Wedding Wednesday: Finding a Caterer

This week’s “Tying the Knot without Breaking the Bank ” post is a piggyback onto last week’s post where I offered money saving tips when picking a wedding venue.

I recommend checking out the previous posts first, before deciding on anything food related.  It’s key to first know the date and what time of day your wedding will be — this can help you make some food decisions right off the bat. 

So, you’ve picked a date and hopefully a venue at this point (or venues: ceremony and reception).  Now it’s time to focus on that whole feeding-your-wedding guests thing — reception food!  Depending on the limitations of your venue, you may be forced to use one of their preferred vendors.  Such was the case with Josh and I when using the Foundry at Puritan Mill in Atlanta.  And this fact almost made me walk away from this venue.

However, I was super honest with the representative at the Foundry, and that made all the difference.  I asked her right up front which of her preferred caterers she thought would be the most reasonable, price-wise.  She gave me two recommendations, one of which I ended up using (Carole Parks Catering — and they did an excellent job).

photo by jk Dallas Photography

photo by jk Dallas Photography

photo by jk Dallas Photography

Faced with a morning wedding, we decided on 11:00.  Not too early, but not so late that we were getting married in the middle of lunch time.  Our ceremony was about 45 minutes long, so by the time the chair/table transition happened, everyone was enjoying brunch around 12:00.  Ok, so maybe that’s more of a lunch hour, but I didn’t notice anyone complaining — in fact, we got enough food for about 300 people, about 250 showed up, and there were no leftovers.  So, lots of food that everyone seemed to love and still extremely affordable — because I explained up front that price was one of the most important factors and if they couldn’t work with me, I could work with someone else.  I wasn’t rude about it, but honest.  This polite honesty helped me get an even better price than I anticipated (though I never let on), and it also helped lay the groundwork for a positive rapport between the account executive and I (and this rapport helped us get a few freebies along the way!)

Fortunately, the catering company had an in-house bakery that we were able to take advantage of in the form of a delicious wedding cake with a small price tag (comparatively).

(Picture Time, Part 3!)

photo by jk Dallas Photography

photo by jk Dallas Photography

photo by jk Dallas Photography

However, some catering companies don’t have an in-house bakery or they charge a cake cutting fee or some other such nonsense.  Make sure when making an honest and reasonable budget for food that you consider the cost of a cake and any other dessert you may want (a groom’s cake, for example).

Ok, so aside from getting married on a Sunday morning in January, having a brunch (arguably the lest expensive meal), and using pluck, kindess, and honesty with the caterer, there are additional ways to save money with a wedding:

  • If you’re hosting a backyard wedding (or one at the home of a friend or family member), there’s no reason in the world why you can’t take care of the food yourself!  Go to a warehouse club like Sam’s or Costco (borrow someone’s card if you don’t have your own) and buy whatever you’re wanting in bulk.  The Petersiks over at Young House Love hosted their own backyard barbecue to much success and spent less than $1,000 on food, drinks, and cake (check out their wedding post here).
  • If you’re looking for even bigger savings, perhaps enlist the help of friends and family, potluck style.  Figure out a menu, then approach each individual requesting their help in lieu of a gift.  It’s definitely non-traditional, but it would certainly make for a unique reception, and if you’re clear with your request (“Please make 1 tray of macaroni and cheese?”), then it can still have the finished feel that other catered  receptions have.  However, bear in mind that without a caterer, you also are without a waitstaff, so consider seeking volunteers for this as well (or hire your own) — this is definitely not something you or your parents (and future in-laws) should have to worry about on the big day.
  • It really should go without saying, but a sit down dinner will always cost more than a buffet.  Of course.  And if you’re really seeking to save money, this couldn’t be a more obvious first step to make.  I understand that it’s a regional thing (buffet style is more prevalent in the South, sit down dinners are more prevalent in the North), but I honestly don’t see the harm (or tacky-ness) in allowing people to get food for themselves.  (In fact, I prefer it as a wedding guest.)  This way the guests actually get what they want, and a buffet encourages a more relaxed and social environment (versus sitting in chairs at tables that have been assigned to them).  And if you didn’t want to socialize with friends and family on your wedding day, you would’ve just done the justice of the peace thing, right?
  • It’s a common misconception that hors d’oevres are cheaper than an actual meal (and I mean buffet style, in this instance).  Sometimes hors d’oevres are cheaper, however in the ever evolving foodie world, hors d’oevres are becoming less about tapas/appetizer/small bites o’ food and more about works of art  (those mini grilled cheeses probably took twice as much time to make as that tray of macaroni cheese and probably feed half as many people).  This added labor can up the price quickly… and we don’t like that.  Again, this is not a black and white thing, but don’t assume that hors d’oevres are always the thriftiest option; explore various options with your caterer until you get the price you want.  Which leads me to my next point:
  • Most caterers will do a free estimate for you, which means a sample menu of what you can expect if you choose them (along with a personalized price list based on the size of your event, i.e., the number of guests you expect).  Until you’ve given them a deposit, don’t feel you have some sort of allegiance to anyone, and if they cannot meet your needs in the price range that works for you, don’t feel guilty about walking away.  Be realistic, but be thorough in your search for a good product at a good price.
  • Negotiate.  Don’t be scared.  I didn’t settle with the first estimate I received, however delicious it sounded.  I went through the menu and realized there were some unnecessary things (or foods that most people would probably pass on, therefore potential waste).  I responded with specific suggestions and requests, until we figured out an affordable menu that I thought would actually be enjoyed (much less, eaten).  These little tweaks also helped bring the price down a wee bit… which is always good.
  • Be true to who you are as a couple.  Do you actually like the food you’re serving?  If you were going to celebrate a major accomplishment, would you go out for steak or order a pizza?  I’m not saying call Domino’s to cater your wedding (though that would be undeniably fun), but be honest with your own personal style (and budget limitations) and make food choices that actually make sense with you as a couple.  You will enjoy the day more, and it will be a celebration that’s authentically you. Not to mention your guests will appreciate this and enjoy themselves more.  (Except for Aunt Frances who won’t be able to stop clutching her pearls over… something scandalous.  Who knows what.)
  • Have a tea!  Scones, finger sandwiches, pastries… and tea, of course.  This would be inexpensive, and you wouldn’t have to apologize for it as long as you pick a time of day that’s appropriate to this type of food (so a reception some time between 1:00 and 4:00).  And of course, it’s even better if you give your guests a heads up on the invitation (“Tea reception to follow”), that way they know exactly what to expect and are prepared.
  • Chicken is cheaper than steak or seafood.  And pasta is cheaper than most anything, not to mention it can stretch more.
  • Skip the cocktail hour.  Yes, as the bride and groom (or bride and bride or groom and groom), you may want a minute to yourselves to relax, take pictures, bask in newly-wed-ness, but your guests will be perfectly fine without the passed plates and martinis.  They can wait.  And in the mean time, you can provide them with something to do until the food comes out.  We had a wish jar where everyone could write “wishes” for us to read after the wedding (and these “wishes” proved both lovely and humorous).  You could also do a photo booth or an interactive guest book (a videographer interviews your guests).  There are endless possibilities to occupy your guests, so don’t worry about a little extra food that they probably won’t notice anyway (not to mention a cocktail hour requires more waitstaff, i.e., hundreds of more dollars).
  • Consider what foods will be in season when you are getting married, especially certain fruits, which may cost more at different times of the year (as well as flowers — more on that in a few weeks).
  • We had a dry wedding.  Gasp!  Was this our first choice?  Not exactly, but it was the most cost-effective choice (we’re talking the difference of a few thousand dollars with our particular venue), and with a lot of Baptists in the family (I say this with love), paired with the fact that we were getting married on a Sunday morning… yeah, a dry wedding just made the most sense.  If Josh and I had to do it over again, the only thing we would have done differently was celebrated with some of our closest friends at a bar or something afterwards, but this was hardly a thing that ruined the wedding (or so I believe when I look at pictures of my friends dancing like crazy people at the reception).  Again, this being a Sunday morning wedding, this omission was a lot more justifiable than if it was an evening wedding.  My money saving point in all of this is:  a dry wedding is the cheapest, but if you want alcohol at your wedding (beyond a champagne toast), you need to make sure your venue doesn’t make this impossible.  A cash bar is sometimes an option, however there are many sides to this and many people have strong opinions, and in general, a lot of folks out there think a cash bar is… tacky. You know your friends and family, and you can make the final ruling on this, but I knew it wasn’t something I was interested in.
  • Also, venues vary, but be careful of the “we’ll charge per drink”/tally system that some venues do. Limit the alcohol to just the first 2 hours, or just wine and beer, or just a signature (pre-mixed) cocktail.  And if you have a little more freedom, then providing your own alcohol would definitely be more cost-effective (a few kegs and 2 buck chuck from Trader Joe’s — you can’t beat it!).

That’s all the wisdom I have for today (if you can call it that).  Hope these tips help!  And as always, if you’re reading this from a “been there, done that” standpoint and you feel you have a few tips to offer, please do so in the comments section below (or click on the permalink above to be directed to the comments section).  Thanks!

Check out the previous Wedding Wednesday posts:


Setting a Date

Finding a Venue


National Soup Month: Crockpot Mexi-Tater Chicken Soup

In my fourth and final installment for National Soup Month (also knows as January), I bring you:

And here’s the MS Word doc, for another printable version:  The GPP’s Mexi-Tater Chicken Soup

Delicious, delightful, easy, and yeah… in case you’ve noticed, I like heartier, cheesy soups.  So sue me.  I like to cut calories in other ways…  that’s what salads are for :)

Hope you enjoy!  And in case you missed the other budget-friendly, delicious-delightful-and-dairy-infused soup recipes, check ’em out right here:

National Soup Month:

Creamy Tomato Basil Soup (a la La Madeleine Restaurant)

Teresa’s Clam “Chowder”

Teresa’s Potato Cheese Soup

Twelve Weeks of Christmas, Week 3: DIY Tile Coaster Tutorial

Part 3 in a series of 12

Pause.  Before you read on, you should check out the previous posts of this series, The Twelve Weeks of Christmas:


Week 1: Online Shopping Tips and Tricks

Week 2: How to Make a Bowl out of an Old Vinyl Record

It can’t hurt, right?

Oh boy! Oh boy!  Since I began this series three weeks ago, I’ve been more than a little excited about this particular post as it is one of my FAVORITE and most beloved gift ideas, ever!  I thought I might save this as one of the final posts, but the sun was shining today and my fire escape, i.e., my photography studio was calling my name, so I answered!  The answer was “Yes,” clearly.

(I can’t take very useful pictures inside my apartment, so I have to wait for days when it’s not raining to get shots… something we’ve been lacking here lately.   Also, my camera has been at the residence of one Maria Aparo, being used to take pictures of her $100 apartment makeover – an exciting, future post on this in the next few weeks!)

So, after a stellar fire escape photography session with my less than stellar camera, I am ready to give you this tutorial.  But before we dive in to the how-to’s (and how-not-to’s), let’s take a gander at the things we’re going to be making:

Tile Coaster

Ta da!

Tile coasters

Sassy and askew. Silly coasters.

Tile coaster cork bottom

Work it, cork contact paper.

Tile coasters

Sassy and askew, part 2

Ooh… ahhh…. These coasters are of one of my favorite gifts to give because nearly always the gift recipient says something along the lines of “Wow!  Cool!  Where’d you find these?”  To which I reply “I made them, silly!”  (Actually, that’s not true… more often than not, I initially reply with “Not telling you, but you should know they were VERY expensive and I will not be spending this much money on you next Christmas.”  Actually… that’s not true either.)

I also love these coasters because they cost nearly NOTHING to make.  In fact, a set of four coasters puts me out about $3.  No, I know.  For real.  A cost-effective, yet high quality gift like this makes me sing opera notes spontaneously.   (Ooh! -what if one of those words from that last sentence was a link of me singing an opera note?  Fun!  Sorry, you’re just going to have to imagine it for now).

So… without further ado, I give you:

The GPP’S DIY Tile Coaster Tutorial

Supplies needed:

4 X 4 Tiles (my tried, true, and tested, personal fave)

Aluminum foil

Hair dryer (optional)

Photocopied images (more on this below)


Elmer’s Glue

A foam brush or small paint brush

Varnish: Mod Podge, Minwax Polycrylic, whatever strikes your fancy, as long as it’s non-yellowing and weather-proof, i.e., WATERPROOF

Cork contact paper or felt/cork furniture pads

A rockin’ coaster making playlist (optional, but highly recommended)

tile coaster supplies

Supplies. Don't be overwhelmed -- you do not need ALL of these necessarily. Keep reading...

Step One: 

First things first – You need to decide what you want on your coasters.  With an amazing thing out there called Google Image Search, the sky’s the limit, really.  Of course, if you are making these coasters to sell them, that’s another matter entirely, as many pictures have trademarks, copyrights, or royalties attached to them.  Going forward, I’ll assume you are making these coasters as gifts, so again… sky’s the limit!

Here are some ideas for coaster images that I have done (or plan to do one day):

Family photos

Movie poster images

Fine art images

Comic books

Vintage ads

Beverage related art


Once you figure out what images you want to use, make a photocopy of these.  Typically, what I do is find four images, download them into my computer (you know: right click, “Save as,” etc.), and format them in Paintbrush and/or Microsoft Word so that they are only 3.5” X 3.5” each.  As you can tell, I am NOT particularly high-tech, BUT you absolutely do not have to be for this project.  Most everyone has Paintbrush and/or Microsoft Word, and with both of these programs you can resize or crop an image easily (let me know if you have trouble with this in the comments below, and I can put together another tutorial J ).  Since my color printer leaves much to be desired – and honestly I don’t like to waste color ink – I usually send these images electronically to a copy center website and pick them up in the store (ink jet pictures will NOT work).  After trial and error, I have found that Staples is the most cost-effective resource, and I am always pleased with the end results.

Simply go to, make a free account, and click on the “Copy and Print Services” link.  Click on “Start a Copy Project” and upload your document or images (for me, it’s always a MS Word document with four images on each page, as this minimizes paper usage).  After your image or document uploads, they will give you a series of options: the most important ones to pick are “color copying” (as opposed to black and white), and the cheapest paper option which is the “Letter Standard White (24 lb.)”  — only 59 cents a page!  Once you get your confirmation e-mail, you can pick it up in the store.  Easy.

Here are some of my pre-cut images I have in mind for future projects.

Step Two: 

(Wow, that was a long Step One, but I assure you the others will not be quite that verbose.)

Clean your tiles.  Just get a damp cloth to brush away the dust that is inherent in these types of tiles.  Let dry completely.

Agora Tiles

Step Three:

Lay out a sheet of aluminum foil and place your tiles upon it.  This is to protect your work surface from the varnish you will use in future steps.  I have found this to be the best solution because when I am done with the project, I can simply throw away the aluminum foil and nothing has been damage by dried globs of varnish (they’re almost impossible to clean up).  The aluminum foil acts a lot like wax paper does when you’re making chocolate covered pretzels or the like – when dry, you can peel things off of it without sticking.

Aluminum foil: varnish-tastic projects::wax paper:chocolate covered pretzels. There, I just used my SAT skills.

Step Four:

Attach the images to the tiles.  Cut out the images so there is no white border showing, then use Elmer’s Glue or Mod Podge (or an off brand version of either) and glue the images to the tiles. Make sure you coat the entire surface using a foam brush to spread the glue so there are no lumps later.  Then, center the image on the tile and smooth out to the best of your ability.  This is a crucial part of the waterproofing process, because if there are lumps or bubbles, especially at the edges, water, i.e., sweat from your glasses will be able to seep under these vulnerable places and ruin the seal.  I like to use a clean towel to rub the image and work it into the nooks and crannies of the stone façade (these tiles are not perfectly smooth on the top, but that will add to the character later, I promise!)  After that, I use a blow dryer on a low setting so that there is no opportunity for moisture to seep in – if you don’t have a blow dryer, place the tiles on the floor in front of your refrigerator  (this is a Teresa Foster tip and it always works if you want to dry something quickly, especially wet shoes).

Dollar Tree Represent!

Step Five:

Apply 4-5 coats of varnish.  My preference is a foam brush because they leave behind no brush strokes.  I allow at least 30 minutes in between coats, but I’m sure it wouldn’t hurt to wait longer.  In between coats, I wrap a Ziploc bag around the foam brush and seal with a rubber band around the handle, that way I can reuse the same brush for each coat (because I promise, the foam brush will dry just as fast as the coasters).

Step Six:

Allow tiles to cure over night.  Very important because if a tile is even slightly tacky, it will not be a functional and waterproof coaster.  (If you used a glue-like varnish like Mod Podge, I recommend spraying with a sealant of some sort.)

Step Seven:

Once tiles are completely dry, attach cork contact paper or furniture pads to the bottom.  This will protect whatever surface you place your coaster on and will also prevent scratching other coasters when they are stacked on top of each other.  I am a big fan of the cork contact paper because: it can cover the entire bottom of the tile; it’s already sticky so it requires no glue; and it just has a more finished look this way… but furniture pads are okay, too (you can get a pack at Dollar Tree for… a dollar.)  But contact paper is better.  Just so you know where I stand on the issue.

Step Eight:

Sign the bottom of the coaster.   After all, it is YOUR work of art!  I like to sign my name on the edge (that isn’t covered by contact paper), and then put the occasion and the date, e.g.,” Christmas 2011,” “Happy Birthday!,” “25th Annual Dragon-Con,” whatever.  Put a note in the gift box/bag that offers cleaning instructions (by the way, ONLY wipe with a damp cloth – no soap or cleaning products, no abrasive scrubbers, no immersing in water).

And… You’re done, and it was super easy and cheap!  So cheap in fact, I felt compelled to do a price list.

After the initial purchase of varnish, which usually runs somewhere between $4-$10 a bottle, you’ll have enough varnish to make a hundred coasters (really).  Same goes for the Elmer’s glue, which is usually no more than a dollar a bottle (and if it’s more than that, go to Dollar Tree where it’s always…a dollar.)  Cork contact paper is usually $3 a roll, but it will also last you a while.  Assuming you have aluminum foil somewhere in your kitchen, the only purchases per project you’d have to make would be:

4 tiles X 33 cents/ea. = $1.32

I page of images from the Staples Copy Center = $0.59

I foam brush = $0.25

For a grand total of:   $2.16, plus tax

So, not counting staple items that will last you for MANY projects to come, each set of coasters is less than $3!  YES!!!  GPP approved — Especially considering similar coaster sets can run anywhere from $15-$30 in most gift shops.  Better still, you can personalize these to fit the taste of the gift recipient (so, you only have to give them coasters with kittens and butterflies on them if you really want to).

One more time...

Tell me what you think in the comment section below!  Does this seem like a gift you’d like to give someone (or keep for yourself)?  If so, who will be your gift recipients?  Will you give ME any presents?  (You don’t have to answer the last one.)