There are often so many options of venues for your event, especially in a large city like Washington, DC or New York. There are different types of venues that are ideal for certain events. There are certain kinds of events that are ideal for a restaurant.
Now, when I refer to a restaurant, I mean just a restaurant. A restaurant that might have a private room, but that isn’t a banquet facility.
The difference between a restaurant and a hotel or banquet facility is how they make money. A restaurant makes money through casual diners. A hotel or banquet facility makes money through events (at least the catering department of a hotel – let’s not worry about all the other revenue streams for hotels, such as on-site restaurants, sleeping rooms, etc.). If a restaurant primarily makes money through casual diners, they need to make sure if they are giving part of the restaurant to a private event, that they are making as much money with the event as they would if they just had regular diners in that space.
I often hear people say that they prefer to work with restaurants because it’s cheaper. That is sometimes true. Often a restaurant does not have a special catering or event menu – you can order right off the regular menu just like a regular patron (you may want to select a limited menu for your group). Whereas at a hotel or banquet facility, the price you pay for the food may also include service, linens, china, etc, so it is often more expensive.
Many restaurants have semi-private spaces – such as a section of a bar or a room that is not completely enclosed. It’s rare to find these spaces in banquet facilities. So if you are not concerned with not having absolute privacy, a restaurant may be for your event.
Restaurants may be ideal for more casual events where you may not have an accurate count (such as a happy hour). If your numbers are less than expected, you can sometimes “give back” some of your space since there are often other customers that can use that space.
If service is less important for your event, a restaurant may work. That is not to say that you will always have subpar service at a restaurant (or that you always get stellar service at a hotel – I’ve worked with amazing restaurant staffs and terrible hotel staffs), but it is a bit more hit or miss. My advice is to always try out a restaurant for a smaller, lower key event before using it for something high priority.
It is often easier for a restaurant to bring out more food than a hotel or banquet facility (who are often ordering specifically for the events that day or week, versus a restaurant that has to make sure it has enough food to operate).
There are plenty of fabulous restaurants that would be great for your next event! It’s always important to think through why you are hosting the event, what is important to you, and how much flexibility you need.