Abby was a seasoned vet when it came to wedding planning, having planned over 200 in her career. She worked on her own and directly for a banquet facility/restaurant. She had seen a lot through the years, but none worse than one of the last weddings she helped plan before leaving the business completely. It started innocently enough, meeting with the bride and her father at the restaurant to start the planning process. She learned a lot about them and what they had in mind for the wedding and in retrospect, some of it should have sent up some red flags for the experienced planner. Sadly, she did not recognize them when she should have.
When Abby first met them, she was very intrigued by the bride and groom's story, saying,
"She was a white American girl, engaged to an Asian-American man who was currently deployed with the military," and continued, "I loved her story and their story as a couple and it was touching and clear that Dad was there trying to give her the best wedding, for 100 people, on a budget."
Abby plainly admits she didn't see the red flags.
"[My] love for their story totally clouded my judgment."
Maybe if she hadn't been clouded, she would have noticed the problems right away.
Abby really wanted this wedding to work. She was so taken by the love story that she made a number of concessions she never usually made.
Among the exceptions she made were allowing the mother of the groom to make a special dish to be served at dinner, allowing the family to handle the rental of the tents, plus the tables, chairs and plates, etc...
But the silliest concession she made? Clearly it was changing the payment schedule. Abby explains that she allowed them to "pay gratuity and the last $500 of their proposed contract within a week after the wedding because they were going to use 'wedding gift' money to aid in as much of that as possible."
She did this because, according to her, she "empathized with Dad not having the money he planned for his daughter's special day but trying his very best."
As a wise person once said, the road to perdition is filled with good intentions. This freeway didn't lead all the way to perdition, but it came within a couple of exits of it.
About two weeks out from the wedding with the contracts having been all signed, including specific details as to the schedule, the outside food, and the rest of it, it was time to get the final guest count and get down to the nitty-gritty. The original plan was for 100 guests. The tents that had been ordered, the tables and chairs, the place settings, the food had all been arranged with 100 in mind.
Now, it's not unreasonable for the final count to be off by a handful, like 104 or 97, something not exact, but not outrageous. Wedding planners, including Abby, expect and plan for that. But the final count here, according to Abby, was 132, an almost 33% increase on the original plan! She tried to explain to the bride how big of an issue this was.
"The tent is going to be too small and that this will definitely affect their dance floor and that they need to adjust the rental. I also pointed out that the restaurant could accommodate the overage for our part BUT that they needed to talk to their seafood person and the future mother-in-law about the increased numbers for food planning."
Abby and her team would try to make do, but she worried it would be difficult. It actually got worse when the big day arrived.
Abby knew the tent that the family set up in the backyard for the reception would be crowded with the anticipated guest list of 132. When she arrived, she and her team tried to make things work, but with one problem: rain was in the forecast, because, of course, everything is conspiring against Abby. She said of the set up inside the tent:
"We try to tweak what we can so there are clear walkways but rain is in the forecast and we can't push past the tent perimeter to do overflow into the rest of the lawn."
From then on, things actually were looking up. At least for a little while.
The team got to work, Abby describes the scene.
"By noon it looked pretty good though and really was taking shape when the florist arrived with centerpieces." That doesn't last long though, as she continues, "I get a call from my restaurant that the chefs are preparing the catering truck and no seafood has been dropped off yet. The seafood doesn't arrive until 3:00. My head chef claimed it was the quantity he would have ordered if dinner service was for 80 guests. We all agree this is now a problem."
Abby takes it from here:
"I'm onsite and the 4:00 ceremony starts and my team plus chefs are there and ready. We begin hors d'oeuvres service on time at 4:45. The bridal party leaves for pictures, dinner is supposed to be 6:30. Somewhere in there, it begins raining a heavy, light-flooding type of rain for about 20-30 minutes. Apparently, waiting that monsoon out is what made the bridal party 45 minutes late for dinner."
In the midst of the storm, dinner was served, for most people anyway. Remember, only enough seafood for 80 was delivered, but the talented chefs stretched that to 100. The groom's mother's dish only managed to serve 60. There were 132 guests and many had to survive on a few sides. Then, they ran out of plates. Abby explained:
"It became very apparent to my team that the rental order was still for 100." Oops. She continues, "My team starts putting cake plates on the buffet and doing dishes in their kitchen and at some point, they were basically out of food."
After the disastrous dinner that left everyone hungry came the dancing. The original plan was for Abby and her team to move the tables outside the tent to open the dance floor. Of course, that didn't happen.
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The rain had flooded and soaked the dance floor and made it impossible to move the tables outside and off the dance floor. This was getting ugly. A crowd 1/3 too big for the space was now trapped by the weather in the tent. The poor bride and groom tried to have their first dance, and as Abby describes, "the bride and groom ended up attempting the traditional first dances and parent dances in 6 square feet." Six square feet is probably enough room to bob back and forth, being careful not to move your feet for fear of tripping over a chair, a table leg or your dance partner! Of course, that would happen later.
But first, the party moved inside.
With the rain and the close quarters in the tent, many of the family and friends at the wedding moved inside the house. Specifically, the kitchen, as parties often do. For Abby, this was a big problem, as she explains:
"This included the kitchen my team was trying to work out of and cut cake in, which sucked AND involved the guests cheekily 'squeezing by' to get drinks out of the host's fridge" and even taking shots at Abby and her company, saying that "'they didn't get to eat'" or 'my restaurant didn't bring enough food'" and loudly complaining about the situation and mother nature, as if they were Abby's fault. The complaining continued with "'the tent area is a mucky swamp ' and 'was I there when the bride slipped on the dance floor?' or 'was I aware that the groom's mother didn't even get to have her own side dish and was angry about that?'" The groom's mother? She's the one that didn't cook enough, to begin with!
Finally, mercifully, the night came to an end. Abby and her team cleaned and went home. It wasn't until later that night that Abby remembered the extra $500 and gratuity that was still left on the bill. She wouldn't have time to dwell on that though, because a few days later she got a nasty letter from the bride.
The following Monday, the letter arrived. The bride's letter included a list of grievances that were entirely of her and her family's making, including "basically ran out of food and her own mother-in-law didn't get to eat her own dish."
Again with the dish that Abby wasn't even responsible for! It was all too much for Abby. She did feel a little bad, so she forgave the remaining balance. She also made some other changes.
In the days and weeks that followed, Abby changed her business dramatically.
"We sold the catering truck. We never did another on-site event in my time there. I got strict about our contracting policies and never deviated from them again, no matter how much I liked the couple."
And she wrapped up the whole awful ordeal with a few takeaways:
"1. If you are worried about your wedding, it can't possibly be as bad as this.
2. If you rent a tent, get a bigger tent than you think you'll need. No really, just get a BIG tent.
3. When you think about 'What if it rains?' don't just envision cute, sprinkly, kissed-in-the-rain rain, consider Monsoon-End-Of-Days rain.
4. Don't make your own food or have relatives make their own food, especially if you are downplaying how many people you really need food for.
5. Understand that catering companies and restaurants have policies in place because they've likely all had a wedding-gone-wrong story, at least once. They aren't trying to be inflexible, they are trying to provide you with a reliably wonderful experience."
Caterers have a tough job. They are expected to be perfect, at all times, no matter the situation or the realities of life. Abby proved herself to be capable and even overly accommodating and for it, she lost money and was criticized for things not only out of her control but things she warned the clients about. Clients can be truly terrible.