Thursday, March 31, 2011

Customizing the Catering Package

I realized that I haven't talked much about the reception details at our venue other than telling you how awesome and gorgeous we think the place is, so I'm gonna remedy that today.  Besides all that obvious awesomeness and the gorgeousness, there was another critically important factor that sold us on the Parc 55: the price per person of their packages.  But lest you think we simply chose a package level and breezily signed a contract (you wouldn't think that of me, would you?), you better believe we first customized the crap out of that thing!

When you're looking at package deals, aways keep in mind three key words:  everything is negotiable! 

The folder of information we received when we toured the venue said that wedding packages at the Parc 55 included: room rental, hors d'oeuvres (display station and passed apps), dinner, one hour of hosted bar service, house wines during dinner, champagne toast, cake cutting fee, tablecloths and chair covers, and a suite the night of the wedding. 

Because these were included with all wedding packages, I at first assumed they were non-negotiable.  But with a little bit of extensive question-asking (and remembering the three key words), I uncovered some pretty sweet information.  First, the display station included in the hors d'oeuvres package could be brought out later in the evening (for a late night snack) or it could be removed altogether for a savings of $5/person.  If you're having 100 people, that's a $500 savings right there - all because you didn't include a cheese station! 

By no means do we want our guests to go hungry, though, so I asked about our options for late night snacks.  The hotel could provide some snacky foods on a per person basis (like $6/person for sliders - what?!), but I was greeted with a resounding "No!" when I asked about having pizza delivered to the ballroom.  HOWEVER with some creative questioning on my part I learned that there are limited exceptions to their "no outside food and drink" policy, and those exceptions are wedding cakes and wedding favors.  Thinking creatively (and economically), we decided to go with a cake buffet in lieu of a traditional wedding cake so that we can let them eat [more] cake!

As for the favors, well...  I'm a fairly good liar, if I do say so myself, yet I was pretty skeptical about my ability to pass off pizza delivery as our wedding favor.  But a candy buffet is another story.  They're a common favor these days and a good option if you wanna give your guests a little more food, either to take with them or to enjoy right then.  Now of course, when I've been drinking and dancing all night I want carb-heavy and greasy, not pretty and sugary.  But I also wouldn't be choosy if pretty and sugary was the only option.  I'm hoping that between passed apps, dinner, the cake buffet and the candy buffet, our guests will stay full and satisfied enough to party with us all night long.

Another "No" I got was to my question about reducing the package cost by removing the tablecloths and chair covers from the package (since we'll be bringing in our own), but I did find out that the champagne toast could be optional, which is great for us since neither of us drink champagne.  I'm sure the toasts will be no less merry or meaningful if accompanied by wine or cocktails rather than some bubbly.  And at a savings of $3/person, I actually might be more merry this way!

Now on to that behemoth of wedding reception costs...  everyone's frenemy the bar package.  For us, alcohol options (call brand, premium brand, wine/beer only) were priced at 4 hours each.  At first we considered serving only wine and beer, since that would please most of our guests.  But speaking as someone who only drinks cocktails, I prefer events where there's a full bar option.  At first that left us unsure of how we could save money on the alcohol, but when I went back and read what's included in our wedding package, I knew there was a way! 

The hotel was giving us one hour of hosted bar FREE, plus they were serving house wines at dinner FREE.  Basically that meant cocktail hour and dinner hour were already taken care of, leaving only 3.5 hours of our reception to cover.  I don't know about you, but it's not that important to us that people be able to order a drink right as they're leaving our reception.  So if we shut down the bar for the last half hour, then we only needed 3 hours of hosted bar service.  With a little heavy requesting on my part, we were able to reduce the bar package to 3 hours rather than 4, and the savings for that was $6/person.  Yes!!

Also, just because I asked, I convinced them not to charge a beverage cost for children or vendors.  I'm gonna take a risk here and state openly that I don't believe children or vendors should be drinking alcohol at our reception, mmkay?  Thanks. 

Turns out there wasn't much negotiating room when it came to the price per person of dinner, and that IS the most expensive part of the overall cost.  But we weren't looking to nickel and dime our way into an almost-free reception, nor did we want to remove so many things from the package that it would diminish the overall experience of our guests.  We want everyone to have a *fabulous* time ~ and if we can save some money in the process, so much the fabulouser!

Oh, and one more thing.  NEVER be lured in by the posted prices without being d*mn sure that you're including the service charge and sales tax in that price.  Our venue requires a 21% service charge and San Francisco sales tax is 9.5%.  Those numbers increased our price per person by a whopping $32/person.  You could very quickly go way over budget just by forgetting to add in these extra charges.

The total price per person is still pretty steep by almost any standard, but with the changes we made it comes in really close to or even below all the other venue quotes we got.  Awesome venue + reasonable cost = a Win/Win situation in my book. 

Moral(s) of the story:  First, always be nice.  (It's that whole "catching more flies with honey" thing.).  Second, don't be afraid to ask about *anything* but know that you will have to withstand some "No" responses in order to find the "Yes" ones.  And lasty, stay flexible and creative in the questions you ask and the suggestions you make.  

Now it's your turn.  Share your best cost-saving negotiation, wedding-related or otherwise.  It's okay to gloat a little!  :-)

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