As I mentioned in the blog I wrote about our caterer, choosing the company that would cook and serve our wedding meal was one of the more time-intensive processes we've encountered in the planning process. The lessons we've learned?
- Most caterers will offer you a taste test. Take it.
- Most don't offer a run-through of their Health Department records. Look them up at your county office. See whether they have violations (involving such issues as food temperature, hand-washing practices and code compliance). Hire those that do not have serious, repeated violations. Or any, lol.
- Drill down to really understand what you'll be charged. Many caterers will charge you for the food, drink service, the manpower for their station cooks (if you do stations) and other personnel, cake-cutting services, china and flatware, and more. Ask for a price quote, delineating every charge, in writing.
- If you care like I do, ask about how many weddings they serve in any given year and how long they've been in business.
- Finally, LISTEN. If a caterer tells you that something will work well or won't, take their word for it. Your best ideas (like our first desire for a pasta station) will only be the best when executed right, and if a caterer advises against something, it's probably best to give their opinion due consideration. They've been there, done that.
Enough about our own findings. Here's what my Facebook friends advised when it comes to deciding what you'll serve for your big event:Buffet service, many said, is fine and dandy, but has a more sophisticated feel when servers actually serve guests. Another urged us to choose foods that are an extension of us. She wrote: "I think a lot of people get hung up on pleasing the guests rather than making the wedding an extension of themselves. It's the personal touches about you both that tell your story that people will remember and enjoy the most. They are there to celebrate you!"We didn't consciously do this, but it's safe to say that a certain dish involving bacon reflects my groom, and another dish involving capers (those scrumptious little things!) reflects my love of all foods Mediterranean. Above all else, though, Steven's and my decision to serve more country-style entrees rather than pricier, elegant dishes is so us.
Others said they like family-style service (where platters of each dish are brought to the table for your guests to serve themselves). We were going to do this until our caterer pointed out that serving family-style food, only to force our guests to get up to enjoy the mashed potato topping bar ... didn't make much sense. Remember? Listen to your vendors.I feel this goes without saying, but many of my Facebook friends encouraged brides and grooms to serve options for vegetarians and vegans, if possible. Steven and I included in our RSVP card a way for people to tell us what they will not (or cannot) eat. See?
As you can see, we chose to have a little fun with something that traditionally asks only for names and meal selection. :] Back to the topic at hand: Others also suggested offering more dessert than just wedding cake. We're not really doing that (it's simply not in the budget), but I think we're achieving quite a bit of variety by offering guests six varieties of mini cupcakes whipped up by one mega-talented baker. Other ideas that people offered:
What's the best wedding food you've ever had?
- Let your date dictate the menu. Getting married on or near Fourth of July? Offer foods that typically would be served at such outings.
- Offer stations (so long as your caterer is confident it won't create long waits!) that let people handpick the tacos and plates of pasta they really want.
- Serve late-night food for those guests of yours who dance the night away with you. We are hoping to order pizza.
- Even if something's not on the menu, ask about it if you want it. One of our dishes is not one on our caterer's given wedding selections menu, but still, they offer it, make it homemade and will be serving it to our guests. We'd never have known that if we hadn't asked.
- Finally, one person recommended serving appetizers to your guests so they have something to munch on during the time between the ceremony and the reception's official start. We're doing this, but keeping it simple for budget reasons but also because a few caterers told me that they see it happen too often that people fill up on appetizers only to enjoy the meal less.
- We met with our DJ on Thursday night for our pre-wedding planning meeting, and while there, the husband and wife team urged us to actually EAT at our wedding. In fact, they said they'd make sure it happens. As a woman who likes food, I appreciate how adamantly they feel about this!
Thus far, in our year of wedding planning, I'd say we've done pretty well in keeping wasteful spending to a minimum. In fact, with the exception of a blue sweater I bought for our engagement shoot that I didn't end up wearing more than twice, I'm not sure we have wasted money. People who've been there, done that, certainly had viewpoints on which wedding expenditures are a waste. Favors were cited most often. And one friend replied: "Speaking as a server, imprinted cocktail napkins, matches, etc. Anything that gets thrown out anyway. And really think about whether people will actually take your favor home and do something with it. When the favors are flimsy, people leave them and we end up throwing them out at the end of the night."The only wedding favors I still have serve as jewelry storage on my dresser, so I guess they're serving a purpose. But, I hope no one paid an arm and a leg for them.The husband-to-be and I decided early on not to do favors. In lieu of favors, and right along the lines of others' suggestions, we will donate to the Cleveland Animal Protective League. It would have been enough that we're both animal lovers. But, not long after Steven moved in with me, we adopted this ridiculously sweet cat -- whom we renamed Cora -- from the organization:
Can you stand it?! She even fetches her toys. Like a dog.
Our thinking: If we can help ensure that other animals are cared for until they find their forever homes, it's a much better expenditure than favors.
And, she's not the only adorable animal inspiring this donation. This is Charlie, whom I adopted five years ago from a Pennsylvania farmhouse. When it's cold outside and the radiators are hissing, we know where to find him, lol.
Back to the topic at hand: Where else have others realized that a wedding expenditure was a waste of money? One woman said hiring a limo (because she just found it to be unnecessary), and another journalist friend of mine called the sit-down dinner a waste.
It surprised me how many people chimed in to say they agreed. Here I was, thinking we'd be lepers if we dared have buffet dinner service, and here they were, saying nix dinner altogether. They said this namely based on what they say their friends' preferences are (to get up and mingle, rather than wait for dinner to be served) and they said this because from their perspective, the typical rubber chicken, vegetable and starch isn't memorable and isn't worth the price you pay.After a lot of thought and deliberation, and a big change in our plans, Steven and I have chosen our caterer and decided our menu. More about that on the blog soon.I've learned that a lot of wedding planning follows the old adage, "to each his own." If you don't want to serve dinner, don't, but make sure you say so in your invitations, my peanut gallery advised. Guests who show up hungry for dinner only to find finger foods may end up hungry later, and leave earlier. (To that point, you also should include it in your invites if your event is adults-only and if it's outside so guests can plan accordingly, I'm told.)Another Facebook friend of mine said that spending a lot on invitations doesn't make sense to her because most will throw them away. I've been lucky to have a sister who's a designer who crafted my invitations as her gift to us, and I've ordered them on Vistaprint using Groupons. Keep your eyes out: Vistaprint Groupons are offered fairly frequently.Other former brides also noted that they purchased their gowns at David's Bridal rather than potentially spending more at private boutiques, and a few urged me not to overspend on a veil because a person can make one pretty cheaply or borrow one. One man also suggested we make our own decorations (in the works!) and host our ceremony and reception at one venue (presumably because it saves on transportation and because it's more convenient for guests). We're doing that, too.One of my favorite responses was this one, from a former colleague of mine who actually threw a surprise wedding when she married: "The good news is that guests really appreciate anything that makes the wedding unique."
What was the most unique touch to a wedding you've ever seen?
If I had to summarize the 44 responses to this question in one sentence, I would do it this way: Do not skimp on your big day's photography. Just. Don't. Do. It.Many of the people who gave an opinion either regretted not spending more money themselves, or knew someone who did. "You can skimp on everything else, but those pictures are forever," one of my friends wrote. Another noted she hadn't even ordered digital proofs because she's so disgusted by the work her photographer delivered. (Word to the wise: Negotiate, or try to negotiate, so that you receive a disk of digital images and have the right to print the images.)Photography is one of the biggest reasons I turned to bartering. I knew I couldn't bear to not have gorgeous, candid images of our day (I've worked for years with fabulous photojournalists, so I know how striking photography can be when done well), but I suffered from some serious sticker shock. Then, I met Ken Cavanaugh at Cavanaugh Photography, who did want to barter, and my mind was set at ease. We would have a professional behind the lens, and I would work to earn it.Others, in responding to this day's question, said they wished they'd hired a videographer, and one said she would hire a DJ if she could have a do-over.I liked this advice: Spend more on what's more important to you. If you dig live music, this person wrote, hire a band. If you're particular about food, splurge a little on a top-notch caterer. For one former bride, having a string quartet was worth the extra $400, while spending more to have live flowers simply was not. One former groom said he regretted pinching pennies on tuxedos because the shop they used did an awful job tailoring and actually delivered some of the tuxes to the wrong places.Here's what I've learned generally in my own wedding planning: You get what you pay for, in most cases. If you want a fantastic photographer, said fantastic photographer will cost more. If you want a newspaper journalist to write your love story, it will cost more than hiring your friend to do it for you (shameless plug, I know). The husband-to-be and I are paying more than we initially expected for our caterer, and I'm glad. They serve a tasty chicken piccata, mashed potatoes made from scratch and a lot of other delicious food, and they're a third-generation company -- tried and true.Another of my Facebook friends said her husband and she ran out of booze, which reminds me to share with you what I've learned: You can find distributors who will sell alcohol on commission. That means that if Steven and I buy more alcohol than our guests end up consuming, and if any cases and bottles are unopened, the distributor will take the alcohol back and refund us that money. When it comes to purchasing for our party, we'd rather over-purchase, and we're glad to know that we can potentially return some of it.One woman said she was sorry that she skimped on her wedding shoes and doesn't like any of the photographs that show those shoes. Of course, nothing is all about price. A former editor of mine urged that simply spending more dough does not ensure a great vendor or responsive service. He suggested asking oneself, "Did they capture each couple's story, or take cliché images?" when vetting photographers, and considering how a DJ plans to keep your party lively.When it comes to our pending nuptials, we've definitely spent more (via my bartering) to ensure we have karaoke and a very competent DJ and emcee. It's important to us to have a party that gets people up and dancing, and keeps them up and dancing, and I hear from Something New Entertainment's former clients that they deliver. Finally, one former bride said she wished she'd spent more on linens because she saw another wedding with pricier linens, and they did make a "tremendous" difference in the overall feel of the room. Speaking of linens, we've decided to buy ours instead of renting them. Anyone know a quality site that sells them?
I will never understand what drives a woman to want to be on that Bridezillas show. I want to be remembered as a beautiful, beaming bride, not a screaming witch.
But, we all know that under the right amount of stress, the prettiest of personalities can turn ugly. It was with that in mind that I asked my peanut gallery the above question, and there was no shortage of replies.
The first person to respond said this: "I started to feel like it was more for everyone else. Don't let that happen. Keep in mind, it is YOUR day (and Steven's) so make sure YOU will be happy at the end of it. I finally got to the point where I just couldn't wait for it to be over. Wish I would've spoke up and said enough is enough."
I asked her what specifically made her feel that her own big day was more for everyone else, and she told me she had female relatives take over. The event became one that she didn't recognize. Take others' advice, she urged, but make sure the dream that's executed is the one you two share.
Other Facebook friends of mine offered these reasons why they became upset, overwhelmed and irked:
*A few people said their DJs didn't follow directions, that they refused to play requests even when the bride told them they should and played a genre of music that didn't mesh with what the man and woman of the hour requested. I feel confident that Something New Entertainment will do us proud. Every time I interview Anna-Jeannine to write a blog for her, no matter the topic, her focus is squarely on what will make the bride and groom happiest.
*Another woman said family politics can be a stressor. I wrote a blog for Something New about dealing with such issues, and the takeaway was this: Planning for challenges helps ensure they don't become problems. So, consider providing corsages and boutonnieres for every mom and dad figure so no one gets offended. And, if there truly are people who you’d rather keep apart at all costs, make sure you alert the photographer.
*A sorority adviser wrote this: "Also, be sure to talk with Steven about his wants and needs. Too many brides feel it is HER day and he is just along for the ride. His input counts. I was too much of a bridezilla in that aspect." I think I've done this. My groom purchased some of the tree trunk slabs for our centerpieces and chose outright what his groomsmen and he will wear (gray slacks, gray vests and ties -- tuxedos seemed too formal given Mr. Grizzly). And, he's the reason that bacon-wrapped meatloaf will be an entree (more on our caterer as soon as a contract is signed!). I figure, my life is happy because he's in it; so, too, will my wedding be.
*A few people said that assigned seating became a real bear (bears are on my mind, yes) and one of my former newspaper colleagues said that's the exact reason they assigned family to a few tables and let the rest of their esteemed guests sit where they pleased.
*I particularly appreciated what one friend of ours in Pennsylvania offered: "After all the planning is done and the day starts, you will worry about this or that and feel like you have to take control. Don't! Take time to enjoy everything around you!"
*Another former journalism colleague of mine shared that she ripped her veil three weeks out and rush-ordered another only to RIP THE OTHER ONE on the day of. Omg. Thankfully, a trip to a bridal store three blocks from the venue produced a third. She recommended, "Plan for every worst-case scenario. I know many brides who pack an emergency kit: extra hose, needle and thread, safety pins and bobby pins, stain sticks, headache medicine, Pepto-Bismol." I think this is something I might ask a bridesmaid to handle. Zilla alert!
*Another bride said her photography got backed up so much that while her groom and his groomsmen had dozens of shots together, her bridesmaids and she had maybe 10. I can't guarantee that this will prohibit the same from happening on my day, but I've been sending, revising and re-sending a timeline to my vendors to try to ensure to the best of my ability that I'm allotting reasonable slots of time for hair, photographs and more. A few of them have complimented me on being so proactive, and all of them have been helpful and honest where they need to be.
*Apparently, groomzillas exist, too! One woman said her husband said he didn't care, then threw tantrums, she thinks, in an effort to please his parents. She wishes they had discussed things and had more of a team mentality going into it all.
I'll close with these two observations because they help me take a deep breath and beat back my growing anxiety. (My number of wedding nightmares currently stands at two, sigh: one about us forgetting at home all of the jars that have become a labor of love for my mom and me, and the other about the personalized dress hanger I've ordered being misspelled).
"To be honest, I don't think I was a bridezilla at all, and it's because I made sure I was well prepared. And if something wasn't perfect, I just remembered that very few people, if anyone at all, would notice the detail I was obsessing over so I let it go. And all I have are wonderful, stress-free memories!"
And, this gem from a bride who, at the time, was still planning her own big day: "Planning my wedding I'm keeping two things in mind... can people say they had fun and we love each other? If they can answer yes, it was a success. You might not remember little details, but you will remember how you feel. People get so caught up in the stuff... don't forget why you're doing it!"
In the year since I asked these 30 Days of Wedding Questions, I've learned a lot on my own, particularly when it comes to bargaining. Brides, never be afraid to ask if someone can better accommodate your budget. And wedding vendors, please be upfront. If you know someone's budget isn't what it needs to be to afford you, just say so. (I recently revealed our budget for a particular service to a vendor and exchanged a couple dozen emails with the vendor, only to receive a quote more than $1,000 more than our budget. No matter how you slice it, he wasted his time, and I wasted mine.)I agree with this advice (offered by a Facebook friend): Go to bridal fairs. I won $100 off videography at the last wedding show I attended, and Story of Your Life (the company I co-own with my sister) distributed 10% off promo codes at the Boutique Bridal Bazaar this year to prospective clients.As for straight discounts, hosting an off-season wedding (i.e., not during the spring, summer or fall) and hosting it on a Friday or Sunday can save you money. Also, one of my friends (who's also getting married this year) saved money by booking vendors located not in the big city, but in more remote cities. This is logical, given that the overhead costs, such as rent and taxes, in a place such as Cleveland are typically higher than more rural places.Oriental Trading is great for inexpensive items (bridesmaid and groomsman gifts, for one) that include free personalization, another woman noted, and trust me, the wedding catalogs find a way of finding you. I probably have four or five here at home, and I never subscribed to a single one.Another person noted that vocational schools offer their baking and hair-styling services at much lower prices than established vendors. And others said they saved by serving pie or cupcakes instead of cake (Steven and I are, too!; feast upon our flavors here), and serving buffet dinner rather than plated. Plated service requires more servers, and thus costs more.
Steven and I are planning on family-style service to avoid buffet lines; family-style puts serving platters of food on each table and has guests serve themselves.Last but not least, one woman said her husband and she saved big on closing the bar during dinner. (They still served wine and champagne, though.)Just a reminder: My officiant is offering a bargain. Free wedding ceremony service for anyone who contacts her, mentions The Bartering Bride blog and is getting married in the summer of 2013! See the details (and reasons why we contracted with Harleigh) here.
And, while I'm at it, Story of Your Life is offering 10% off for any project ordered by April 1. Email us here to get started.
I figured gathering ideas from my Facebook friends' favorite weddings couldn't hurt. :] (If you're wondering why the broken-glass reference, my car proved irresistible to some thieves last summer. Twice in five days.)One friend said the best wedding she's ever been to was the best because the bride and groom made the day about things they enjoy: Christmas ale (my family, the Husband-To-Be and I actually tasted Christmas ale-infused cupcakes today!). Sushi appetizer (never tried it!). And their own music playlist. (Steven and I have taken to writing down song titles anytime we hear something we like. VH1's 100 Greatest Songs of the 90's is to blame, guests of ours, for the abundance of 1990's songs we have on our list, a la... New Radicals' "You Get What You Give" and Barenaked Ladies' "One Week." Get ready to party like it's 1999.)This Facebook friend also noted that the bride and groom made it a point to spend time with all of their guests.
Amy, one of my bridesmaids, commented that the most memorable weddings she's attended were the ones that stepped outside the box. One took place at a yacht club and culminated with fireworks. Another was scheduled on New Year's Eve. And a third took place on the stage of a theater downtown. "Individuality is the best way to go!" she wrote. (The Husband-To-Be and I stayed true to our musical, or not so musical, endeavors in arranging for wedding karaoke.)This two-word answer attracted quite a few *likes*, lol: Open bar. (Wedding alcohol is always cheaper to serve if you find a place that will allow you to buy and bring in your own drinks, I'm told. And if you go that route and need a bartender, check out Bill.)"Mine is pretty simple," another of my bridesmaids, Michelle, wrote in response to the question. "The ones that stick out the most had the best DJs, the ones that really kept the party going and made everyone want to dance."Other "best weddings" were described like this:
Finally, a recent bride wrote: "Mine! I've been to many weddings, but nothing beats your day."
- NOTHING TOO FORMAL: Guests wore flip flops and summer dresses. People brought food to share, and his sister, mom and I decorated. If you wanted to speak with the bride or groom, you didn't feel like you had to ask or wait in line. We had no assigned seats at the picnic tables. You felt free to move around and talk. Outdoors, simple and special.
- TRUE TO TWO: Perfectly them, matched their personalities and preferences and made them so happy!
While others hunted for toys and electronics on Black Friday, I braved the unpredictably crowded Jo-Ann Fabrics on a hunt for the burlap I'll need to craft table runners, lace and ribbon for wrapping the glass jar collection currently overwhelming our small dining room and twigs, too.
Thanks to a generous 50% off coupon, I snagged 12 yards of burlap for $23, plus several yards of beautiful lace. I left without fake twigs because I decided I would go gather real twigs in the park across the street.Gluing lace to jars and cutting strips of burlap seems well within my crafty abilities. But I asked the above question because I wanted to know what people regretted tackling on their own. There was no shortage of advice here:*No one disagreed with Jenn, my culinary school-trained friend: Leave the food to the professionals.
*Many, though, recommended making your own centerpieces (we are!) and your own favors. A number of my Facebook friends said they simply wrapped candies or made donations to charity for their guests. Another said she created mini storybooks showcasing her hubby and her as part of their centerpieces. A third mentioned his wife and he put together bowls of water with colored stones and floating candles.
*People also recommended that we leave alterations to the professionals. This is a must-do, given that the sewing machine my mom gifted me three or four years ago remains unopened as of yet.
*The response regarding invitations was mixed. Some were happy that they did their own invitations and saved money doing so. Another woman, however, was quite adamant that her decision to DIY the invites was not the right one: "I did my own invitations ... huge mistake ... wayyy more difficult than I thought they would be ... leave those to the professionals!!!!"*Finally, a piece of advice with which I do agree: "I would have gotten my makeup done as mine didn’t last well throughout the evening," one former bride said. "I’d actually leave anything related to your appearance to the pros – dresses, hair, makeup – you will be able to see the impact."