North Carolina Group Dining Shows Off Its Southern Culture
Top-notch barbecue, a James Beard Award-winning chef and America’s longest-running dinner theater are just a few things meeting planners can take advantage of in North Carolina.
Experiential meetings have become commonplace, and planners should look to their destination’s dining scene for inspiration. Attendees might be in a new city for only a few busy days, and digging into local cuisine and frequenting local restaurants and businesses can be the perfect way to get a feel for the destination.
North Carolina offers an abundance of unique restaurants that can accommodate large groups, often with private spaces, and they all provide a glimpse into the Tarheel State’s Southern culture. Here’s a roundup of some of our favorite dining experiences in Greensboro, Raleigh, Charlotte and Wilmington.
Dinner Theater in Greensboro
Greensboro, located in central North Carolina, is the state’s third most populous city (behind hubs Raleigh and Charlotte). One of its dining scene’s most unique offerings is The Barn Dinner Theatre, which was founded in 1964 and is the country’s longest-running dinner theater.
“This is something we really love to highlight and show off,” said Amy Scott, director of marketing for Greensboro Convention and Visitors Bureau. “It’s a great thing for us to hang our hat on. They do a lot of discounted rates for groups. They really cater to that meeting and corporate experience.”
The Barn Dinner Theatre, Credit: Greensboro CVB
The Barn Dinner Theatre serves over 50,000 patrons annually and performances are year-round. Attendees can first enjoy a traditional buffet and carving station, then take in a live Broadway-style show (the 2020 slate includes 9 to 5 The Musical and Black Nativity).
For something more hands-on, planners should look to the Edible Schoolyard, located inside the Greensboro Children’s Museum. “You might hear children’s museum and think, ‘Wait, what?’” Scott said. “But they offer cooking classes for adults as well—they cater to everyone.”
Scott added that groups can customize what they’d like to cook and be taught by a local chef. Many restaurants in the area even use the Schoolyard’s herb garden for their own dishes. While cooking up a delicious meal, attendees can even enjoy a prime view of downtown Greensboro from the kitchen.
If you’re looking for a more traditional lunch or dinner, Kau encompasses a restaurant, butcher and bar. Located in the old Revolution Mill building, Kau can lend its entire mezzanine level to private groups and special events—complete with an audiovisual hook-up for presentations.
Food Halls in Raleigh
Busy office workers and meeting attendees alike can find refuge—and a delicious meal—inside two of Raleigh’s downtown food halls (think public markets like Philly’s Reading Terminal Market).
Located less than a mile from the Raleigh Convention Center, Morgan Street Food Hall features nearly 20 local favorite eateries and restaurants. This includes the beloved Curry in a Hurry and “one of the best burgers in town,” said Scott Peacock, director of public relations and international tourism at Visit Raleigh. Morgan Street’s outdoor patio can be rented out for groups, as well as a semi-private dining area indoors.
Morgan Street Food Hall, Credit Brian Strickland
On the other side of downtown, attendees will find Transfer Co. Food Hall, located in Raleigh’s historic Olde East neighborhood. The food hall boasts 43,000 square feet of space and (as of publication time) nearly 10 open vendors. Transfer Co. has dedicated private event spaces, from the outdoor courtyard that can accommodate 500 guests to an upstairs loft that can accommodate 49 guests.
“Each food hall has a different vibe,” Peacock said. “[Morgan Street] has twice as many vendors, more like a Chelsea Market, but [Transfer Co.] is more open and airy.”
Transfer Co. Food Hall, Credit: Brian Strickland
Traditional must-try restaurants include the soon-to-be-open Poole’Side Pies, from James Beard Award-winning chef Ashley Christiensen, which will serve up wood-fired Neapolitan-style pizzas. “We’re excited about this one because Ashley owns five other concepts, and [Poole’Side Pies] will be the first one that will have dedicated private dining within the restaurant,” Peacock said.
The entire second floor of Vidrio, offering up Mediterranean tapas and wine on tap, can be rented out to groups for private dining and events. It can accommodate 175 guests standing or 70 seated with presentation. “It’s great for groups because it’s in an area called Glenwood South, and it’s our entertainment district,” Peacock said. “There’s a lot of nightlife.”
Southern Fare in Charlotte
Food & Wine dubbed 2018 as “the Charlotte restaurant scene’s breakout year.” Indeed, North Carolina’s largest city serves up both old and modern Southern fare that’s attracting the attention of visitors across the country.
For top-notch barbecue, look no further than newly opened Sweet Lew’s, located in the Belmont neighborhood less than two miles from the Charlotte Convention Center. Its robust catering operation is also an option, with pick-up, delivery and set up available.
Smoked with a blend of hickory, pecan and peach woods, Sweet Lew’s barbecue is available for catering orders by the pound or combo plates by the person—with classic add-ons like collard greens and potato salad.
Alternatively, treat attendees to an abundance of local cuisine in a short amount of time through Taste Carolina Gourmet Food Tours. In Charlotte, planners can choose from:
- Charlotte Uptown Tasting Tour: sample local restaurants on a guided walking tour of downtown Charlotte (known as Uptown).
- Charlotte Uptown Evening Tour: tastings paired with a small cocktail, local beer or wine.
- Charlotte Brewery Tour: custom tours to three or more South End breweries.
All tours can be scheduled during the week by request.
Waterfront Views in Wilmington
With its charming riverfront and historic neighborhoods, Wilmington shows off coastal living in North Carolina. Since it falls between the Cape Fear River and the Atlantic Ocean, many restaurants in the area boast beautiful waterfront views—and serve up sea-to-table cuisine.
A notable one is Oceanic, which is the only non-hotel restaurant on the Atlantic coastline in Wilmington, said Connie Nelson, director of communications and public relations for the Wilmington & Beaches Convention and Visitors Bureau. The second and third floors can be used for private events.
Oceanic, Credit: Wilmington & Beaches CVB
“It had to close for a few months following Hurricane Florence last year, but they took the opportunity to completely remodel it and freshen everything up,” she added. “It’s absolutely beautiful. There are bay windows all the way around the space, so you have this panoramic view of the ocean.”
Also available for private events is the Crystal Pier behind the restaurant. Built in 1939 and restored in 2013, it’s the only wooden pier in Wrightsville Beach.
On the riverfront, groups can take advantage of the view at The Pilot House Restaurant in Wilmington’s historic downtown district. “Not only is the setting unique to our area, but the menu is very coastal oriented and serves the low country cuisine you can find in the Carolinas, from fried green tomatoes to shrimp and grits to catfish,” Nelson said. “You get the feel of the south with the scenery, and the flavor of it as well.”
From wood-fired pizza and cooking classes to mouth-watering barbecue, there are plenty of delectable ways for meeting planners to infuse North Carolina culture into their events. Attendees might have nearly full schedules during their time in a destination, but a lunch, happy hour or dinner—or even a cooking class or food tour—can be an ideal way for them to experience the locale efficiently and enjoyably.
North Carolina CVB Contacts
Wilmington & Beaches Convention and Visitors Bureau