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!
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!"
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!