by Nancy Mattia

Since restaurants are where people traditionally go to celebrate a special occasion or milestone, it makes sense to commemorate your wedding at one too. With Houston’s reputation as a foodie’s paradise, a reception at a restaurant, cafe or bistro is the tastiest way to customize your big day. Here’s why you should consider one.

  1. You dislike traditional wedding food. If serving shrimp cocktail and prime rib at your local banquet hall doesn’t get you excited, but fare like crab samosas and almond chicken masala (from Indika Restaurant) or arugula and fig salad and fried Gulf Coast oysters (from Ousie’s Table) make you do a happy dance, a wedding reception at an eatery may be a better fit for you.
  2. Doing the research will be fun. Once you’ve come up with a list of restaurant possibilities, make a reservation for two and check out each place, paying careful attention to the menu, of course, but also the atmosphere, décor and whether or not there’s room for a ceremony if you’re planning to wed there too.
  3. The service will be top notch. A successful restaurant makes its name and reputation not only for its outstanding food but also its outstanding service. “Restaurants are inherently better at service because it’s what we do every day,” says Paula Foreman, director of sales at Sambuca, a restaurant located in the historic Rice Hotel. “We’re not a venue that only does a wedding a week — we do lunch and dinner seven days a week, so we’re good at it.” What people will remember about a wedding five years from now, she says, is not the linens or the flowers but how long it took to get a drink and was the food served on time.
  4. The fee includes pretty much everything. Most restaurants charge a per-person fee that covers the food, drinks, tableware, glassware, linens and staff. Some may even throw in extras like votive candles or a wedding cake whipped up by their resident baker. The only other major reception expenses you’ll likely have are the centerpieces and music.
  5. Restaurants don’t charge a venue fee. But many other types of spaces, such as gardens and museums, do — it’s not atypical to be charged $2,500 for three hours’ use on a Saturday night and double that for six hours. “We do not charge a venue fee,” confirms Linda Pham, a party planner at Brennan’s of Houston, which handles up to 130 receptions annually. “It’s a big savings since the couple only needs to spend a food and beverage minimum.”
  6. Some have private dining rooms perfect for an intimate wedding. While taking over an entire restaurant on a Saturday night won’t come cheap (you’ll be charged for lost revenue since the place will be closed to other customers), if you have a modest budget and a small guest list, look for dining spots that have private rooms; that way, the main restaurant can still stay open during your reception, which will bring your price down. Prego, for example, has a wine room for 14 guests and a private dining room for up to 40, in addition to a main room for 120.
  7. You won’t need to decorate. When you book a reception in an empty space or nondescript ballroom, you’ll have to rent everything from drapes to lighting to make the room look attractive. A restaurant, on the other hand, is already decorated so you’ll save a gazillion dollars on rental fees. At the Rainbow Lodge, for example, the various private rooms have log cabin walls, mounted deer heads and original artwork by Texas painters.
  8. Some have off-hour deals that can save you big bucks. Rates for a midweek evening reception or weekend lunch may be a super bargain. For example, at Sambuca, which is closed to the general public for Saturday lunch, the $65 per person midday package includes beer, wine, champagne, a DJ and photographer!
  9. It’s easier to book on short notice. Like ballrooms, banquet halls and country clubs, some restaurants may be reserved a year or more in advance, but they’re also the place to turn to when time is short. Says Pham, “Brennan’s takes last-minute bookings — I have booked a wedding that was just two weeks away!”

To explore the possibility of a restaurant wedding, start with a dinner reservation at one of the many restaurants in our directory.