I used to cater at a local botanical garden, a spot which is very popular for weddings here in town. And rightly so, it is a beautiful location. I worked through a change in the catering contract, serving two different employers through many changes in policy and menu. I loved working at the tea house, as it was a fine dining location with a beautiful landscape and one of the few places in town where you could get a fantastic brunch. We were only open on Saturday and Sunday from 10-2, and the rest of the weekend I worked weddings that occurred in the garden. With the main house, a historic manor, a rose garden pavilion (where my best friend got married a few years ago), the tea house, the conservatory, and various spots in the garden for smaller, intimate weddings, trust me–there were plenty that occurred between April-October. I was the point person on the weddings I worked, which means I was second only to the manager for what happened, who did what, how to get things accomplished, and was the primary (as we called it) bridal bitch, waiting on the bride (and usually the monster-mother-of) hand and foot to make sure that all was perfect on her special day.
I loved my job. I really did. Didn’t exactly go to college and graduate school to cut wedding cakes for a living, though, and when I had one Saturday, working from 8am to 2am, and I cut SIX wedding cakes that day, well, I realized I was over it. Not only could I not walk for another two days, had a tray full of whiskey spilled on my tux shirt around 7pm so I had to spend the rest of the night working in the kitchen, and cursing the person that ordered a buttercream five-tier cake in the middle of the summer, but I was just flat-out exhausted. Again, I cut SIX wedding cakes in one day. Personal record. Yeah, I took a break.
I worked for a few restaurants, took another management position with another catering company and worked high-profile catering events like the Heart Association’s Red Dress Ball and the 10th anniversary of our state Senator’s time in DC. And more weddings. Then I took a job at a beautiful country B&B, out on the river in southern Goochland County, as the wedding director and staffing coordinator. More wedding cakes to cut, more dinners to plan, and do it all while marching up and down the side of a mini-mountain. I had calves of steel from working there.
What has brought on this bout of employment nostalgia? I was flipping channels today and caught the end of the Miss America pageant rebroadcast on TLC, which was won this year by Miss Virginia. (Yes, I occasionally watch the pageant. Have since I was a kid, and I did the ball gowns for three girls in the Miss Virginia pageant while I was in college. Not must-see-TV, but still fun to watch on fast-forward to see the competition.) Just as it was ending and announcing the winner there was of course a commercial break for the next show, one I had never heard of. It was called “Four Weddings”. The basic premise is that the four brides attend each other’s nuptial ceremony and reception and grade one another on the experience. The bride with the highest score wins a surprise dream honeymoon.
There was a traditional Indian wedding, a small speed-wedding, a red-carpet 1950s Hollywood glamour wedding, and a traditional wedding with a few twists. The Hollywood wedding was interesting. Red carpet into the resort then outside to an 18th hole setup. At the reception, everyone sat at a table with an old-school Hollywood star instead of table numbers, and there was a Marilyn Monroe impersonator. That was about it in terms of theme–the dress was modern, not 50s styled at all. The food was not spectacular, and there was a DJ. I would think that for a time-themed wedding you’d want a big band or something more time appropriate, not a DJ spinning the latest hip-hop wonder. I did feel bad for her, however, the officiant thought the wedding was at 7 (it was at 430). Fortunately, there was an ordained bridesmaid that could conduct the service. The second wedding was the traditional Indian ceremony. For those of you not familiar with the tradition, it’s LONG. The ceremony is about three hours, the reception is about twelve. It is an all-day event. The ceremony was beautiful–the groom was veiled and escorted down the aisle, the bride was gorgeous (and carried in on a litter, no less), and the reception was very traditional in food and music. The third wedding was the ‘quickie’. The couple had a boat to catch, so ceremony and reception was about two hours. It was lovely–they included the grooms young daughter in the vows, they dispensed with the formalities of the reception quickly (dance, cake, etc.), and the location was stunning. The final wedding was the ‘traditional’ church wedding, with a reception at a nearby resort. There were some fun things planned, like the bride wearing leopard print heels, a Ferrari instead of a limo, and a choreographed wedding party dance to get the crowd rolling. All were very nice.
What killed me was two of the four brides discussing their peers. Yes, I understand that this was a competition and that their entire purpose was to rank their experience. But, for example, Hollywood bride was negative about all of the others. Indian food is too spicy, all I could eat was doughnuts. Indian dancing is weird. Indian ceremonies are too long. I don’t care if the bride is a vegetarian but I’m a carnivore, give me animal flesh to eat. Okay, I get it. It wasn’t your style. The thing is it was a cultural experience, and (from all appearances) seemed to be a true one at that. You are not Indian, I get it. You were given a sari to wear and invited to be a guest. You don’t criticize the bride’s bracelets and bling without realizing that it’s a cultural thing. Indian bride is a vegetarian, yes. That doesn’t mean she criticized the other three for having meat at their receptions. She did comment that she liked speedy bride’s potato buffet and that there were many vegetarian choices, but she didn’t complain because they were serving mini-burgers. She found something to compliment at each event, and when final scores were due and they had to rank each experience on a scale of 1-10 she would give her score and then say what she liked about the wedding. Speedy bride did same thing. The other two, however, went to town. I didn’t like the buffet. I thought the reception should have lasted longer. I didn’t like the music they played. I didn’t like the fact that there were only about 50 people invited, that’s too small for a wedding. I didn’t like the fact that it was like a sweet 16 party instead of a reception. Holy cow. These women were insane!
Don’t get me wrong, I’ve certainly hashed out wedding dos and don’ts behind the scenes with my coworkers. I even have a list of wedding dos and don’ts as a guide for brides and guests. In fact, that list was going to be the bulk of my posting for today but I’ve kind of gotten on a roll, so I’ll do it for tomorrow. The point is we can all critique and say what we don’t like, but the important thing to remember is that the wedding and reception reflects the cultures and traditions of the bridal couple. If they are from another country, expect traditions you’re not used to. If they have dietary concerns, you’re going to have to deal with it. If they have a blended family, there should be incorporation. Yes, I think some allowances should be made for the guests that are attending, but when you have a reception for 250 and there is only one or two that have special desires or needs, well, I’m sorry, but they’re not going to be accommodated. Two carnivores vs. 150 vegetarians? Probably no meat for dinner. You’re a Christian at a devout Jewish ceremony? Don’t be surprised if you’re told how to keep kosher. Couple is Muslim? Don’t expect to see any bacon at that potato bar.
For the record, I was very happy with the bride that won. There was a possible 120 points available. An ordinal system for favorite, second favorite, least favorite as well as points for gown, venue, reception, and experience. Indian bride scored high on gown and experience, but came in second. Traditional bride scored high on gown, Hollywood bride scored average in all four categories. The winner, speedy bride, scored low in experience and reception but outstanding on gown and venue–the 360 panoramic view of Ft. Lauderdale put her over the edge. And I’m pleased that she won a honeymoon to the Cook Islands in the South Pacific. She was the most genuine and kind of the four, the most mature, and (in my opinion) the most deserving.
That’s enough for today’s soapbox. Stay tuned for tomorrow when I cull together 15 years of experience for wedding dos and don’ts!