Wedding Week: the reception saga


A couple days before the wedding, my parents and I met with the caterer at the country club to finalize a few things. We walked through the dining rooms and dance floor. She pointed to tables and explained this is where the bride's family will sit, and this is where the groom's family will sit. She would reserve the tables near the head table for the families. Because that's what you do at weddings.
We sat in a room upstairs and drew diagrams of place settings. Flowers here, napkins here, guest favors here. We discussed plate and silverware options. Big dinner plates were to be at each place setting, with the silverware. Cups would be up by the drinks. For the food? Delicious crab dip and bread, fruit, cheese, a carving station with a chef carving beef, big white hat and all. And my personal favorite? A pasta station. Think: man making made-to-order pasta on a skillet right in front of you with any toppings your heart desires. And meatballs, because I guess southerners like that kind of thing? She literally fought me to the death on this. This girl don't eat no meatballs. Yuck.

There would be lots of coffee, because, as she put it "you northerners just have to have your coffee."  Coffee > meatballs. Every time.

I digress.

Everything was settled. She had a meeting with her staff that evening to relay the information. She said she would bring her "best" staff to work the reception. She showed me the gorgeous purple linens she had picked for the tables. She also told us she had found us a professional DJ she knew very well who would give us a great deal. He had lots of experience with weddings, all his own equipment, and he promised to stick to our jazz/swing style music. I gave her the list of "must play" songs and the order and names of the wedding party for the announcements. She promised she would have a picnic basket filled with food to take with us after the reception, for a late night snack. We left feeling happy and confident that she had everything under control.

In the last post, I wrote about how we did a first look before the ceremony. We actually drove to the country club for our pre wedding pictures, mainly so Ginny, our photographer, could get pictures of the cake, tables, and details before the guests arrived. The caterer swore up, down, and all around that everything would be completely set up by 2. We told her 2:00, even though we knew it would be more like 3:00, giving her quite a bit of margin for error. After some outdoor shots, I was dying to see how everything looked inside.

I walked in, expecting to see flowers and candles and favors and place settings.

I walked in to find that nothing had been set up. The bakery had delivered the cake, which was spot on perfect, but the caterer had done nothing. You would've had NO idea that there was about to be a wedding reception.

I lost it. After the flower situation that morning, I started to realize this caterer had no idea what she was doing. Not only was everything supposed to be ready to go for pictures, but I didn't see how they would get everything set up by 4:30. I don't remember everything that happened, but I remember demanding explanations from whoever was near me. The staff looked at me like I had gone crazy.

Ginny took me to the car to help me calm down, put on some music, and handed me her iPad so I could look at some of the unedited shots. My bridesmaids went back to the lion's den to get everything straightened out. At some point, someone handed me a cell phone to explain to the catering staff what was wrong. They didn't even realize they had messed up. I started yelling about the diagrams. Didn't the caterer give you the diagrams?! WHERE IS THE CATERER?!? I rehashed everything from the meeting, the BIG dinner plates to the favors and the reserved tables. Even down to the personalized champagne glasses. Everything. They apologized and promised they would remedy it.

My maid of honor called my mom and briefed her on the situation. My mom called our caterer and let her have it. She promised her staff would take care of everything. And as for why she was nowhere to be found? Turns out, the caterer had double booked herself. And she was at a different event.

After the ceremony was over, I was a little terrified of what would be waiting for us at the country club. We hung back at the church with my aunt and uncle who last minute decided they were able to make the trip from California and come to the wedding. We let our guests get there before us so we could make our entrance. We walked in the entryway to hear

"Michelle, we've got a problem."

Turns out our professional DJ was the caterer's teenage nephew. And his equipment? A laptop hooked up to one little speaker. You couldn't even hear the music!

I just wanted to puke. We tried to line up for the introductions, but the "dj" couldn't remember the order or our names. And then when supplied with the information, he butchered everyone's names, his voice shaking because he was shy and actually had zero experience.

We got inside to find that there were tiny plates on the table. Like, saucer tiny. You could hardly fit a roll on them, and this is what my guests were supposed to use for dinner?!

"We felt like the dinner plates overwhelmed the table."
Dinner plates overwhelming a table? What??!?! I don't care what your opinion is! I asked for normal sized dinner plates, and that's what I want! Why is that weird?

They never brought out the bigger plates, so guests had stacks of tiny plates for their dinner.

Oh, and as for the food?
 No carving station.
No pasta station.

"We felt like there wasn't enough room for them," explained the staff.

I call BS. Plenty of room! But instead, there was a basket of cold meat and a tray of lukewarm pasta.
And by the time we got there, most of the food was gone. She had promised enough food for 100 people.

And for the drinks? There was coffee. And there was only sweet tea. I realize that this is the South and people live off the stuff, but we don't. Sweet tea makes me physically sick. I can't handle the sugar in it. We explained all this to the caterer. She didn't listen, again.

Oh, and those reserved tables? DIDN'T HAPPEN.
Sensing a theme, here?
My sweet parents had absolutely nowhere to sit. They were forced to politely ask the people sitting at the table that was supposed to be theirs to scootch. They are the parents of the bride, after all. They deserve a place to sit. Unfortunately, some people don't understand that.

A huge thunderstorm was brewing outside, nearly outdone by the one brewing inside. The caterer had told us she had people to cut the cake after dinner, and then the DJ would announce the first dance, and everyone would dance. That was the main thing I wanted from my reception, dancing.

It quickly became clear that the DJ couldn't do anything. And I'm not kidding. Brittany, Ginny's assistant, took over as DJ. It was that bad. Ginny came and sat next to me and we worked up a quick schedule for the reception. She took over the whole shindig. Brittany announced the cutting of the cake and went to get someone from the staff to cut it after James and I did.

"But we don't know how to cut the cake. We're not supposed to do that," is what all members of the staff told us. Our caterer had promised she would have someone cut the cake. I mean, how simple is that?! But they refused. So Brittany volunteered.

But then there was the issue of the toasts.  
We didn't serve alcohol at the reception, but my parents had requested sparkling apple juice for the toasts.
I'm sure you can see where this is going. After losing our personalized champagne glasses, they found them but then declared they didn't have anything to toast with. Brittany quickly mixed up some apple juice and sprite and poured it into our glasses. Only the bride and groom would toast, since the catering staff was too inept to bring drinks and glasses for our 40 guests.

My best friend Laura made the sweetest speech.

But not the best man. That's another story.


Since the DJ literally begged her to take over, Brittany announced the first dance. Everyone followed us to the dance floor as we danced to "The Way You Look Tonight" by Frank Sinatra. The first dance was great, but it had been my hope that everyone would start dancing after the first dance. But it appears that the DJ only made a playlist of the must have songs I gave the caterer, not thinking to bring any others. And there was an awkward pause after every song while he frantically chose another. Clearly, dancing was out of the question, and that broke my heart. Especially since I didn't even get to dance with my dad. Honestly, that's something I'm still a little upset about. 

Even writing out the details, it's hard to capture the actual chaos that ensued. It's not like the guests were oblivious to all of this. It was a small room and it was quite obvious that things were falling apart. I spent the entire reception doing damage control. I got so embarrassed I hid in the bathroom with my friends at one point. It was awkward and there were a lot of uncomfortable moments, causing many to leave very early. It got the point where our photographer told us we needed to wrap things up. I don't think the reception lasted even two hours. Pitiful! I had literally dreamed of dancing the night away.

I tried to spend some time mingling with the guests, but the staff kept pestering me with questions like where did the bakery put the cake box? You're asking the bride?! I have no idea! My mom had given the caterer some sentimental family pieces to use at the reception, including a basket for the cards. We begged and pleaded with her to use it and be careful with it. Instead she used a gross wicker basket. My aunt helped my mom search for it over an hour after the reception ended. It was later found hidden in the kitchen.

 Remember the picnic basket we were promised? We were definitely looking forward to it since we had barely eaten.

We never got it. Never even saw it. Didn't even think to ask for it until we were an hour away.

Our caterer said her staff told her that I made a scene rejecting it when she handed it to me in front of all the guests. That I said I wanted nothing from her, and that my parents yelled derogatory things at the staff.

They would never, ever do anything like that. They are the two sweetest people you will ever meet.

After the reception, many angry emails were exchanged between my parents, James, and the caterer. My parents demanded a partial refund which she of course refused. They respectfully yet firmly explained everything that happened that day, and how she had repeatedly dropped the ball and ruined the most important day of my life.

The caterer denied everything. I kid you not. Nothing has ever made me angrier than those emails. She supported her staff in not listening to me and using small plates vs. big plates, etc. So many other things happened that I haven't even touched on.

I'll be honest, I struggled with writing all of this. It was definitely something I wanted to share, though. I was afraid it would come across as not appreciating my wedding or making the wedding more important than the marriage. Absolutely not.
If anything, it is even MORE clear now how much the wedding just doesn't matter. You could get married in a garage, and you wouldn't be any less married than if you were married at Notre Dame. This wedding has not impacted our marriage one bit. If anything, it united us more.

I was recently asked if this is something I can laugh about now, or if it's something that still upsets me. I would say a little of both. It's taken a long time to get to this point. It took months before I could think about the reception without crying or getting angry. I think it would be different had it only affected James and me. My parents paid for the wedding, so I still feel so guilty that this was the result. I know it's not my fault. The country club hired the caterer and just flat out told us that this is who we were working with. We didn't have a choice. And she is the head caterer at ECU, so we definitely didn't expect this. But I still feel guilty.

I felt humiliated that I had a year to plan, and this was the result. We all read in blogs every day about picture perfect weddings and how not one thing went wrong. I didn't understand why I seemed to be the only one dealing with this kind of wedding. I felt guilty for being upset about my wedding when it didn't matter because I was married.

But I've come a long way. As so many have pointed out in the comments on previous posts, you can't tell anything went wrong by looking at the pictures. And I love that. And I'm getting to the point where I can look at those pictures without as many angry memories. I can see the beauty in them. I can say now that I love how my wedding turned out. For the most part. And writing about it all week has given me a new perspective on it.

Plus, the ceremony was the one part of the day that went off without a hitch.
And isn't it the most important part? ;)

next week: our crazy honeymoon adventure. It won't take all week, promise!
Let's just say the wedding chaos completely carried over into our Jamaican adventure.


  1. More than anything, the love is what matters. At any point when I wonder what it would have been like to...

    - have a formal engagement like everyone else on the planet
    - a year to plan
    - a bridal party
    - a honeymoon (Yup! We didn't get formally engaged or have a honeymoon!)
    - a larger budget

    ... I realize that none of that is the point. Obviously, you have A LOT to be frustrated and angry about, but I'm so glad that you can say with conviction that your wedding day did not dictate your joy for marrying James and the love that you two share.

    In my opinion, THAT is a perfect example of pure love.

  2. Oh I cringed at each new paragraph. That is horrible! I'm so very sorry you had to deal with that craziness.

    While I'm a firm believer that weddings are just one day so it's best not to get stressed over them, that doesn't mean that you aren't entitled to have it be a nice day.

    That caterer should be ashamed of herself. So should the country club! I feel bad for anyone else who chooses to have their reception there!

  3. OH MY SWEET TEA! (ha! I feel the same way about tean and I am FROM the south)
    Really I just want to give you a hug.
    I am so glad to read the part about a wedding doesnt make a maraige but still you deserved a perfect day!!

    I also want to kick your caterer. the end.

    PS. I know it sucks reliving it BUT thank you for doing so, thank you for popping the precieved perfect wedding blog buuble because honestly it puts so much pressure on me AND IM NOT EVEN ENGAGED!

    Thanks sweet friend!

  4. Oh my goodness, this is absolutely heartbreaking to me! As a married woman, I know that weddings are only the first day in {what will hopefully be} a lifetime together. But as a wedding planner, I always want everyone to have the wedding of their dreams. That's really the only way to get into this business, and this caterer obviously has no place in this industry if she doesn't care for the happiness of her clients. I'm glad you are starting to see the bright side of things, but I definitely don't blame you for still being upset about everything.

    Have you left reviews for the venue and caterer? There are quite a few places to leave them, where other potential brides will see (Wedding Wire, Yelp, Google). I'd also encourage you to write your story (or link to your post) on the Knot's wedding boards. If only so somebody else isn't put into the same position that you were in.

    Again, I'm so sorry you had to go through this! I wish I would have been there to make it better for you :(


  5. I work with caterers a lot for my job - it's truly hard to find one that doesn't screw you over in the end.

    On a positive note, I LOVE your cake!

  6. Oh my. I have no words for what you must have gone through. You never think yours is going to be a wedding disaster. You're right though. You're married no matter what the day was like and that's a good thing. However, you only get one wedding day and you worked hard to make it as you wanted it. You deserved to get it. Maybe a 5 year anniversary bash. I think I'm scared to read the honeymoon post!

  7. OH MY GOSH, dear friend. I could hardly make it through this whole post, because I was getting so irritated and feeling so bad for you!! She should've given you a FULL refund since she did NOTHING. Ugh ugh ugh. So sorry. :( But your pictures turned out beautifully and you'd never know anything was wrong!

  8. Oh my heart broke for you while reading this. I hope you know that it did not come off to me that you were ungrateful at all, just that your caterer is a total moron and screwed up everything. It's amazing to me how much one person can mess up. I really hope that you posted reviews about the country club and the catering manager on every single wedding website (like Joelle suggested) so that no one else has to deal with her total idiocy!

    Good on you for looking on the bright side of things and appreciating that you have a strong marriage, no matter how the wedding went :)

  9. Hey, caterer! Got KARMA???!!!!! :)

    Thank goodness for this:
    If anything, it is even MORE clear now how much the wedding just doesn't matter. You could get married in a garage, and you wouldn't be any less married than if you were married at Notre Dame. This wedding has not impacted our marriage one bit. If anything, it united us more.

    May this resilience and truth continue to guide you to each and every wedding anniversary.

  10. It sounds like you had some great people around you trying to make it better. Your pictures are beautiful though!

  11. Your wedding story is making me want to meet you in real life and hug you. I'm so sorry that it was such a gong show.

    On the other hand, your marriage? Probably gonna be the best one around.

    And I am so impressed that you are able to see positives about it, you can acknowledge that yeah, there were parts of your wedding that sucked majorly, but it's more about the marriage.

    By the way, your pictures really do make your day look like a dream. :)

  12. Oh wow, that makes me mad for you! What insanity!

  13. Just found your cute blog :) I'm so sorry you had to deal with that for what is supposed to be one of the best days!! As someone who works in events, I'm shocked to hear all you had to deal with!! Glad to hear you know what's most important though, and wish you all the best!

  14. Oh my gosh, I cannot handle this! This makes me appreciate my simple wedding even MORE! :)
    At least you looked stunning. ;)

  15. Ugh! That's awful! You're such a trooper- I'd probably be in tears! But I love your perspective on how it didn't affect your marriage at all. That's what your wedding day is about, after all :)

  16. Holy crap. This post had me experiencing mild anxiety after reading it. I can't believe this woman pretty much destroyed your reception. I don't know how you handled all of this. I would be sitting in a bathroom stall freaking out about how my life is unfair and how the world hates me. You on the other hand are smiling in every single picture. You're awesome. Period. I'm so sorry you had to share your special day with such chaos. And I'm so so glad the ceremony portion went well, since, as you and others have said, that's what matters anyway! :)

  17. Oh poor girl! why didn't they listen to you? thats terrible. I would have gone off and refused to pay. I'm so sorry you had to go through all of that, I would have been livid. And the fact that she lied to you? TERRIBLE

  18. WOWWWWW... what an epic saga!!! Oh my gosh! I was glued to my computer reading that! I was so frustrated for you and I understand why you felt embarrassed -- EVEN THOUGH IT WASN'T YOUR FAULT AT ALL! Oh my gosh... that caterer!! I mean, I don't understand why you would be so... careless about someone's wedding day (talking about the caterer). Like cater a football game, or something... but don't ruin one of the most important events and biggest parties that a person will ever throw!!!

    Well, like you said, the pictures look AMAZING! And you're right: ultimately, it's about the marriage rather than the experience.

    Thank you for sharing this. Like I said, I feel like I relate to you already (hope that's not creepy) and it makes me take what happened to you into my psyche so I can try to learn from your experience (I guess the biggest thing is to look for outside contractors or consultants? Like not go with places that force you to have their staff, I guess? What else would you say?). I'm sorry but I'm glad that you are able to share it now and start to look back at all the good parts!


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  20. DANG. That is crazy! It's appalling to see how people will justify incompetent behavior and charge you through the nose for mediocre services. I definitely agree with you that the wedding isn't what matters, but the marriage does. I basically planned my wedding on that philosophy. My groom doesn't like big to-dos or being the center of attention, so I planned a pretty casual day where we could just celebrate and have fun with close friends and family. We had a pretty cheap wedding ($2k), and we skipped a lot of traditions that made us uncomfortable or we just didn't care about, and honestly I don't regret any part of it. Basically, everything at my wedding came through family and friends: catering, cake, photography, decorations, music...and I think that helped a lot. Because I knew everyone they were a lot more willing to listen and work with me. I don't think anything went seriously wrong at my wedding or reception...but that may be because we cut out a lot of the things that *could* go wrong :P

    For the record...your wedding and reception pictures are beautiful, and you made a gorgeous bride! :)

  21. There's just... so... much... wrong!

    From the outside looking in, it's kind of funny. Now. Praise the good lord for Brittany. You're naming your baby after her, right?

    The one nice thing is, you're having a girl. You can make her wedding your dream wedding. I mean, if she wants you to.

    Your caterer clearly thought your guests were too fat and needed smaller plates. And the pasta making station that never appeared? My heart broke for you when I read that. It made me want to get married again and have a pasta making station. Life needs more pasta making stations.

    I love your cake. And your dresses. And your love bug.

  22. I feel so much loathing for your caterer right now. When I read you all demanded a partial refund, my first thought was, "they paid her at all?!" That is not acceptable any way you look at it. I would have been so beyond furious/sad, especially having to deal with that at my own wedding reception. Like you said, the pictures look like nothing went wrong! Thank goodness. At least you have those to preserve the good memories!

  23. Oh dear goodness. This is awful. Terrible. I have no more words. How do you feel looking back 5 years later? I mean it's so ridiculous. And the caterer didn't refund you or acknowledge that anything was WRONG?!


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