The Ultimate DIY Wedding Venue Supplies Checklist

by Melissa on February 28, 2012

As you probably gathered reading all about our wedding venue, Prince William Forest Park Cabin Camp #5, we were entirely on our own. The park has nothing like an on-site coordinator, or supplies to get the venue ready, or anything like that. So we had to make sure that we were full prepared for everything. If you have a similar, entirely DIY wedding venue, I hope that you’ll find the following checklist useful for things that you should bring if you have a similar venue!

  • Scissors
  • Utility Knife
  • Cable ties
  • String
  • Velcro
  • Wire
  • Scotch tape, masking tape, and duct tape
  • Steamer (to steam wrinkles out of things like table linens)
  • Rags
  • Surface cleaners
  • Power Strips
  • Extension cords
  • Electrical tape
  • Step stool
  • Ladder
  • Thumbtacks
  • Pens and markers
  • Flashlights
  • Pins
  • Notebooks and paper
  • Leaf blower or push broom (especially useful for outdoor spaces)
  • Boatloads of plastic containers to take home your leftovers


The Story of our Wedding Venue Hunt, Part 3

by Melissa on February 21, 2012

This is the final installment. You can check out Part 1 and Part 2 (I mentioned the reasons in Part 1 that I never talked about our wedding venue hunt on the blog. But now that the wedding is over, I’m spilling all the beans!)

The morning after we discovered Prince William Forest Park cabin camps online, we called their office to see if we could arrange a visit. We were in luck! A group was checking out of the camp that afternoon, so we could come see it at 2PM. SCORE! But of course, I was still trying to keep my expectations in check. 

We arrived at the Park after about a 25 minute drive from our home in Alexandria, VA. We were meeting with a Park Ranger at the building called the Mess Hall. He arrived, and we walked in to the Mess Hall. We were immediately BLOWN AWAY:. We walked into a full industrial kitchen, with walk-in refrigerators and deep freezers.



The dining area of the Mess Hall itself was rustic and beautiful, and there was a huge stone fireplace at one end of the room.


We asked the Park Ranger if they had any catering restrictions. There were NONE. We could use whatever caterer we wanted, We could even self-cater if we wanted. We didn’t need a bartender to serve alcohol. We would just need to apply for a $50 liquor license through Virginia.

Then he took us to see the cabins. There were several cabins with no heat, but those can’t be used in winter. He took us to see one of the four cabins that can be used in the winter. It’s a heated dorm-style room with mattresses and communal bathrooms. There would be room for more than 100 of our guests to stay if they wanted!


Next, he took us to the pavilion.  It was HUGE!  Like the mess hall, it had a large, gorgeous fireplace at one end. We were falling more and more in love with the camp. So many options and amenities, and it was just $540 per night!


Next, he took us to the “council ring” which he said that was a common ceremony space for folks who rented the cabin camp for weddings. It really was a perfect space. There was even a long path that led to the council ring, which I could totally see as an “aisle.”


To take the cake, he walked us back past the Mess Hall and cabins, on to another path, and showed us a gorgeous lake at the Cabin Camp. 


Ken and I were sold! How had we never heard about this place before?

As I mentioned in my previous post, we had read something online that could be a downside to the venue. At this point, we had already decided that we wanted our wedding to be on November 11, 2011 … 11/11/11. This was largely because when we were going to book Glen Echo Park as our wedding venue, all their October dates were already booked. And since we wanted an autumn wedding, and since foliage peaks the first and second week of November in this area, we decided on 11/11/11. 

BUT. Prince William Forest Park had a strict application process. You couldn’t just submit an application and reserve a date. They accepted applications for certain time periods only within particular windows. So for instance, for November dates, we would submit our application some time between March 1 and May 1, and we would be informed by May 31st if our date would be approved.

The Park Ranger wasn’t entirely familiar with the policy, so he told us to call the Park’s office the following Monday. When we called, the office confirmed our fears. 

It was currently January, and we’d have to wait until March 1 to submit an application. They would accept applications for that time period between March 1 and May 1. There were a few reasons they do this, one of which is to maximize the amount of time the cabin camps are booked.

So for instance, if Ken and I wanted to book the cabin camp between November 9-12, but someone else in that time period booked it for November 7-12, it would go to the other person because they were booking it for 5 nights.

This was a big bummer. If we decided to go with this place as our venue, we wouldn’t have a confirmed wedding date until like six months before the wedding. This meant not being able to book other vendors because we wouldn’t have a confirmed date. It would mean not being able to send out Save-the-Dates until after then. (That was another reason why I never talked about my wedding venue hunt on the blog. I didn’t want anyone to know the specific dates we booked the venue for, so that they wouldn’t squeeze in during that same application period for an extra day and bump us out of our desired dates.)

But, we decided it was worth the risk. At that point, the venue was more important to us than the date, so if for some reason we couldn’t get November 11, we would just select some other open date that they had.

We also realized that, although we couldn’t BOOK any vendors until after our wedding date was confirmed, we could certainly research them. We developed an action plan, and we decided that we would identify the top three vendors in each category through interviews. That way, once our wedding date was confirmed, we could go to the top three vendors, and hopefully one of those top three would still be available for booking.  We would have the Save-the-Dates designed and addresses collected and ready to go.

We submitted our application for Prince William Forest Park on March 1. We requested the dates November 9-12, with our actual wedding date planned for November 11. We figured that would give us plenty of time to get things set up on Wednesday November 9 (check-in time was 3pm)  and have our rehearsal dinner there on Thursday November 10 too. All told, it would cost us $1620. That was less money than most traditional venues wanted for just a few hours, with a lot fewer amenities!

We faxed in the application at like 12:01AM on March 1. Then we waited.

And waited. And May 1 came and went. May 1 was the end of the “application period,” so we knew we would find out any day. When did we finally find out that our November 11 wedding day was confirmed?

Oh, at 8:30AM on friggin MAY 31st.  The last possible day they said they would inform us is when they informed us. I guess I should’ve expected that. Just over five months away!
Those waiting months between March 1 and May 31 were really annoying. It was like our family and friends forgot our situation EVERY SINGLE TIME WE TALKED TO THEM. So for instance, two weeks after we submitted our application, my mom asked, “Did you hear anything about the wedding venue?” No mom, they have until the end of May to tell us.” Two weeks later, same question, same answer. My family, Ken’s family, our coworkers, our friends. We understand that they were just anxious to find out the details, but heck, so were we! We were just trying not to think about it so much, which made it really difficult when people were asking us about it every two goddamm minutes.

So when we finally learned that our wedding date was confirmed, it was sweet, sweet relief. June was a busy month for us and we moved quickly! First and foremost, we booked our wedding photographer. Then we sent out our already-designed save-the-dates. We had already interviewed other vendors, like deejays (before we decided to iPod our wedding), videographers (before we realized that they were too expensive), and other vendors.

In the end, it worked out perfectly!


The Story of our Wedding Venue Hunt, Part 2

by Melissa on February 9, 2012

Part 1 (I mentioned the reasons in Part 1 that I never talked about our wedding venue hunt on the blog. But now that the wedding is over, I’m spilling all the beans!)

After we were totally floored by the behavior of Matters of Taste catering and realized that we had to ditch Glen Echo Park as our wedding venue of choice, we decided to reconsider the Pavilions at Turkey Run. That was the venue where a previous company I worked for held their annual company picnic. We had gone to visit that venue our first week of venue hunting since Ken had never been there before (and since I wanted to see it through the lens of a wedding venue hunter, not an employee attending a company picnic).

Their pavilion rental price was very reasonable, tables and chairs would be included, and although we’d have to use their internal catering service, the prices were very reasonable. We could easily stay within our $15,000 budget by getting married there, even if we had 150 guests.

So I started contacting Turkey Run again and I asked about potential dates. They got back to me and said that all their weekends in late October / early November 2011 were still available, so we could have our wedding day during peak foliage season in a nice wooded setting. Sweet!

It was time to proceed! We wanted to have our ceremony and reception at the Pavilions at Turkey Run. There are three actual pavilions that we would be renting, so we figured we could use one for the ceremony, one for the reception, and one for something else … like dancing or games. Turkey Run was mailing us a contract.



We gave Turkey Run our proposed start and end times. 3PM for a ceremony, with the reception following immediately after and going until 10PM or 11PM. They said that wouldn’t fly. They had a strict 5 hour rental time. There was no getting them to budge.

Ken and I sat down to discuss. Perhaps 5 hours would be plenty. But Ken’s family is full of talkers. They all just like to sit around and talk into the late hours of the night. We didn’t want to kick people out so quickly. We also didn’t want to move the ceremony time to any later in the day, because we wanted to make sure we had natural daylight for the ceremony and wedding photos. But, the food and venue at Turkey Run was so reasonably priced, and we could have so many fun options, like a rock climbing wall and moon bounce. We also toyed briefly with the idea of having the ceremony at a different location so that the five hours would be entirely for the reception, but we nixed it quickly. We definitely wanted our ceremony and reception to be at the same location.

Then Ken said something that changed my entire view point on Turkey Run.

“We’re budgeting $15,000 for our wedding. If we stick with Turkey Run, that means that our 5 hour wedding will cost us $3000 per hour.”

That settled it. We were done. Glen Echo Park was out of the running, and now, less than two weeks later, the Pavilions at Turkey Run was out of the picture. We were nearly three months into our engagement and still had no wedding venue.

The following Friday evening when we were at home, we were both searching online for new options. I was on my laptop in the living room, and Ken on his computer in his home office. I was searching for something like “picnic pavilions DC” and tripped across a search result for Prince William Forest Park.

I browsed quickly through the site, realizing that it was another venue that probably wouldn’t pan out. I had searched for other picnic pavilion rentals in the DC area, but since most of them are tied to the operating hours of a particular park, most of them closed after dusk. And since we didn’t want a morning or afternoon wedding, that wouldn’t work.

But things were looking up. Prince William Forest Park had these entire campground things, called Cabin Camps, that you could rent all night. $540 per night! Holy smokes! That was a third of the cost of the cheapest venue we ever found. There were different buildings, including a pavilion, a Mess Hall, and cabins that could sleep more than 100 people. There was also a lake accessible from the cabin camp!

I showed it to Ken. He started to look at all the details and I could tell he was getting increasingly excited, but was trying to get his hopes up too much because of all our problems finding a venue. He said that we should call Prince William Forest Park in the morning to see if we could come see it. My reaction was a bit more tempered. I was in no hurry to go see another venue that would probably be yet another disappointment.

But, I agreed. I would call the next morning to see if we could see the Cabin Camp. Later that evening though, as we reviewed the Cabin Camp applications, we did realize that there would be one big downside of having our wedding there.  *Spoiler alert: we DID have our wedding there, so it wasn’t a dealbreaker, it just added some worry to our plate!*

More on that big downside in part 3!


You’ve Decided your Wedding Venue. Now What?

by Melissa on January 26, 2012

Having a big DIY wedding? Want to make sure that you plan everything the best you can? After you decide on your wedding venue, if you can, go back for a second visit. When you’re there, bring the following items:

1) Pen and Notebook (or better yet, a Smart Pen!)

2) Measuring tape or laser measurer

3) A measuring wheel. Seriously, this was invaluable for us at our campground venue since everything was so spread out.

4) Camera. Take photos of everything. And not just a few quick shots. Take a panorama of photos of the entire venue. Zoom in, and take another panorama. Take a wide angle shot. Take close up shots of the tables and chairs. Shots of the kitchen facilities. Shots of the ceiling. I can’t even begin to tell you how many times I referred to the photos of our venue, for any number of reasons. For instance, I sent pictures of the pavilion to tent rental companies when I inquired about having plastic walls installed on the sides. Ken used pictures of the ceilings when he was trying to figure out where he could hang a lighting fixture. I used the pictures of the ceilings to figure out how I could possibly drape fabric between the beams. Even if part of a venue seems inconsequential, TAKE A PICTURE OF IT.

5) Sample decor items to see how they look. For instance, order one or two colors of some tablecloths or runners, or bring some sample centerpieces to get an idea of how they fit with the venue.

Record the following information at the visit

  • Dimensions of the room. When you measure the dimensions, be sure to take note of any nooks or things that might jut out, like a fireplace or emergency exits.
  • Length or diameter of tables (if they’re provided). This will be invaluable when you’re playing with floor plan ideas. We used Microsoft Visio to plan our layouts.


  • Dimensions of dance floor. And don’t fret if it’s too small! I read a few months back that a huge dance floor is not necessarily a good thing. A smaller dance floor will feel more intimate, and plus will encourage folks to dance and interact, because the smaller dance floor will create the illusion of more people dancing.
  • Distance from seating area to nearest restrooms. This might not be a necessity for everyone, but at our venue, the restrooms were actually quite the walk from our reception. Perhaps 200 feet or so. We wanted to be able to communicate this to our older guests before they game.
  • Location of power outlets. This is CRUCIAL. It can completely drive your floor plan. Are you having a slideshow? Well, you need an outlet to plug in your television. Are you having a deejay or an iPod wedding? Either way, you’ll need to know where all that equipment can be located.

What do you think? Am I forgetting anything?


The Story of Our Wedding Venue Hunt, Part 1

by Melissa on January 19, 2012

For our wedding, Ken and I rented a campground for three days. For those three days, we paid $1620. The rental rate was $540 per night. It was an amazing wedding venue. But, it took us a long time to find it.

We had to kiss a lot of frog venues before we found our Prince Charming venue. 

It occurs to me that I never told the story of our wedding venue here on the blog.

There were a couple of reasons for not talking about it. 1) Sometimes I can be overly paranoid about privacy; 2) I didn’t want to talk about venues and dates that I was loving and have another bride find my post, and think, “Hey, that’s a great venue and date!” and then manage to book the venue before I did. Weird, yes, I know. 3) The venue we ultimate chose had some unusual application timeframes, so once we applied to our venue, we had to wait nearly three months before we found out if we actually got the venue. I’ll explain all of that in the next few posts about how we found our venue. And 4) I didn’t want to blacklist myself from finding a venue or caterer by blogging about every asshole I encountered. So, let’s get started.

We first started wedding venue hunting in the DC area in early November 2010. Very early readers of SuperNoVABride may even recall the overview I provided of the venues we visited during those first two weekends of our search. After visiting several venues, it was a toss up between two different DC area venues:

The Pavilions at Turkey Run and Glen Echo Park.

The Pavilions at Turkey Run

The Pavilions at Turkey Run Park was not a traditional wedding venue per se. I had been contacting venues for weeks, but they were all either too expensive, or just to … blah. So I tried to “Think outside the box.” I used different types of search terms to help me find a venue. But then I recalled a lovely picnic area at Turkey Run Park in the Northern Virginia area where the company that I formerly worked for held their annual picnic. 

I contacted them to see if they allowed weddings. They said that they did, and they actually sent me some photographs from a wedding that had just been hosted there. It looked beautiful! To make matters even better, their food was “reasonably” priced, at just $30 per person, and you got a significant amount of food for that money. And it was normal, picnic-style food, just like Ken and I wanted. As an added bonus, they had an entire catalog of activities that could be selected, including a moon bounce rental, and a rock climbing wall. I was pretty much in love with that venue.  But, we still wanted to shop around.

Glen Echo Park

Glen Echo Park is a popular wedding venue in the DC area, and it was, relatively speaking, very reasonably priced and within our budget.

On our second weekend of venue hunting, we went to Glen Echo Park, a venue I had been secretly eyeing up even before I got engaged. Ken and I immediately fell in love with the Bumper Car Pavilion at Glen Echo Park. And the entire park itself was just so unique. We could have the ceremony in one part of the Park (we liked the Cuddle Up Pavilion) and then the reception in the Bumper Car Pavilion. Best of all, the venue was reasonably priced compared to other venues we had found. 

Glen Echo Park has a limited selection of preferred caterers that you can choose from. Some of the caterers had pricing listed right on their website, and I could rule out right away as too expensive. One of the caterers, Matters of Taste, seemed like they would be more reasonably priced, so I e-mailed them for an estimate.

Although I had to follow up with them a few times to get a response to my estimate request, I was impressed when I finally talked to them on the phone. The woman was really nice at first. She apologized about our estimate being delayed, saying she was slammed with holiday party catering estimates. After speaking with them, she quickly turned around an estimate for food, and it actually seemed like it was going to be in our budget! 

However, the estimate left out a few things. Specifically, bar service, alcohol, and table and chair rentals.  I followed up with her by phone. (There were a few issues experienced in between, like bounced back e-mails). She said she would update the estimate and get it sent back to me. However, she told me that I should go ahead and take advantage of Glen Echo Park’s two week, no deposit hold they have available. The caterer warned me that “engagement season” would be kicking off (this was the week before Thanksgiving), and that I might have difficulty booking a date if I waited much longer.

Taking the caterer’s advice, Ken and I placed the two week hold on the venue.

There was just one problem. Matters of Taste never called me back or responded to my e-mails with the updated estimate. I contacted Glen Echo Park for advice. They just said that was very unusual for that caterer.

FINALLY, in early December, two days before our no-hold deposit was going to run out, someone answered the phone at Matters of Taste. I asked to speak to the person I had been trying to contact. In a curt voice, the woman on the phone said, “It’s the holiday season and it’s SNOWING out.” I was completely taken aback. After all, I was simply waiting for a few additions to the estimate. I had already been provided with the estimate for the food!  And what the fuck did snow have to do with anything?

I said, “I have been waiting for a return phone call or e-mail for TWO WEEKS. Now, either have her call me back, or you’ll just be missing out on a sale.  Plus, you all have been giving me this “holiday season” excuse for more than a month now!” The woman told me she’d have my point-of-contact call me back that afternoon. I never received a call back.

I was really pissed.

So, Ken and I contacted Capital Q BBQ, another one of Glen Echo Park’s preferred caterers. The prices on Capital Q’s website seemed very reasonable, so I e-mailed them with the details and asked for an estimate. I still had not received a response by the end of the day, and I was getting panicked because our two week hold would expire in two days. I followed up with Capital Q by phone, and they said they would e-mail me an estimate. You might remember what ensued after that, but the short story is that their estimate to me was about five times what was listed on their website. When I asked them why their estimate differed so much from the prices on their website, the man said, “Well, that’s for corporate catering, not for a wedding at Glen Echo Park!” The tone in his voice conveyed a huffy “You silly woman, how could you think we would charge such a low amount for a WEDDING!”

I hung up on him.

I was furious.

I talked to Ken. I said that maybe we should just put the deposit down on Glen Echo Park and hopefully we would hear from Matters of Taste soon. The most we would lose from the deposit was like $250 I think. So if Matters of Taste was in fact too expensive, we could just break the contract and lose the $250.

But then I realized what was likely happening. The caterer was just playing games with us. They were probably assuming  that we loved the venue so much that we’d put the deposit down without having a firm catering estimate, and then they’d be able to charge us whatever they wanted. 

I wasn’t going to play that game. I contacted Glen Echo Park and told them they should not expect our deposit. I told them the entire story, and included a link to a review I had written about Matters of Taste on Yelp documenting the whole saga.

Glen Echo Park was really nice and apologized and said they would contact the caterer for me, but I had had enough. I was not going to deal with it.

So, we would not be getting married at Glen Echo Park. More than two months after our engagement, and we were still venue-less.

I was so sad. Sad about how I was treated, about how everything had to be some huge ripoff just because I was getting married. I had spent the last several weeks envisioning our wedding there, and now, it wouldn’t be happening.

It was time to start over from scratch.  

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Worrying Myself Sick over the Weather

by Melissa on November 8, 2011




I know I shouldn’t be greedy. Our wedding day, after all, will be beautifully sunny as of right now. But look at all those beautiful temperatures in the 60s. And then our wedding day? PLUMMET. We knew this was a risk of planning an outdoor wedding in November.

To recap our planned wedding, taking place at a campground we’re renting for several days:

  • Ceremony in outdoor, uncovered area at 3PM
  • Reception in covered pavilion with plastic siding immediately following the ceremony. The pavilion has picnic tables and benches.
  • Indoor area, called the Mess Hall, with the photobooth, games, and additional drinks. The Mess hall has tables and benches.

I’m really torn about what to do. 54 degrees is not really that cold. But I don’t want to be one of “those” couples who insisted on having their wedding outdoors at the expense of the guests’ comfort.

So, instead of continuing to worry about everything, I figured it would be helpful to write things down.  Here are our options:

1) Keep everything the way it is. Outdoor ceremony, reception in the pavilion. Keeping the pavilion warm shouldn’t be a problem. We’ll have 3 patio heaters, each with a 15 foot heat radius, plus a HUGE fireplace in the pavilion. The park ranger has told us that sometimes the pavilion can actually get hot if the fireplace has kept roaring for about 24 hours. To make the ceremony area warmer, perhaps we can have the patio heaters at the ceremony site, and then have our stronger family and relatives roll them into the reception pavilion, about 150 feet away, after the ceremony ends. I figure we can also ask the officiant to shorten his homily or nix it altogether to keep the ceremony as brief as possible.

2) Move ceremony to indoor space (called the Mess Hall). The Mess hall has its own picnic tables and benches. I figure we can move the tables to the perimeter of the room, and set up the benches in “church” type rows. There’s a fireplace in the mess hall, and Ken and I could get married in front of the fireplace. The one problem is that the mess hall is kind of a tight squeeze with all 147 guests inside. Plus, it’s not terribly pretty (although I have a more positive opinion of it than Ken does). It’s very rustic looking, but it does have some old linoleum flooring. But, at least our guests would be warm and comfortable for the ceremony.

3) Hold both the ceremony and reception inside the pavilion. Since the pavilion will have covered sides, we could always just have the ceremony in the pavilion. We could get married in front of the fireplace. But, the layout is not great for a ceremony. First, the way our tables will be arranged, our guests would not be looking straight ahead at us (in other words, the tables would be perpendicular to where Ken and I would be standing, not parallel). And it’s not like those tables can be moved easily. Each picnic table weighs 400 pounds. And since the benches are attached to the tables, we can’t move those like we could in the mess hall. To illustrate, this is a scaled version of our reception floorplan:


Another downside to this option is the catering setup. The caterers were planning to set up their stuff during our ceremony. If we hold the ceremony in the pavilion, that would delay setup of the food and bar.

4) If, for whatever reason, the pavilion does get too cold, we can invite the guests to move to the mess hall. We’ll have music going in there, and I think that once the buffet is actually done, the mess hall might be a cozier place anyway since the pavilion is just HUGE. And this option has always been part of our plan. But, people aren’t used to weddings where they can just move around from place to place. They’re used to being assigned to their table and then never moving anywhere else except maybe the dance floor and bar. But, we tried to avoid this by letting our guests know in the programs that there will be things set up in the mess hall.

As Ken keeps saying, we’ll just have to play it by ear. But what do you think? Would you think ill of a couple that had an outdoor wedding in 55 degree weather? After seeing weddings like this and this and this, I don’t feel so bad. Maybe I’ll try to buy one or two more patio heaters just in case!

And, to look on the bright side of things, there is a 0% chance of rain on our wedding day! Initially, they were predicting “showers.” Plus, the fall foliage will be at peak of the peak! The trees are GORGEOUS around here.


Assigned Seating Merry-go-Round

by Melissa on August 1, 2011

Back in June, my fiancé and I went to a wedding reception that didn’t have assigned seating.  *Gasp*

That’s like the cardinal rule of weddings all over the interwebs.  Skimp on all other time-consuming tasks if you have to, but never, ever skip assigned seating.  They say your guests will feel more comfortable not having to hunt for seats, and people who don’t know anyone else at your wedding will feel awkward trying to figure out where to sit.

But lo and behold, at the wedding wedding reception we attended, no one’s head exploded from a lack of seating chart.  No one meandered around disappointingly looking for a seat like a dorky kid at his first day of a new junior high school.  No feuds erupted among guests that didn’t get along (and there were plenty of those … the bride and groom are from different cultural backgrounds).  People just sat down and started chatting.

That sealed the deal for me.  I was not going to waste my time creating some damn seating chart and trying to track down guest RSVPs just because I needed to know where people would sit.

(A Long) Side Story: Our Catering Tasting and Visiting our Venue again

A few weeks ago, my fiancé and I visited the venue again.  My mom and dad were in town and had not seen the venue yet, so we took them there.  We also invited the woman we’re hiring as our “month of” coordinator.  While there, she and her assistant mentioned all the extra tables we were going to have to rent.  The pavilion provides 20 picnic tables that seat 8 people each (therefore seating 160 people).  We’re expecting about 125-150 guests, so I thought we were in good shape.  I was planning on renting two or three extra tables, including a small round one for me and my fiancé, and some regular, non-picnic tables and chairs for our immediate family.

Well, the coordinator promptly pointed out that the tables would only seat six people each.

“SIX!?!” I exclaimed.  “No way.  These definitely seat 8 people.”

“No,” she said calmly.  “In fact, in all likelihood it would be better if only four people sat at each table, but we can do with six.”  She said that because the benches were attached to the tables and because of the bar in the middle (pictured below), it would be way too uncomfortable for eight people to sit at each table.

picnictable (2)

Hundreds of dollar signs ran through my head.  Extra table rentals, extra linens and tablescape decor, and less open space to dance!

So, I said, “No, I definitely think we can get 8 people to sit at each table.”

But nope, six it was.  She said we just wouldn’t want our guests to be uncomfortable.  I was really devastated.  And totally embarrassed for missing such an important detail that was now going to cost us money.

Fast forward two weeks.  We were having a tasting with a BBQ caterer who has done several weddings at that venue.  The caterer came to our house, and we invited our coordinator.

We were all talking about general venue stuff, and the coordinator asked the caterer if they provide the tables they use to serve the food, because we were going to need all the picnic tables plus rent several more tables.

The caterer, who knew our estimated guest count because we had provided it to him for the food proposal, clarified with us how many people were going to be there.  We told him, 125-150.  The conversation then went like this:

Caterer:  Well, you won’t need any extra tables.  Those tables seat 8 people each and there are 20 in the pavilion.

Me: (like a brat and looking at the coordinator):  See!  I told you they seat 8 people!

Coordinator: “No, they only sit 4 or 6 at the most.”

Caterer: (incredulous).  Those are 8 foot tables!  That gives each person two feet on each side!

Coordinator: Yeah, but that bar in the middle affects the space

Caterer: I’ve catered at least ten events there, and eight people sit at those tables comfortably all the time.  Again, that’s two feet of space for each person!

Coordinator: Okay … (but still not sounding convinced)

With that simple, 30 second conversation, I felt so relieved.  Once again we weren’t going to have to rent 10 extra tables and sacrifice dance floor space.

Nice Side Story. Now What about Assigned Seating?

So, how does this all relate to assigned seating?  Well, after my initial relief about the picnic tables, I started thinking.  If we don’t have assigned seats, then people may start to seat themselves only 6 to a table, and then the seating issue might get a little awkward and it could appear that we don’t have enough tables.

So, to avoid that, with much disdain, I have decided to adopt the assigned seating mindset again.  Although, if we had regular tables and chairs instead of picnic tables and benches at our venue, you could be sure that I would not have assigned seating.

Lessons Learned

So, what are some lessons to take from this?

Trust your gut. Yes, wedding vendors have a lot of experience.  But, trust your gut.  I was going to end up shelling out probably several hundred dollars extra for table rentals just because I trusted my coordinator over my gut.  But my coordinator did not have experience with this venue, the caterer did.  Reach out to others who may have the experience if you’re second guessing one of your vendor’s decisions.

You do not need assigned seating.  Period. The wedding I went to in June was just fine.  LIBudgetBride just got married in June and had a well-executed, non-assigned seating wedding.  I hear that seating charts a huge hassle (and now that I have to do it myself, I’ll be able to speak from experience in a few months), and it’s not worth the time and effort, especially since it’s something that can’t be completely done until very close to your wedding date.


Saturday Randomness

by Melissa on May 14, 2011

A few thoughts, none of which warrant an entire blog post, but just feel like sharing:

  • Two weeks ago, I went to the Filene’s Basement Running of the Brides in Washington, DC.  I went at 6pm.  There were still a ton of wedding dresses left on the racks.  A TON.  Glad I didn’t wake up with the crazies and hoard dresses.  Only a few caught my eye.  I tried on five.  I can, without a doubt, say that I do not like any sort of bridal-looking wedding dress.

Filene's Basement Running of the Brides 1 in DC

Photo 1


  • On the upside, a week before the Running of the Brides, I tried on some dresses from a designer that had caught my eye on the internet.  Her designs are only carried by one shop in the DC area.  I tried on several from the same designer, Saja.  The one I thought I would love, I still liked a lot, but I definitely liked a different one better.  The issue?  The one I liked better is $400 more than the other one.  Not sure if it’s worth it.  Now I just need my parents and sister to come visit for a day so I can take them to see the dresses. Which one do you like better?  (Images from




  • I am working on the ultimate Wedding Playlist.  The most pressing problem is that it’s a bit heavy on fun, faster music, and a bit light on slower dance music.  I can’t help it!  I like fun, upbeat music!


  • I think we’re going to continue with our dance lessons.  We’re having a lot of fun, it gives us an excuse to get out of the house, since we always seem to be working on projects at home, and we’re both learning something together from scratch.  I am so proud of my fiance and how well he is learning how to foxtrot and waltz!  But neither of us like the Club Swing or Single Swing.  It’s just a very awkward feeling dance.


  • We still haven’t had our November 2011 wedding date confirmed yet by our venue.  The application period closed on May 1, so we should hear something any day now (it’s a National Park site, so the application process is kinda complicated).  If we don’t hear something by Monday, I’ll call.  I’m doing a good job of not obsessing about it, I’m just worried that the vendors we like will get booked before we hear back from the venue.


  • We had our engagement photos taken.  Well, they were actually taken in two parts.  We were supposed to meet our photographer at our picture location at 3pm last Friday.  The location closed at 5pm, so we would be able to get in our full two hours that the price included  (the photographer preferred to meet as late as possible to get the best light).  Well, the photographer was 30 minutes late.  Our session was rushed, she hadn’t scoped it out for the best picture locations (my fiance and I had been there before, but how are we supposed to know the best places for portraits?) and so we were running around like crazy.  So, I asked, and she agreed to do a second shoot at a different location just a few days later.  Even though she was only late by 30 minutes, the extra shoot went an hour.  I’m happy she was so accommodating, but, seriously, she was 30 minutes late!  We sat in the same traffic she did, and we were still there on time because we know how traffic is in this city and how long it takes to get places.  She assured us she wouldn’t be late for the wedding day.  She was super nice, but I just can’t seem to shrug the initial disappointment.  She’s a professional (read: expensive, and this is her full-time job, since photography is our top priority), so I’m hoping it was just a fluke.  I guess we’ll wait to see how the pictures turn out.


  • I’m a cheapskate, and hate how much it costs to get a haircut.  So, for years, I’ve been trimming my own hair and have never had a disaster.  Well, three days before our engagement photo session, I trimmed my bangs, just like I had done a hundred times before.  Well, I managed to cut off WAY too much. And rather than making it even, I decided to just leave it alone so that I wouldn’t end up with all short bangs (the shortest part was in the middle).  I have a fear of extremely short bangs after an unfortunate haircut in middle school that made me look like a little boy with a bowl cut.  So I figured, uneven was better than too short. For the next three days, I tugged on my bangs, massaged my scalp, and ingested many vitamins in an attempt to get my hair to grow back.  (not that I actually expected that to work).  Well, the day of the photos I think I managed to conceal it well and just kept rubbing down my bangs in between photos in an attempt to make them look longer.  This is an important lesson learned for my hair trim before the wedding!


  • We started our registry on  The Gear for Your Kitchen book has been invaluable.  So many useful tips and tools that I would have never thought of.  Now that I’ve cleared some of the usual registry items, I’m trying to think of other things to register for.


  • We bought 10 digital cameras to put on tables at the wedding.  Yes.  Ten.  They were refurbished Kodak point-and-shoots for $49 each from an Ebay seller.  We figure we can sell them after the wedding.  Now we just need some SD cards for them, and we’re all set!  I think this is actually a very reasonable price.  Disposable cameras used to be in the $10 each range, but then of course getting all those photos developed was very expensive.  I think this will come out to be about the same price.


Happy Saturday!


    This is Part 1 of a multi-part series about having a budget wedding in the DC area.  There will be additional posts over the next few weeks.

    Part 1: An Overview

    Reading Part 1 probably left you feeling a little discouraged.  But, think of it as a simple reality check.  Better that you realize it up front than several months down the road, like we did.  The more reasonable your expectations, the less likely you are to become stressed and disgusted with the prices of weddings in the DC area.

    In terms of wedding logistics, your most important decision will be the wedding venue (I say wedding logistics, because the venue is not the most important part of your wedding.  That part is saying your vows and having a good time!).  So, here’s my recommended approach for finding a budget venue in the DC area.

    1) Eliminate right off the bat any venue that has a pre-approved list of caterers or only allow you to use in-house catering.  These places, no matter what (see #2), will be too expensive.  Here’s a little wedding industry secret I learned.  Many venues actually charge caterers a fee for being on their exclusive, pre-approved catering list.  Well, caterers want to recoup that fee.  So what do they do?  They pass it on to you.  So, by choosing a venue with a list of preferred caterers, you are already upping your overall wedding expenses, by probably close to 5%.  Does 5% not sound like a a lot of money?  On a $20,000 wedding, that’s an additional 1000 bucks.

    2) Just because a venue is relatively inexpensive does not mean that your wedding will be inexpensive. Our original venue that we had put a hold on was Glen Echo Park, a fairly reasonably priced venue for this area.  For a Friday, off-peak season wedding, we were going to pay $1800 to rent out the Bumper Car Pavilion for an entire day.  Compared to other places in the DC area, that seemed like a downright bargain!  Well, unfortunately, Glen Echo Park fell victim to topic #1, the dreaded pre-approved caterers list.  Even with such an inexpensive venue fee, our venue/catering budget was going to reach $10,000 very quickly, especially since the venue did not provide any equipment like tables and chairs.

    3) Farther outside the city does not mean cheaper. Perhaps you already realize that places right in DC will be too far outside your budget.  Just because places have some foreign sounding names that you only hear on evening traffic reports, it does not mean cheaper.  Leesburg, Manassas, Occoquan, Gaithersburg.  Venues in those locations are not cheaper.  (However, and this is a topic for a different post, if you look for other vendors, like photographers and Deejays, based out of Fredericksburg or Richmond, those can be a bit cheaper.)  A rule of thumb: if the venue is on Wedding Wire or The Knot, realize that it will be out of your budget, regardless of its proximity (or lack thereof) to DC.

    4) Only consider venues that allow you to bring in outside alcohol and soda. Can you believe that we saw soda packages from some caterers (SODA!) for as high as $8 per person!?  For fucking Coke and Sprite?  Sometimes, alcohol packages were as high as $30 per person!  And, there are some venues that have pre-approved caterers that DO allow outside alcohol (you typically just have to hire a bartender (not sure of cost of that) and pay for a state liquor license – about $25).  Of course, venues do not advertise this, so make sure you ask and are pushy when asking, especially if they give a vague answer at first.

    5) If your venue does not provide tables and chairs, be advised that your caterer may throw a fit if you tell them you want to use an outside rental company. We had one caterer (the same caterer mentioned in #2) tell us outright that they would not cater a wedding unless they provided the tables and chairs.  They said that it becomes too difficult logistically, and that it has caused too much trouble in the past.  There might be some truth to that, but don’t book a caterer for a venue assuming that you can get cheaper rentals elsewhere.

    6)  When searching for a venue, go beyond Wedding Wire and The Knot. See my tips for searching for a wedding venue.


    Current Wedding Dilemmas Weighing on my Mind

    by Melissa on March 28, 2011

    Wedding planning has been going phenomenally well so far.  No stressors, no rushing, and a whole lotta fun!  (Even though we still have that one teensy detail that our wedding date still hasn’t been confirmed).  Even though things are going smoothly, I wanted to go over some things that I’m being indecisive about, and a lot of them have to do with the fact that we are self-catering our wedding.  I would love to hear from others who have experienced similar situations, or folks that just have ideas in general.  Help!

    Dilemma #1:  Glass vs. Plastic. Since we’re self-catering our wedding, I’m struggling with the decision of whether to purchase inexpensive glass dishes and cups or to just use plastic dishes that look like glass, like these Chinet Cut Crystal plates.  Real glass and real silverware would look nicer, but is it worth the cost and hassle?  Ikea sells clear glass plates for $0.99, and we’d probably need about 150 plates and probably even more glasses/cups.  Is it worth the cost?  I mean, we’ll still be saving money compared to what we’d have to pay if our wedding had traditional catering.  Plus, we could probably resell the items after the wedding to another bride-to-be.  However, I wonder if glass dishes will be more hassle than what it’s worth, because we’ll have to worry about who will collect those dishes and who will wash them at the end of the night.  If we go with plastic, our guests can just throw away their plates when they’re done.  What do you think?

    Dilemma #2: Staff and other helpers or let guests fend for themselves? Along the same lines as the glass vs. plastic dilemma, should we really put the responsibility on our guests to throw away their own stuff when they’re done?  Perhaps we could hire a few folks for the day to help clear off the tables as the night progresses.  I was already considering the idea of hiring one or two people to help refill the chafing dishes with food from the kitchen as the they get empty, and to staff up a bar area / drink station.  We will have a number of underage guests at our wedding, but of course all of them will be in the presence of their parents.  But I’m wondering if it would be better to have a dedicated station for people to walk up to and have their drinks served to them as opposed to having pour it themselves.  Plus, I’m not sure how our guests would appreciate having to put their hand in a cold bucket of ice water for their beer.

    Dilemma #3: Ugly trash cans and who will empty them? What should we do about garbage cans?  We’ve been to our venue twice now, and for the life of me, I can’t remember if they have any large garbage cans in the pavilion where we’ll have our reception.  I looked through our pictures, and don’t see any.  Hmmm, I guess we’d have to buy some large garbage cans to bring with us?  If they get full as the night progresses, who will empty them?

    Dilemma #4: Plan for indoors, hope for outdoors? We’re planning an outdoor wedding in November.  Crazy?  Not as much as you might think.  November weather is typically very pleasant here in the DC area, but folks seem to forget that.   Right now, we’re planning on having our ceremony in an outdoor, non-covered area, and then our reception in a covered pavilion (both areas have fire pits/fire places).   If the weather is too cold or too rainy, we can move it to the indoor backup location at the same venue (if the weather is great, we plan on having games and desserts set up in the indoor location). Although the daytime weather is typically pleasant,  it will get colder as it gets dark, so the idea is to move to the indoor location later as it gets darker and chillier for the games and desserts.  A few things bug me about starting outdoors and then moving indoors.  1) The DJ will already be set up outdoors, and 2) The food will already be set up outdoors.  We can’t just expect the DJ to pack up and move his equipment to our indoor location, and moving the food, or expecting our guests to walk back outdoors for food, sounds like a logistical nightmare.  Another option would be to look into how much it would cost to install temporary plastic sides on the pavilion to keep in the heat from the fireplace and keep out any wind and cold.  But that sounds like it could get expensive.  So, should we just plan on having it indoors and then hope we can do it outdoors?

    Dilemma #5: Getting ready in a hotel vs. Getting ready at home. Our venue is about 20 miles south of our house.  Initially, I wanted to stay at a hotel closer to the venue, because even on weekends, traffic can be awful around here.  I would hate to sit in 1.5 hours of traffic on my wedding day.  So, I decided that it would be best to get a hotel closer to the venue and not have to worry about the traffic.  Well, I might not have to worry about the traffic, but there are tons of other things I’d have to worry about, including 1) Not getting a good night sleep on an uncomfortable hotel bed, 2) Worrying that I’m going to forget to bring something with me for the wedding day, 3) Not having as much space as what we would getting ready around the house.

    So then I decided that staying at our house the night before the wedding would be better.  I wouldn’t have to pack up anything for the hotel and worry about forgetting anything, and I could be much more relaxed at home than in a hotel.  But, once again, I started to overthink it.  What about all those beautiful wedding photos taken of brides getting ready in hotel rooms.  Our house is nice, don’t get me wrong, but we don’t have amazing, plush bedding, and are curtains are kind of blah, etc.  And I don’t even have a full length mirror (except for one that is on the back of our bathroom door) to get one of those amazing reflection shots.    So, blogosphere, what should I do?  Stay in a hotel or stay at home the night before the wedding?  (although as I was looking for the links for this post, I came across plenty of lovely photos getting ready in a house, not a hotel.  We also have a big issue with natural light.  We live in a center unit of a townhouse, so we don’t have any windows on the sides of the house.  Just front and back.

    Dilemma #6: Hiding the kitchen in our indoor-backup location. Our indoor backup location / location where we’ll have desserts and games (see Dilemma #4) is nice, and large and has a gorgeous fireplace, but there is just one thing that bothers me.  The large industrial kitchen that I am thankful to have because it will allow us to self-cater our wedding, is completely open to the rest of the dining area though a pass-through window type of thing.


    Not exactly aesthetically pleasing.  Only problem is, I have no idea how to cover it up.  A basic curtain?  But I have no idea how to install it without damaging the walls.  Some sort of room divider thing?  Help!

    Wow.  OMG.  No seriously, just as I was writing this, I realized that that might be a perfect backdrop area for a fauxtobooth!  Holy crap, blogging is useful!  I could get away with just tacking up some basic fabric (or do one of these PVC deals, but that looks complicated) and I would have the perfect excuse for having some random sheet just hanging down!  Yay writing!!

    Speaking of hiding quasi-eyesores, the stage area in the pavilion is also less than stellar.

    Pavilion Stage


    I would imagine that we’d have our DJ set up everything right here, so that would probably cover it somewhat, but what about the rest?  Just leave it as-is?  Or should we install some sort of backdrop?

    Whew, okay, I think that’s all that’s been bugging me.  If you have any advice or tips, for any of these topics, I’d love to hear them!