THERE is no doubt that hotels have upped their game over the years when it comes to the catering of weddings. Gone are the days of tiny-portioned plain chicken dishes with luke- warm, over-cooked vegetables, as everyone has realised that once the ceremony is over, the meal is the main focus of the celebrations and, like every great occasion, it will be remembered for its feast.
However, restaurants have been muscling in on territory that has been dominated by hotels.
It may not be for every couple, but there is a certain coolness about heading to a good restaurant, whether you plan to take over the whole venue, or just a few tables.
The executive chef-proprietor of tapas bar El Sabio, Attila Vanko, has been organising receptions in his Newbury restaurant since he opened it last year, and in his Winchester bar he even catered for 130 guests.
He said: “A restaurant reception gives a different atmosphere – informal and fun.”
He added that you get a different choice of food from restaurants that wouldn’t necessarily be available at a hotel, which tend to offer traditional three-course meals.
“As a Spanish tapas bar, the difference between what we offer is huge compared to other venues. The menu varieties are almost endless. All of our food is freshly-prepared at our premises. The wines are specially selected to supply my restaurants and we also have our very own Rioja.”
Booking a restaurant can give you more choice of dishes, usually by asking guests to pre-order.
Recent bride Janine Sheerman, from Berkshire, who held her reception in a gastro pub, said that although this took a bit of organising, it meant that everyone really enjoyed the food.
“We had quite a few people who had never met before and the food was a real ice-breaker, because they were talking about what others had, and by the end of it, we were all trying a bit of each other’s desserts.
“There was a choice of three dishes for each course. I had to rely on people getting back to me about what they wanted, so I’m glad I was only organising it for 35 people.
“To help the staff on the day, I wrote everyone’s choices on the back of their place name, in case they had forgotten what they picked months earlier.
“We didn’t take over the whole pub, but we had a private function room for the meal. In the evening, we kept the room but we used the bar area, too, and it was fun mingling with the locals.”
For couples on a budget, a restaurant can be a good option as often you can negotiate no venue hire charge with a minimum spend, even if you are taking over the whole place.
Attila said: “The price depends on the requirements and the size of the party. but we have no hire charge. A party of 50 people usually spends about £1,200 to £1,500.”
Marie Barrett, of Newbury, said that her wedding reception was held in a steak pub/restaurant in Surrey, and that this type of reception saved her thousands.
“We didn’t have a big budget, only a few thousand to spend on the whole day, so it was an ideal option for us. Not only was there no hire charge, but because the pub was small and intimate, we only had candles on the tables, rather than flowers, and it was pub-priced drinks, too.
“We negotiated a minimum spend so that the pub was closed to the public, which was about £2,000, basically enough to cover the usual Saturday takings, but that included the bar takings, too.
“We knew the food was going to be good, because steak and chips was its speciality. It’s not for everyone, because you don’t usually get one big space for the meal and speeches, and obviously the decor is what’s there, as is the table set-up, but it worked for us. It was informal and in budget – our two main requirements.
“My main piece of advice would be to ask a pub or restaurant, even if doesn’t advertise itself as a wedding venue. It may be that it can cater for you anyway. Ours was a favourite date place, it had never done weddings before, but we asked and the owner said yes.”