Last week I officially passed the “one year left” mark on my wedding planning calendar. Between celebrating and freaking out, I realized I had to get to work on the Next Big Thing on my planning to-do list: Finding a caterer. My mother was insistent. My dad, resolute: “There has to be food!”
One by one, I sent out inquiries. There were caterers with websites reminiscent of the days of Angelfire, their pages slashed with steely grey HTML horizontal rules and tiled with weird, stretched-out stock photos of dinners that took place in 1997. There were beautiful Squarespace sites from caterers named after wildflowers, whose logos were made up of arrows criss-crossed in X-shapes. Their offerings varied from lowbrow to high—itty-bitty hot dogs cuddled in phyllo, steak with chimichurri, lobster bisque shooters that some of my guests, I imagine, would hope had alcohol mixed inside. But as the estimated quotes started rolling in, one by one, they all had one thing in common: They were all balls expensive.
Between $60 and $150 (!!!) per person expensive. Inclusive of food, staff, prep, rentals, clean-up, the whole thing. Sweet, sweet corn-wasabi fritter, every day spent digging deeper into wedding planning ends in a night more fitfully slept.
(Also, I’m very curious what the caterers with the Angelfire website, which looks like it was designed in someone’s computer class for AOL 2.0, is doing with all that money they’re charging, if not investing it in better branding. Blowing lines of coke off organic endives?)
Quick math betrays painful results: If we shoot for the bare minimum at one of these places—$60 per person, which comprises a dinner of, no doubt, a one-cubic-inch block of ice, a single mustard green, a firm handshake, and an Andes mint—we’re looking at a grand total of about $9,000 to feed our estimated 150 guests. And just for kicks, let’s go big: $150/per person multiplied by 150 guests equals yep, a down payment, a semester of college (go wild, commenters, my catering quotes are your oyster). I asked about buffet-style rather than table service, to keep costs down. Ha! There’s no price difference. Whenever I think I’m out, they pull me back in.
I know, I’m doing the thing I always do: balking at the cost of something for my wedding. But I should also mention it’s not just the cost that turns me off, it’s the strange anonymity of catered food in general. In fact, when I started to plan, picking a caterer is one of the things I was least excited about. There’s something so cold and sad about it all: the passed snacks plucked hurriedly from a sample menu nine months beforehand, the wan salmon steaks, gummy under a fallen fence of asparagus, those depressing mashed potatoes sometimes served in—oh my god—martini glasses. It seems like even if a couple picks the best caterer around, the food, at the end of the day, is still just wedding food—a garish pause from the intimacy of the ceremony, the first dance and the speeches, and always just a few notches off from normal, like a miniature crab roll that’s been photocopied a few too many times.
Since Joe’s dad offered to cover the tab, I shouldn’t worry about it, right? Just let it go. Get a caterer. Pick the food. Steak it up. Let your new father-in-law sign on the line. Let it be a gift from him for marrying his son, who favors video games in which cars very loudly play soccer. This is how it works.
But a nagging doubt tells me I cannnnn’t. As ever, Bride Lauren is trying to let go, to spend the money that makes the average-to-good wedding happen, but pre-bride Lauren is pummeling her way to the surface, screaming, “THERE HAS TO BE ANOTHER WAY!”
Running on a fuzzy memory of the night I got engaged, when a friend at a bar told me that she went to a wedding in Maine once and they had fancy pizza and it ruled, I Google “pizza maine wedding cater.” I land on an upscale pizza place that everyone raves about, with outposts in Portland, ME and Boston. I email them, saying something infuriating like, “Pizza just seems so much more us, and yours is the best there is!” (Even though I’ve never tasted it.) They respond something like, “Hi, annoying idiot, how do you expect us to deliver hot fresh pizza to a barn that’s 45 minutes away from our shop, think before you speak, bye.”
I keep Googling. I find a wood-fired pizza truck (!?). I email, I make another stupid joke, they respond kindly, if robotic, they quote me $20/pp to cook five different pizza concoctions, nonstop, for two hours, to feed 150 people, plus dole out fresh green salads beforehand, all from their WOOD. FIRED. OVEN. THAT’S LOCATED. IN. THEIR. TRUCK. WHICH THEY’LL PARK. BARN-SIDE. MOTHERFUCKERS. Joe, who is made of 50% pizza, is enthused.
Hope at last.
But now, a choice must be made: forsake one of the most predictable things you can have on the “most important day of your life”—a normal-ass dinner—and gamble on something alternative, fingers crossed that you don’t get sauce on your dress. Or just shut the fuck up and do the normal thing that won’t confuse or disappoint anyone. It’s as if once you decide whether you’re a pizza-wedding couple or a regular catering-wedding couple, you seal some kind of mysterious fate for life, as if choosing one of two very different waterslides based only on the ladders that lead to their tops.
The truth is, we don’t know what we’re going to do yet. Joe’s dad says we shouldn’t cut corners on our wedding day, my dad says “pizza is cool and good,” my body is telling me yes, my heart is telling me who cares. But one truth keeps coming back to me, pushing me in one very specific direction: None of our happiest moments ever were spent curled up drunk in bed after a long night out, giddily feeding ourselves by-the-slice lamb roast with apple and mint jelly.
Watch this space weekly as Lauren Rodrigue shares the victories and freakouts of planning her 2016 wedding (and the marriage that’ll follow). Tweet her at @laurenzalita.