An upscale restaurant is ideal for hosting a bridal shower—it offers a designer interior, top-notch service, stellar food, and little or no cleanup on the part of the host. Still, not all venues are created equal, and there are some essentials to keep in mind when deciding on your spot. For advice on picking the perfect location and throwing a fun event that runs smoothly, we turned to Peyton Ladt, a party planner and cofounder of Bashed, a site that allows users to instantly reserve top New York venues for group events.
Since most wedding showers are hosted during the day, Ladt recommends choosing a restaurant that has lots of natural light. If you can't find such a venue, "a space that has bright, uplifting colors will also do the trick," she says.
Sweat the Small Stuff
Little details make a big difference in the flow and vibe of a party, so ask your venue planner plenty of questions. Check whether the space is private or semi-private (if you have a particularly boisterous group, opt for the former) and, if it's wintertime, investigate whether or not the restaurant has a coat check. If you're planning a cocktail hour before guests sit down to a meal, Ladt recommends asking how many people the space fits standing versus seated, to be sure everyone can fit comfortably once they're sitting at tables. Check exactly how many hours you can reserve the space for and, if you're planning to have guests contribute something to the menu—like a cake—confirm that the restaurant allows outside food to be brought in.
Finalize Your Numbers
Ladt recommends asking guests to RSVP at least three weeks in advance of your event. While most restaurants may not need the final guest count until a week before, "you'll want to have your guest list confirmed for other details you might need to prepare, like place cards and gifts."
Match the Food to the Vibe You Want
On to the most important part: the food! "Your menu should take into account whether or not your shower is seated or standing, formal or non-formal," says Ladt. "If you are serving passed hors d'oeuvres or offering a station of light bites, you want to make sure you're choosing foods that are easy to pick up and eat like tea sandwiches, crostinis, deviled eggs, mini quiches, and fruit," she says. "If you're having a sit-down meal but still want an informal feel, opt for light, family-style dishes like salads, chicken, or salmon. Or, if you're looking for something more formal, have a pre-set, multicourse menu." Ask the restaurant if it'll create special menu cards with the bride's initials at the top (or print them yourself), and be sure to serve some of her favorite dishes, desserts, or drinks.
Add Personal Touches
"Restaurants are generally very accommodating and want to make your shower special, so they'll happily work with you to customize the event, such as creating a signature drink," says Ladt. If you're laid-back (or just really busy), the restaurant may agree to take care of additional décor and flowers for an extra fee. If you're a style stickler, though, Ladt recommends you "bring in the flowers and décor yourself, or work very closely with the restaurant to make sure they match the aesthetic you are looking for." Favors are another place to customize. "Personalized soaps, matchboxes, cookies, or any other sweet treat the bride-to-be loves are all great ideas," says Ladt.
While it isn't a must, "I'm fan of assigned seating for bridal showers," says Ladt. "It allows you to seat people together who might not know each other, saves time, and eliminates potential awkwardness of people trying to figure out where to sit."
Assign Someone to Keep Track of Gifts
Put an organized friend or family member in charge of keeping track of gifts as they're opened, so the bride-to-be can mention the item in a thank-you note later. "It's also perfectly acceptable to not open gifts at a shower," says Ladt. "Some people don't love being the center of attention, and guests should respect that."
Have a Payment Plan
When it's time to pay the bill, have the payment ready to go. "Whoever is hosting the shower generally pays for it, whether it's the bridesmaids or family members," says Ladt. While it's totally okay to split the cost among multiple hosts, "that should be sorted out before the shower and should not come up in front of guests."