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:

  • 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!

What's the best wedding food you've ever had?
 
 
My, how time flies. I'd only been engaged for six days when I asked this question. Suffice it so say, it's always been my goal to stay ahead of the game. I booked our DJ, venue and photographer first, and not shortly after that our officiant, bartender and cupcake baker. When you stay ahead in planning, you have more time to research choices and also the questions you should be asking when hiring certain vendors. My point: Be an early bird if you can. It's so much less stressful, I have to imagine.

Find your venue and your gown first, most people told me. Venues (and churches, if you'll have one) book up quickly. And, you'll want to have your venue booked before you decide on your dress, said one of my friends, because some dresses simply don't fit some venues. Ball gown with lots of tulle on the beach? May become a bit cumbersome and gritty.

Dresses, too, can take time to come in, and it's likely you may want alterations. Having just met with my alterations expert, I've learned that alterations should begin approximately eight weeks before the big day. Clearly, the dress has to be in hand for that to occur.

"I recommend thinking about music early," another of my friends advised. "That's one of the things that was most important to us and we waited way too long -- we were picking out our special songs on the plane to Ohio for our wedding."

This is something Steven and I still have yet to do. Thankfully, our DJ has an online library of songs commonly picked for special wedding events, such as first dance and cake cutting, so we can count on inspiration there.

Finally, one former bride suggested taking a look at wedding planning timelines provided by The Knot. I receive emails in my wedding email account (trust me, create a special email so that your personal account isn't bombarded) every time another month has passed with tips from The Knot about what we should be accomplishing, and I do find them informative and helpful. All in all, though, I've compiled a variety of wedding planning timelines from a variety of websites and magazines, and I take a gander at all of them from time to time to keep us on track.
 
 
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?