In addition to styling Janie Medley’s lovely feature in the latest Southern Weddings Magazine, the SW girls were kind enough to ask me to contribute to a story called “35 tips for a wedding full of southern hospitality.” Naturally, I wrote about something that’s near and dear to my heart — timing. No matter how beautiful the details, how sumptuous the linens, how striking the flowers, a thoughtfully crafted event day agenda is the foundation of your event; anticipating how your guests will experience each moment of your wedding day and crafting an experience with them in mind is one of the most generous expressions of hospitality!
One of the questions I’m asked most during rehearsals or just before ceremonies by a bride or maid who wants to make sure she’s getting it just right is, “how should I hold my bouquet?”. Just remember the belly button rule: hold your bouquet lower than you think it should be — usually at or around your belly button. Bouquets look best carried lower than you think they should be!
photo by Jodi Miller Photography; bouquet designed by Courtney Spencer of Merriment Events
Gay offered such great insight into what it means to serve dinner “family style.” Here are a few technical things about this dinner style…
*Design your floor plan to match the service style. Nearly 250 guests attended Alex and Paul’s reception. Although that’s a large party, we really wanted the reception to feel intimate and for the focus to be on conversation and feasting! That was the entire point of serving dinner family style, after all. For that reason, we grouped tables end to end and created a u-shape around the dance floor. The table set-up facilitated conversation and passing of platters.
*Using escort cards and place cards are a must with this floor plan! Each table seated eight people, but with tables grouped end to end, some table groupings seated as many as 40 guests. When tables are grouped in this fashion, it is really important to number each table in the group (as shown below) and to offer both escort cards and place cards. Even though each table will be numbered, without place cards, it can be difficult for guests to discern where one table ends and another begins.
*Vary the look of the tables. To keep things interesting and to make sure the tables weren’t a sea of sameness, which could have easily happened with this many tables, we decided to seat guests at a mix of linen covered tables and farm tables.
*Don’t forget to leave some room for platters! We really labored over how much decor to put on the tables. Because dinner was served on larger platters that were passed from guest to guest, we had to be mindful of leaving space on the table. Unlike a plated dinner service, where you could literally create a “runner” of floral down the center of the table, we had to be sure to leave some breaks. We also had to be mindful of budget — long tables can be more expensive to decorate. Ultimately, we decided to group jars of flowers in threes and spaced the groupings with hurricane candles. To add a little more sparkle to the table, we scattered tea lights.
photography by Don Mears
I’m so happy to welcome Gay from A Pimento Catering in Charlottesville. I had the good fortune to work with Gay at our clients’, Alex and Paul, wedding last year at Maymont, and she has been gracious enough to stop by today to talk about family style dining, the style in which we served dinner at Alex and Paul’s wedding. Without further ado, I’ll turn it over to our guest now…
I am thrilled to share my experiences catering in the “family style.” I’ll make no secret of it: serving a dinner this way is my personal favorite approach, for lots of reasons. It’s definitely not for everyone, but for those who wish to enjoy a relaxed (not to mean informal, necessarily), gracious and more “home-y” meal, family style service – meaning that guests sit down for a meal which is presented on platters to be passed among them for self-service – is a perfect way to connect people, food and conversation.
We cater many weddings in the course of a year. Clients come to us with all manner of questions, ideas and, sometimes, challenges to overcome when planning a wedding. There are definitely many among us who feel that a plated dinner is the preferred approach to a wedding dinner. But for those who are exploring other ideas, I encourage you to consider this new, old-fashioned method of sharing a meal. I’ll highlight what I feel to be the plusses here, some of which are the perfect solution to challenges that may arise in deciding how to serve your guests a meal that all can enjoy.
Graciousness Most of us are fortunate enough to remember at least a few holiday or weekend meals when family and friends would gather around a table (a large table in my family!) to eat together. Remember the comfort you felt when you settled into a chair you knew you’d occupy for an easy while, unhurried? The pleasure of sharing a meal your host or hostess, or maybe even some of the guests prepared with care? What more perfect day to enjoy that feeling than your wedding day when (as I see it) a group of people you care specially for, a group of people likely never to be in one place together, like this, on any other day? Because the dishes are passed among guests, even those who have never met will speak to each other, connect, as they hand off the roasted root vegetables or bread.
Variety One challenge in planning a wedding meal is that the average wedding party includes a wide variety of personalities, tastes and dietary conditions. When serving a plated meal, the scope of what you serve is narrowed to what fits on a plate in a few courses – choice can be more challenging to offer. But with family-style service, one can offer more than one entrée and multiple sides – with a little creativity (who doesn’t love that?!) – and appease a wide spectrum of tastes.
Often we break up a meal and serve perhaps a pre-set, plated first course, a family-style main course and come back to a plated dessert. You can squeeze in a delicious cheese course, too, that guests can linger over at the end of a meal.
Beauty Many wedding guests find themselves seated at a round table of eight or ten guests. With family style service, you’re better off opening up and expanding your seating to larger groups of 12, 20 or more. That can be a great way to help unfamiliar guests connect and keep together large groups of family or friends that can one has to break up in smaller seatings. I love the conviviality among larger groups – conversation always seems larger, more open. These days many design and equipment rental companies keep larger tables to make this happen. Now many are renting wood-constructed, farm-style tables which I love especially, but not exclusively, in outdoor settings. They are décor in and of themselves. (…I have yet to see an unattractive farm table…)
And formality? No loss there. A family-style dinner need not mean less thorough or attentive service. Go ahead and pull out the china and crystal, too, if you like.
But one can just as easily create a less dressy table with things like wild flowers, second hand china and the likes. Or a more sleek look, with geometric or paper table runners or placemats, cool stemless glassware and textured china. The options are truly endless.
Cost Because of the choices open to you – food, décor, seating and mode/intensity of service – the cost can be quite variable, especially in terms of staffing and equipment rental. You’ll want to discuss all of your preferences and needs with your caterer or planner, including your budget (it’s a part of planning every event and they can serve you best when they know the parameters you’re working in).
Thank you so much for stopping by, Gay!
photography by Don Mears
Postage rates increased by a penny yesterday. Erika at Delphine assembled a handy cheat sheet for standard postage rates of common wedding mailings. Of course, you should always take all of the pieces of your invitation to the post office to be weighed before you purchase postage, just to be safe.
In a former life, I worked in advertising as a strategic planner. Planners are responsible for articulating the client/brand goals in a way that is compelling to the creative team (who will ultimately create the creative product) and in a way that is compelling to the audience (the people who will ultimately consume the work/the people who you want to communicate with). I think a lot about the creative briefs I used to write and how the format can be adapted to be a really useful tool for couples planning weddings. With SO much inspiration and so many ideas floating around, it’s good to focus, focus, focus. Hopefully asking yourself these questions and committing your answers to paper will help you focus your efforts and energy during your planning.
What’s the one thing we want to remember?
What’s the one thing we want our guests to remember?
We’re standing at the altar and we turn around to look at the congregation, these are the people we hope to see…
Three words that describe us as a couple…
If we imagine the look and feeling of our wedding, we’d use these three words to describe it….
These are the things we can’t live without. They’re mandatory….
Our budget is…
Now, go pick three images that match up with your vision for your wedding. Not 300. 3. They can be of anything…interiors, food, clothing. Use those three to remind yourself of where you’re going when you’re in inspiration overload.
I think the most challenging thing about designing a wedding is feeling overwhelmed by ideas and projects you want to accomplish. A good way to tackle design is to think about your event in three parts (or four if you’re moving from the dining tent/dining room to a separate area for dancing & dessert following dinner). The three parts are, ceremony, cocktail hour and reception.
Because I live by lists, I put one together outlining of all of the places your design can come to life – of course every event is different and you may need to modify the list to suit your event.
You’ll want some repetitive elements throughout the three parts of your event to create some cohesiveness, but each does not have to look exactly like the others. This event featured on Snippet and Ink is a good example. Part one (the ceremony & cocktail hour) and part two (the reception).
If you’re having a seated dinner you will have both a floor plan diagram and a seating chart. Your planner, venue or caterer will likely draw your floor plan. Here’s one we drew recently for an event on the lawn at Maymont:
Corresponding to the diagram is a seating chart, which details who is sitting where, tells us what meal they have ordered (if you’re offering choices), if they have meal restrictions, if they are children and any other important details servers should know (i.e. this person is the mother of the bride!).
We like to code seating charts in the “coding” column. Here green stands for allergy and orange stands for a child’s meal. But, if we were offering meal choices at this event, we would code guests (either by color or symbol) to signify entree choice. In that case, the coding on this sheet would match the coding on your guests’ place cards.
First look photographs happen before the ceremony. They’re called “first look” because it is the first time you will see each other as bride and groom in your gown and suit. First look photographs are wonderful if you’re tight on time following the ceremony, or if you’d rather spend your time cocktailing rather than photographing. But, they’re nearly crucial during fall or winter months when the sun sets earlier. First look photos allow you to take advantage of natural light outdoors, rather than having to rely on artificial lighting to light your portraits indoors.
above: Ashley and Paul seeing each other for the first time at The Jefferson before their ceremony at University of Richmond. Photography by Don Mears.
The best way to incorporate your pup at your wedding is to hire a trainer or a handler. That way Fido can make a cameo (when you’re taking pictures or during your vows) and he can also have someone who is dedicated to his needs so you don’t have to be during your event. In Richmond, we love Sarah Sits and Stays.