Just turning on the TV these days will give you a glimpse into life in the Big Easy. We hosted Super Bowl XLVII this year, the History Channel can keep you up to date on the latest ways to shoot alligators, ducks, and the like, and I’m really getting into this season of American Horror Story: Coven set in New Orleans! True Blood doesn’t count. That shiz is just cray.
While a lot of this is pretty exaggerated, we are still a pretty unique city. Louisiana doesn’t have counties, we have parishes. And we don’t bury people underground. And let’s not get started on our eclectic vocabulary. We sure do love to party for any reason at all, complete with good food and drink. Suffice to say, that New Orleans is a special, diverse place, and it is near and dear to my heart. I love our traditions and what makes us special, and I want to be able to showcase that in our wedding.
With that said, I have a big problem with the way New Orleans does weddings. And you’re saying, “But didn’t you just say that New Orleans loves to party and eat and drink? Doesn’t that add up to a spectacular wedding?” Yep, I know. They’re still pretty awesome parties, but apparently the way we do these is different than the rest of the world!
Let me start out by saying that I am not a wedding veteran. I’ve only attended a handful of weddings, thus my experience is limited. However, I did contact plenty of venues and read up on their packages, and I spoke with coordinators too. Until I started reading wedding websites—and watching Four Weddings—I had no concept of sit-down dinners at weddings. I mean, I knew what they were but I thought it was only for the movies and super fancy, million-dollar affairs. Imagine my surprise that everywhere else in the country and beyond, these are the standard. And to be honest, I felt cheated and I got a little pissed off.
For the typical New Orleans cocktail-style reception, here’s what you’ve got:
- Three-hour reception. Venues will offer an additional hour for additional $$, but most recommend not to. Apparently people get bored and no one hangs around for the extra hour, so you have a very sad end to the reception with just a few lonely drunks left to cheer you at your exit.
- Stations/buffet/passed apps. Sometimes the food is left out for the entire reception, sometimes it’s cut shorter. It’s all out and ready to eat right when guests get to the reception.
- No cocktail hour. I had no idea cocktail hours were a thing. The entire wedding is a cocktail hour, essentially. This also makes post-ceremony pictures harder. Guests will go straight to the reception, so the couple are missing out on the actual reception, not a cocktail hour.
- No speeches. It’s usually music from start to finish—starting with the special dances—with some breaks for cake cutting and tosses. I’ve heard of people doing speeches at the rehearsal dinner.
- Open bar. Based on the packages I saw, the standard was to have a completely hosted bar, and I’ve never been to a wedding with a cash bar.
- No assigned seating and not enough seating for everyone. Most venues only put out chairs for about half of the guests. A very popular venue (and the most expensive that I looked at) would only do chairs for one third. Along with that, there are no escort cards, table numbers, or seating assignments. There are usually a few large tables reserved for family. This is the one that really gets me, so I’m going to need to step out of the bullet point and step up onto my…
This was so cute I had to use it. / Found at Life with My Special K’s
As soon as I found out about these magical places where food is brought to you at a table and calligraphy cards tell you where to sit, I tucked the idea away for the future and knew that I would want to try it when my time came.
And then I’m engaged and blaze ahead getting quotes from reception venues. Some have an option for a sit-down dinner, but it drastically increased the price and severely limited the amount of people a venue could hold. Which totally makes sense—I’m actually not that tied to the idea of a sit-down dinner, but I did like the idea of having enough chairs for everyone. And I was willing to pay the extra to get what I wanted, since obviously I was asking for more.
But when I inquired about this option to the venue representatives who were asking me to fork over the equivalent of several mortgage payments on their deposit, the response was something like “That’s not how you want to do it. It’s not the New Orleans way.” (So, I paraphrase, but that’s because this happened with several vendors, not just one.)
So I expressed my confusion with this, and the argument of the NOLA wedding industry and my family members was that you want a fun reception, right? You don’t want your guests sitting down! This setup keeps people moving around, mingling, and not being anti-social losers on the most super special day of your life. Obviously not everyone wants to eat at the exact same time, so everyone will always be able to find a seat for the 2.5 seconds they will be eating and then get on up and contribute to this party atmosphere that I must want because I’m having a rave wedding.
A shot of a part of a NOLA wedding reception: small, casual tables and mingling / Photo via Eau Claire Photographics
So this definitely gives the younger people the short end of the stick—tables are taken by older guests and we’re forced to wobble around in high heels and balance plates of food if we want to get a bite to eat before all that drinking.
No one seemed to understand that it might be nice to have a table to go back to if you want to sit down while you don’t like the song that’s playing. Or when you want to actually eat a bit of cake or just talk to someone you haven’t seen in a while. Now, I am no expert in party-layout psychology, but I don’t think that giving someone a seat means that they will be glued to it all night. But what do I know?
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that cocktail-style weddings suck—that list above has lots of pros as well as cons. And I’m not complaining that I had a terrible time at any of the ones I attended; on the contrary, we’ve had a great time at every wedding, and I get that this style is what is understood and expected in our area.
But is it right for us and our wedding?
I discussed this a lot with Sphinx and my friends, particularly BM Perk. She was baffled by this, too, not realizing that it was a given to have this kind of wedding in New Orleans. We’re thinking this is an “older” mentality that doesn’t translate as well to younger generations, which is more informed of how things are outside of our Crescent City bubble. Wedding knowledge and practices aside, I had a guy friend mention how he was annoyed about the lack of seating at a wedding he attended earlier this year. If it’s enough to stand out for a guy to mention it, then he must have really had a problem with it!
Fortunately, the Board of Trade is more flexible with allowing different styles of seating and serving, instead of being locked down. I think my ideal setup would be a mixture of the two styles. I’d like to serve food at stations, but have enough seating for everyone. This is what they did at BM J’s wedding last year, and I think it worked out very well. I’d also like to use table assignments, but I’m not sure if that’s pushing it too far (or should I just be happy that I don’t have to do a seating chart?).
Once we finalize the guest list, research the cost of rentals, and talk about layouts, then it will be decision time.
Did you buck any cultural norms in your wedding? Any advice for me on what to do? At least we have open bars, right?
- New Orleans, LA
- Petroleum Engineer
- Wedding Date:
- St. Francis of Assisi Church & N.O. Board of Trade