A cautionary tale

I’ll let you in on a secret. I wasn’t always the sacred font of wedding knowledge you erm… read before you today? (OK, maybe I’m not now either!) Once upon a time, I was a confused and, quite frankly, clueless newly engaged gal with NO idea where to start.

Start with the venue, I was told. So what did we want? Well, given my enormous Jewish family and our many friends scattered worldwide, we needed to accommodate a reasonable (and flexible) number of people. We also wanted to get married outdoors, if possible, in some beautiful surroundings with a rain contingency plan and a nice indoor area for the reception. We wanted to do everything in one place and we wanted the venue owners to be easy to work with, laid back and willing to go with what we wanted.

After visiting a couple of lovely, yet unsuitable, venues, we landed on a place that seemed perfect. In the interests of not being a cow, I won’t name the venue, but at the time we were blown away. It had a beautiful rose garden, a little gazebo under which we would marry and a stunning, yet rustic, reception space. Perfect.

As I said, this was well before the Shabby Chic Bride was even a concept, and I was somewhat naive and unaware of how much things cost. We were already aware of venue costs, which were pretty standard. However, at the initial meeting when the venue was booked, we made it quite clear that a sit-down three-course meal was NOT on the agenda for us.

“You have to use one of our four caterers” she told us, “and there’s a ten pound corkage charge per bottle, so you can use our bar to avoid that.”

At this point, we explained that we didn’t have the biggest budget in the world and that our catering allocation was humble. “Don’t worry,” she replied, “our caterers can offer a bespoke service to suit any budget.”

Great, so after going away with le fiance to check out the websites of the various caterers, and to our delight discovering that a basic BBQ started at £10 per head, we booked a June wedding.

Straight away, we began ringing the four caterers to decide between them. The first took an age to get back to us, and when they did had none of the information we’d requested. The second was the eye opener. When h2b rang them, he was put through to an extremely snooty head chef. Explaining that we had our eye on the £20 per head vegetarian buffet, we were met with absolute scorn. “No, no, we can’t do anything less than £35 per head!”

“OK, but your website said…”
“That’s for an evening meal, not a wedding breakfast!”
“OK what’s the difference?”
“The evening meal is a second meal.” (Second meal?)
“OK, well the venue said you could offer a bespoke service to suit any budget. Is there any way we could reduce the amount of options on the menu and lower the price per head?”

Now, at this point, it’s important to bear in mind that we’re locked into a contract and have no choice but to use one of four businesses. While the suggestion of £25 per head might shock some of the caterers out there, bear in mind at this point we were planning for around 150 guests, canapes cost extra and drinks weren’t included. You can probably do the maths. Never mind the cost for us, our business was still worth THOUSANDS of pounds to them.

That’s why his response was somewhat baffling:

“No, no that wouldn’t work at all. Any fewer options and the mix of colours won’t be right. We can’t have people complaining that there aren’t enough colours – it’s all about presentation and our reputation can’t suffer.”

After attempting to explain that our friends and family would just be happy to be fed, and that surely there was some deal we could reach whereby nobody would complain, h2b ran out of patience and tried the remaining two caterers. Same story.

Exasperated, we rang the venue and politely pointed out that her “any budget” statement had been extremely misleading, given that we had told her how small our catering budget was. When the coordinator took our deposit, she must have known there wasn’t a single caterer whose services we could realistically afford. Without missing a beat, she replied:

“Well, you’d better find another venue, then.”

Thankfully, our deposit was returned (with an extremely uppity email, charitably letting us know that due to our “financial circumstances” they would make an exception and give us our money back),

So there we were, back at square one and feeling somewhat bruised and humiliated by the whole experience.

Now, I’m not saying that £30 per head is excessive, by many accounts it’s quite reasonable. But at the first meeting, we made it quite clear that was out of the realms of possibility for us. Instead of leading us into a trap, the coordinator should have been straight with us then and there. The caterers can suit any budget – if you’re wealthy. Oh, and wedding novices, the prices on the website only apply if you spend a bunch more earlier in the day. It doesn’t SAY that anywhere, but you should KNOW that!

So brides to be, heed this warning. If you’re on a budget, sense the tone of a place. Our current venue is allowing us to do whatever we like and providing help where it’s needed. If a venue’s “reputation” is more important than helping you to have YOUR perfect day, it may be time to find somewhere else.

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