Yes, the draft of this post has been a work-in-progress for over a year now. Literally. I started it in May of 2016 just a few weeks after our wedding…and then life happened. June of 2016 brought a move to Boston, August brought a new job, and then with Fall 2016 came news of our little bundle of sunshine and suddenly time was consumed by a combination of typical baby prep and slightly less typical “how to eat safely and handle pregnancy with celiac” research and appointments. Thus, the wedding post was left occasionally touched, but never quite finished. (Don’t worry, the baby ones are a work-in-progress too…so maybe by 2019 I’ll finish those?? 🙂
This post is going to address two different scenarios: planning a wedding (or any major event really) when you are the one with food allergies/intolerances, and also some tips for planning a wedding where some of the guests have food allergies/intolerances (which honestly these days is pretty much guaranteed at any event). So pour yourself something warm (it’s -2 degrees as I’m writing this) and here we go!
Scenario A: You are the one with food allergies/intolerances
Here is my advice to anyone planning a wedding, allergies or not: Choose what is most important to you about your big day and stick to it. And by choose I mean you actually have to choose 1 or 2 things and let those be your guide. I know all the wedding magazines, Bridal books, and Pinterest boards make it seem like you can (and should!) have everything and anything you ever wanted crammed into your day. From someone who has planned a wedding and been a part of many over the past few years, this is not the reality. The chances that your “dream photographer/videographer” will be available the same day as your “dream venue” on a day when the weather is desirable, there isn’t a holiday involved, there isn’t a conflict with a close family member’s college graduation, AND you’re not part of someone else’s wedding, are pretty slim. Unless you want to be engaged for 3-5 years. Which if that’s what you really want, go for it. (Remember choose what matters to you and your fiance(e) and stick with it!)
Here is the thing: planning a wedding involves so many decisions. SO MANY. I know everyone tells you that but it’s actually true. And if you go in without any concrete decisions to guide you, trust me it will get overwhelming really quickly. For example, for me the two most important things (and of course I mean aside from “be married by the end of the day”) were a) the church and b) the food. I could not imagine getting married anywhere except the church which had become my home in Baltimore (actually, Towson) and where I had taught for 4 years. Once we met with the priest and parish secretary (never underestimate the power of a parish secretary) and had a choice of dates that the church was available, it was pretty easy to settle on the date we wanted. That simple (OK, maybe not quite so simple) decision automatically made life so much easier because it immediately eliminated certain venue choices. Was I intrigued by the idea of a wedding reception at the Baltimore Zoo where a penguin would come to cocktail hour? You bet I was. But I called and they already had a wedding on March 19th so no more decisions to be made, just cross it off the list and don’t look back. The same was true with a variety of DJ and photography choices- if they’re already booked that day, time to move on. Again, this is why you really need to choose YOUR important things first. If you only want a certain photographer, get the available dates from him/her first and then the other details will have to fall in line accordingly. Trust me, it will be your saving grace to start narrowing down options.
The next important detail for me (not surprisingly) was the food. Now, as a bride/groom/person being honored at a big event, the choice of how to handle food allergies/intolerances is completely yours. Most venues/caterers will provide you-safe meals and serve everyone else gluten-filled, dairy-filled dishes. You might say “Nope, I want everything at my event to be completely me-safe so I don’t have to worry about it”. That’s also totally reasonable, and though a little more challenging, still very do-able. As for me, I fell somewhere in between. I knew that my wedding was the one day in my life where I wanted to feel included in the celebration with everyone else. I didn’t want a great catered meal for everyone while I had a plate of plain baked chicken and steamed broccoli. On the other hand, I was not going to spend the crazy amount of money it would require to host an entirely Katie-safe wedding where honestly the food may or may not be all that tasty. So we came up with the perfect-for-us solution. Cocktail hour would be lots of non-Katie-safe hors d’oeuvres because we would mostly be taking pictures anyway. We chose one dish that was Katie-safe and a plate was set aside for the bridal room and we also stashed some Utz potato chips in there for me to snack on between photos…but I figured why limit everyone else when I wouldn’t be at cocktail hour anyway.
|Enjoying my Utz potato chips during cocktail hour!|
Dinner was where it mattered to me that the food be delicious but I could also safely enjoy what everyone else was having. So what other option could there be but one of my deepest loves: Chipotle. That’s right, Chipotle catered our wedding. And it was everything I dreamed it would be. Not to mention, they were so excited about it that we got a discount AND some Chipotle merchandise waiting at our door when we returned from our honeymoon. Everyone ate well (as far as I know) and I got to sit next to my new husband in my wedding dress looking around a room filled with everyone I love while enjoying a chicken burrito bowl. Seriously though, does life get any better?? (Granted this was before I ate the same burrito bowl at the hospital right after our little guy was born this year, but that’s another story for another time.)
|A handwritten card from our new friends at Chipotle corporate!|
|Eating Chipotle at my wedding. Dreams do come true.|
|We arrived home from our honeymoon to a box of goodies from Chipotle!|
And then as far as dessert, we ordered a little Katie-safe cake for us to cut into and enjoy but then filled the rest of our cupcake tree with delicious (and much cheaper) gluten-filled cupcakes for the rest of the guests to enjoy. If you live anywhere near Philadelphia, drop everything and head right to Sweet Freedom. They are amazing- and even made sure I didn’t miss out on the cake-tasting experience before the wedding.
For us, it was the perfect night and I can honestly say I wouldn’t change a thing. However, as you’ll learn if you’re planning an event, there are very few venues today that allow outside catering to come in. Most places either have on-site catering or an approved list of caterers who are allowed to serve at events. Although this initially irked me, after some conversations I realized it’s actually for very practical reasons: lawsuits abound over improperly handled food, allergen contamination, etc. so it is in the best interest of a venue to only allow trusted caterers on the premises. So for me, this choice to have Chipotle and only Chipotle as my dinner option ruled out most venues in the greater Baltimore area…and in hindsight I’m so glad it did. I absolutely loved the woman who ran our venue and she was like having a built-in wedding planner that came with the hall. I loved that we spent the day before our wedding at the hall setting everything up with our family and bridal party. I loved that everything had a personal touch. We put coffee beans in our centerpieces (I mean, we re-met over coffee and you know my love for coffee!), we had pies on each table, my students helped fold programs during the week leading up to the wedding, one of them handwrote all of our placecards during her study halls, and even our wedding cake topper was a gift from a student who asked her brother to make it for us on a 3-D printer and he sent it to us from his class at Duke. It really felt like an event that was put together by everyone in our lives.
Again, I am not saying this is best for everyone. If you know that you want to spend the day before your wedding relaxing with family and friends you don’t often see, then don’t choose a place where you set everything up yourself. If you have a busy schedule and you’re not into DIY, then don’t choose your wedding as the time to start DIY-ing everything from Pinterest. (Again, maybe pick a project or two. Any more than that and you’re heading down the rabbit hole). I worked at a wedding venue in high school and college and I can tell you the wedding planners at those genuinely care about what they do and put a lot of love into the set-up of events so if that’s the best option for you, then do it and enjoy the freedom it gives you to just live in the moment and enjoy your weekend.
In summary, here are my recommendations for anyone planning a wedding (allergen-related or not!):
- Choose 1 or 2 non-negotiables. Whether it’s food, venue, photographer, date, etc. just decide on those and make the rest of the decisions to ensure that these non-negotiables become reality.
- Own your decisions. Sticking fast to your 1 or 2 non-negotiables does not make you a Bridezilla. (Unless your non-negotiable is something outlandish- see recommendation #3) There were people who told me to give up on my Chipotle idea and just settle for the baked chicken, but I knew what I wanted so I didn’t give up that easily. (Again, please refer to #3)
- I cannot encourage you to have non-negotiables without a caveat: make sure you have “that person” in your life. You know, the one who can lovingly but honestly say “Sorry, having your entire wedding party consist of beloved puppies from the animal shelter is not a good idea. Please stop with the crazy”. Now yes, you have your soon-to-be-spouse as one of those people, but sometimes you both get so caught up in the crazy and wanting to make sure the other one has everything he/she wants that it is helpful to have someone on the outside. I’m pretty sure that’s why there is a bridal party to begin with. Use them, listen to them, and thank them for keeping you sane 🙂
- Ask for help. Planning a big event like a wedding is a lot of work. A LOT. Not to mention you still have the rest of your life going on: full-time jobs, one of you planning a move (I’m going to side with my grandfather on this one and choose to believe that everyone still lives separately until the wedding), and all your other regular life commitments. We had the help of my students of course, but we also had friends pick up the food for us, one of my bridesmaids picked up the Katie-safe cake and drove it with great care from Philadelphia, and countless people helped us with set-up, decorations, etc. People love to help. Don’t be afraid to ask.
- Wegman’s does amazing bouquets and flowers for a fraction of the cost. Just make sure you check the temperature in the refrigerator where you store them so the water doesn’t freeze, thus killing your bouquet (true story- but totally not Wegman’s fault. I’d use them again in a second). See #7- hiccups happen, but they make for great memories!
- Remember that this is one day of your life. One very important day, yes. But just know that whether you spend $5,000 or $50,000, life will go on the day after and you may want to use some of those thousands one something that lasts a little longer. But that’s your call. I found my dress at a wedding dress consignment shop outside DC and to this day I am so grateful that I found a dress I loved so much but cost much less than a month of rent 🙂
- Enjoy yourself. There is a lot of stress that goes into planning a big event. You will get overwhelmed at some point and may find yourself in line at Chipotle one night almost in tears because they want you to decide between white and brown rice in your dinner. That’s when you need to step back and remember what this day/event is really all about. Details matter, yes. But when all is said and done, as long as you are married, you are happy, and everyone is healthy, nothing else matters all that much. (Trust me, I worked many weddings. One time a glass candleholder exploded all over the cake. Shards of glass were in the cake- and even then that bride managed to laugh by the end of the night) I never thought it would snow in late March, but it made for better wedding pictures than I ever could have hoped for!
- Plan your meals wisely leading up to the wedding- and that includes the rehearsal dinner! I only ate things I personally cooked for the 2 weeks leading up to the wedding (including packing my own food for the rehearsal dinner) because I was not taking a chance at getting glutened/caseined, etc. and feeling sick on my wedding day if I could prevent it. Again, your call but something I would 100% recommend.
- Have SCOPE on-hand. Seriously, though. We bought enough of these on Amazon for favors and we still have leftovers that we use to this day. Trust me, both of you should get to eat what you want at your wedding and still be able to kiss each other safely.
|Scope: don’t get married without it!|
- Option A: You’re having your wedding at a venue with a full kitchen that offers a wide variety of options to meet all kinds of dietary restrictions. Great, just make sure to include a spot on your response cards for food restrictions (*NOTE: This is especially important if you’re inviting a plus one for anyone. You may think you know which friends and family members have food allergies but Cousin Charlie’s Plus One could have celiac and you’d never know.) Once you give that information to the kitchen or coordinator at the venue, your job is pretty much done. Unless they say there is some restriction they can’t accommodate. In that case, your job is simply to make sure that guest knows. As someone with food restrictions, I am telling you it is not your job to track down a meal for that person. As long as you are open and honest ahead of time, the guest will figure out a way to get or pack food. The only time I would say you should go farther is if the person is close family or in the wedding party. In that case the person would have to be with you for pictures and wouldn’t really have time to procure food elsewhere so in that case I’d say work together with them to find a solution. Otherwise, you’re welcome to go above and beyond but it is certainly not expected.
- Option B: You’re bringing in your own food from the outside and it will be buffet or self-serve. Usually this information is stated on the invitation (or assumed because guests aren’t asked to choose a meal). Again, I would recommend a place for food restrictions OR at least a contact name for someone who does have restrictions to reach out to. (This does not necessarily have to be you: again, delegate!) Also, buffets can be dangerous for the food-allergic (people tend to mix up serving spoons or drop items into different trays where they don’t belong) so if you can arrange for the people with allergies to go through the buffet first, that would make a HUGE difference. Again, your decision entirely but just make sure to communicate the plan to any guests with food allergies so they can plan accordingly.
- Option C: You have a million and one details to worry about. The menu is what it is and you are not trying to accommodate 15 different food needs. This may sound harsh but I 100% think this is a reasonable mentality.(Again, slightly different for family and bridal party consideration) I can’t speak for everyone with food allergies/restrictions but for me, I am fortunate enough to be a part of your big day. I get to witness your vows, share in your toast, dance at your reception, and bask in the happiness of your wedding day. If I can’t eat anything provided and be confident that I won’t get sick, that’s totally fine with me. I am the master of packing snacks and warming up food in my hotel room. I always scarf down some Utz chips or the equivalent on my way to cocktail hour so I can enjoy myself without sipping wine on an empty stomach. Also, if the wedding is out of town, you better believe I have scoured the internet for the nearest gluten-free, dairy-free bakeries to try out. I am going to try it out regardless of whether there is food for me at your wedding…I’ll just adjust how much I buy (maybe). As above, my only request would be communication. Just let the guests know, this is what the food is. Then the responsibility is on me to take care of myself. I know not everyone will agree with this option but I really think, unless your wedding is a 3-day affair in the middle of the woods, a guest can get by just fine with proper notification.
|My best piece of advice: include a contact on the invitation.
Then the job is out of your hands!
|This is one of my favorite moments of all-time. And thankfully, our amazing photographer caught it 🙂|
As for me, I would not change a thing about our wedding day and I find such joy in the privilege of sharing in other people’s big days. At the end of the day, food isn’t what matters most. It is the little moments of joy, the bright smiles, and even the heartfelt tears that fill my soul at a wedding…and no amount of Katie-safe food can do that 🙂