Why I Worked At Your Wedding Before Planning My Own

I got a bunch of concerned emails when I posted on Facebook that I helped cater a wedding this summer. People thought I was hard up for money.

Not that. At all.

There are a few reasons I’ve done a few stints with Bar Harbor Catering Company:

1) I met Mandy the owner a few years ago and was impressed by her, so I thought it would be fun to work for her.
2) As someone who has been self employed for five years, I can appreciate a job where I just show up, do what I’m told, and collect a paycheck. (Trust me, unless you are the most renegade person, I think every self employed person misses that sometimes.)
3) It’s nice to make some money and do something a little physical that has nothing to do with my real life.
4) I’ve always felt like since I’ve never done food service, I am missing out on some important and seemingly universal life experience.
5) I had to see behind the wedding curtain before planning my big day.

behind-the-curtain-wizard-of-ozOK so the first four reasons make some degree of sense… but what do I mean about the wedding curtain? I am making a Wizard of Oz reference here of pulling back the curtain and seeing all the great and powerful acts are caused by some dude with amazing equipment.

As a wedding guest, you only see the perfection of a well orchestrated day. Catering a wedding is seeing the whole situation from another angle. An important angle for me.

A bit of background: I once read an article about there being two kinds of people in the world: moderators and abstainers. Moderators can keep ice cream in their house, eating a small bowl once in awhile. Abstainers can not keep ice cream in their house since it is gone within 24 hours of buying the gallon.

I am an abstainer. Temptation can get the better of me if I am not careful.

You can imagine what can happen when an abstainer like myself who has never even opened a wedding magazine gets engaged and starts innocently looking at Pinterest…  Let’s just say I had no idea what  was out there. No. Idea. And seeing these beautiful events that cost much more than my annual salary, I needed to make myself abstain.

So to snap myself back into my reality, I took the first catering job at a wedding that cost more than mine ever can. I carried water pitchers and trays and went home covered in bits of other peoples’ dinners… and I had a great time.

The hard working part of who I am was proud. It was a 12 hour day on my feet and I kept my patience, energy, and smile through most of it. When I told Mandy later that was the first time I had ever served food or done anything like that, she couldn’t believe it.

The researcher part of me was interested in learning more about weddings from the vendors. Think about it: in the hours before a wedding you have photographers, caterers, rental companies, and other vendors showing up to this one location and, as long as you aren’t ridiculous about it, they’ll answer some questions for you. One of the guys from the rental company for example talked to another waitress (who is also engaged) about how she could have the same kind of tent setup for half the price by making a few slightly different decisions.

The practical part of me needed to see the reality. Behind the beautiful, perfectly decorated tent in the scenic Maine location was an area where waitresses are scraping plates of uneaten food. If you are having a fancy event, it’s perfectly fine to ignore this. But if you are even a little jealous of someone else’s fancy event, this can be a helpful realization for you.

The intellectual part of me liked helping solve problems as they cropped up. Like there were no easels to prop up the menus on the buffet tables… so I went in a closet and found two crazy tall candles and leaned the menus against them. No one noticed. Seeing that no one noticed also made me realize the things that might go wrong at our wedding people probably won’t notice either.

The realistic part of me realized there is always someone who isn’t going to like it. As I carried in the salads with the fresh avocado slices generously piled on, I thought these people were in for a treat. 20 minutes later scraping avocados into the trash, I realized one person’s amazing avocado salad is another person’s weird green crap. You can’t please everyone so you’ve got to please yourself.

This trying to please everyone idea in particular was keeping me from even setting a wedding date.

Working at the wedding though has given me an important perspective. That for a few people, my wedding day is just going to be a day they get a paycheck. That most people probably won’t notice I didn’t pony up for chair covers. And that regardless of whether we spend $5 or $50,000, at the end we’re married and hopefully had a great time doing it.

So for those of you who might catch yourselves throwing a tantrum because the shade of white for the tablecloths doesn’t match your dress perfectly, I highly recommend catering one wedding. It’ll give you much needed prospective… and you’ll go away with a couple extra bucks in your pocket from the experience.

Nicole Ouellette
Nicole runs Breaking Even Communications, an internet marketing company in Bar Harbor Maine. When she's not online, she enjoys walking her short dog, cooking with bacon, and trying to be outdoorsy in Acadia National Park.

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