The bride and groom are here——& the waiter

Ten years ago, Ma attended a friend's wedding at a relaxed and stylish Brooklyn restaurant, an experience that left a lasting impression. "I remember at the end of the night, I thought, 'Wow, whenever I get married, I want to have a wedding like this.'" These ballrooms reminded me of how a major investment bank would host their wedding. ” says the illustrator and graphic designer. “A wedding party in a restaurant is how an artist would throw a wedding. "

Fast forward to 2023, and he's planning his wedding at Manhattan's Blue Ribbon Sushi Izakaya. “It’s casual yet formal, which is why I love it,” Ma said.

These newlyweds aren't the only ones forgoing traditional venues or even traditional ceremony, cocktail hour and reception formats. “Inquiries on Zola for restaurant wedding venues have nearly tripled year-over-year,” said Emily Forrest, the platform’s wedding and registry expert.

This trend is most popular in cities. Sydney Marie Slavens, a wedding photographer and newlywed who works with couples across the country, estimates that 80 percent of her clients outside New York City still prefer a ballroom or country club-style setting, and some The reason is that more "traditional" venues can accommodate larger spaces. Number of guests.

Event producer Huang Xin planned the wedding at Parma Restaurant in New York City. Photography by Jennifer Boris

Rebecca Levine, director of hospitality services at restaurant group Altamarea, noted that her urban clients are seeing a similar trend, in part because restaurants are often easier to reach on foot or by public transportation. She used her events experience to plan two of her own creative wedding celebrations, starting with a dinner for 24 in the in-house restaurant Marea, with a bespoke three-course menu. The next night, Levine and her partner bought Roberta's, a trendy pizzeria that starts with a raw bar and hors d'oeuvres and ends with a family-style dinner. The events are tied together through consistent patterns of florals and votive candles.

“To me, it’s the best of both worlds,” Levine said. “I got to have this incredibly beautiful, elegant wedding dinner with my closest guests, friends and family, and then celebrate with a huge pizza party.”

The restaurant wedding trend has more to do with the experience for the couple and their precious guests—and there are some logistical benefits along the way.

Tired of tradition?

As social gatherings began to return, Huang Xin, founder of event design firm Le Petite Privé, first became interested in intimate restaurant celebrations. "A lot of people's mentality has shifted [during the pandemic] from 'this has to be this way,'" she said. “Traditions that may be a bit dated or simply outdated can be thrown out, such as being held in a wedding banquet hall.”

Marie Lyons, director of events at Noho Hospitality Group, agrees. "For many people, weddings have become less precious and less formal," she said. "Maybe this wasn't the wedding their parents imagined."

Slavin's own reception was a dance at the Mathers Social Gathering Bar in Orlando, Florida. sydney marie co.

As the wedding craze took off last year and anti-wedding movements raged, customers still value uniqueness. “People are almost thinking more about the guest experience than tradition,” says Slavins, who notes that her 2024 couples are choosing to host parties at bars, restaurants or other unexpected spaces. "They want something more intimate: an emotional or organic setting that most banquet halls or wedding venues can't achieve on their own," she says, noting that the constant disruption to the traditional reception itinerary can hinder conversations. "Easy" and natural flow and celebration.

Having your wedding at a sentimental location can be very meaningful. "Sometimes (clients will say), 'Hey, this is our favorite place,'" said Sojourner Judson, a wedding planner who also books first dates for couples.

Say "I do" to a good meal

Food – and the often under-the-radar cuisine of weddings – has become an integral part of the bespoke experience factor. "Having great food at your wedding and the restaurant you choose reflect your taste," says Lyons.

Numbers don't lie. “Newlyweds want to personalize their wedding and make it feel more authentic, and 21% see food as a way to achieve this,” said Forrest, who also shared that the most searched restaurant on Zola is in New York City Brooklyn Winery, Liberty House Restaurant in New York City. The Seventh Thunder Inn in Jersey City, NJ and Topanga, CA.

Couples often choose a restaurant that represents them through ambiance, decor, placement, size and even lighting, reducing or eliminating the need to bring in outside vendors such as florists, chair and table rentals, and lighting. "Many people choose restaurants because of convenience, and they rarely think about restaurants," Huang said.

Chefs and other staff working in a restaurant space they are familiar with ensure consistent, high-quality dishes and service than a caterer in a makeshift kitchen would provide. “They get to know the space day in and day out, and they get to know the recipes,” Huang said.

Cutting cake in Parma. Photography by Jennifer Boris

Judy Diaz, events director at Peak NYC, recalls a couple who elevated their favorite dessert into a show. “We had a chef do a banana growing demonstration in the middle of the dance floor,” she said.

Relax, it's just a party

Cocktail parties and straight-up bashes allow couples to fully relax and celebrate with their precious guests, and eliminate or forego superfluous customs, from cake cutting to garter/bouquet tossing.

Last November, Slavens invited 90 guests to celebrate her wedding at Mathers Social Gathering, a bar in Orlando, after a small ceremony. "It was very non-traditional, no toast or anything. The whole night had the feel of a full prom reception," she said. The “Late Night Snacks” theme included comfort food sliders, hot dogs, chips and boozy ice cream, while creative beverages topped off the blowout event.

Cocktail bashes offer couples an opportunity to make the evening fun-filled. Huang recalls one customer requesting a custom-made drink stirrer with a set of macarons. "It's a symbol of eternal love because macaws mate for life," she said.

...but don't expect to save

Restaurant weddings are not necessarily more cost-effective, and pricing can be on par with, or even higher than, traditional venues. "It can be really expensive," said Judson, who estimates it costs her clients $90,000 to $150,000 for 100 to 125 guests.

Sojourner Judson collaborated with photographers Twah Dougherty and Ivie Joy Floral Arts to plan the wedding in Peak, New York. Tewa Doherty

Depending on the location, food and drink minimums and/or party size can be expensive, especially on weekend nights when demand is high. It may cost less than $100 per person, but the costs can increase dramatically after that. Huang estimates that her luxury clients pay more than $800 each for a lavish, "high-quality" restaurant event, including planning services.

These venues also face challenges

Unlike wedding halls and hotel ballrooms, restaurants may not have much flexibility in reconfiguring their layout. "They may not have a bridal suite for you to prepare, so you have to say, 'Okay, where do I change in the corner?'" Huang said. Some locations may not have dance floor space and/or may not accommodate traditional schedules. Additionally, rules regarding DJs, additional sound systems, and even open candle flames will vary.

Not all restaurants are accustomed to providing the customer service required for weddings, or have well-trained and dedicated staff. “They’re a restaurant or bar first and foremost,” Slavins said. “So the experience on the day will be great, but the final experience may not be as seamless as other vendors you work with.”

But maybe couples and their guests will be so busy enjoying delicious food, hard-partying, and making memories that they lose sight of it.


Sydney Marie Slavens, wedding photographer

Huang Xin, founder of Le Petite Privé

Marie Lyons, Event Director, Noho Hospitality Group

Sojourner Judson, Wedding Planner

Judy Diaz, Event Director, Peak NYC