Thursday, May 10, 2007

Things I Do Not Love Today: Wedding Planning

I'm becoming convinced that the entire wedding industry is set-up to make you either a) lose your mind or b) lose your mind and go completely broke. The Knot should itemize psychiatry bills in their budgeting worksheet.

After our nice meeting with the Ahwahnee wedding coordinator last weekend, Rob and I were pretty convinced that we'd found our location. There was an expensive "minimum" for having a wedding there on a Saturday night but it was still somewhat within our budget when you included the facility fees, food, drinks, cake, taxes, tip and room blocks as they said we could. But when it came to booking the actual day, that minimum suddenly only included catering. What a scam! I love my friends and family, but I'm not prepared to spend $200 per person just to feed everyone at this wedding. That's ridiculous.

I'm pretty heartbroken about not being able to have the wedding at the Ahwahnee. But if I'm already uncovering hidden catches at this early stage, I'm sure it would have only gotten worse. I've planned corporate events several times before and never encountered this kind of trouble. All I want is to get married in a nice spot with decent food and 75 guests. What is so crazy about that?

So it's back to the drawing board. Rob and I have to start all over again with our wedding planning. Until I book the venue, I can't really start on the colors and all the other fun parts. Does anyone have any fabulous venue recommendations for Northern California?

33 comments:

MissScientistSF said...

I am so sorry about this mess. What a bummer. But you are so crafty and ingenious, I am sure you will find a beautiful location that you will make fabulous. Pebble Beach? Point Reyes? Lake Tahoe? There are tons of gorgeous options. Best of luck, sorry about the setback.

Nicole said...

did you inquire about friday night? is the minimum less for that night? i have been to a few friday night weddings - since its a destination wedding, people wouldn't mind.

Michelle said...

Hi Emily
We got married in Calistoga and found our location through the caterer: http://www.piperjohnsoncatering.com An admitted food snob who was also on a budget, I highly recommend this caterer! Our outdoor wedding and the food are still talked about to this day (6 yrs later!). The location we used was beautiful, but I am not sure that they do weddings anymore (www.larkmeadinn.com) - and anyway, I wouldn't be able to recommend it because the owner was pretty ornery. :/ Good luck with everything. I am enjoying reading about your process - it is fun to relive it.

MissEm said...

Friday night would have been cheaper, but I'm over working with them. It's not worth it.

hyb said...

I totally agree with your decision to not work with these people. When we booked our reception hall, my instincts told me to not trust them. But I just told myself that I was just nervous about spending a big chunk of money and signed on the dotted line anyway. Well.... Apparently, my first impression was right on the money, and things just kept getting progressively worse. On the wedding day, the hall was still under construction (even though we were promised that it was to be completed 6-7 months before), and they didn't set up our cocktail hour because they couldn't decide whether to do it inside or outside (even though we had given explicit instructions to move it inside even if it looked cloudy). I have wonderful memories of family and friends from our wedding day, but I wish that I had trusted my instincts and my hard-earned money had gone to a more deserving business.

Ace P. said...

Ugh, I just finished going through the same thing myself with a much sooner date - Oct. 27! Our problem was that we want to cook the food ourselves, and a lot of places require you to use a licensed caterer, or even their staff. It sounds like that's not a problem for you - so, have you considered the wine country at all? There are a TON of places in Sonoma - just google it - and we're finding that people are really excited to come and make a whole weekend of it, or even a week, in SF and the wine country. We ended up with Relais du Soleil in Glen Ellen - it's beautiful, but it's all outside and very rustic, although I saw photos of some very beautiful and elegant weddings people have had there. Here in SF, I looked at the Cliff House (have to use their kitchen staff), as well as the Log Cabin in the Presidio (have to use a licensed caterer). But there are amazingly beautiful wineries with wonderful food in Sonoma (and Napa, but Sonoma is much cheaper in my experience - and closer to SF, as well as less of a zoo generally) that I'm sure would be thrilled to have you guys. If you're interested, I can give you some names. GOOD LUCK and hope that helps!

CardinalChiarina said...

Stanford Alumni Center is a lovely location. http://www.stanfordalumni.org/aboutsaa/alumni_center/conference.html

Stanford Catering does a really nice job as well. http://www.stanford.edu/dept/hds/dining/index.htm?page=catering

Good luck!

Marissa said...

Sonoma/Wine Country . . . I fell in love with that area last fall. I don't know how pricey it is, but you should see what the possibilities are there.

My husband and I planned our whole wedding ourselves too . . . I was finishing my degree, working full-time and had four months to plan . . . in the end we grew closer and we had the wedding we wanted. It will come together for you. I'me cheering for you. I understand the stress you are going through.

SF editrix said...

Oh no! I'm so sorry to hear that the location didn't work out for you. I got married last year (at the Legion of Honor in SF), so I can completely sympathize with your plight -- the wedding industrial complex is quite a beast. That said, you have a plethora of gorgeous locations to scope out in N.Cali., and you can *definitely* put on a fabulous wedding for less than $200/person. Have you gotten a copy of "Here Comes the Guide" (www.herecomestheguide.com)? That's a good place to start. You might also check out county/city resources. (For example, did you know you can rent the Trocadero Clubhouse in Stern Grove for an event? You can! :-)

Diana said...

Santa Cruz mountains have amazing wineries. Worth a look.

julina said...

Try the Sausalito Women's Club... it's a beautiful Julia Morgan building with gorgeous indoor/outdoor space.

MissEm said...

Awesome comments everyone! I feel SO much better! I really appreciate any ideas and recommendations people want to share :)

Ace P. said...

For sites all over Sonoma county, check out http://sonoma.com/eventplanning/
weddings/ceremonies_chapels.html.
For Sonoma wineries that host weddings, try
http://www.travelenvoy.com/wine/
sonoma-weddings.htm
I can vouch for the Buena Vista as particularly beautiful.

MaryLynn said...

I went to a wedding at Hanoke Gardens once and it was a really nice place and a fun wedding.

http://www.hakone.com/rentals/weddings.html

Sara said...

i think wineries are a great choice.

going with the woodsy theme, the davis arboretum would be fun and quite reasonable.

i seem to remember when looking at a place for a wedding there was a book that has huge lists of options in california, ah now i see someone has mentioned it already...

love.boxes said...

I think you were right, with places like that it can get worse and worse.


You will find the perfect place and you will be a radiant bride and have a beautiful day. Keep smiling and have fun! :)

Red said...

this wouldn't include catering but since no one has mentioned it, the brazilian room at tilden park in berkeley

I don't know if you need UC connections, but the faculty club at UC Berkeley is nice (although the food is only OK)

e said...

I wish I could advise, but all I can offer is my empathy. Having gone through the whole wedding thing a year ago, I hope I never do it again. I was a two-dress bride, and that was really painful for the bank account. We ended up spending $125/person at a really lovely restaurant (Cambridge, MA), which seemed like a lot of money, but the food was really good. Flowers are a total scam, so is alcohol. The only thing I enjoyed was designing the stationary. It's a good thing you have so much lead time in planning, you'll be able to think things through more clearly. I got married in June, which really makes things stressful. Good luck and stick to the budget.

Kristin and Josh Canfield said...

Boy do I know what you are going through! After our first venue at an art gallery fell through, I was devistated. We stummbled on a new venue in an unlikley place. Vacation rentals by owner. VRBO.com We were actually looking for places for friends and family to stay and we found a house that was big enough to have the ceremony outside and the reception. Not all places allow events but it is worth a shot. Good luck and congrats.

jordan said...

SO LAME!!


SF City Hall... Rent out the rotunda in the evening... Or the De Young.

millie said...

Have you checked out herecomestheguide.com? They have lots of great sites.

I got married on a Sunday in December overlooking the lake in Oakland. I even got lots of discounts.

Another cool place in the East Bay is the Piedmont Community Center. Trust me, it's unlike any other community center. It's nestled in the trees and has an adorable Tea House that can serve as a bar for cocktail hour.

kate said...

I've said it before, but it's my single best piece of wedding advice: Get thee to the Kvetch forums at www.indiebride.com. First of all, theknot.com is evil, and as the IndieBride girls say, it's just trying to get you to buy into the Wedding Industrial Complex ("You aren't really married unless your 12 bridesmaids wear THIS BRAND of dress!"), which isn't a great fit for a lot of....us. Anyway, the group of girls who were getting married around the same time as me in the same area (NYC) were amazing, and we really were able to help each other. Some people are great at certain types of research--one girl did incredible research on budget photographers and we all used people off her list. I know the San Francisco group is pretty big, and has even had work exchanges in the past where people helped out with stuff for each other's weddings. It's not hippie-crunchy, though, just a way of maximizing your resources. Anyway, go to the Vendors thread, and also check out "Weddings We Loved" to find events that were held near you. There should be lots of info in Vendors about good and bad Bay Area venues.

And for a great laugh, check out the hysterical stuff at: http://godawfulweddingcrap.blogspot.com/
Amazing. Hours of fun.

Elise said...

Went to a wedding at the Piedmont Community Center a few years back and it was absolutely beautiful. The wedding portion was in a wooded area; cocktail hour in the tea house and dinner and dancing outside. Lots of places for good photos. Totally worth a look.

Sara said...

I sympathize!! We got married last summer in Sonoma at a beautiful winery (Piedmont Community Center was our 2nd choice -- really lovely). Although the setting was absolutely a dream, it was amazing how as soon as we paid our $$$ (actually more like $$$$$$) the events coordinator stopped returning our calls. I'd be happy to share more details if you would like! Good luck and hang in there...

k8 said...

what about a place that isn't a traditional reception hall? i have been to beautiful receptions in museums or cool office buildings. And those kind of places can be more reasonable than those that prey on poor unsuspecting brides!!

maura said...

I second Red's comment: the Brazilian Room in Tilden Park is beautiful. My brother just got married there a few weeks ago. : )

Also, for really good food try TrumpetVine Catering. They've been in the business a long time and they were wonderful. Good luck!

Anonymous said...

Hi emily,
I love your blog! I didn't want to say this earlier because you seemed so excited about hosting at the Ahwanee but...I went to a wedding (of one of my best friends from junior high) and it was awful! One of those weddings that makes you think the couple spent no time whatsoever considering its guests.

First, it is a FIVE HOUR drive from san francisco. Really. I listened to Robert MacNamara's ENTIRE autobiography there and back. Second, the Ahwahnee is ridiculously expensive so most of use "slummed it" in the $200/nite "Lodge." It was, without question, the grossest hotel I've ever seen. A friend saw a mouse in her room. Third, breakfast the next morning was about $25/person. Seriously. It is a running joke amongst other girlfriends and me still: "Would you rather buy a house or host a wedding at the AhWANeee?" It is a silly, silly expenditure; you pay for the name; your guests spend $500 for a weekend; and the food is truly, truly mediocre. Go with any winery in Sonoma, Napa, Santa Cruz, hell, even Bakersfield, and you will be just fine. I know everyone goes on about it being the bride's Special Day, but the Ahwanee makes it feel like the Bride is living in her own private Idaho.

Good luck!
s

ps: the best weddings I've been too, by the way, were all about the couple. One was in Germany and we partied until 7am (the bride was German); the other was at the San Jose Marriot and the couple was Indian. The point is that everyone there has been to many, many weddings (perhaps several this year alone) and, altho they love you, some may roll their eyes a scoche at Another Wedding. The way to make it incredible is to make it about You. You have fabulous style, you live in the coolest city in the freakin' world, and are marrying a scientist. So cool. Pick a place and make it yours. The place really does not matter. Chances are, it won't be the bestest or the shabbiest all of your guests have seen. But...it could very well be the most fabulous.

Anonymous said...

Emily,
Sorry to hear about your disappointment. I just got back from the Yosemite wedding you helped me plan my outift for, and while it is a beautiful place with special meaning to the couple, the destination was a bit much for us guests. However, if you have your heart set on Yosemite, what do you think of doing it at the Lodge? True, the rooms aren't great (ours had giant ants in it, nice! For the price, I was disappointed) but the reception room was very nice, we had a view of the falls right there. And the chapel was just the cutest. They had about 75 guests and everything seemed to go quite well.

My friend got married in Stern's Grove in SF last December and it was a great, great place for a small wedding. You can bring in your own caterer and use the house there which has the greatest old-fashioned bar. I loved it and wish I could find a place like that near me for my wedding coming up.

Anyway, there's my $0.02.

Mary said...

Hey, I wasn't supposed to be anonymous!

Stine said...

I got married last year and I can feel your pain! Those hidden fees can really kill you and it is good to ask a LOT of questions about how they charge upfront. If you pick a very popular place, they try to bilk you with a lot of stupid fees - like your weekend fee. I eventually found a venue that would negotiate with me and that's how I ended up choosing my venue. I made the mistake, however, of not getting our deal in writing and it made the last two weeks before my wedding extremely stressful as they tried to back-end all of the fees I had previously negotiated out of. Grrr! One of the more helpful resources I found was www.fireyourweddingplanner.com. I think the woman who put that together is in California and she may have some advice on venues in your area (I got married in Utah, so I'm no help there). Also, I have a bunch of bride books (The Knot, etc.) I'd love to get rid of. I could send them to you (free!) if you want.
Finally, the last thing I want to say is keep the faith. I found wedding planning to not be that fun - I was stressed out about money and logistics for months. But my wedding was the most wonderful of days. Just having everyone you love around you is an amazing feeling. My husband and I had a fabulous time and were sad when we realized the night was over - people had to push us to leave! All the little details will work out and, even though you think it might not be possible, you will kind of forget about all the stress of finding a venue and everything.

By the way, I'm a friend of "Lucy's". Love your blog.

Sarah said...

I got married here: http://www.closlachance.com/ in San Martin, which is near Morgan Hill and definitely worth the drive! It was beautiful by itself so I hardly needed any decorations. I just got super simply bouquets of tulips for the tables and my centerpieces were literally $21 each :) The food was great and the caterer negotiated with us. Check out some pics: http://jkhphoto.com/photographers/john-sarahjosh/

Anonymous said...

Hi Emily,

I got married at the Westin St. Francis which was a beautiful location and a lot of fun for our out of town guests -being in the heart of Union Square. One thing that I found is that it is cheaper and you tend to find more stuff available if you do a Sunday wedding. Caterers, photographers and the like usually have a lower price or are more willing to negotiate for Sundays. It is a really frustrating process but once you find the location it will all fall into place.

Good luck!!

Anonymous said...

Em,
I'm SO sorry the Ahwanee! It certainly sounds like they are not customer friendly - and who wants that? Okay, I don't know much in this department, but what about a wedding on a boat? Hopefully my friends won't mind me posting their site here: http://www.jennyandmarke.com/
I'm going to this wedding next weekend, and it sounds like such a fun venue!
Aside from that, what about a SLO wedding? I went to a super fun one at Madonna Inn, and you know all the wineries down there would be so much cheaper. Good luck with the location hunt!
Utah Nicole