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?
 
 
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.
 
 
Not a whole lot of feedback for this one, so if you're reading this and have something to add, add away.

One married friend of mine wrote a mere two words: "Better linens." Another said she'd liked the idea of having her bridesmaids hold clutches with decorative flowers instead of bouquets, only to nix the thought as too bold. She later saw the idea done on a television show.

I just researched nontraditional bouquets. Did you know there are button bouquets, doorknob bouquets and blackberry bouquets? Me neither. 

Kim, a wedding planner I know, mentioned she would have had more flowers. What was delivered was not what she expected when she placed her order -- a warning, probably, to all of us to be clear with any vendor about what we're to receive for what price.

Finally, two women mentioned candy buffets -- one who wished she'd done one, and one who said she is having one. 

I find it strange that this question didn't drum up more of a response because I ask this question of the handful of people I meet each week for my full-time job (even those who've been married for a decade or more), and they always seem to have an answer.

The question I ask them: If you had your wedding to plan all over again, what would you most certainly do again, and what would you do differently? One man replied that he would have hired a limo or other group transportation because not having it resulted in some delays in groomsmen and bridesmaids getting to various locations for photography.

Other people have told me that they regretted not having the time, or making enough of an effort, to greet each and every guest.


So, what about you? What do you still smile about doing on your big day, and what would you do differently in hindsight?
 
 
Suggestions from Today's Bride:
Dessert bar, s'mores buffets and pie pops. Having never met a pie pop, I went on a quick Google hunt. Behold:
And this suggestion, I can't pronounce, let alone define: croquembouche. But another hunt reveals that it's puffs galore:
Other suggestions and insights: Pie, period. Cake pops. Cheesecake. Candy and ice cream bars. The yummy, yet messy, chocolate fountain. Centerpiece cakes on each table. A tiered cake for that cake-cutting moment, but sheet cakes (kept discreetly out of sight) served to guests to cut costs. When ordering, remember that not every guest will eat cake, so order fewer slices than people invited. One sorority sister of mine also reminded me that venues will charge a cake-cutting fee. Couple that fee with the price per slice, and you easily could pay $10 a slice. No cake ever tastes that good, she argued.

Flat-out recommendations: Reeves Cake Shop. Cake Loft. Create-A-Cake.


Topics to broach with any baker, per my Facebook friends: Some people don't like the taste of fondant, so make sure you do. Otherwise, ask the baker to stick with frosting.

Now, if like me, you like the idea of cupcakes, I found this to be something to remember: If you've refrigerated the treats and they don't return to room temperature by the time guests are biting into them, the frosting tastes solid.

Here's a few rustic cupcake-related ideas I've found: