“Restaurants to cater a DC wedding?”

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Photo by PoPville flickr user StreetsofWashington

“We’re planning a wedding for next fall in DC and want to use a local restaurant to cater our reception dinner. Any suggestions for places that have delicious food, reasonable prices, and can provide all the bells and whistles like plates, flatware, linens, and servingware?”

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82 Comment

  • Taco Bell is awful mainly because their forks always break.

  • I strongly recommend Elizabeth’s on L for catering. I used them for my wedding, and their food is fantastic. They actually are a vegan restaurant on Friday nights, called Elizabeth’s Gone Raw, but they serve meat dishes when they cater! You can look up reviews for them online; they are very highly rated.

    • Andie302

      Their event coordinator left and I suspect some of their good reputation and great customer service left with her!

  • By all means talk to the wonderful folks at RIS DC, 2275 L St NW. Delicious food, not crazy prices.

  • It might be hard to find both great food and the linens etc…but it’s really easy to rent that stuff so don’t rule it out…

  • I Dont Get It

    I’d like to go to the restaurant in the picture but apparently it closed 40+ years ago.

  • What do you mean by “reasonable prices”? Most restaurants in town that are delicious and will provide all that for you are going to start around 100$ a plate.

  • justinbc

    OP, can you please clarify, are you looking to hold your reception off-site and have a restaurant bring the food, or asking for a restaurant where you can hold your reception?

    • The former. We’re going to rent a space and would like to bring food in from a restaurant. I’m not opposed to using a caterer, but we love the restaurant scene in DC and it would be great to share food from one of our favorites with all of our guests.

      • Event Planner here – please keep in mind that not all restaurants are capable of catering. They are two very different types of services. If the restaurant offers catering, then they should know what’s required. But a restaurant that doesn’t offer it as a standard service might take the job b/c they are flattered by your asking and want to make the money – could give you a terrible result.

  • This question makes me wonder why the poster would prefer a restaurant to a caterer. I think a caterer would generally be more prepared to provide all of the materials like plates, flatware, linens and servingware and a good one would serve restaurant-quality food. We worked with Occasions Caterers for our wedding and thought they handled everything beautifully. And I’m picky as can be when it comes to food and decor.
    .
    Also, what IDGI said.

    • justinbc

      Probably because you can get much better food from a restaurant than most caterers can provide.

      • When we’re talking about parties of the size of an average wedding, I think the usual rules don’t really apply.. Yes, there is a ton of awful “wedding food” out there, but even good restaurant food could be really bad (or cold, or unattractive) if it’s not properly set up and served for a huge group. There are some excellent caterers in DC that can provide food that’s just as good as a good restaurant’s or even better, and I think Occasions is one of them. Even their serveware and presentation is nicer than what I would expect in better DC restaurants.

      • Yup, you got it. Not that catering companies aren’t capable of putting together a delicious meal, but it would be cool to say “this is from one of our favorite DC restaurants”.

        • Gotcha. My sense is that there is a way to do this, but that you would have to pay someone a lot to manage all of the logistics involved (unless you happen to have a very generous and bored friend or family member). Either a catering company or a wedding planner. Even then, I think it’s unusual enough that you might risk having some issues with the food being cold, or badly presented or…. I agree it could be totally cool if you could pull it off. I’d just want to make sure there is little room for surprises.

        • OP, if you can pull this off, I think it’s a great idea. I don’t know if you’ll able to, though, because I expect you’re reception will be on a Saturday night, and that’s a restaurant’s busiest night of the week, which would be difficult. Also, if it’s one of your favorite places, it’s probably pretty well-regarded generally, and therefore a pretty busy place. Good luck, and please report back if you can do it. And FWIW, if you can’t get a restaurant to do it, we also used Occasions (though this was 13 years ago) and they did a terrific job.

      • So not true. The good caterers can provide amazing menus to rival anything any restaurant is offering. Since – really – good food is not all that hard! The real factor with caterers is how they can handle transport and timing with on-site prep and service.

  • If you need all the plates, linens etc, and are serving more than about 20 people, you want a caterer, not a restaurant. Restaurant cooking is very different from catering cooking. In catering (which I did for many many years) the food is planned to be transported, heated, and served all at once.

    If you want to save money, it is often cheaper to buy the linens, glassware & silverware yourself at Ikea rather than renting them, but this of course means you have loads of dirty stuff at the end of the night to deal with. If the price is significant however, you could just throw it all away.

    Check with local caterers. Do NOT tell them it’s for a wedding. Tell them it’s your grandfather’s 90’th birthday. Remember that any tasting you do with any caterer (aside from the really big ones) is not necessarily going to be how the food tastes at your reception. The actual quality of your food completely depends on the quality of the staff.

    During wedding season, all the best staff will be booked with all the best caterers, but you certainly can find a smaller caterer “hungry” for a reputation that could give you good results.

    An odd but sound bit of advice I suggest – have a friend inquire about working for the caterer and find out what they are paying. The best caterers (o.k. – 10 years ago now) were paying $12.00/hr for entry level/pantry (i.e. washing up) $15.00/hr for entry level waiters/bartenders, and $20.00/hr and UP for experienced staff.

    • Awesome advice. Are there catering services out there that would serve food from a restaurant? In other words, we’d hire the catering company, have a restaurant drop off food at the venue, and then have the catering company use all their own equipment to serve the food and clean up.

      • No. That makes no economic sense to either the restaurant or the caterer. If you have a particular restaurant you want to use (and again – only for a small number of people) you might ask them about hiring their staff who might otherwise not be working that day. Or, if you just want to hire some staff, ask your favorite restaurant server, who will probably be able to find you others to work. But expect to pay no less than $25.00/hour.

        You can probably pay less – though no less than $15.00/hr. if you go student/craigslist.

      • I’d recommend asking Occasions about this. They catered my wedding and a friend’s wedding, and my friend had Dolcezza Gelato (I think) supply the dessert and we got ours from Sticky Fingers. I don’t know if this would work the same way for entrees, but they could probably manage it for you somehow.

      • AWFUL ADVICE. If you don’t trust the company to give fair pricing and feel you need to lie to the company about the nature of the party, then you shouldn’t even be considering the company at all. Weddings are nuanced events, HIGHLY emotional, and are a very different beast than, say, your grandfather’s 90th birthday. Reputable caterers aren’t going to upcharge just for the nature of the event. A fair caterer looks at the overall amount of staff time needed, and amount of food and gives you price X. The whole “wedding mark-up” is NOT done with reputable caterers. What’s more, you’re about to drop thousands of dollars on this vendor. Do you want to start with a lie?
        As someone who works in catering and events, it pains me to hear the lack of trust. If someone comes into a tasting with me, I’m going to know RIGHT AWAY that they’re lying to me about the nature of the event. (Also, for the record, the price would be EXACTLY THE SAME if it’s going to be the same amount of food and the same amount of staff time for whatever kind of event!!) I work very closely with my clients, form a relationship (and often a close bond) with my clients, hold their hand through tons of wedding planning (some of which not even related to catering).
        When you hire a caterer, you’re not just getting food. You’re getting people who know what they’re doing. You get people who know how to orchestrate the event. You’re getting people who carry with them liability (often a huge issue depending on the venue you choose). You get people who understand how an event of this nature is supposed to be run. You’re getting professionals who care about making your wedding awesome. Hiring staffers from Craigslist? What a joke. Do you really want that level of strangers at your wedding? At the end of the day, these people are part of one of the most important days of your life, whether you like it or not.
        Most reputable caterers would not feel comfortable serving food they themselves did not prepare when it comes to food with temperature-sensitive preparation.
        If you’re looking to have your wedding at a restaurant, you can have a wonderful event. You’re on their turf, and you’re in their realm of understanding. But having a random restaurant drop off food for a wedding? I can’t tell you how many inquiries I get with frantic people when this plan falls apart at the last minute. I’ve also talked to wedding planners who have witnessed DIY nightmares from people trying to just get food from a restaurant but haven’t thought through all of the details that the bride and groom now have to handle on their own.
        Either way, best of luck, and mazel tov.

        • Great – it seems like you are saying that you do not charge a different price for weddings versus any other party! That is, of course, how is should be.

          • We do not! We also pay our staffers $20-23/hour, and we send trained Chefs to events since we don’t use crescors! (This part I realize is different than many of our competitors.)
            I can’t speak for companies other than my own, but I do try to pay attention to what our competitors are doing, and our main competitors are like us, take pride in providing high quality service and food, fairly priced.

          • So how do you heat your food on sight without a crescor?

          • We have mini ovens, sous vide machines, electric griddles, mini fryers…. Much more respectful to the food!

          • So you are still – as are all caterers – heating on site. “Mini ovens” = crescors. “Sous vide” = airplane food. The method doesn’t really matter as long as you have good food and people who know what they are doing. But since you paying a good wage you are likely to offer a good end product.

        • I’ll take your word for it that you don’t charge differently for a wedding than you do other events, but that would make you an exception to the rule. I’m currently planning a wedding and can tell you without a doubt the wedding upcharge is real and is industry standard for all of the different parts of the wedding.

          Vendors all talk about how they’re uniquely equipped to make “the most important day of your life” or “the best day of your life” so special, and that’s garbage. I couldn’t be more excited about my wedding, but it sure as heck had better not be the best day of my life. I’m hoping that the actual *marriage* will be the best part. That I accomplish huge things in my career. That I lead a fulfilling life in a number of different ways. I’m pumped for my wedding–the family and friends, the food, the cake, the band, all of it–but it all fades away. Please stop using the phrase “most important day of your life.”

          OP: I’ll be honest and say that I think $100/pp seems low for DC, but I’ll bet that if you spend enough time and energy, you’ll find something really great. Have you considered doing a food truck? That may be a lower level of formality than you’d like, but they’re used to cooking in any location and there are so many quintessentially DC options you could choose. A dear friend had her favorite food truck at her wedding in Denver and it was awesome. Delicious and fun and real. In any event, good luck with wedding planning!

    • I’m pretty sure I’ve heard horror stories of people trying to save money by telling service providers like limos or caterers that it’s just a party, but then the day arrives and it’s very clearly a wedding, so the providers refuse service and/or angrily jack up the bill…

      • and, we actually weren’t even scheduled to be married at our reception venue, but ended up there due to weather. our caterers were nice enough to set up 12 chairs, and make themselves scarce while we held our ceremony.

    • I want to warn the OP that lying about the event type, and entering into a contract stating a false event type, is grounds for the catering company to leave without providing the services paid for (and not offer a refund) once they realize what’s going on day-of because you’ve already violated the contract. Wedding prices are different than other event prices. It sucks but it is what it is and lying about it *may* save you some money but it also *may* cause you to not have food at your wedding.

      • Clearly – I’m not a lawyer but this is nutty! Are you seriously saying that if I hire a catering company for a 5 hour event serving 100 people, agree on a menu and a price per head, they can then show up, discover it is actually a wedding and walk away?

        Still, if you’re worried about a “false event type” contract breach with fire and brimstone and wild monkeys ruining your day – when you sign the contract, just tell them you are having a party. “We want to have a party.” That is all. (Is that OK mighty lawyers?)

        • Yes, because there are different prices for weddings versus parties. I’m sorry that you seem to think it’s nutty that I’d bring this up (it *is* nutty that they can get away with charging so much more for weddings than other events!) but I also would hate to not warn the OP about doing this when there are stories all over the various wedding boards of people suddenly getting a massive upcharge day-of or having the caterer simply walk out and refuse to serve. I’m not a lawyer and would never claim to be the all-knowing authority on this, I just posted a simple warning that it could end up badly because you didn’t stick to your end of the contract.
          .
          The dress thing below is entirely different – you aren’t signing any contracts to buy a dress. I also never said they would sue you (though I’m sure they could try) just that it may not end up as the happy stress-free day most brides envision.

          • chiming in because we had an incredibly small wedding ceremony (12 people that was originally scheduled to be at meridian hill park…damn you Hurricane Joaquin!) then had a cocktail party for 75, with a ton of food. when I contacted people for pricing I said cocktail party for 75 and that was it. The more I worked with people, and after signing all contracts, they realized it was sort of a wedding, but still more of a celebration since we weren’t getting married there…and we were fine. we worked with well dunn and I thought they were fabulous–they gave us a ton of options for food, linens, silverware, glasses, and then we were able to bring in our own champagne since they didn’t have what we wanted.

          • Why would anyone want to start their new life out with lies?

        • Can I hire a caterer for a party without telling them what the party is for?

          • Many caterers won’t do it if you don’t give the location. As I mention below (just posted) many venues require insured caterers and have all these other hoops that caterers have to jump through in order to serve at the venue. All I’m saying is that it may not end up as nicely as we’d all hope.

          • I didn’t want to get into a whole argument here. My point is that it’s better to be honest for a variety of reasons.

          • +1 to what eggs is saying, especially at 4:23. The potential for the bait-and-switch approach to go really off the rails is pretty high, if not legally, then in the way the event comes off. Any decent caterer is going to want a detailed timeline for the event so they know how to organize the service. It would be pretty hard to obfuscate the fact that you’re having a wedding, not a regular party. Even if this doesn’t end up in a lawsuit, it could end up in a really messed up event. And who wants that on their wedding day?

          • “I would like to hire your for a party” is completely honest by any measure. .

          • ““I would like to hire your for a party” is completely honest by any measure.” Yes, but I was drawing from what you said above: “Do NOT tell them it’s for a wedding. Tell them it’s your grandfather’s 90’th birthday.” That is dishonest.

        • And while I agree it’s dumb that weddings are priced higher than other kinds of events, there’s a reason. Weddings are the highest-expectation kind of event there is and often require some kind of insurance on the caterer’s part (usually required by the venue) where a general party may not have this requirement (wedding insurance is a real thing that is also dumb and expensive).

          • What kinds of things does wedding insurance insure against — does it cover expenses if one party calls off the wedding shortly beforehand?

          • No. Just wrong. Every party that requires a caterer is an important party. Grandpa’s 90’th birthday no less than a wedding. This is not lying. This is not “bait and switch.” Hire a caterer for a party. No need to tell them what the party is for.

        • @florista, this wasn’t exactly starting off our new lives with lies. this was a celebratory party. no gift registry/table, no first dance, no wedding cake, just friends and family spending time together. and, after almost ten years together, having a big party was exactly what we wanted.

          • @bll – I was absolutely NOT implying you were lying. Your situation was very clear. My comment was intended for the OP, in response to Victoria’s insistence that the OP not disclose to the caterer that the event was a wedding.

          • @florista, apologies for taking that the wrong way, and i see what you’re saying.

      • So if I buy a dress at Nordstroms and tell them it is for my niece’s graduation, but then actually wear it to a wedding, can they sue me?

        • whether it makes sense or not, yes. regardless of the seeming ridiculousness of charging extra for a wedding vs. a birthday party, yes. if it is stipulated in the contract and you signed, then yes. that’s the point of a contract.

          • Please clarify. Can one sign a contract with a caterer for a party without stipulating what the event is?

            Can a caterer legally refuse to honor a contract for a birthday party if it turns out to be a wedding?

            Chapter and verse of course is required.

          • i must have lost my guide on how to be nice to argumentative jerks on the interwebs. please, continue on and i hope it makes your day all the better.

          • HaileUnlikely

            Is it theoretically possible? Sure. Will an real live caterer let you? Good luck.
            .
            And I’m not sure if “can a caterer *legally* …?” is the right question. I’d rather have my wedding go according to plan than have the caterer walk out, even if I could successfully sue the caterer later.

          • The reason we have laws and regulations is to protect everyone from “seeming ridiculousness” of whatever.

            So – as I’ve made clear – my explicit question for all the lawyers and all those just chiming in – can one hire a caterer for a party and not tell them what the party is?

          • It would be up to the caterer whether or not they would enter into a contract with you not knowing what kind of event it is. I’m guessing most wouldn’t, because that wouldn’t make sense for them.

          • OK – you missed the part about how I’ve worked more than 20 years in catering. Of course everyone wants to tap into the wedding surcharge bonanza. But any reputable caterer should still give you a price without knowing what the party is for. Wedding, anniversary, funeral, birthday, whatever.

            You can choose not to say.

          • HaileUnlikely

            Choosing not to say is a fundamentally different thing than affirmatively stating that it is something other than what it is (e.g., a “birthday party”). And while I realize that I could be wrong, I would be downright astonished if you could get through contract negotiation without the issue even coming up, and if you simply refuse to say, that would make for one strange working relationship between weirdly secretive client and service provider.

      • This isn’t legal advice, and I’m not your lawyer.

        But: never sign a contract that includes something that isn’t true. If the contract says they’re providing X for a party at rate $Y, you should be fine. A wedding is a party, after all. But if you sign a contract that has a clause that says “this is not for a wedding,” and it is indeed for a wedding, you’re in for a whole world of hurt.

  • I think OP wants to have the reception at a restaurant.

  • My wife and I used East West Grill, a Pakistani restaurant in Clarendon. The food was delicious, our guests were pleased to have something different than the usual wedding food, and it only cost us $14 per head (food only).

    • Also, I should mention that we had 150 guests, and East West delivered the food to our venue at the Josephine Butler House on Meridian Hill in Columbia Heights. It’s a great venue because it’s inexpensive and they don’t force you to use certain vendors for food, drinks, etc.

      • Josephine Butler House is a great venue. And ethnic food (or any food that is stewy and so not likely to dry out or suffer being held/overcooked) is a good option. The food at your event will be prepped at least one day ahead and re-heated at the site. The heating is done in a Crescor (a tall metal box) with sterno. It is very difficult, even for an experienced catering chef, to control the heat and the timing, so very easy to overcook things like salmon or meat.

  • anonymouse_dianne

    I agree with Victoria – great tips! For my Greco-American mother’s 80th birthday we worked with Zaytania. We provided setups but they were great in meeting our budget and even managed to include crab cakes, at their insistence, as it is their specialty. They did not deliver but packaged everything up for us and brought out to my SUV. We also got Dolmathes from the middle eastern café on Wisconsin next to Fannie Mae/WSC whose name escapes me. This was a passed hors d’oevres informal event not a sit down dinner. For that I’d recommend Ridgewell’s.

  • Mike Isabella’s restaurants do catering under “Mike Isabella Concepts”. I almost used them for my wedding. They are relatively affordable. It’s a wedding after all so nothing is inexpensive.

    • relatively affordable is not correct with MIC. ridiculous prices… try Heirloom. Good, restaurant style food.

  • We used Windows Catering for our wedding at the Textile Museum a couple years ago. They were fantastic and the food was great. We had different stations set up and open seating, rather than a sit-down dinner, which can sometimes be the culprit for “bad wedding food.” One of the good things about using a catering company, which has been mentioned, is that they can serve as a day-of/reception coordinator. They know how things work at most of the venues around DC, can work with staff (like museum staff) and keep the flow of the reception moving along. It was a huge help since we didn’t have a wedding planner. Congrats!

    • I worked many years with Windows and recommend them highly. But you will pay for their expertise. (And it will be completely worth it) But it sounded like the OP was looking for less expensive options.

  • Call Union kitchen and use dirty south deli. They did an amazing job with out wedding of 90 people!

  • We decided we wanted good food so we just did our wedding and reception at the restaraunt and then they could use their kitchen, etc, and serve things hot and fresh.

  • Lots of traditional venues require catering companies and explicitly say no restaurants, so just double check that depending on where you’re getting married.

  • We just had our wedding at Vendetta on H St. last Saturday, and it was AMAZING! Chef Tedd and the other owners were amazing to work with and made the whole planning process so much fun! We rented out the whole upstairs which also has an outside area and I just can’t say enough about them, I really recommend

  • Yes – if your party is around 30 you can totally book any restaurant.

  • HaileUnlikely

    OP – do you have your heart set on another specific venue? The reason I ask is that for the right price, you might be able to simply buy out the restaurant. That also greatly simplifies contracting, as you will not need to worry about having a whole bunch of different contracts with different people or businesses for different aspects of the same event. When doing this, a restaurant will typically estimate how much money they would expect to make if they were open for regular business during the hours you buy them out for, and set that as a minimum charge. If you have like 20 people, this would end up being insanely expensive on a per-person basis. If you have 300 people, you aren’t going to find a restaurant that you’ll fit in. If you have around 100-150 people or thereabouts, you may well be able to buy out a whole restaurant for several hours for a cost that works out to be in the same ballpark as what you’re talking about here for catering alone.

    • We’re going to do the ceremony and reception all in one place so unfortunately a restaurant buy-out is not an option for us. But thanks for the tip!

  • Congratulations on your engagement! I’d go with Equinox – they have a small catering operation that does good work, and they also have experience running catering at Salamander and a few museum cafes (which is where I worked with them). They aren’t as well organized as a catering company, but they’re probably the only restaurant I’d trust to handle full-service, off-premise catering for myself. Catering and restaurants are two completely different types of businesses and it’s nearly impossible to find someone who does both well. I would highly, highly recommend hiring a planner if you go the restaurant route, just to help things run smoothly the day of.

  • We used Union Kitchen to cater our wedding reception–which we had in our Eckington rowhouse–last fall and I could not speak more highly of them. Every single one of our (nearly 100!) guests raved about the food, and people still continue to bring up how fantastic the food and the setup was. The staff was great to work with, too, though the person I worked with is no longer there. They are not a restaurant, but they work with a lot of food truck vendors who are part of their collective/food incubator program; we had such a tremendous variety of food. We worked with them to supply all the tables and linens as well, though we did consider going out to a separate vendor for that. I can’t recommend them enough!
    PS: We also explored the restaurant route as well–and considered using Mike Isabella catering, so if you like his food, it might be worth a call.

  • I highly recommend Old Blue BBQ Catering if you are looking for something non-traditional. I have worked with many caterers and restaurant caterers and I found their food and service to be standout. By nature BBQ is more laid back but they have some more refined side options if you want to make it nicer.

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