography

Why consider a restaurant wedding?

"The food, of course," says Avi Szapiro, executive chef and owner, Roìa Restaurant in New Haven, CT. "It’s a major draw, especially for foodie couples. Think about it; you can make multiple visits to get a feel for the place and service, along with the all-important cuisine itself. A traditional wedding venue or catering hall will provide a tasting, but at that point you’re already committed and have paid a deposit. And the wedding planning itself is simplified. A restaurant already has everything you need: glassware, tables, chairs, linen, etc."

Where should couples start?

"The type and style of cuisine offered should be top priority. And it’s important to know if the space will accommodate the number of guests expected, as this will quickly determine if the restaurant is a good fit for your wedding."

Let’s talk overall décor.

"One of the biggest advantages to a restaurant wedding is that there is very little to rent. For example, here at Roìa we carefully selected the furniture and fixtures to support our architectural gem, originally the dining room of the Taft Hotel, which was built in 1912, with tall, soaring ceilings, 100-year-old wood panels and hand-laid Calcutta marble. When you get to start with a room that is already beautiful, not much needs to be done to bring the space to life."

How are restaurant weddings coordinated?

"Many restaurants have a dedicated point person, often the restaurant manager or catering manager, to ensure no key details are missed. If the restaurant doesn’t have someone on site to handle the numerous logistical pieces of the day, consider an outside coordinator to keep the wheels running smoothly."

What’s involved in a buyout?

"Restaurants may offer both full and partial buyouts, a full buyout being a complete takeover of the entire space. Partial buyouts can be arranged with venues that have separate areas that can accommodate smaller celebrations. At Roìa, we can offer our upper-level space as a partial buyout for weddings with 75 or fewer guests."

How do entertainment and dancing factor in?

"It's important to know what kind of music you envision before you book. For example, if you’re planning to hire a band, keep in mind musicians take up more room on the dance floor than a DJ. Knowing the electrical capabilities of the restaurant will also let you determine any limitations, which all bands and DJs will need to know before agreeing to sign a contract. And be sure to ask about any noise restrictions."

How is the wedding menu determined?

"Whatever an eatery offers on a regular basis is what they will do best. At Roìa, we take great care in designing menus for our couples that highlight peak-season ingredients. Our couples are often regular diners, so we start with what they love to eat during the season in which the wedding will be held. Once options have been discussed, we invite the couple and two guests for a tasting that includes wine pairing as well."

What about dessert?

"Some restaurants include a plated dessert in their package, others include a wedding cake. You may have the option to bring cake from an outside bakery, in which case many restaurants will charge a cake- cutting fee. At Roìa not only do we create wedding cakes, we also do dessert bars, which really keep the energy going. Guests don’t have to be seated, they can help them - selves to a bite-sized dessert or mini pot de crème to enjoy while mingling with friends, and then get back on the dance floor."

What else should couples keep in mind as they search?

"The places you go to regularly may not work for a wedding, so get out and explore. You may find a gem you didn’t know about. Once you find ‘the one,’ try it out a few times. You’re looking for a combination of elements: the food, the service, the look and feel of the space itself. Consider, too, the return-visit factor, which is not possible with more traditional venues like catering halls. So many of our couples come back for date nights, for a drink at the bar, their anniversary or eventually with their kids. Each visit rekindles joy. Now that’s an added value worth celebrating!"