So I narrowed it down to three choices, and made appointments to visit Phipps Conservatory and the Mayernik Center. The North Park Boathouse didn’t have an email, so I would have to call to set up an appointment. I’m not ashamed to say that actually having to call someone is a serious deterrent for me. *shrug* Gen Y, lazy. So make that two choices.
Thankfully, I had the good sense to schedule both visits pretty close together so that if we loved the first venue, we wouldn’t have long to wait before we could see the second, and then we could make a decision! It was definitely a good choice, because all of the details were fresh in our minds, and it made October “wedding month” for us! Somewhat coincidentally, it also marked the two-year mark from our intended wedding date. I say “intended” because, well, things change.
First up was Phipps. We had an appointment to visit Phipps’ Garden Center first, which is a smaller, more casual area that only holds 100 people. I thought that would be OK for us, since Phipps was pricey anyway, and we would be limiting our guest list already. Once I saw the Garden Center, though, it was immediately ruled out. We visited on a Sunday when it was set up for an event, which just so happened to be the brunch of a wedding held at the Conservatory the night before. The setup wasn’t a deterrent, but the overall look of the Garden Center was just NOT what I wanted. It was too casual for what we want our reception to be (ironic, since I think we’re having a casual wedding, but this was more “jeans” casual), and it was just too small. They say it holds 100, but it looked to me like over 60 would be pushing it, and there wouldn’t be room for a dance floor with that many people there.
However, visiting the Garden Center sparked a couple more ideas, because it is next to Mellon Park. It has a “walled garden,” a gorgeous little stone-walled courtyard with a fountain, which would be a gorgeous space for a wedding ceremony. I bookmarked it in my brain for later in case the rest of the visit didn’t work out. We also inadvertently went to the wrong building when we arrived for our tour, and found ourselves at the Pittsburgh Center for the Arts, which is also a venue for wedding receptions. I did send an email there after our Phipps visit because I loved the look of the building, but I wasn’t keen on the long response time, or the gruff response that I received.
But isn’t it gorgeous!?! / Image via pca.pittsburgharts.org
Let’s take a pause here. Now, I may be crazy, but I don’t take kindly to short or unfriendly responses that I receive from potential wedding vendors. If I am thinking about giving you thousands of dollars, and you can’t find it in you to be polite and send me a nice response to my inquiry, then I’m not going to give you my money. I don’t care how fabulous your venue, work, service may be. If you’re not nice, I’m not going to involve you in the biggest event of my life. I will find something maybe less than perfect, but with nice people who actually appreciate my hard-earned dollars in their pockets, thank you very much. Whew, end rant. Let’s move on.
So I ruled the Pittsburgh Center for the Arts out based on
my insanity “the nice vendor principle.”
Thankfully, the rest of our Phipps visit was spectacular. We met with Emily*, the Event Sales Supervisor, who was super friendly and helpful. She showed us all of the places in the Conservatory that I had requested we see, was patient with my
craziness seemingly endless questions, and sat down to talk to us post-tour. The next day, as promised, she sent me an email with all of the available dates (for a two-month span), answered my numerous emails, and was great to work with. She really met my expectations and put my mind at ease. We drove home from our visit doing rough calculations (on my phone’s calculator) and discussing whether we could make it work with our intended budget and our actual ability to save money over the next two years. I spent the rest of the evening constructing a ridiculous budget spreadsheet with budget estimates, calculations for guest-list estimates with each food and alcohol package, and a total estimate for all of the wedding expenses. In our excitement, we were really considering the budget-busting plan of having both ceremony and reception at Phipps.
After our visit at Phipps, we had to wait until the following Saturday to visit the Mayernik Center. Now, I had already hounded Suzi, the event coordinator at Avonworth Park, with tons of questions and details, so I knew she was quick to respond and took my craziness in stride. I was surprised to find that when I met her, she wasn’t what I expected. She actually reminded me of my aunts. We took a walk around the facility, I took a bunch of pictures, I found out that one of my cousins would be a guest at the wedding there that evening (small world!), and we discussed dates and details with Suzi. We both felt really comfortable with her, as we did with Emily, and it just felt right. As we walked out the door and across the bridge to the parking lot, we were holding hands and basically just asking each other “Are we really doing this? Are we really ready to make a decision?” Talk about fun moments of wedding planning!
And I think this calls for a pros/cons list.
- Stunningly beautiful
- It gives out-of-town guests an “experience” rather than “just a wedding.”
- My family loves visiting Phipps, and it gives us another reason to visit.
- It’s my dreeeeeeeeam.
- They’re truly wedding professionals, and all the details would be covered.
- Their catering is in-house, and the cake is included in the cost.
- We just have to provide the vision and our choices, and they’ll put it together.
- Pictures would be phenomenally gorgeous (yes, very dramatic).
- It’s in Oakland, where I went to school, where we got our engagement pictures taken (spoiler alert!), and where I spent so many important years of my life.
- We would only have to choose our photographer, DJ, and lighting company. Everything else (that we would use) is coordinated by the caterer.
- It fits my desire not to use flowers, because it’s a garden and there are flowers everywhere. Check!
- Really, just one. But it’s a doozy. It’s suuuuuuuper expensive. We’re talking food starting at $90 pp and alcohol starting at $25 pp. Our choices would likely lead to $130 or more per person. That’s way over budget.
- The look fits my wedding vision. It’s warm and cozy, rustic, and perfect for a fall wedding. (It’d also be fabulous in winter.)
- They have three preferred caterers** to choose from.
- It’s still pricey as far as rental fees go, but choosing our own caterer would help us stay within budget.
- We can provide our own alcohol, and they provide the bartenders and beer (both purchased through the Center)—which would greatly reduce costs as well!
- We get to choose and bring in all of our own vendors.
- We have to choose and bring in all of our own vendors. This is both a blessing and a curse. While it would help us minimize costs, it also is more stuff for me to organize and keep on top of while trying to juggle the rest of life.
- Decorating time is limited to two hours prior to the event, so decorations would have to be minimal. They also restrict decor inside—you can’t hang anything on the walls (seriously, nothing), so the majority of the decor would have to be on the tables and the mantle. The short time to decorate (and tear down) gave me a little panic attack. I’m sure it’s that way with a lot of venues, but it really made me think about the day-of details, and it freaked me out.
Ultimately, we came to the conclusion that any wedding will be pricey if we go “all out” and have a “typical” big wedding (i.e., invite family and friends, have a full dinner reception with alcohol and dancing), so we had to get to a point where we were comfortable with what we could afford, without compromising on quality. We took a deep breath and discussed our options. We didn’t think either Phipps or the Mayernik Center was a perfect solution.
Think you have a solution? Find out what we decided next.
Did you veto any vendors based on “the nice vendor principle”? Do you make pros/cons lists?
*Emily has since left Phipps
**The Mayernik Center initially offered three preferred caterers, then added a fourth, and now they are back to three.