I have very limited experience with weddings from the guest side of things — like maybe five in my entire 31 years of living. But I have a ton of experience from the vendor side of things, allowing me to see a wide range of budgets and styles in the wedding world.
I thought I'd share a few observations that seem to be universal about weddings…
Most people don't have a lot of decor at their wedding
Maybe it was just our clientele — I worked at a non-profit catering company whose main venue was a bookstore so the customers were typically at least a tad offbeat — but it seemed like upwards of 90% of the weddings we catered had very minimal decor. Certainly very few had large/grand centerpieces. I'd venture to say about 75% of the clients that used our venue opted to just have stacks of books and votive candles, sometimes with the addition of flowers or herbs. Off-site weddings weren't much different. Nine out of ten opted for just tablecloths with no overlays (or no tablecloths at all if the tables were pretty).
This is what the majority of real weddings I worked at did. For real people. Not for magazines or TV shows or what-have-you. Since most of my previous experiences with weddings involved television or movies, this really surprised me at first.
A staffed buffet can actually save you money
People will pile way more food on their plates than they are capable of eating if you let them self-serve. Hiring the additional two or three staff members to man your buffet will reduce your food costs by a good chunk. Yes, we had to charge more for food for people who didn't have staff for the buffet because we knew it meant we needed to make at least 25% more food, most of which went straight in the trash. People could always get seconds or thirds with it staffed, and we never ran out. Bonus: the line tended to move faster.
Family-style dining has the same staffing and food volume needs as a buffet, so the costs are comparable (slightly more platters, slightly fewer plates, almost a wash there). In my opinion, a staffed buffet is a cheap way to “nicen up” your reception.
Go outside your caterer for special food needs
If you have just a few guests with specific food allergies/restrictions, it is often cheaper to order them a meal from somewhere else than to have your caterer make something extra for them. This might be much easier to do in larger cities than elsewhere, but it worked really well all the times we did it. Gluten free, vegan, low sodium, kosher — we could do all of this for a whole menu, but to make just one item fit these needs was always an expensive option for the clients, and a pain in the ass for us. We handled the whole thing by ordering, picking up, and re-plating for the guest.
Children's meals are easy
While special dietary needs are hard, making something that can be plain for the finicky eaters and small children is easy. This can be as simple as having the pasta/chicken/whatever not tossed in the sauce beforehand. Usually there is no problem doing this. Just ask your caterer to do so BEFORE your wedding day.
You don't need that much cake
If you have a full meal, you probably don't need as much cake as online tipsters say you do. You have no idea how many times I've brought the entire bottom tier of a wedding cake home because no one wanted it after the wedding. And the bottom tier is the largest portion — think about that a moment. But your catering staff will love you for ordering more than you need; cake for breakfast for most of my floor of my apartment building never got old.
No one likes fondant
No one. Especially whoever has to cut your cake. It's pretty, but that's it.
If there is a large gap between your ceremony and your reception
Provide snacks pre-meal time. Otherwise the catering staff gets the stink eye and your guests get grumpy. Fruit and cheese is fine. Popcorn is fine. Cotton candy is fine. Just something to keep blood sugar and spirits up.
People will take your centerpieces
They'll especially take the floral ones. Unless you tell them not to. I've seen people alert their guests in various ways: notes on the bottom of the centerpieces are usually good, or tell the catering staff if you don't want them taken. The catering staff can help run interference, but you still need to make it known.
If you DO want to give away your centerpieces, also tell your staff and they can line them all up near the door just before the end.
Your reception will be just fine, no matter what
As long as there is enough food and space for everyone, people will have a good time. Games are nice. Music is nice. Themes are nice. But nice isn't the same as essential. Bare bones will do. Really. It will be beautiful and memorable and your jaded catering staff will still feel that warm tingle in the bottom of their hearts — and they're perfect strangers who do this twice weekly! Any snafus will be instantly forgiven. Any oversights can be overcome.
Sure, true disasters happen sometimes, but that just makes things memorable. In all the hundreds of weddings I saw, nothing truly horrible ever happened. Yes, brides tripped, great aunt Martha hated the chicken and sometimes drank too much to make up for it. But things always felt happy. The couple always looked happy. The guests always seemed happy to be there, loving the couple. Every single time.
Those perfect strangers on your catering staff really do care about making your wedding perfect
They regularly go the extra mile, manage the last-minute request, put up with the lack of three staff members you couldn't afford to hire, deal with all sorts of emergencies you never hear about because that's our job. Treat them like fellow human beings and they will go to the greatest lengths to make your day awesome. Treat them poorly… well, who cares about this wedding. All it takes is politeness when speaking to them and early communication to work out the kinks when possible.
Caterers and couples who have been there/done that: Do you have anymore insider tips for our readers?
photography: Wild About You Photography