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?
The nearly two dozen responses to this question revealed that a lot of people marry at a time of year that they've always loved. The Husband-To-Be and I are no different: We love fall. Football. The changing leaves in Northeast Ohio, accompanied by cooling temperatures. Halloween and frightening movies. It's our favorite time of year, and adding our wedding anniversary to it will make it even more so.If you've got a date in mind, book early, many of my Facebook friends advised. The longer you wait, the more difficulty you may have in booking the church/pavilion/ceremony place you want AND the reception hall for the same day.Others noted, too, that they were careful not to schedule their wedding too near holidays and birthdays, and one former colleague of mine noted it didn't hurt that her wedding date included her favorite number. There was one person who has what she calls a family date: the date her mother married and her mother's parents married. Pretty neat.Others planned their date around their "dating anniversary." Remember to think about the weather, said one woman who did. Her groom had a sweaty time marrying her on their early August date. To that point, asking a venue about climate control (heat and air conditioning) is a must.A sorority sister of mine gave this advice: "Our biggest lesson was flexibility so we could get the location and vendors we wanted. But it's all about your priorities -- if you want a specific date, you may have to sacrifice on some vendors who are already booked. Or, if you want a specific vendor(s), you'll need to be more flexible on the date."I do the same: When asking a vendor about their services and/or interest in bartering, I almost always start with: Do you have our date available?Other date-setting tips offered by the Facebook peanut gallery:
Speaking of wedding dates, our save-the-date proofs arrived today! My sister designed them for us, and we're printing them and our other wedding materials with a Groupon we bought for Vistaprint. The side with the picture is altered (for privacy's sake); at the bottom of the calendar on the ones we will send, we shared the location of our ceremony and reception and also wrote "formal invitation to follow."
- Booking your date on a Friday or Sunday can save you money.
- Give thought to whether you passionately want a certain type of flower, and schedule your wedding when said flower is in season. I've learned through my conversations with our prospective florists that it can increase costs significantly if you're absolutely set on an off-season flower.
If you like what you see, my sister is open to designing others... Email me, and I'll make sure she gets your request. My advice, even if you're working with another custom designer: Share images of invitations you like and give a general feel of what you like. Also, if you want to write copy like I did (I wrote the "poem" we used), it's probably best to give a designer that to begin with, too.
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."
As a budget (and bartering) bride, my favorite piece of invitation advice was this: Remember that people throw invites away. "Good place to save."
Another former bride said she did a lot of research on Wedding Paper Divas to make sure she knew what she wanted, how to word things and what to include. She bought packets at Michaels and extra envelopes and paper for reception cards and programs at Hollo's PaperCraft in Brunswick, Ohio. "I won't even reference design since your sister is a rock star," she wrote. (I am super lucky: My sister is a designer who's expressed interest in designing our save-the-dates and invitations. If you want a quote for her work, email me.)
*Order online from a place that will snail mail you a sample.
*And if you're creative, design them yourself like my friend, Nick, who said he printed via Vistaprint and sent postcard invitations to younger guests who would RSVP online and a more comprehensive brochure to older guests who would want to mail RSVP cards.