Get the Party Started
After the ceremony, celebrate your union with the perfect reception.
Kala and David Estes chose the Cheers & Lakeside Chalet for the site of their May 2012 wedding; a friend of the bride served as the officiant.
Todd Seimer Photography
Wandering through the Palm House at Franklin Park Conservatory and Botanical Gardens, Melissa Bornstein thought she and her boyfriend, Caleb Gallemore, were scouting a future wedding venue. Gallemore had other ideas. He had set an engagement ring in a box on the leaf of a large plant at the bottom of the stairs for Bornstein to find.
Sharing the magic of the moment became an added bonus at their November 2011 nuptials. They were married in the Palm House, and marked the spot where Gallemore proposed with a sign.
And more than the sentiment associated with the conservatory, the greenery in the space appealed to the couple as well, because they knew they would not have to do much to dress up an already beautiful locale. The couple did make one change in their plans, though. Knowing the Palm House could be warm in hot summer months, the couple chose to get married during colder weather.
“We wanted it to be cold, so it would be comfortable in the Palm House,” Melissa says.
Emily Foster also married her husband, Scott Whittaker, in the place where he proposed—at the Whetstone Park of Roses gazebo. The reception that followed at the nearby Clintonville Women’s Club had their personal stamp all over it, too.
“We did our flowers with The Flowerman,” Emily says, adding she and her mother and stepmother and other family members worked together on the flower project. “They order the flowers for you and then you get to go in and make [arrangements]. … We also grew a lot of the flowers ourselves and then we cut them and took them with us and arranged them with the flowers at The Flowerman.”
Behind the bride and groom’s backs, the fathers of both the bride and groom worked together, rewriting the words to the song, “Isn’t She Lovely.” Then, at the reception, the bride’s father played the trumpet while the groom’s father sang the song.
Planning and executing a wedding reception is never an easy task, whether it’s an elaborate affair at which vendors do much of the work or a gathering where the family pitches in to handle many details, such as the Foster-Whittaker wedding.
The Gallemores, for example, knew they wanted the Palm House for their ceremony and reception. Originally they thought of a December wedding, but then—realizing the Palm House would be decorated with poinsettias, which they did not want—the couple chose a November date. The weather was still cooler, and the weekend worked out perfectly.
The fact that they married a year and a half after they got engaged, though, is part testament to the fact that planning a wedding takes time. They knew finding the right location and getting it booked right away was crucial. If couples are having their ceremony and reception in different places, they should book their reception venue as soon as they have a church or other venue lined up, wedding professionals say. A year or more ahead isn’t too early to reserve a facility.
The Bryn Du Mansion in Granville is the site of 70 or more weddings and receptions a year, says Bruce Cramer, executive director of the mansion, which is owned by the Village of Granville. And by late December 2012, his calendar was filling up for 2013.
“For 2013, the Fieldhouse for the year is booked up,” says Cramer of the bigger reception space on the property. “I have an April and November date open, but every weekend in between is gone. People are calling us now for 2014.”
So, 12 to 18 months is not too soon to book a reception venue, says Melissa Johnson, director of catering for Cameron Mitchell Catering, which owns The Ivory Room at Miranova and manages the Darby House.
“We’ll book up anywhere from three months out, which is aggressive, but no problem, to two years out,” Johnson says, adding the remaining dates open for 2013 are dwindling. “What we have in both venues are some great Friday and Sunday options.”
In general, couples should plan on booking weddings about nine to 15 months ahead, says Craig Tremblay, senior catering and sales manager at the Westin Columbus.
“I just booked a wedding for June 2014,” he says of a call he received in early December 2012. “But then, I also have people looking for this coming May.”
At Grand Oaks Event and Business Center, owner Peggy Mosher also is seeing her 2013 dates quickly snapped up—a trend on the uptick since the business opened in August 2010. In 2012, for example, the company booked about 40 weddings. In early January, the facility already had 60 weddings on the books for 2013. “So 2013 is getting full,” Mosher says. “And I already had seven weddings for 2014.”
The Columbus Zoo and Aquarium is a venue that counts weddings and wedding receptions as a growing part of business. “We have a new facility that was recently built along the Scioto River,” says Katie Merkle, group sales representative at the zoo, which will only allow one wedding a day. “We book about 18 months in advance.”
COSI also is another recreational venue popping up on more and more wedding invitations, however COSI can’t book events more than a year out because that is about as far out as COSI’s museum schedule is prepared and space availability is known.
The conservatory used to have an annual “Booking Day” at which brides wanting to book a date in the following year could do so on a first-come, first-served basis. But things got a little crazy, with some brides-to-be camping out in the cold February weather in order to be one of the first in line. Now, the conservatory books dates as far into the future as brides want.
“For a Saturday in a prime month, I would say you want to give yourself about a year out to book,” says Colleen Winkel, client services manager at the Franklin Park Conservatory and Botanical Gardens, which is the site of about 230 wedding receptions a year. “I have had people book as close as a month out, and I’ve done smaller ones where they booked a week out. They pull it together, but those tend to be quite a bit smaller weddings.”
Brides and grooms getting a late start on their wedding plans will find that it is possible to plan something faster, particularly if they remain flexible on some of the details. Stefanie Green, general manager at the Reception House at Raymond Memorial recommends booking about a year out, but even eight months is a good time frame for her facility, she says.
Similarly, the Worthington Inn, a good site for smaller wedding receptions, books up about six to nine months in advance, says Vance Andrews, banquet manager.
Timing—as in what month and day of the week you want to hold the wedding—can definitely affect how far ahead a couple needs to begin making arrangements. Brides should realize they’re not just competing with other weddings. While the Darby House sees mostly weddings in the warmer, prime wedding season months, The Ivory Room sees more of an even split between weddings and corporate events during those months, Johnson says. In the spring and early summer, facilities and caterers are busy with proms and graduations. In the winter, from Thanksgiving to New Year’s, many facilities fill up their open dates with corporate holiday parties. And some locations have recurring events that take priority. The Columbus Museum of Art, for example, is not available for weddings when the museum has its annual Art Celebration fundraiser in October. COSI is not available for private events during its annual shut down for a few weeks in September. And the zoo isn’t available during its annual Zoofari weekend, Merkle says.
Local sales and catering managers say October is quickly becoming one of the most popular months for weddings in Central Ohio. After May and June, September and October are the busiest wedding months at the Reception House at Raymond Memorial, Green says. “I feel like I’m seeing more fall weddings and even winter weddings,” she says, noting the reason could be financial—some wedding costs such as facility rentals might be less expensive in colder months. But she also thinks the weather is the draw to those months. “They have this winter wonderland fairytale idea,” she says. “And in the fall, with the leaves changing and the fall colors, it’s cozy and the fireplace is on. It’s different from what people typically do.”
But a fall wedding date also gets complicated because couples have to consider the Ohio State football schedule. As hard as it may be for some people to understand, attending a big home OSU game could be a higher priority to some guests than attending a wedding. “All of my non-home game days will get booked first for the fall,” Green says. “September and October are booked around OSU football.”
In fact, on home game days it could be near impossible to book any venue on campus because the facilities are in use for game-day events. The Faculty Club, for example, opens up for pre-game and post-game events for 500 to 600 people on days when there’s a game in the Shoe and can’t be reserved for outside events, says Laynie Fulks, catering manager at the OSU Faculty Club.
“We have to work around the OSU football schedule,” Fulks says. “We’re well known for our brunches on the Saturdays that the Bucks are playing in the Shoe.”
Similarly, The Blackwell is not available on Fridays and Saturdays on home-game weekends, says Rachel Remy, wedding sales coordinator at the hotel located on campus. “The team actually comes in on Friday night,” she says, making it impossible for anyone to be able to host a wedding there. The facility is available on Sundays of home-game weekends, though.
If you have your heart set on a particular facility, don’t despair. Couples can score the venue they want, if they’re willing to be flexible on the wedding date. Couples willing to wed in an off-peak month, for instance, are more likely to find an open slot, and often can plan something on shorter notice.
And it never hurts to ask, Johnson says. Sometimes someone will cancel an event and a dream date opens up at a facility like the Darby House—which books up fast every year—so timing can be everything.
Picking a venue based on a date—or vice versa—might not sound terribly romantic, but it is realistic. Likewise, talk about money might seem unromantic, but brides have to be practical: Money will be a factor in almost every aspect of wedding planning. Couples can simplify the process enormously if they sit down and crunch some numbers before heading out to make plans.
“The two most important things are your budget and your guest list,” says Andrews at the Worthington Inn. “Those are the two things that you really need to determine first. Then you can determine where to have the ceremony and reception.”
A good discussion about the budget and how it will be spent is crucial, Andrews says. “Say you have a $15,000 budget. You’ll have a very different day if you invite 100 people versus 300 people.”
Tremblay always asks couples if they have a budget yet. “Most people are not forthcoming with that,” he says. “But then I am also very forthcoming with what it will cost you. I don’t like people to be surprised.”
At the Westin Columbus, for example, the food and beverage minimum amount they require couples to spend is $15,000 for a Saturday night in prime wedding season. On a Friday, that minimum drops to $5,000.
Couples who never have been involved in such a big event might be in for a shock when they first start planning. Throwing a full-service party, including catered food, for 100 or more people doesn’t come cheap. The Ivory Room, a new loft-style reception space Cameron Mitchell opened in Miranova in September 2012, has a Saturday-night minimum of $20,000, says Melissa Johnson, director of catering for Cameron Mitchell Catering. Meanwhile, the Darby House, a retreat-like setting also managed by Cameron Mitchell, has a minimum of $15,000 for a Saturday night event in prime wedding season, she says.
“I start out by showing my bride and groom the space to see if they like it,” says Remy at The Blackwell. “Then I quote a food and beverage minimum. Then I ask them if they have a budget in mind.”
A Saturday night in the summer, for example, comes with a food-and-beverage minimum of $12,000 in the summer and $8,000 in January.
“We offer wedding packages, which I think are a good value and it includes bar service, tea lights, cake cutting, floor-length linens in a choice of 54 colors with solid-color napkins,” says Erica Hardesty, private events director at the Capital Club in downtown Columbus. “And we customize those packages, so if you don’t care about the linens, we can subtract that and use standard-length table linens. They can get exactly what they want.”
And like many places, those package prices don’t change throughout the year—they range in price from $60 a person to $90 a person and include a five-hour open bar—but the minimums do fluctuate, Hardesty says. The largest room at the Capital Club, which can set up to 150 people for dinner, comes with a food and beverage minimum of $4,000 for a Saturday night or $3,000 for a Friday night.
Finding out whether a facility has food and beverage minimums—and most still do—goes a long way toward figuring out if a particular site is affordable. Couples should find out exactly what the minimum requirements are at different venues.
While most facilities charge a food and beverage minimum, the owners at Grand Oaks have chosen to have only a beverage minimum of $2,000 for a Saturday night in peak season or $900 for a Sunday in peak season. Those minimums are fairly easy to reach, Mosher says. “We realized, though, that with the economy people needed options … so many people have no idea how expensive a wedding can be.”
Franklin Park Conservatory, where weddings can be held every day, has an array of minimums for food and beverages, depending on the space, the day of the week and the time of day, with Saturday night being the most expensive. Rental for conservatory spaces generally is lower on Friday nights and Sundays, and that has caused an uptick in those bookings.
Choosing to marry off-season also can stretch a wedding dollar. Couples considering Grand Oaks, for example, will find a savings on room rental. Saturday-night room rentals in the summer months are about twice what they are in January or February. The Westin Columbus has a reduced food and beverage minimum—$8,000—on a Saturday in the winter season, which is $7,000 less than what it would be in the summer.
“If you’re looking at a wedding in winter, a savvy person could work out a much better price,” Tremblay says.
Once a couple has at least a rough dollar figure in mind, they should discuss their dreams and desires for the wedding, then try to match them to the budget. The budget amount will determine everything about the reception, from what type of meat will be served to whether there’s money for smoked salmon or cheese cubes on the hors d’oeuvres tray. Making a list of priorities is vital, planners and brides agree.
“A good caterer can find out just from talking to them about where the heart of the event is,” Fulks says.
Ultimately, though, the guest list has the most impact on what a couple can spend. A huge guest list means it will be easier to meet the food and beverage minimums at most places, but it also might mean a couple has less to spend per person. If a couple wants to serve filet mignon to 300 guests, their budget might not stretch that far. So trimming the guest list or changing the menu becomes imperative. In the end, priorities help couples decide exactly how to spend their budget, whether they have $10,000 or $50,000 to spend.
“Everyone has some sort of budget in mind,” Andrews says. “If chair covers are really important and you don’t care about flowers then rent the chair covers and put a candle in the center of the table.”
Once you’ve agreed on a date, budget and approximate number of guests, you have enough information to select a site. Central Ohio easily has more than a hundred locations at which receptions can be held—and that list doesn’t include private clubs, churches, fraternal organization halls and private homes.
“I always recommend narrowing it down to five places,” Tremblay says, suggesting couples do some online research first before hitting the pavement and actually visiting places.
When Jessica Garrett and Andrew Mills were looking for a place for their July 3, 2011, reception they wanted a venue that could handle everything (from food to linens) and also provide a good backdrop for a fun party.
“We wanted something that was distinctly Columbus,” Jessica says. “We have a lot of friends from out of town. We didn’t want to just show them the inside of a hotel ballroom.”
The couple ultimately chose the River Club at Confluence Park (now called the Boathouse at Confluence Park).
“I wanted to do a party where my guests would have a really good time,” says Jessica of the reception she planned that included live music from the Kim Kelly Orchestra playing Big Band music. “It just felt grand and big and fun and like a party.”
The view of the downtown completed the picture of the kind of party the bride had in mind. But other couples are attracted to venues that have the room to accommodate the ceremony as well as the reception.
“More are having their ceremony here, probably 55 percent to 60 percent have their ceremony here,” says Katie Laux, director of events and business strategy at the Columbus Museum of Art. “What most brides use is our main space, Derby Court.” While Derby Court can seat up to 225 for a ceremony, smaller weddings can take place in the Broad Street Lobby, which can set up to 80 guests for a ceremony, she says.
“This year, we started having a lot more bookings for their ceremonies,” says Rian Hassen, catering and sales manager at Worthington Hills Country Club, which created a grass lawn area designed for outdoor ceremonies. It pairs well with an outdoor patio area for cocktails and it all overlooks the golf course, as does the ballroom on the second floor.
One reason that the conservatory can host so many receptions is because it has three spaces for weddings, Winkel says, and each of those spaces is paired with an outdoor space. The Palm House comes with the West Terrace; the Grand Atrium comes with the Zenn Terrace. And the Veridian comes with the Grove rooftop garden and the Bride’s Garden. About 65 percent of the couples who book their reception at the conservatory use the space for their ceremony as well, Winkel says.
About two-thirds of the couples who choose the Kelton House for their wedding celebration also decide to have the ceremony there, says Georgeanne Reuter, executive director.
“Many people see the image of our garden pergola and are drawn to it,” Reuter says. “They are leaning to a garden wedding. It’s a unique setting. It has almost a home-like environment.”
The historical aspect of the house also lends a level of elegance hard to duplicate in other places, she says.
One bonus to having a wedding at a place like the museum, or the conservatory or the Kelton House is that wedding guests can tour the facilities.
“We provide a costumed docent for a one-hour time block,” Reuter says. “It gives the guests something to do, and the people tend to come and go. They can enjoy as much of it as they want.”
Meanwhile, several other downtown venues provide unique settings for both ceremonies and receptions. The Ohio Statehouse offers the beautiful rotunda, an area of the “People’s House” that many a bride and groom have chosen for their vows. Couples who opt for the Statehouse also get some bonuses. In addition to having a centrally located downtown spot for their event, couples who rent the Statehouse have the entire building to themselves during the event, and they’re able to use the underground parking.
Sometimes a venue is a perfect fit for a couple because it matches their interests or professions—Huntington Park for a baseball fan, the Columbus Museum of Art for an art aficionado, or the Southern Theatre for artists. The Capital Club offers an upscale downtown club atmosphere, Hardesty says. “We’re a little bit of a different space,” she says. “Our space is already pretty dressy. Our main dining room has floor to ceiling windows, a marble inlaid dance floor and chandeliers.
People drawn to the Darby House or Bryn Du mansion often like the appeal of a grand estate. At Bryn Du, for example, couples can rent the mansion, which gives them the first floor, the front patio, the backyard and the formal garden for their wedding, Cramer says. The Fieldhouse, across the parking lot, offers a newer venue with space for more guests.
Others might choose a venue because it holds a special place in their hearts and memories. Fulks sees that often in her job working with couples planning a wedding and reception at the Faculty Club, a locale in the center of the university that encompasses the old tradition. Couples are drawn to the spiral terrazzo staircase and the setting itself, says Fulks, adding many couples choose to have their ceremony there as well.
“We have a gorgeous outdoor patio that overlooks Mirror Lake,” Fulks says.
The great outdoors
An outdoor wedding can be lovely, but couples planning garden ceremonies or outdoor receptions need to prepare in case the fickle Central Ohio weather doesn’t cooperate.
The key is to hope for the best, but prepare for the worst. When the Whittakers were planning their outdoor ceremony in the gazebo at the Whetstone Park of Roses, they had a back-up plan to move the ceremony inside the Clintonville Women’s Club if it rained that day. An unlucky couple planning for an indoor June 30, 2012 reception at Worthington Hills fell victim to the summer storm that caused widespread power outages last year.
“The power went out on that Friday evening what that storm went through,” Hassen says. “Fortunately, we had time to prepare. We got generators going, we got ice wherever we could. So we had power for the lights and generator power for the DJ. We had at least four generators going.”
The back-up power covered everything but the air conditioning, and it was hot outside. “It was just a little warmer than we would have liked,” she says, adding guests were understanding.
Couples can never be too prepared where weather is concerned. Some venues with outdoors spaces build in weather protection to packages. The conservatory has both indoor and outdoor space available, and every outdoor space is paired with an indoor space as a backup in case of bad weather. Couples do not have to make a final decision on where to host events until the day of the wedding.
The Columbus Zoo’s Water’s Edge boardwalk and pavilion provides both an indoor and outdoor space with retractable sidewalls that open to the outside. And, if the weather cooperates, couples can have their ceremony on the boardwalk along the river or along Conservation Lake, Merkle says.
Thinking of hosting your outdoor wedding at a private home? That could save on the space rental fee, but know a host of other items will likely need to be brought in from outside vendors, including tables, chairs, linens, china and a portable dance floor. A tent is another added expense, and experts warn to make sure you get one to fit the space you need.
The general guideline is to have 10 square feet per person, so for a reception with 200 people, the outdoor area would need to be at least 2,000 square feet, leaving enough room for a dance floor, head table and buffet line.
Whatever your final reception site—outdoors or indoors, big ballroom or cozy country club—it’s important to itemize costs, experts advise. Some venues are all-inclusive and don’t charge separate prices for the linens, chairs, tables and so on. Others have fees attached for everything from cutting the cake to pouring Champagne for the couple’s first toast.
A wise bride arms herself with the right questions: How many people will the facility hold? What is and isn’t included in the cost? What are the food and beverage minimums? Are there extra charges for linens, Champagne and wine pours? And can the facility hook them up with other vendors? Where are the closest hotels, and can a shuttle can be provided?
“I would suggest that people do a little bit of research in advance and then make an appointment and meet with a sales representative and see the space in person,” says Winkel of Franklin Park Conservatory and Botanical Gardens.
In particular, couples considering facilities where there is no in-house caterer will have to ask lots of questions and add up all the costs. It may only look like a full-service facility will cost more than one at which the couple can hire their own caterer and rent items. Ask about setup, teardown and cleanup of the room, and find out what is included in each package so you can make sure you’re getting comparable services for the price.
Before visiting different sites, couples should surf the web to narrow their choices. You should never book a venue based solely on the website, but it could allow you to rule out places that don’t meet your criteria. Talking to friends about their experiences also provides valuable input, as does talking to people who have used a specific site before.
Some questions that might be helpful to ask when meeting with different facilities:
What is the site’s capacity for sit-down dinners, hors d’oeuvres receptions and buffets?
Are there time limits for receptions? Do additional hours cost more? Should extra time be arranged before the reception, or can it be done during the event?
If the facility provides bar service, is there a minimum charge for bar packages?
How early can clients get in to decorate on the day of the event?
Will more than one reception a day be booked into the facility? If so, how much time separates the two?
If you’re considering a hotel, ask what other big events will be going on that weekend in the hotel.
How much parking is available? Where is it and how much does it cost? Is valet parking available? At downtown locales, this question is particularly important because some places have onsite parking and others don’t. The Ivory Room, for example, has valet parking available to Miranova guests.
How accessible is the facility for handicapped guests? Also, what help is available to handicapped or elderly guests, and must that help be arranged in advance?
What services and equipment are included in the purchase or rental price? Always obtain an itemized list and review it, point by point, with the site manager. Make sure services such as cleanup, bartending and cutting and serving the cake are addressed. Many facilities will charge extra for these and do not include them in their upfront pricing.
What is the policy on damages or overage charges? Most facilities plan for a 5 percent overage, but beyond that, are penalties and costs spelled out in the contract?
When is the final guest count due? What cushion is accorded for unexpected guests?
What is the security deposit and when is it due? When is the balance to be paid? When is the security deposit returned?
Armed with a good sense of a facility’s physical aspects, the next step is to evaluate the human touch. If you get along with the person overseeing your event, chances are you’ll be able to trust them to carry out your vision.
“We don’t have a material product to sell them, so establishing a good rapport on both ends is really important,” Tremblay says.
Hardesty of the Capital Club agrees. “That trust is paramount,” she says. “If you end up signing with someone because their cost is good but you’re not sure about the person, you’re always going to be worrying about it. Wedding planning is stressful enough … We really do feel like this is their day and we’re here to make sure their dream comes true.”
Though a facility might provide a breadth of amenities, from catering to beverage service, decoration to equipment rental, the bride and groom still will need to make some independent vendor decisions: a band or deejay, photographer, transportation and cake. For a good starting point, ask the caterer or wedding sales coordinator for a list of preferred vendors.
Decking the hall
Now that you’ve found the right place to have your nuptials, it’s time to craft the look you want for your day. Inspiration to create that feel can come from anywhere.
Sometimes a bride’s dream inspires the decorations. When Mosher’s own daughter got married in July, she originally wanted to get married at the beach. Instead, Mosher says, “we brought the beach to her.”
Sand covered the sidewalk to the gazebo and the wedding party walked barefoot in the ceremony. At the reception, linens playfully recreated a beachy feel with rows of sand-colored, teal and dark turquoise linens to resemble sea water rolling to the sand. Centerpieces featured vases with fish inside. During dancing, a light shined stars on the ceiling to make it feel like a night sky.
The Columbus Museum of Art’s Laux says couples are adding smaller personal touches to their decor, namely taking a more creative approach to table numbers. For example, she recalls a photographer groom in a July wedding took pictures of the couple’s favorite places in Columbus—their home address, the museum and Franklin Park Conservatory—and used those images as table numbers.
At their Franklin Park Conservatory reception, the Whittakers named tables after the places and people in their lives, such as the street the bride grew up on and a grandparent’s family name, accompanied by a description of why that place or person was important to them.
Some couples are simply inspired by the elegance of a hotel ballroom. At a September reception at the Westin Columbus, Tremblay recalls, the couple’s decorations were very elaborate.
“They had the ghost chairs (clear plastic chairs), which are not usually used in Columbus, and they had a lot of metallic, a lot of shimmering colors,” Tremblay says. “The room literally glowed and shimmered.”
Whatever your taste, just keep in mind, decorations should add to the ambiance—not overpower the venue or other elements (music, food, etc.) planned for the day. And also be sure to check with your hall on what you are allowed to do. If opting for a historic venue, know there will be rules meant to preserve and protect the building. Some spaces, like the Columbus Museum of Art, do not allow the use of open flames. The museum also will permit flash photography only in Derby Court and the Broad Street lobby.
When wedding invitations include junior members of the family, some couples go out of their way to make the night as memorable for their younger guests as it is for the older ones.
“We’ve had more and more people hire a sitter,” Hardesty says, adding couples can use a room off the main dining room where kids can watch movies or play with games or coloring books and other things to keep the kids entertained.
Many places will offer a special children’s menu, Remy says. The Blackwell’s menu, for instance, has items such as chicken tenders with corn and mashed potatoes, a kid’s burger with cheese and smiley face fries, a corn dog with macaroni and cheese and applesauce. Or, Remy says, if couples know there will be more than 20 children at the reception, they can ask for a kids-only buffet.
A reception typically features a beautifully decorated wedding cake, but the sweet treats don’t have to end there. Italian, Greek and other heritage weddings often are celebrated with platter after platter of traditional cookies and pastries.
Cameron Mitchell’s Johnson couldn’t believe the amount of cookies she set up for a recent wedding at The Ivory Room. This couple’s cookie table featured 350 dozen cookies.
“It was amazing,” Johnson says. “I had four eight-foot-long tables in a corner. Literally, it took me two hours to get the tables set up. It was stunning though. It was a conversation piece.”
And sometimes, Fulks says, those desserts replace a huge wedding cake. At a recent reception at the Faculty Club a spread of sweet delicacies—lemon bars, cookies, cupcakes, candy buckeyes—were served in place of a wedding cake.
“They had a huge dessert buffet because they didn’t like cake,” Fulks says.
Feeding the masses
Food is such an important part of wedding festivities that couples often spend more time planning their reception menus than any other portion of the party. And for good reason: The food is one aspect of the reception that guests keep talking about after the wedding is over. And in some cases, a desire for great food is a deciding factor on what venue a couple selects.
“We have a very broad clientele,” Andrew says of the Worthington Inn. “But the main reason brides come to the Worthington Inn is because they want to have a fabulous dinner for their wedding. Dinner is not a segue to the dancing. Dinner is the event.”
Hardesty, of the Capital Club, says couples often ask the chef to recreate a family recipe or alter a dish they’ve tasted there or at another venue. The club will do that and will plan a tasting for couples to make sure they have it just right, she says, recalling a recent Greek wedding.
“They had these amazing hors d’oeuvres they wanted to put out,” she says, and they asked the club’s chef to use a grandmother’s recipe. The club was able to do it and the guests were treated to spanakopita as well as her recipe for moussaka.
Remy recalls a fall wedding at The Blackwell where the groom, from St. Louis, loved toasted ravioli, and he wanted that at his wedding, she says.
“He sent his recipe over to my chef and he recreated it for them and they loved it,” Remy says. “It was exactly what the groom was looking for.”
While Fulks also has had many couples ask the chef at the Faculty Club to duplicate a family recipe, a wedding menu request in March was probably a first for her: The couple wanted to invite 150 people to their afternoon reception and feed them breakfast because that’s the kind of food the bride and groom liked best. So the club was working up a menu with waffles, breakfast burritos, assorted quiches and other dishes that would be filling enough.
Although the dining schedule can be modified to accommodate special events, the basic timeline of the meal service generally doesn’t vary much from reception to reception. Typically, the meal is divided into three parts. First, a pre-function period with small hors d’oeuvres can be scheduled to occupy guests’ attention until the newlyweds arrive. Couples frequently don’t think about how to occupy their guests during the period when guests are waiting for the bridal party to arrive at the reception. Catering directors, therefore, say they spend a lot of time educating couples about why the appetizer period is an important part of the reception.
After the hors d’oeuvre course, the main meal is served, followed by the dessert course, which usually is a piece of wedding cake or some other sweet.
Many catering directors are now seeing a fourth course crop up on wedding menus: late-night bites. Johnson has seen food truck themes pop up late at night with hot dogs or sliders and similar crowd-pleasing foods.
The late-night snacks are often miniature versions of comfort-type foods, Fulks adds. She’s seen mini-PBJs, tiny grilled cheese bites served over a shot of tomato soup, miniature mac-and-cheese bites. “Anything salty or a tad sweet,” she says, and it seems to be just enough to get another bit of food in people’s stomachs before sending them home.
Still, guests at a wedding are likely to be more interested in the main meal, which can take a few different forms: a seated affair with food served by a wait staff or the catering team; a buffet-style meal offering guests multiple food choices, or a cocktail or appetizer party, with hors d’oeuvres carried by strolling servers. When it comes to deciding between a sit-down dinner and a buffet service, couples should understand that either style can be elegant, though the formality of an evening reception often lends itself to a sit-down dinner. And sometimes the venue influences the choice.
“A served meal has a more elegant feel,” says Remy of The Blackwell. “With that, you’re able to customize the specific plate look. But with that, you have to get your numbers in [in advance] as far as you can.”
If the plated meal involves giving guests a choice between entrees, brides need to remember that they will have to organize a seating chart and provide the facility or caterer with the table layout showing who asked for each dish. A dual entree plate—giving all guests the same dinner combo (beef and chicken, beef and seafood, etc.)—eliminates the need for that tracking. But even with a dual entree, the dinner must be planned impeccably to ensure guests get their food within the same period of time. Such a meal easily accommodates wedding reception traditions such as introductions and toasts.
Andrews finds many clients choosing a dual or triple entree plate for guests at the Worthington Inn. “The reason people like that is because they don’t have to gather any information for their guests,” he says, and they don’t have to create a complex chart making sure that their aunt at table eight in seat four is getting the chicken and not the beef.
Buffet-style service is a good option for couples who want to make sure guests have plenty of choices. Buffets have definitely been the most popular service style at Grand Oaks, Mosher says. “I think in our culture, people are just so used to choosing what they want,” she says.
A buffet service is a lot easier on the bride and it does give the guests more options and more variety, Remy says. “And all I need from my bride and groom is their total guest count.”
The challenge with buffets is making sure each person gets his or her food relatively quickly, so some guests aren’t still hungrily waiting while others are nearly finished. Most facilities have employees who will oversee the service and dismiss guest tables one by one to go to the buffet. Some even have assisted buffets, in which guests go through a buffet line, but someone is putting the food on the plates for them—a good way to control food portions. Buffets also require guests to get up and mingle, something that people encourage at any good party.
One style of buffet gaining popularity in Central Ohio is station service. For this style, either one particular type of food or a related group of foods is served at its own table; there might be carving stations for ham, turkey and roast beef; a salad station, or a made-to-order pasta station. Such buffet styles allow big crowds to be fed quickly, and also give guests some choice.
“We’re starting to have more cocktail-style receptions,” Laux says of the station reception, “more to keep people up and moving around and interacting.”
During the planning stage, couples should ask about tasting sessions, especially if they’re working with a facility at which they’ve never eaten or if they’re trying to decide between dishes. Most facilities and caterers will offer couples taste tests so they can see the food presentation as well as taste some choices for both buffet and plated meals.
Special food for special guests
Just as with any meal you’re preparing for guests, a wedding receptions is no exception when it comes to considering the dietary needs of others. Catering managers are getting more and more requests for vegetarian meals or gluten-free dishes.
“It was really important to us to have one option that was not only vegan but was really good,” says Jessica Garrett Mills, adding that often the vegan option doesn’t seem like a celebratory meal.
And after many requests for it, Cameron Mitchell now offers a kosher catering option.
“We have a kitchen now that we use,” Johnson says. “We partner with a local synagogue. Once we know we need it for a certain event, we call them and reserve it.”
Tending the bar
Beverage service is another essential part of a wedding reception, but it’s one that can cause anxiety for a couple of reasons: The bar tab can run high if couples aren’t careful, and more and more couples are wary of sending guests home after they’ve had too much to drink. Reception sites are aware of the difficulties and most can work with a couple’s needs, including those who are on a strict budget.
Couples need to ask questions and find out what the law requires of the venue or caterer. At the Loft, for example, the site provides a bartender, but the couple hosting the reception can supply the alcohol. At other locations, the facility has to provide and serve alcohol. Many of those locations have several options, from a completely open, hosted bar to a cash bar.
At the Worthington Inn, four- or five-hour bar packages exist that give couples a choice between call or premium liquors or wine upgrades, and the prices vary accordingly. “If I do have a party that is not packaged, I do an estimate,” Andrews says. “Don’t sign a contract if they don’t give you an idea of what the bar will cost.”
At the museum, the bar service is priced by consumption—not by package—but they still don’t leave the bill up to chance. “We work with them to create an estimate for them beforehand,” Laux says.
Worthington Hills offers a choice of purchasing a bar package or paying by consumption. “I feel like they know their guests more than I do,” Hassen says. “If one side doesn’t drink, then buying by consumption might be better.”
The alcohol portion of the reception tab could add up to nearly half of the food costs, experts say. It’s essential then, Fulks says, to have an honest discussion about their guest list, how many big drinkers there are, what alcohol they want to serve and whether they want to set a dollar limit, after which they’ll shut things down.
Signature cocktails are one way to control costs while adding a festive element to the evening. Guests enjoy ordering these fun, flirty cocktails that sport names referring to some aspect of the couple’s lives.
Mosher recently had one couple choose a non-alcoholic beverage—hot chocolate—as their signature drink for their December 2012 wedding. “It was cold outside, and they chose to bring their own condiments,” she says. “It was pretty cool. They had it out the whole reception.”
All of the experts agree on one thing: If couples opt to go with a cash bar at any point, they need to let their guests know so they’re prepared and bring money with them. “And we always encourage the non-alcoholic drinks to be hosted,” Mosher says.
Signing a contract
Couples always should insist on getting everything in writing, right down to minute details such as the color of the napkins at the tables and the specific brands of alcohol being served. This will help ensure there are no hidden fees or costs, and will help couples know exactly what is included in the price quoted.
Before signing, examine the catering or reception equipment (or a sample of the equipment) to ensure there’s no doubt what will be delivered. And inspect the rentals once delivered and before used: If anything is damaged or unsatisfactory, report it to the rental company immediately. Couples should also be sure the contract details repercussions regarding equipment damage, cleaning and loss. Consider taking out a damage waiver, which usually adds an extra 10 percent to the bill. With it, the vendor pays to replace any damaged items.
Without it, the customer pays.
Most vendors require a downpayment when you sign the contract. The balance usually is due anywhere from a week before the reception to the day of the event itself. However, many budget-minded couples pay off the remainder in small installments so the bill isn’t hanging over their heads the week of the wedding. Some facilities also offer a refund or cancellation policy that states what a couple will have to pay if they cancel their event. Though such a decision is hard on a family, the facility also might have had to turn away other clients and would find it difficult to rebook the space with only one or two months to go.
At the Worthington Inn, for example, the deposit is non-refundable and then 30 days before the event, the venue requires clients to pay 75 percent of the estimated bill, an amount also non-refundable.
“A date is very valuable to a business like ours,” Andrews explains. “That is why deposits are non-refundable. That date becomes less valuable the closer we get to the actual date. A date that is worth $12,000 or $15,000, nine months out, might only be worth $4,000 out three months out” because venues are more likely to discount some fees the closer they get to unbooked dates.
Finally, Tremblay says, couples should make sure everything they are worried about is covered in the contract.
“I have people ask me to put things in the contract,” he says. “If there is something that they think needs to be in there, ask for it to be added.”
Planning your wedding doesn’t have to be a chore. Staying organized by keeping a notebook of ideas helps in the planning, as does choosing the right vendors.
“Find a place and vendors who are going to take care of you so you can relax,” Mosher advises.
Laux of the museum encourages couples to keep their vision in mind throughout the planning stages.
“Really think about what they want their day to be like,” she says. “And make sure they enjoy this process as well.”
And, remember, nothing is perfect. There will be glitches along the way, but most likely the bride and groom will be the only ones who notice.
“Just enjoy it,” Tremblay says of the day. “Don’t fret about what you can’t control.”
The day after their November nuptials, Melissa (Bornstein) and Caleb Gallemore hosted a small, catered gathering at her parents’ house. It was extra time to spend with out-of-town guests, in a setting far more relaxed and casual than the wedding day.
“It was just kind of a simple thing for people to roam in and out,” she says. “We made sure that anyone from out of town was fed the whole weekend.”
Post-wedding brunches—primarily for close friends and family and out-of-town guests—are gaining popularity, experts say. Usually such events are for about 40 or 50 people, says Craig Tremblay, catering and sales manager at Westin Columbus.
“We see it mostly for people who stay at the hotel,” he says. “It’s an additional thank you. Well over two-thirds of our people are doing one.”
Planning for such a gathering should start about a month prior to the wedding, says Rachel Remy, wedding sales coordinator at The Blackwell, adding that the bride’s parents typically coordinate the affair, especially since, in many cases, the bride and groom already have left for the honeymoon.
A meal can easily be coordinated through the hotel where guests are staying, or even through local caterers who can drop off food for more casual get-togethers. Many caterers will prepare meals as simple as pastries and juice or as elaborate as barbecue dinners. With a caterer, though, such events can be planned on a much shorter time frame, says Winni Mooney, assistant catering director at City Barbecue.
“Sometimes the moms will just order extra food,” she says. “They say, ‘We’re going to feed 20 people the day after. Can we just reheat it?’ Generally, they won’t know until the week of the wedding how many people will still be around the day after the wedding.”
For the Sunday brunch that followed the July 3, 2011, wedding of Jessica Garret and Andrew Mills, the bride’s mother planned it and hired a caterer, Jessica says. The gathering was intended to feed out-of-town guests, but the couple enjoyed the extra time with people.
“It was a chance to sort of catch up with people,” Jessica Mills says.
“We had people coming from Europe. It gave us a chance to spend an hour with people we hadn’t seen in years, rather than 15 minutes at the reception.”
We talked to each other. We searched websites. We pulled out an iPod or two. And we came up with this eclectic list of potential first-dance songs. It’s got classics, Top 40 hits, some indie rock and some songs that just can’t be categorized. Happy listening!
“The Luckiest,” Ben Folds
“Fade Into You,” Mazzy Star
“Be Mine,” David Gray
“Swallowed in the Sea,” Coldplay
“Wild Horses,” The Sundays
“January Wedding,” Avett Brothers
“Hold You in My Arms,” Ray LaMontagne
“Stay Young, Go Dancing,” Death Cab for Cutie
“My Darling,” Wilco
“You Are the Sunshine of My Life,” Stevie Wonder
“Can’t Help Falling in Love,” Elvis Presley
“Your Song,” Elton John
“Kingdom Come,” Coldplay
“Always on My Mind,” Willie Nelson
“Have I Told You Lately,” Van Morrison
“By Your Side,” Sade
“The Way You Look Tonight,” Frank Sinatra
“Wonderful World,” Louis Armstrong
“You Send Me,” Sam Cooke
“When A Man Loves a Woman,” Percy Sledge
“That’s How Strong My Love Is,” Otis Redding
“Somewhere Over the Rainbow,” Israel Kamakawiwo’ole
Fun with favors
Little bags of mints and matchbooks engraved with the couple’s name seem to be a bit passe when it comes to wedding favors these days.
Caterers say couples are forgoing standard wedding tchotchkes and instead make donations to a charity in the name of their guests. Rachel Remy with The Blackwell has had many brides donate to the Stefanie Spielman Fund for Breast Cancer Research or to the Arthur G. James Cancer Hospital when they have a reception at the hotel located on the campus of Ohio State University.
If couples do choose to leave guests with a small token, try to make sure it’s memorable.
“I have a few couples who have done a ceramic piece that was also like an ornament and stamped in it were their initials and the date,” says Erica Hardesty, private events director at the Capital Club. Or maybe it’s a simple dove, with a ribbon for hanging. “Those are the ones we don’t see hanging around at the end of the night.”
Often the theme of a wedding drives the tone of the favors: “One person did animal crackers and that was their takeaway,” says Katie Merkle, group sales representative at the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium. Couples celebrating at the zoo, or even off site, also can make arrangements with the zoo’s animal programming department to bring in up to four animals to entertain guests during the cocktail hour. The price varies depending on the location, Merkle says, but typically zookeepers will take four animals out for a half-hour visit.
“I had somebody do s’mores kits, which I thought was cute,” says Rian Hassen, catering and sales manager at the Worthington Hills Country Club, recalling goody bags filled with graham crackers, chocolate and marshmallows. “It was a late summer wedding, and it fit in their theme.”
Bride Bethany Kelly and her husband Dan chose cookies—lots of them—for their wedding favors. “They were devoured,” she recalls. “We didn’t even get a picture of it all set up. We made little decorated take-home boxes so people could take home cookies.”
When it comes to weddings these days, just about anything—from the tent to chandeliers to the dance floor—can be rented to transform an ordinary space into a couple’s dream.
If hosting at a space where most items will need to be rented, couples can find rentals on their own or use their caterer. Many caterers will gladly offer suggestions about where to rent items. And most can do it as part of their service for the couple.
“We have what we call our on-site wedding coordinator,” says Winni Mooney, assistant catering director at City Barbecue. “She goes through that with them.” The coordinator will talk about renting tables, chairs, tents, linens, lighting—virtually anything that might be needed.
Some caterers already own some of the things that couples will need. PC Events, for example, owns tables and chairs. And the other stuff?
“We will work with our clients to help them find the best things,” says Kevin Porter, owner of PC Events. “We try to work with our clients from beginning to end to make sure everything is executed.”
Why rent from your caterer? The cost will be the same as if renting on your own, and the caterer, who has planned numerous weddings isn’t likely to forget anything.
“What happens [if they rent it themselves] is that people don’t know what they need,” says Melissa Johnson, director of catering at Cameron Mitchell Catering. They think that one set of salad and dessert forks is enough, for example.
Johnson recalls one wedding for which the couple rented 150 forks, when the caterer really needed three times that many.
“We had to wash the forks in between service,” she says
Photos courtesy of Kimberly Potterf Photography and DDF Photography