In November, I shared the Ray of Sunshine baby shower I hosted for a dear friend. The party was at a local restaurant — a first for me! I’ve never hosted a party at a restaurant, but I would definitely do it again. Here are my tips about how to host a party at a restaurant.
How to Choose a Restaurant for Your Party
For this event, we needed an outdoor setting, and my backyard isn’t big enough, so I began looking for a venue. We came very close to hosting the party at a great old church that’s now an event location, but then we had a date change and that location would’ve meant arranging catering. Given that the party was now falling during my busiest work season and a week after baby A had surgery, all of the coordination just began to feel overwhelming. So I visited a couple of restaurants in our historic downtown.
One restaurant had a fun rooftop deck, but their tables and chairs were all high tops. I couldn’t see it being comfortable for a pregnant lady to sit at a hightop for very long, plus the roof deck was surprisingly hot. And that turned me back to my first choice, Century House Tavern.
The restaurant is in the Fowler-Hubbard House, built in 1894. And while the house provided a great yellow backdrop for our yellow party, I choose it because the restaurant manager and staff made it so easy to plan our event. I’ve eaten at Century House Tavern several times, so I knew the food would be good. That left just asking several questions to make sure expectations were clear on both sides.
Questions to Ask Before Hosting a Party at a Restaurant
You’ll want to contact the restaurant as early as possible to reserve your date and time, especially if you are hosting during a busy holiday season. I booked our restaurant 4 weeks before our party. Call ahead to make an appointment to visit the manager during a slow time for the restaurant.
Here are the questions I’d recommend asking if you’re planning to host a party at a restaurant.
- Can you accommodate a party of X guests?
- Do you have X date and time available?
- Where would my party be seated?
- If the party will be inside, will you have a private room?
- Can I plan a menu with the chef?
- Can I plan a limited menu from your standard menu?
- Will there be a seasonal menu available?
- Will you print a menu or is that my responsibility?
- Do you have a pastry chef who can make a cake or other desserts?
- Can I bring in specialty desserts, like cookies?
- Can I bring in bottled sodas?
- Can I bring in my own glassware?
- Can I bring in decorations? If so, are there rules about types of adhesives that can be used?
- Can I arrive early to decorate?
- Are there any guest count minimums?
- Are there any purchase minimums?
- Are there any fees other than the menu prices?
- Do I need to pay a deposit?
Once all the details are settled, remember to check in with the restaurant a few days before your party to make sure everything is still a go.
Communicating with your guests
We sent a printed invitation for the party. The invitation included the name and address of the restaurant. By group text, I also let our guests know that our mom-to-be needed to be COVID-conscious and so we’d be outdoors.
Choosing a Menu for Your Restaurant Party
Some restaurants may offer family-style courses for large parties, in which case you would chose the food in advance. We were able to order individual meals, but I did select a limited menu for two reasons.
- Budget. Choosing a selection of appetizers, entrees and dessert in advance allowed me to keep orders within our budget. I initially chose a few entrees, and the restaurant manager helpfully pointed out a few entrees in the same price range that gave us a little more variety.
- Efficiency. Limiting the menu made ordering easier and faster. No one needed to waffle about choices. It’s also easier for the kitchen to know what orders may be coming in all at once.
We started with appetizers (pimento cheese crostini and fried green tomatoes) that I pre-ordered and that were served family style.
We had vegetarian, chicken, beef, pork and fish options for lunch entrees, including:
- Summer Salad with Chicken or Shrimp
- Sweet Corn Risotto with Ham
- Chicken Salad Sandwich
- Blackened Salmon Ciabatta
Dessert was a cake ordered from the restaurant’s pastry chef plus homemade vanilla ice cream.
You’ll also want to decide if guests can order alcohol. I did not offer alcoholic beverages, which helped me manage the budget. Drinks didn’t seem necessary for a baby shower luncheon when the guest of honor couldn’t imbibe anyway.
Setting up for our party
My girls and I headed to the restaurant about 90 minutes early to get everything set up. If I hadn’t been styling the tables and bringing in decor, I wouldn’t have needed to be so early.
Even if you are not going to decorate for the party, I’d recommend arriving at the restaurant at least 30 minutes in advance of your guests. Check in with the manager as soon as you arrive and try to meet the waiter who will lead the staff for your party.
Styling a Restaurant Table Setting
Our table was what the restaurant called its “chef’s table” — a long wide dark metal table sitting under a couple of old shade trees. I brought in the florals, table runner, placemats, napkins, napkin rings and my amber glassware. (Read more details on the Ray of Sunshine baby shower post.) I also added bottled lemonade and orange soda from World Market.
The restaurant provided plates and utensils. On top of each plate, I placed a menu that I designed in Canva to coordinate with our stationary suite. (The restaurant would have printed our menu, but I wanted to make sure the design worked with our theme.) I did ask the restaurant manager to make sure I’d gotten everything right on my menu.
Decorating for a Party at a Restaurant
The restaurant was also incredibly flexible about decorating the outdoor area. I was able to bring anything in and move around any tables and chairs near us. That let me use other small tables to display the cake and baby shower gifts. I brought tablecloths and yellow runners for those tables.
Since we had to transport decorations to our location, I wanted to keep thing simple. I added a yellow pillow to each chair, plus a balloon to the mom-to-be’s chair.
To create a focal point, I brought an easel from home and set up yellow paper fans to look like the sunshine. In the center of the suns, I propped a Ray of Sunshine sign from Poppy Jack Shop on Etsy. Across the bottom of the easel, I made a mini bunting using yellow and light blue ribbons. Look for a version of this Sunshine Ribbon Bunting in my shop soon.
How to Make a Restaurant Party Fun
No one wants to sit at a dinner table for two hours, so to make a restaurant party fun, you need to get up and moving at some point.
As guests were winding down with their entrees, we began our baby shower games (more about that here). Then we served cake and opened gifts and party favors while everyone enjoyed dessert. Those activities got everyone out of their chairs.
Another option is to encourage guests to swap seats between courses. Just take your drink with you and mingle with friends at the opposite end of the able.
We had a great time. At the end of the party, we only had to pack up our decorations. No dishes to wash, no vacuum cleaner to run. So much easier to tip the staff well and thank them for all their help in making our restaurant party memorable!