Simple. It’s all about trade offs. You can have a relatively simple event at a wedding venue, or hand over great wads of cash to a wedding co-ordinator and laugh at the follies of other brides who do otherwise. These are the recommended options to plan a stress free wedding in 3 months.
Or you can have a customised, unique experience but brace yourself for a pinch of tension, a little loss of sanity, and maybe oh, the odd transformation into a fire-breathing, you-don’t-wan’t-to-cross-me-buddy, nightmare dragon lady. (Sorry Co-pilot).
Like motherhood, being a bride just once, gives you the right to preach and lecture to others. I’m not sure in what other scenarios a single experience warrants such soapbox rights, but it’s true, I join zillions before me in preaching what I learned from my experience. Though admittedly, this is not a post about what to do, but largely, a lesson in humility (and some mistakes to avoid).
To set the background, both the Co-pilot and I really didn’t think twice about trying to plan the wedding in 3 months. With an ailing family member on my side, there was little choice but to fast track the wedding. But both the Co-pilot and I are in professional roles that require great organisational and project management skills, so neither of us were particularly worried. That was of course, in hindsight, arrogance speaking, as I clearly hadn’t considered how much effort it would be to pull together the wedding we wanted. And no, giving up on my wedding theme was not negotiable.
So, when the Co-pilot reminded me that he would be overseas for the final 3 weeks leading up to our wedding, and asked whether that would pose a problem, I confidently dismissed his concerns – sure, no problem – I could do it on my own. There it is, freeze the frame, right there, zoom in – that’s Mistake # 1. The Co-pilot knows me all too well, of course I was going to crucify him for being absent in the crucial weeks leading up to the wedding. And when it happened, what I said 3 months before the wedding, what he thought was his get-out-of-jail-free-card, was of course null and void. You see, you can’t reason with me as a bride, that’s an oxymoron. (Betrothed couples take note – if you’re planning and co-ordinating your own wedding under time pressure, it’s probably never a good idea to be absent for the weeks leading up to the wedding. No really, don’t test your partner).
But you really can plan a lovely, stress-free wedding in 3 months – absolutely and utterly key to this is having your wedding in a restaurant or a venue that regularly caters for weddings, complete with tables, chairs, cutlery, wait staff, catering, lighting and power. Alternatively, outsource the planning and wash your hands clean. Mistake #2 was shunning this in favour of booking a university venue, in the inner west of Sydney, on the basis that it had lovely sandstone buildings that would make a lovely backdrop for our wedding and really, offered diddly squat else. I might as well have booked a park in the middle of nowhere. Mistake # 3 is forgetting that universities close over summer. That’s right, remember those long, lusciously long uni summer breaks? Guess what? University staff take those breaks too. So, suddenly, our 3 months became 2 months! Crucial questions you need to answer like “do I have access to power, toilets, kitchens, infrastructure, anything??” went on hold for a month of long silence until 2 months before the wedding. In the meantime, we set up crisis management disaster planning mega spreadsheets to cater for all the possible scenarios the university might give us. But, universities aren’t usually renowned for their brilliant process co-ordination, inter-departmental communication, or even basic efficiency and effectiveness – so when they returned, they proved next to useless anyway. As mentioned in a previous post, the scenarios we encountered in the final 2 months of planning were laughably bizarre, except, I wasn’t laughing.
“Did anyone mention the building works to you?”
“Oops, we’ve actually hired your space out to someone else”
“Oh – so installing in lecture chairs in your hall is going to be a problem for you?”
Our wet weather indoor hall option, that was promised would be an alternative if we needed it, (crucial for the past soggy Sydney summer), was actually undergoing a renovation but no-one bothered to tell us this, until it became apparent with a solid month of forecasted rain, that we’d need it. The offhand solution of “hire a marquee instead” was offered, as though, that didn’t come with a minimum $2ooo price tag. Sure, I’m haemorrhaging money anyway, why not. At one point, we were offered a glimmer of hope that our wet weather option would be renovated in time and available for our wedding. Only, when we turned up to survey the progress, we saw lecture chairs in the process of being installed and when pointed out, there was some true surprise that this would be an issue. At another point, they informed us that they’d double booked our space. Oh, and unlike commercial enterprises that value commercial success and a positive customer experience, the standard university answer I got was normally “no”. Upon further questioning, the “no” seemed always to have no real reason other than, it was easier than “yes”. For the record, the excuse of “we’re a university, we just offer venue hire on the side” isn’t really a valid excuse for incompetence. Here’s a Business 101 tip – don’t offer a service and charge a fee for it if you don’t intend to deliver on the service.
As my patience was tested and my nerves strained ever thinner with each conversation and slapstick situation, I must have shot some incredulous looks of disbelief and possibly some mildly gob-smacked head shaking, to which I got some mildly patronising “she’s a bridezilla” nods in return. Now that I have been on the receiving end of these bridezilla suggestions, I think sometimes any bride with less than a fly by the seat of your pants attitude is unfairly labelled a bridezilla as in any other professional scenario, the same attitude probably gets labelled “organised”.
As you may have guessed from my prolonged diatribe, I was just a wee bit cranky about the venue. Actually, trying to wrangle venue issues under control created more stress than any other part of the wedding, and we only finalised the venue agreement 1 week before the wedding. 1 week! Dealing with the malarkey made me age 10 years, prompted more than a few synapses to commit suicide and ultimately coaxed the aforementioned nightmare dragon lady to make some special guest appearances. If you’re considering a similar venue – proceed with caution.
Mistake # 4 is as many couples have experienced, is mentioning the “W” word. The word “wedding” adds a ridiculous minimum 100% surcharge on your quote. Or in the case of the most audacious caterer we interviewed, a 400% surcharge! The Co-pilot and I were dumbfounded – what we thought was a small, boutique caterer we were supporting, tried to charge us prices like $25 for trestle table linen and $60 for an esky. That’s hire prices mind you, for the “budget option” and ice was extra. We must have appeared like gullible, fat, wealthy lambs ready for slaughter as they were so keen on fleecing us. Where we could, we tried to give suppliers the perception we were organising a work-related event.
But, despite the dire apocalyptic scene I have painted above (apologies, it was necessary catharsis for me), I’m happy to report that the rest of the wedding planning – the dress, the flowers, the event styling, the catering, the celebrant, the rings and our vows – they all went well without incident (as they should), and helped us forget the mistakes and focus on the positives. I believe there were specific wins that worked in our favour, kept my sanity in tact and from our perspective contributed to the success of the wedding.
Win # 1 – if you want to bring an idea to life, stick to your guns, even if it sometimes seems all too much effort.
From the minute we started planning the wedding, the Co-pilot and I wanted a food fair theme. Some of our favourite eating experiences involve stall hopping through street food stalls in bustling South-East Asian markets. We wanted a similar vibe – a lively market meets garden party, with guests free to mingle and nibbling on whatever they wanted. With that inspiration, we wanted to capture that atmosphere with lots of busy little market stalls and have guests indulging in anything from skewered delights, stir fry noodles, pig-on-a-spit, an oyster bar, takoyaki, pizza, a juice bar and more. With further planning, we refined our theme to focus on Italian flavour to create some continuity between the different elements of the day but most importantly, we wanted to ensure that when our theme was brought to life, it was distinguished from a mere buffet as that just wouldn’t do.
Win # 2 – rank and prioritise what’s important and weight your time and budget accordingly.
I know for most brides, “the dress” would be of utmost importance and warrant months of planning and doubtful deliberating over this dress or that. But I had no time or intention of doing this and wasn’t keen on trawling through bridal shops on weekends. So, I found my wedding dress and shoes in under 2 hours! (Yep, I’m just a little chuffed at my own efficiency). Key to the super-quick turnaround is knowing what dress style you want and more importantly, not being too fussy about it. I wanted a long, strapless delicate lace dress so walked into one bridal store, made a beeline for the sale rack, tried on a dress that fit the bill and then found the first pair shoes to matched the colour, style and felt comfortable. L-bean, my matron of honour, was with me for stylistic advice and was a little alarmed at the speed I was making these decisions and questioned whether I was even consciously aware of my decisions. This did create a bit of doubt, but it was quickly dismissed as there’s nothing to indicate that you need to spend a ridiculous amount of time looking for “the dress”. For the record, I was very happy with the dress and even now, 2 months after our wedding, am nothing short of 110% satisfied with the dress, shoes and other accessories I chose.
For the men, we figured a black suit would be the most time and cost effective as most guys have a decent black suit in their wardrobe, or if they didn’t and needed to invest in a new one, at least it was a colour they’d be guaranteed to get some mileage out of.
The vast bulk of our time, care and attention to detail was invested in planning the food, wine and event styling.
After an initial, frustrated attempt at finding and co-ordinating many different stall vendors to come together for our day and subsequently catering for their different equipment, space, power needs etc, we decided instead on saving ourselves the pain and hiring an experienced caterer – one that we were confident could bring our theme to life. After scoping out many caterers, (some of whom, as mentioned earlier really tried to take advantage of us), we decided to use ARIA Catering as we felt assured that the food would be nothing short of delicious and a cut above other caterers in experience, professionalism and delivery. We weren’t disappointed. They understood our brief immediately, accommodated all our personalisation requests and if they were annoyed at us changing the venue space multiple times (what with our venue informing us first that our hall wasn’t available and then that our second choice was double booked to someone else), they certainly didn’t show it and were patient and had a wonderful can do attitude.
So what personalisation did we want? We wanted something to balance the high end catering, yet was no less spectacular – we wanted pizza made fresh on site at our wedding. That’s not too much to ask right? And no, not any pizza. Only the best would do. Only Rosso Pomodoro pizza would be acceptable. Although Rosso Pomodoro doesn’t actually offer off-site catering, they agreed to our request and for the months leading up to the event, we were in close consultation with Ketty, (co-owner of Rosso Pomodoro who manages operations whilst her partner Giancarlo churns out amazing pizzas in the kitchen). She took a hands-on approach to helping us plan the pizzas, sourcing the equipment required and how to fit in with the plan for the day. Whilst I’d describe ARIA Catering’s attitude and service as slick and professional, Rosso Pomodoro was intimate and familiar – we felt like we were calling on old family friends! And of course, we took the selection of pizzas to be served at our wedding very seriously and made sure we sampled the menu frequently and judiciously.
I have nothing less than praise for both our caterers and was comforted in knowing that at the very least, even if I torched my venue in a fit of frothing mad frustration and we had to have our ceremony in the belly of its charred remains – at least we would have sensational food!
The Co-pilot and I also wanted a cheese wedding cake from the outset. We enlisted a cheesemonger friend who, based on the cheeses varieties we liked the most, created a cheese tower for our wedding cake.
And good food and cheese comes hand in hand with good wine, so we enlisted good family friend, winemaker and expert John Timmins to help with our wine selection – a rich selection of heavily Italian influenced wines matched to the food.
Win # 3 – use online resources to save time trawling stores on weekends.
One of the main reasons we could feasibly plan and manage everything in the 3 months was making use of online resources and saving time and effort trawling stores across Sydney. This way, I could make use of my weeknights at home and not wait till my precious few weekends to do things like trying to co-ordinate busy diaries to go bridal party dress shopping. We found our bridesmaids dresses and our flower maidens’ dresses on ASOS; looked to wedding planner/DIY-heaven resources like Martha Stewart for inspiration and with some forward planning, saved a bundle on event styling accessories like hand fans, lanterns and fairy lights on eBay.
Win # 4 – turn your family, friends and associates into a sweat shop factory.
Use what resources you already have at hand – if that happens to be human labour, all the better! I had the designer at my work create all my invitations, signage and tapped into his contacts for printing too. There were some other styling elements I wanted that also needed some hands-on attention. To create the fair atmosphere I wanted pretty pinwheels, floaty mobiles and gorgeous larger than life crepe paper flowers. I couldn’t possibly do this all on my own in the time that I had, so I recruited my sweat shop factory – the fact that my sweat shop factory was Asian, is pure coincidence.
I enlisted my mother to help me make the floaty paper mobiles, made using strips of vellum paper in different shades of blue and strung together with white cotton thread and her trusty sewing machine. We made dozens of these mobiles in various lengths and weighted them down with a small fishing lead weight.
To create the pinwheels and crepe paper flowers, I showed up on L-bean’s doorstep and had her and her unwitting husband Spamtaro set to work. As they’re both engineers, I can say that my pinwheels were created by a scientist and 2 engineers and each one was tested extensively for wind dynamics.
The crepe paper flowers were very impressive yet time consuming to create. I found them on a blog where a bride had used them in place of her bouquet – a lovely whimsical idea, but a flawed one unless you’re working with super-sturdy crepe paper as yet unknown to mankind; can control the weather and can ensure no wind or humidity wilts your bouquet into a limp mop; and plan not to move or touch the flower after you’ve created it. Compared to the other DIY projects, these were a labour of love, taking about an hour per flower, but really didn’t survive the outdoor setting we had. Those that did found ultimate demise in the hands of small children. These would be perfect though if you have an indoor setting and would make for an impressive centrepiece.
I actually really enjoyed these projects – it allowed my inner child to indulge in crafts again!
The easily most impressive and time consuming project however, were the real flowers. We were fortunate to have found a florist in Nhu, a friend and colleague of L-bean, another engineer but one who happened to have done a floristry course on the side and had done the flowers for some family weddings. So it was a bit of a stretch to have her help a friend of a friend, but as she didn’t protest very loudly, she was readily ushered into the sweat shop. Helping her were the Co-pilot’s two sisters, and our flower maidens, Liv and Phia – honourary Asians in my sweat shop. A pre-dawn run at the flower markets the day before the wedding and round the clock frantic flower stripping, arrangement and styling turned Nhu’s house into a bomb site but churned out some truly breathtaking bouquets, arrangements and adornments for our wedding.
Whatever wasn’t covered by the other sweat shop members was relegated to the Co-pilot’s parents who were tasked with running around Sydney collecting last minute supplies. A crucial role that my (new!) in-laws convinced me I should delegate and clawed away from my tight clutches, was project managing the actual wedding day – from decoration to pack up. They did this in conjunction with our friend Steph, an experienced events co-ordinator, and in hind sight – yes, I’m supremely glad I didn’t actually have any additional things to worry about on the day, other than walking down that aisle.
Win # 5 – pray.
Sometimes, all the contingency plans in the world can’t prevent mother nature dumping a bucket load of precipitation on you. But, if you’re really lucky, as we miraculously were on our wedding day, you could be blessed with the rare single day of sunshine in what was essentially a solid month of rain in February.
If that US-based Bridezilla show was anything to go by, I wouldn’t have passed the casting tests. I didn’t tell my bridesmaids to lose weight or cut their hair or wear something atrocious; didn’t throw a punch,”cuss”, dis-invite (or threaten to dis-invite) anyone, or disown a friend or family member. At one point, I forced the Co-pilot watch the show whilst pointing out what a catch I really was. Disappointingly this only drew a raised eyebrow and pregnant silence. He thinks that his role was merely to try and keep the budget under control, and on occasion, hand over his wallet with appropriate soothing words. Bah. Sometimes you need a bridezilla to get the show on the road.
See all the planning come together for our wedding day in the next wedding post.