Picking the Venue
We put a lot of thought into our wedding, and specifically chose a venue that was open to having us customize just about everything. We wanted freedom to bring in our own caterers and a few other surprises. Not all venues are so forgiving, so if you plan on exacting every detail be sure to gauge their response to your plans accordingly. Many venues we toured had the "we'll take care of everything approach," which is all well and good for some, but not for us. We wanted our personal touch throughout the whole event. We chose a venue that allowed us to bring in our own alcohol and beverages (we just had to hire a couple bartenders), caterers, cake maker, and even accommodate one other surprise I'll get to later. Surprisingly, organizing all these things yourself from a variety of vendors happened to also be less expensive than the all-in-one package most venues offered. It'll be more planning for you, but if you're up for it (like we were) it'll make everything that much more special.
Choosing a Caterer
My wife and I love food. If all else failed, we wanted people to say that at least the food was great. We pondered for a bit on how we could cook things ourselves for the big day to make it a more intimate affair. My large extended family, however, made that an impractical solution. Instead we tested out several caterers, bringing along with us a detailed list of our vision. We wanted a meal that featured our favorite foods and tastes from our travels and from our own homes. We didn't want the standard entreé, salad, and a few sides. Instead we wanted a more eclectic mix of bites big and small that gave people insight into our culinary adventures. We wanted pretzels that reminded us of our trip to Germany; grilled pizzas because it's our favorite thing to cook at home; mini burgers because I won my wife over the day I grilled some in the snow while living in Minnesota; Cuban sandwiches because my wife regularly feasted on them in college; crab cakes because they're one of the few things we've never successfully made, and so on.
For drinks we bought kegs and cases of wine from a local wine & liquor store. We also wanted to bring in organic juice blends from our favorite juicer and have bartenders optionally spike them for our guests by creating cukes and spicy margaritas. We tasted samples and samples—hmmm, wedding planning does have its perks—and picked a caterer that had the enthusiasm, confidence, and versatility to do what we wanted. The one we chose seemed to get it, offering ideas during our meeting that aligned with our taste and personality.
When we host parties or have people over for dinner we like to do a little something extra and unexpected. Since we got married in Austin and the food truck scene was beginning to take-off, we wanted to bring in some of our favorite food trucks after the cake was cut. The only thing I love more than chocolate chip cookies is a chocolate chip cookie ice cream sandwich. Cool Haus was just starting up in Austin, and we had them drop by and deliver tiered stacks of their delicious cookie ice cream sandwiches for my groom cake. There are few things my wife enjoys more than coffee, so we brought in a coffee truck that blended up smoothies, blended coffees, and all sorts of drinkable delights. We were a little curious how this would be received to people not from Austin, but it was great and we smiled upon seeing our guests gravitate towards the trucks and enjoy food as we enjoy it in our hometown.
We put a lot of work into it all, making our own table arrangements from wood slices, coring apples so a votive candle would fit inside them, making place cards that detailed the importance of each food to us, etc. All that effort paid off, though, so that the 'happiest day of our life' really was true. The biggest part of our wedding budget was definitely the food and the photos. But those are precisely the areas you want to splurge. That way when you look back at everything years later you can experience, and perhaps even taste, those moments all over again.
(Images: Erin Woolsey)