The 90-day mark before our wedding is March 2nd. At this point, we anticipated having in place all of the major aspects of the wedding and having mostly little things to take care of--scheduling final fittings for the dress and tux, getting the marriage license, finalizing decoration plans and gearing up for a big cooking day toward the end of May. Friends had rallied around us, offering space in their freezers and the use of their cooking and serving pieces. And, as the last week of February rolled in, we felt pretty good.
The Wedding Takes Shape: A Change in Plans
Then on February 24th, we got a phone call that would change almost everything.....
We had booked an indoor park owned by the City of St. Paul early last May for our May 31st reception. We could do our own catering there. And we liked the site a lot: it has trees, greenery and waterfalls, and it was mostly glass, which would let in the night sky.
That Monday we got a message from park staff wanting to "talk about your upcoming event." When I finally reached the new, temporary manager of the park on Wednesday, he told me that:
◾ the former manager had resigned three weeks before, and he himself was just a temporary fill-in
◾the floors below the park, which is on the third floor, had been bought by a local real estate company planning to gut the place for major renovation
◾there would be at least two parts of the renovation that would impact the park
◾there could be no assurance about how much of an impact that construction would have at the time of our reception
◾the real estate company was not returning his phone calls on a timely basis and although he believed most of the construction would be completed by May 31st, he could not provide a guarantee on any level of completeness of the construction nor on the impact on the park. He also offered to return our deposit (which was minimal) if we elected not to have our event there, and also to reduce the rental rate if there were problems the night of the reception.
We talked about the situation at length that night. We figured the construction had to be extensive and the mess potentially really bad for the park manager to call. And he could not or would not make guarantees. To his credit, however, he did seem to be honest about the possible extent of the construction and made it clear that he was continuing to try to get answers out of the real estate company.
After an awful lot of soul-searching, phone calls to our families, and several heart-to-heart conversations, Doug and I determined that the level of assurance we were receiving from the park was not enough. Despite the temporary manager's best intentions, he had no way of ensuring that the park would not be a disaster the day of our wedding. And even if he totally waived the rental fee because of heavy construction interference on May 31st, that would not change the fact that the reception would be ruined.
A New Site--At a Price
I started looking for new places. Needless to say, most of the places I called were booked. We did find two sites that were available--and they would cost several thousand dollars more in food and rental costs. Because we had planned to do our own catering, the food bill was about $6.50/person for a buffet dinner.
We decided against one of the two places because of its cost and lack of character, and we visited the other. That site is called the Commodore, and it has a lovely art deco dining room, lounge and bar. It fit the bill for all the things we wanted in a reception site--it had an elegant ambiance, a nice dance floor and a tasteful decorating scheme. The bar area is particularly beautiful; it dates from the 1920s, and notables such as F. Scott Fitzgerald frequented it in its heyday. As expected, the Commodore does not permit outside caterers. The price for "heavy hors d'oeuvres" would be about $20/person. After several phone calls updating them on the situation, my parents graciously and generously offered to pick up the difference. We will trim our guest list as well. We booked the Commodore on March 1st--91 days before the wedding.
Some Thoughts on the Change
It took a long time to find our original park site: a place that we liked and that would let us do our own catering. I knew I couldn't find a second such place on short notice. What's fortunate for us is that my parents are willing and able to help out. Other brides and grooms might not have that option, and they might think it's a cop-out--just throw money at a problem and it will disappear. I sympathize with that assessment; however, I don't think it's completely true, and I believe that we weren't just copping out.
There were things that we probably could have done to try to salvage the situation. We could have made regular and insistent contact with the park, working with the new manager to make sure the site was clean and undamaged. We could have contacted the real estate company to determine their timeline and kept in touch with them to determine the extent of the park construction. We could have insisted that the rental fee be waived because no one could give us any assurances. These steps would take an investment of time, and in the end there would likely be no guarantee that we and our guests would not be walking into a total mess.
However, I guess when it came down to it, we just didn't want to risk holding a formal reception in the midst of plaster dust, scaffolding and plastic sheeting, not to mention the possibility of paint smells and heavy equipment. I want our wedding to be memorable, but not because the guests got ill at the smell of paint or were slipping on sawdust! The amount of money we were spending on the reception was substantial to us, and we wanted our guests to have a fun time in a nice place with good food. We couldn't depend on the park to help us deliver that.
On a more personal, less financial level, I am truly disappointed that our carefully crafted plans have fallen through. I was really looking forward to having a wedding and reception that would reflect our individuality, and the menu was a significant part of that character. And that's only a small part of the plans that have to be changed: for example, our decorations were planned for a country-garden theme, and many of them won't look as nice in an art deco setting. We will, of course, modify them, but I can't help but fear that the whole thing will look pieced together instead of presenting a harmonious effect. And while I can return some of the service- and food-related items and some of the unused decorative materials, I will be stuck with much of it.
I don't want to imply that making this decision was easy for us. It was very hard for me to tell my parents about the situation. They were the ones to suggest that we make the change because they would help fund the difference in cost. I think because I knew they would react this way, I was afraid to tell them. They are not wealthy people, but they have repeatedly assured us that this is something they want to do for us. I am not sure what we would have done if my parents had not had the capability and willingness to chip in; probably we would have stayed at the original site, tried to manage the situation, hoped for the best and expected the worst.
If there's a lesson we gained from this experience, it's three-fold. First, be prepared for the unexpected. A friend of mine claims that every wedding has to have at least one major trauma that is no fault of the couple's but that changes plans substantially. It only stands to reason that no matter how closely you watch things and how completely you plan, in an undertaking of this size something will go awry. Second, don't be too attached to any single aspect of your wedding. You don't want to have all your enthusiasm quenched by that one major trauma. You can always come up with ideas that are as good or better than the original ones--and you will. And third, and most important, there's a silver lining in every cloud. My mom keeps saying that this situation is probably a blessing in disguise. I think she is secretly relieved because she believes that neither she nor I will have to worry about food getting made beforehand and served properly because we'll be paying someone to do it. I suppose I have to admit a certain level of relief, too. The amount of work we would have put in before the wedding in food preparation would have been substantial, and although I was excited about it, I am glad to have the extra time for other details. And it will be nice to have the friends who had so kindly offered to give their time and effort in cooking and serving be able to be guests again.