Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Five Ways to Save on Wedding Food: A Guest’s View

There’s a lot of budget wedding talk floating around the personal finance blogosphere lately, presumably because thousands of engagees are in the midst of planning their nuptials for Summer 2009. I’m a veteran of these conversations, not because I’m married myself, but because I’ve attended about 50 weddings in the last ten years (20 as a waitress, 30 as a guest).

As a wedding frequenter (and proud owner of over 14,000 bridesmaid dresses), I’ve noticed things. Lots of things. Frugal things. Crazy things. Things like:
  • No one cares if a bridal gown (or a bridesmaid’s dress) is custom-made, came off a Macy’s clearance rack, or was assembled by elves in the trunk of the Keebler Dress Tree. As long as it fits, you’re good to go.
  • DJs and bands are slowly being replaced by iPods and halfway decent sound systems. They're less pricey, and - bonus(!): no Macarena.
  • Building-sized floral centerpieces are tremendous wastes of money. They’re hard to take home, and not conducive to table discussion. (Substitution suggestions: candy, candles, pictures of George Clooney, more candy.)
  • Videographers are, without exception, monumentally annoying. Invest in a solid photographer instead.
  • You can spend a million, billion dollars on a reception, but guests will inevitably remember the personal touches. F’r instance, this weekend, I went to a shindig where the couple wrote the entire (awesome) ceremony themselves. The vows included pledges like, “For every 300 hours of home improvement shows I watch, I promise to make one positive change to our home,” and they were perfect. Long after their families and friends have forgotten what color the napkins were, they’ll remember that line.

Beyond these observations, what’s struck me most lately has to do with wedding food. Maybe this is a natural reaction, having run a frugal cooking blog for the last year-and-a-half, or maybe formalwear just makes me hungry. Either way, here are five things that I, Wedding Guest Extraordinaire, might do to save cash on matrimonial meals.

(Please note, these tips are not meant for those planning a super-frugal reception. But if you’re looking to scale down a bit, they could be very cuttable corners.)

1) Skip the open bar. I’ve never heard one – not one – person complain that he or she was limited to beer and wine at a wedding reception. If you have a cadre of aging uncles who insist on straight-from-the-unopened bottle Maker’s, you might reconsider. Otherwise, mid-range lager and vino, perhaps served alongside a signature mixed drink, are more than sufficient.

2) Don’t go crazy with the cake. Though it pains me to diss any industry that employs Duff Goldman, there are two reasons for this:

  • I can’t tell you how many pieces of uneaten wedding cake I’ve cleaned off catering hall tables. Why? Well, by the time the cake is served, most guests are either a) full already, b) busy with the Electric Slide, or c) drunk. Buttercream is the last thing on their minds.
  • In over four dozen weddings, I’ve been able to get within 50 feet of the ceremonial cake-cutting exactly twice. It rarely occurs to me that there IS a cake until it’s even served. I think this is true of most guests.

Instead of a three-tiered monster, consider cupcakes, donuts, or a modest single-serving cake with a backup sheet version. It could cut costs by hundreds of dollars.

3) Ease up on the rehearsal dinner. In the northeast, it’s not unheard of to have a lavish sit-down dinner of 50+ people before the big day. While it’s a lovely gesture, the formality can be unnecessary. In 2006, The Boyfriend and I attended a full-family barbecue in Seattle that took the place of the rehearsal meal. A group effort, it was laid-back, delicious, and a fantastic way to welcome travelers. I’ve never felt more instantly comfortable in a place where I didn’t really know anyone.

4) Serve one or two really well-made dishes instead of six or seven mediocre ones. That same Seattle couple served the simplest of buffets at their wedding: two choices of expertly-smoked meat, the best garlic mashed potatoes in existence, and a small array of fresh vegetarian sides. It was OUTSTANDING, and I still talk about those potatoes in my sleep.

On the flip side, I’ve catered weddings and Sweet 16s that would make Warren Buffet blush, but the sheer number of food choices meant that nothing could be prepared very well. If food matters to you (and it does to me), maybe ask: do I want one incredible ravioli dish, or would I rather have 15 mediocre pasta options? (To see this principle in action, check out Orangette’s mind-blowing wedding menu. There’s a sample picture to the right. You might die of envy.)

5) Defy expectations. Whether you crave uniqueness or adhere so strictly to tradition that Martha Stewart would consider you conservative, your wedding is yours. And there’s no law set forth by the universe that says YOU MUST SERVE chicken, beef, and fish. If you want soul food, go nuts. If lo mein floats your boat, do it. If you’d rather humanity ate nothing but baby carrots and macaroons, have fun. And if someone raises a stink? Unless you’re actively depriving allergic, vegetarian, or lactose-intolerant guests of a meal, tell ‘em to shove off.

For more ideas on how to step outside the box (and then crush it), check out Indie Bride, Offbeat Bride, and A Practical Wedding. The creativity and range of ideas will astound you.

Readers – you perennial wedding guests – what do you think? Am I anywhere close to accurate here? What do you like to see out of wedding food? What are other ways to cut corners, but keep it classy? Do tell.


If you like this article, you might also dig


(Photos courtesy of and Orangette.)


Post a Comment

Related Post