I hope you aren’t too hungry, because today we are talking restaurants in the Washington DC area and what they can mean to your wedding. Between elopements and smaller weddings, having a wedding in Washington DC, Maryland and/or Virginia at a restaurant is becoming more and more popular. Plus, I think we all know that the DMV is having a little moment in the restaurant scene as it seems like a new, hip and yummy restaurant is opening every week!

I’m not talking about rehearsal dinners or engagement parties, which are also great options for restaurant service. I’m talking about having your wedding at a restaurant. This could be the wedding ceremony and reception, or most likely just your reception. If you are thinking about having your wedding reception at a restaurant, there are few things that you need to know and should at least take into consideration before the big day. Everything can be worked out, you just need to know to ask.


Photo Credit: Kurstin Roe Photgoraphy
from this preppy wedding inspiration at Kapnos Taverna in Arlington, VA

I must give a special shout out to the ladies at The Dandelion Patch for hosting me a while back for their Tips on Tuesday wedding planning series. We had a lively discussion at their stationery shop in DC and the issue of restaurants and wedding came up quite a bit. There was an engaged couple planning their wedding at a restaurant in Falls Church, Virginia and they had lots of questions. I paid attention and did a little of my own digging and thought it was best to address it in the form of a blog post! If one couple has questions, chances are good that more couples planning a wedding at a restaurant in the DC area might need some help too. So, thank you to The Dandelion Patch for hosting and the sweet couple for attending with so many great wedding planning questions!

Here goes with the things that you need to know and know to ask about having your wedding at a restaurant in the Washington DC area…

The Food

If you read nothing else in this wedding advice post, please read this: restaurant food is not catering food. There can be a huge difference between the type of food that can be provided at a regular dinner service at a restaurant, and the type and style of food that is prepared for large groups of people at catered events. Not all foods can be prepared in large quantities and served hot at the exact same time.  As you discuss your wedding menu and make your food selections, be mindful of why certain items might not be available for large groups or why the chef might be hesitant to serve certain foods.

Questions To Ask

Restaurants are not your typical wedding spaces. Restaurants are experts at nightly dinner service, not necessarily experts in the needs of a typical wedding. A great question to ask is: How many weddings have you had here? If there answer is none, then you know that you need to start from the beginning and make sure that everyone is in the loop all the way through and that your wedding needs are being met. If they have had a few weddings in the past, be sure to ask about things that worked well and things that could have been better, so that you can build your wedding on their expertise and experience.


One of the best parts of using a restaurant for your wedding is that the space is likely already totally beautiful, with great tables and chairs in place. When you do check out  a restaurant for your wedding, be sure to go and look at it in person during the time of day that your wedding will be. Is the space private or semi-private? If its semi-private, can anything be brought in (screens, pipe and drape etc) to make it more private. Is it is the “chef’s table” in the middle of the kitchen? Is it its own room or just a large table in the middle of the dining room? Is there ample lighting? What does the decor look like? Will the restaurant provide candles, or menu cards? You’ll want to know exactly what you are getting into so that there are no disappointments.


Photo Credit: Paired Images Photography
from this urban wedding inspiration at Mike Isabella’s Graffiato

Complete Buy Out

If you want to have a restaurant (or one room in a restaurant) all to yourself it is often referred to as a “buy out” where you’ll have to meet a food and beverage minimum (before tax and gratuity) in order to guarantee this privacy. At first, this minimum might seem high, but it can actually be quite competitive or even reasonable compared to what you might spend renting a wedding venue, bringing in tables/chairs/linens/equipment, and then the costs of food/labor from a special event caterer. At a restaurant, you can use the timing of your event as a negotiating tool, if you are willing to have your meal either on the early or late side of dinner service. If a restaurant can turn the tables, and do a full dinner seating to the public either before or after your dinner, you will have negotiating power when it comes to the cost.

Setup Logistics

Because a restaurant might have a lunch or brunch service before your event, or a meal service the following day, you must ask about their set up and breakdown policies. You will most likely have items to drop off in advance, such as place cards, small decor items and the like. For example, can your florist drop off the florals ahead of time? Will someone be there to receive them and place them on the tables? Will they know what to do with flowers? These are things that can be worked out, but need to be discussed in advance. Another note about decor: how big are the tables and how much decor will fit on them? This is particularly important to consider if your chosen restaurant does a family style meal service. In this case, you’ll need to have room for decor and the food.

Extra Items

Speaking of set up, what other items will you need for your wedding that the restaurant might not have on-hand? Will you want to have music playing or extra lighting? Special table linens? Part of the appeal of having your wedding at a restaurant – besides the food, of course – is the ease of not having to bring in items, such as tables, chairs and decor. But, maybe you want some extras, so be sure to ask about their policies.

Cakes & Drinks

When it comes to dessert and drinks, you might want to bring in your own items. What is your restaurant’s policy on bringing in outside food and drink? If you have your heart set on a certain wedding cake, will you be able to bring it into the restaurant? If they allow it, who will cut the cake? And is there a cake cutting fee? The same goes for wine, are you allowed to bring some in, if so how much, and what is corkage fee? Again, these are all things that can be worked out, but you’ll need to know to ask the questions in advance so that everyone is on the same page.

About The Service

The private event manager at the restaurant that you’ve been working with for months before your wedding might not be there on the night of your wedding. So, it is a great question to ask who will be serving you and your group that night. You should be prepared that the event manager might not be there, so they will need to brief the manager on staff that night of your wedding.


So, that’s about all that I can think of when it comes to restaurants and weddings. What did I miss? Have you attended a wedding at a restaurant? How did it go? More importantly, what restaurant will you celebrate at in the Washington, DC area?!

In the meantime, be sure to check out all of the other DC area wedding advice that we have put together for you or look through our list of the best Washington DC area wedding vendors!

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