Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Soapbox Sunday... on a Wednesday.

This is an interesting week. We're starting to look for a caterer and a photographer. There is a definite part of me that goes, "The wedding is next October. This seems a little crazy!" but there is also the part that has read too many wedding blogs and wedding planning books that all say you should try to book a venue, a caterer and a photographer ASAP in hopes that you book them before someone else does. We figured what the heck, it doesn't hurt to start looking. We'd like to have those three things figured out by October, because they're all big deals and it'd be nice to get some things taken care of early on. We think we may have found a venue. Yesterday I just found a promising local photographer that has a style we both like. Today we meet with our first caterer.

As we begin the search for some great vendors, I've been referring to a book I bought on Amazon called Bridal Bargains. I'm including a link to it, because if you're a bride to be, this is a book worth getting.

It gives good advice on what to look for in a vendor and what questions to ask to try to weed out the flakes.

Since we aren't in a huge city, the options are a little tougher. We want something sweet and intimate that suits our personalities, but we've already found a lot of wedding industry clich├ęs.

The reason I'm most thankful for this book right now is that it's helped to give me a little bit better idea of what to expect. I'd like to think that I'm a smart girl, and I don't take a lot of (ahem) guff. The problem is that I, like most brides I've spoken to, have never planned an event like this. It's hard to know what you should expect when you speak to a vendor, because you don't know what the norm is. Unfortunately, there seem to be some vendors out there who are well aware of the fact that they're dealing with a novice and more than willing to take full advantage of that. I haven't had to deal with that yet myself, but I've heard some horror stories.

In the catering section of Bridal Bargains, it gives tips on things to pay attention to and questions to ask your potential vendors.

One of the first questions that they suggest you ask is, "Can we have a taste test of the food on our menu?" These are their thoughts on that:

We positively loathe caterers who expect you to pay thousands of dollars for food on faith. Equally reprehensible are the caterers that ask "why do you need to taste such basic items? Hors d'oeuvres are hors d'oeuvres." We suggest you find another caterer if you get this line. Should there be a charge for taste tests? Well, some caterers (especially restaurants) may have a minimal fee for tastings, which we can understand. While we'd prefer it to be free, it's better to pay for a taste test and know what you're buying. Even better: taste two or three options for each course (if you plan a sit-down dinner).

I had to laugh because I read this AFTER I had spoken to our first potential caterer. Here is a summary of how my first foray into finding a caterer went:

Earlier this week I contacted one of my top choices for a caterer after reading every local catering website I could find. I probably should've prepared myself better for that first phone call, but I was optimistic that as a professional, the vendor would lead the way. It turns out, that was naive of me. I have corresponded via email and phone calls with this woman. She has not suggested we meet, which is what I had expected when I contacted her. From the few pictures I've seen of her work, she displays her food with lovely artistic flair. Her menu is on the gourmet side, and she seems to be one of the few local caterers I've seen that doesn't include things like deli trays, which we're hoping to avoid. I have explained to her our menu ideas and the general theme that we'd like for our reception. She says she likes it, but hasn't really made suggestions. She answers my questions, and she certainly sounds capable. I'm interested.

Since I have never met her, I can't get a good read of her personality and I feel a little uncomfortable speaking to her because of that. I'm in unfamiliar territory. I was also very thrown off and a bit startled by her response when I inquired about the possibility of a tasting once we had the menu details worked out. The common sense part of me (like the book, although I didn't realize it at the time) says that if you're going to spend thousands of dollars on food for your wedding, you'd like to know what it is that you will be serving your guests. You'd like to try it and verify that it is the quality you're expecting. Plus, Dylan loves food. A lot of wedding details are mind-numbingly boring for the groom and one of the things he's most excited about is the food. He'd be ready to order the wedding cake tomorrow if it meant he got to sample cake first. But I digress... When I asked about arranging a tasting, her response was something like, "I don't do that. I just don't see the point. Anyone can make a good meal for two people, but I don't think that it really proves that they'd be a good caterer." While I see her point, it stuns me a little bit. My response was, "Actually, I've been surprised by the number of people who can't even manage that." How many times have you ordered a meal from a restaurant thinking it sounded delicious, only to wrinkle your nose and think "Well, I won't be ordering that again." Is that really what you want to risk serving your wedding guests? I reassured her that we certainly didn't want to inconvenience her or interfere with her busy schedule, but that it was hard to commit to spending thousands of dollars on blind faith. I said that we'd be happy to pay for the tasting. I said (only half-jokingly) that it could be a deal breaker for Dylan to not be able to sample anything. She told me that she understood and that I was welcome to hire another caterer. I had asked about the possibility of going to one of her events during set-up so that we could see a representation of her work in person (another suggestion from the book) and she agreed that we can go to an event she has scheduled sometime in October and that she'll make a little extra food that we can sample there. It may not remotely resemble our desired menu, but at least we would get to sample something that she's made. I'm not sure if I should be pleased and grateful at that possibility, or mind-boggled and slightly offended. Maybe she really is that good. Maybe I have unrealistic expectations. For now, I am waiting to form that opinion. I will admit to being disillusioned at the moment.

Since that conversation, I emailed another local caterer that I've heard good things about. As with any large purchase, I intend to see what is available before I put my money down. Another Bridal Bargains tip suggests setting up appointments with at least three caterers. It spefically says, "When you call for an appointment, notice how promptly the caterer returns your call. Within the business day is good -- if it takes them more than a day, that's a red flag. Prompt attention is your first clue to the caterer's commitment to service."

I sent potential caterer #2 an email (including my phone number) late Friday night, and received an email back late Tuesday afternoon. Once again, I had to laugh a little having read the tip from the book. The email didn't answer any of my questions, but did say that it would be easiest to meet and discuss details. I ended up calling them, and have arranged a meeting with someone for today. I'm trying not to throw up additional red flags, because I emailed the chef, I heard back from someone else, and we are now scheduled to meet with a third person. I want to be hopeful and optimistic, but this whole thing is already giving me a headache. Fingers crossed that one of these encounters will go very well, that we will be able to taste and enjoy some very good food, and that the people responsible for that food happen to be available for our wedding day.

Is anyone else out there having a heck of a time? Please feel free to drop me an email if you have sanity and/or money saving tips.

Phew... I think I might need a cocktail by the end of the day. Or a cupcake. Or at least a nap.

In the meantime, let me just say: Good luck, to all of the girls out there trying to plan their wedding! We need all the help we can get!

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