One of the most fun (and most tricky) parts of wedding planning for us was selecting the food that we wanted to serve our guests. Weddings have historically been associated with feasting, and we were traditionally minded in at least this respect: that we wanted to share good food and drink with those we loved. Laurel and I are both vegetarians, though, and neither of us felt comfortable with the idea of causing animals to die in order to celebrate our marriage. We did feel some compunction about having a strictly vegetarian wedding party and reception, especially because we knew that many of our guests, including some of the people we have loved most deeply for the longest time, are not vegetarians, and some might even feel a little nervous and uncomfortable trying to happily enjoy a meal without some of the staple foods they’re accustomed to eating. So while we felt solid about our own principles and confident that we’d be able to provide varied, delicious meals without animal flesh, we had a little trepidation about how much our guests would enjoy the meal, and whether some of our guests would leave hungry or a little bewildered.
Pizza Party Food:
For the pizza party the night before the wedding we decided to order pizza from The Roman Candle Pizzaria, a local pizza chain. We chose them because we really like their pizza, they deliver, we had a substantial coupon (33% the first $100), and they have several different vegetarian options. We ended up ordering 6 different pizzas: the Veggie Candle (spicy Fireworks sauce, banana peppers, and artichokes); the Animal Lovers (one of my favorite titles, actually: broccoli, spinach, onion, roasted red peppers, & fresh basil); Margherita (mozzarella, sliced tomatoes, fresh basil); the Perstoral (pesto, feta, mozzarella, artichoke hearts, roasted red peppers, kalamata olives, and sliced tomatoes); the Greek (green olives, tomato, spinach, feta, and mozzarella); and the Vegan Destroyer (spicy fireworks sauce, spinach, pine nuts, green olives, red onions, fresh basil, garnished with a thick red pepper puree). We ordered 3 16″ pizzas of each type, which ended up being just a little bit more than we needed to feed our roughly 50 guests (we probably could have easily gotten by with 15 pizzas).
We also went to Costco and bought several 2 lb. mixes of organic fresh greens. Initially I was just going to buy one, thinking that our guests wouldn’t go wild on salad, but my sister convinced me that we’d need “at least 5 or 6–people eat a lot of salad”–so we compromised and I bought 4. Our guests didn’t even finish a single box, a slightly sad commentary on the state of health consciousness in Wisconsin, I suppose. We made Sarah eat the rest, since she mistakenly thought people would eat a lot of salad. We also picked up a couple of bottles of salad dressing (Newman’s Own I think), which seemed moderately popular, at least in relation to the green leaves we were serving.
Total cost of pizza and salad: $350
Pizza Party Drinks:
Neither Laurel and I are big drinkers, but we still wanted to provide some options for our guests who had a range of tastes in beverages–from teetotalers (most of my family and college friends are still active Mormons) who love nothing more than cold water (but not too cold, mind you!) to Wisconsonians who consider the idea of an evening meal without beer inhuman and almost barbaric. We decided that we didn’t want to provide hard liquor at either the party or the wedding reception, since its effects aren’t totally consonant with our values and we didn’t want our guests to become drunken or rely on alcohol to produce the emotional effects that we hoped good human companionship and sincere affection would produce. For the non-alcohol drinkers, we had both water and orange juice (I bought a few 2 gallon jugs at Costco), and for those who preferred alcohol, we purchased a half-keg of Spotted Cow, a popular farmhouse ale made locally by the New Glarus Brewing Company from the Party Port, a liquor store near our home and Laurel bought several bottles of organic red (Cabernet Sauvignon made by Zaphy, a label owned by Trapiche, an Argentinian vintner in Mendoza, and Santa Julia, also of Argentinian make) and white wine (also Santa Julia, I believe) from Woodman’s, a grocery store with an enormous wine selection at a little more than $10/bottle, I think. We ordered the keg for pickup about an hour before the pizza party, took it home after the pizza party, kept it on ice overnight, used it at the reception, and arranged for Party Port to pick up it up on Sunday morning at our reception site. I think we had quite a bit left over from the 1/2 keg we had ordered.
Total cost of drinks: a little less than $200 for beer (keg plus ice, tap, tub, pick up cost) which was also used the following evening; ~$500 for wine? (I think we bought 40 bottles to use for both evenings, but I have no idea how much was consumed at the pizza party)
The Wedding Reception Food:
Catering the wedding reception was a little bit daunting. We wanted to keep our reception fairly small, but once we had received RSVPs from our immediate family and closest friends, that still meant roughly 100 guests. Feeding 100 people is no small feat, and while we briefly considered preparing the food ourselves (with the help of family), we decided that it would be both difficult in the kitchen space we had, and probably impossible in the time we had available to us between the wedding and reception (a wise choice, in the end, since we would have been both stressed and harried–two things that do not go well with feast meals). As we began looking around at various places in Madison for catering options, we knew that we were leaning towards a buffet style dinner so that our guests could choose what they ate (and how much of it) and that we wanted to offer a healthy, fun, diverse vegetarian meal, with more adventurous (tasty) options for daring eaters, as well as more conventional staples for our guests who were more accustomed to eating meat and don’t have as experimental a palette.
Because we were hosting the reception at the Goodman Center, we met early in the catering investigation process with Dustin Skelley of Working Class Catering, a full service catering company run through the Goodman Center (they share space and some staff with the Iron Works Cafe). Having caterers based just a few feet from our reception room was certainly attractive, and the more we learned about Working Class’ mission (it’s called ‘Working Class Catering’ because it’s something of a working classroom, integrating local teenagers working through their Teen Education and Employment Network program in all aspects of the cooking and serving process) and food sources (predominantly fresh, local, and organic), the more we were convinced that it was the right fit for the meal we wanted to provide our guests. In our meeting with Dustin and one of their head chefs, we picked out a basic menu, finalized the prices and head counts a few weeks before the event, and enjoyed great food and terrific service on the evening of our reception (Working Class’ kitchen was literally next door to the reception room). It was very low stress, and we were quite pleased with the quality and freshness of the food.
I’m a sucker for Mediterranean food, so I asked if they’d be able to make crustini with roasted red pepper and chevre (goat cheese) along with a cheese, olive, and roasted red pepper platter. They were, they did, and it was everything I had hoped for. So delicious.
We decided to provide three different dinner entree choices, and to serve them buffet style. Guests could choose between vegetable lasagna, eggplant parmesan with linguine, or Thai squash curry with brown rice for their entree, with sides of garlic and ginger braised kale, a vegetable medley (zucchini, squash, sweet peppers, tomatoes, etc.), and green beans almondine. We didn’t get many photographs of the food, but it was delicious (we requested–and received–our very own bottle of tabasco to liven up the food–I think it was calibrated to Midwestern taste buds). The veggie lasagna and the thai squash curry were the most popular dishes (roughly 40 guests indicated they wanted these dishes on their RSVP), while only about 20 people chose the eggplant parmesan. We had planned to write guests food choices on the back of their name cards, but ended up just letting them navigate the buffet lines themselves. We ran out of eggplant parmesan and green beans before everyone made it through the line, but just barely–everyone seemed well fed and happy. No one went hungry certainly, though I think Laurel and I wished we would have had the presence of mind to grab seconds among the general excitement.
Planning dessert ended up being one of the most fun and fortunate things we did. Laurel had no interest in a traditional wedding cake, and I almost never eat dessert, so I didn’t have a huge interest in getting the cake just right or making sure it looked or tasted a certain way. About 6 months before the wedding, we went to a community potluck in Eagle Heights (a neighborhood close to where we live) and sat next to a really interesting family with a cute little daughter. As we got to talking, we discovered that the mother, Gale, had been a science teacher before working the past couple of years at Batch Bakery. She had quit for health and family reasons, but still loved baking, and said her specialty was cakes. We told her we were planning to get married and she expressed interest in possibly doing our wedding cake and gave us lots of good advice and information about wedding desserts and local bakers. We had almost forgotten about our meeting when we got an email a few months later. Gale had baked up a couple batches of cakes she was trying out and wanted to know if we wanted to taste them. It was the easiest question we ever answered. Gale brought over an enormous plate full of baked goods and basically exploded our heads. She had made two different batches. The first was a raspberry chocolate recipe, which involved chocolate cake, raspberry jam, chocolate covered cookie crumbs, orange-cointreau ganache–quite rich and fruity and excellent–but the second one!!!–the second one was heaven! It was a salted toffee/caramel chocolate recipe, involving chocolate cake, salted caramel, and an amaretto ganache with crushed toffee. The toffee/caramel cake was quite literally the best dessert I had ever tasted (by some distance)–so good that we had finished the entire plate of desserts that Gale brought over by the next day (and it was a BIG plate).
Gale was really pleased we liked her cakes, but wasn’t sure she’d have the kitchen space to do a wedding order (this would be her first time doing an order this big), so we looked around other several places in town, focusing on cupcakes instead of a large cake. There are several places in Madison who do cupcakes, and some of them look pretty exciting, but in the end, I really wanted Gale to make our cupcakes if she was willing and able. Happily, she was, so we ordered 150 of the chocolate cupcakes for the reception. About a week before the wedding, I met with Gale one last time and picked out the cupcake liners (I went with silver and gold foil) they’d be served in. Gale had priced all the ingredients, did all the purchasing, baking and even handled the delivery and initial presentation herself (she’s amazing!), and the servers from Working Class made sure the supplies remained stocked. They were a hit, and miraculously, there were probably 40-50 left over at the end of the evening. We gave almost everything else away at the end of the reception, but we kept the cupcakes (at my insistence). Most of them are still in our freezer, but we’re working our greedy way through them, one delicious mouthful at a time. I’m not sure if Gale’s interested in doing more weddings in the future, but if she is and you’re interested, you’d be lucky to get her–she was great!
At the time that we held our reception, The Goodman Center was in the middle of the lengthy process of obtaining a liquor license, which meant that we were able to bring in outside alcohol and hire our own bartender–my understanding is that they now have a liquor license which means that you must purchase alcohol through them at any events held in their building. Dustin from Workingr Class Caterer gave us a list of suggested bartenders, and we ended up hiring Becky Rishel, who charged $25/hr and was great. As I mentioned previously, we offered beer and wine for those who preferred alcohol, and had water and a really delicious lemonade (made by Working Class) for those who didn’t. We bought cups–large red plastic ones for beer and lemonade drinkers, and smaller cups made of thicker clear plastic for those drinking wine. Laurel was really smart about this, choosing to get medium to small sized cups as a way of helping guests moderate their alcohol consumption (something I never would have thought about)–it’s a good idea, especially if you love your guests and want them to be healthy and drink responsibly (the last thing in the world we would have wanted would have been for someone to drive home from our wedding reception under the influence of alcohol). I drank mostly lemonade, but switched to water at the end of the evening once the dancing got really thick.
Total Cost of Reception: This was our single largest expense for the weekend, which we were glad of, since it was food, one of our favorite things, and it was shared with those that we love! The total cost of dinner/service from Working Class Catering was just under $2000, and the cupcakes cost $500. We paid the bartender around $200 for the evening, and spent probably $700 on alcohol. I’d guess the total cost of food and drink for the weekend was close to $3500, though there were several ways that more frugal planners could have saved money on food–it was one part of our budget where we were willing (excited, actually) to spend a bit more. We would never have been able to afford a meal like this without the generosity of Laurel’s father and mother–so thank you to Jack (and Jane) Bastian and Christine (and Jim) Hill.