Food, Drinks and Treats

Choosing Wine For Your Wedding

Our educational session at last night’s Association of Bridal Consultants’ meeting was all about selecting wines for weddings. With the help of the Certified Sommelier Steven Jones from TPC Sawgrass, we learned that some wines are better for cocktail hour, some are better for dinner, and some can be used for both.

We tasted Beringer Foudners Estate Chardonnay, which is a great option for cocktail hour. It’s light and crisp, but doesn’t have enough body to be paired with your dinner entree. For dinner, we tried Kendall-Jackson Vintner’s Reserve Chardonnay. This was the #1 selling restaurant wine list wine in the US, which makes it an excellent choice to pair with a meal. The third wine was Wente “Morning Fog” Chardonnay, which had a nice balance. It was light enough to enjoy on its own, but had enough body to pair with dinner too.

When you are selecting wines for your wedding, don’t automatically pick the house red and white. Talk to your catering sales manager about options; most venues would be happy to discuss wines that will compliment your meal choice.  Even if they do not have a Sommelier on staff, their chef or food and beverage director can help you with your selection.

Interesting side note: On any given day, TPC Sawgrass has roughly $800,000 in wine inventory. The weeks leading up to The Players Championship make that number even bigger! That’s a lot of wine.

New Year’s Eve Wedding Tips

We are busy preparing for a special New Year’s Eve wedding on Saturday! I thought I would share a few suggestions if you are considering a New Year’s Eve wedding too.

  • Set your ceremony time for 7:00 pm or later. Your guests will want to stay until midnight, so don’t try to stretch the party out too long.
  • Send your invitations well in advance. Normally, wedding invitations are mailed 6-8 weeks before the wedding; yours should be sent about 3 months before to allow your guests to make plans.
  • Consider adding late-night snacks or a midnight breakfast buffet to your menu.
  • Ask your venue or audio/visual company about having a big-screen TV in the room to watch to countdown to midnight.
  • Don’t forget to purchase party favors for your guests! Noise-makers, hats, and tiaras are always fun to ring in the New Year.
  • Offer plenty of non-alcoholic drinks and urge your guests to use cabs or designate a driver.

Side note: If you are out celebrating on New Year’s Eve and wind up drinking too much when you were supposed to drive home, the American Automobile Association hopes you will call its Tow To Go program at 1-800-AAA-HELP (1-800-222-4357). “The program is very unique because it is one of the few programs that comes and gets the driver and their car and gets them both home safely,” AAA spokeswoman Joanna Newton said. “What’s even more unique is that it is free of charge, completely confidential and you do not have to be a AAA member to use the service.”

What To Put In Welcome Bags

Lately, we have been getting a lot of questions from brides about what to put in their welcome bags. In case you aren’t familiar with the term, these are little bags or baskets of goodies delivered to the hotel room of your out-of-town guests. They can be as elaborate or as simple as your budget will allow!

The container itself can be inspired by your wedding location, theme, or personalities – we’ve seen everything from cute beach pails to formal baskets to reusable shopping bags.  If you opt for the gift bag route, you can have them printed with your names and wedding date, or attach a cute tag to the handle.  The bag pictured here  is from

So what goes inside?  The most common items are:

  • Bottled water.  An absolute must!
  • Snacks.  Something salty, something sweet, and perhaps something with a local flair. (More on this below.)
  • Information about the area.  Contact the local visitors’ bureau or chamber of commerce, and they will be more than happy to send you brochures and maybe even coupons!
  • Information about the wedding.  If you have an action-packed weekend planned, include an itinerary and maps/directions if transportation isn’t being provided.
  • Contact information.  Assign a local friend to act as your concierge for the weekend to help with last minute questions from your guests.

From the basics, you can upgrade to include bottles of wine, personalized toiletry items like lotion or bubble bath, even slippers!  If you are planning a beach wedding, perhaps a pair of flip flops and bottle of sunscreen.  For a garden wedding, a lovely hat. Just remember that your guests will have to pack these items for their trip home, or leave them behind.

When our brides ask us for “regional” favorites, we suggest:

  • Peterbrooke chocolates
  • Florida oranges
  • Boiled peanuts
  • Datil pepper sauce
  • San Sebastian wines

What are some of your favorite welcome bag items?

Food and Beverage Pricing

Abby + Ryan, Kris Graham Photography

Before starting First Coast Weddings and Events in 2002, I worked at hotels and country clubs in the catering department. So I know a thing or two about customizing menus and getting the most bang for your food-and-beverage buck.

One of the hardest things for brides and grooms is menu pricing. It’s hard for our staff too, even though most of us have worked in hotels.  So, here are some things to think about when choosing a venue. For the purposes of this post, we’ll look at venues that have in-house catering.

1. What is included? Or a better question, what is NOT included?

  • Tax and service charge: Most venues add 18-22% to your food and beverage total, which should be split among the wait staff, bartenders, and other venue personnel.  In Florida, a “service charge” is taxable, so be sure to figure that into your calculations! Take your total, add the service charge, take that total, then calculate the tax to get a total amount.
  • Additional fees:  Chef fees, bartender fees, and setup fees can add up quickly. Be sure to ask if there are any of these fees in addition to the menu price, and if they are taxable.
  • Rentals:  Are standard tablecloths included? Are they floor length? Is the dance floor included? Be sure to get it in writing if they are.
  • If a menu has the word “inclusive” after the price, it means that the tax and service charge are already included.

2. Comparing apples to apples

  • Some venues offer package pricing, some offer ala carte.  It’s hard to compare prices when one includes a 4-hour premium bar and one doesn’t.
  • I suggest making a spreadsheet with all possible charges – food, bar, rentals, fees, tax, service charge – to come up with a total amount for each venue. If you have any questions about what a venue charges, be sure to asking the catering manager!
  • Be sure to consider the food and beverage minimum when comparing too.  This is the total amount you will need to spend on food and drinks before tax and service charge.  This minimum typically does not include other fees, rentals, etc.

3. Time to customize

  • You can ask for a specific price or a specific item, but not both. For example, you have your heart set on prime rib, but it’s not on the venue’s menu.  Ask! Most chefs are happy to put together a custom menu for you.
  • Likewise, if your budget for hors d’ouevres, sit-down dinner, and 4-hour bar is $100 inclusive (meaning with tax and service charge), you might ask your catering manager to customize a menu for you.  You might not be able to serve prime rib, but the chef may come up with an interesting option that will fit your price point.
  • Be sure to negotiate these things before signing a contract, not 6 weeks before your wedding!  And remember, you might be able to get a better deal on an off day or a non-peak month, depending on the venue.

Hopefully these insights will help you when choosing your reception location. Also remember that we offer hourly consultations if you need help figuring it all out! 🙂

Cake Toppers: New Ideas for Filling That Empty Space

When you look at this wedding cake topper couple, what does it make you think of??


You may be flashing back to pictures from your parents and grandparents weddings, when these were a hit. These days why not change it up a little. Make your wedding more fun, while still keeping some of the tradition alive with a cake topper like this.

This wedding was photographed by two close friends and very gifted photographers, John Paul Douglass and Wes Sumner. The topper is actually made from wooden clothespins painted to resemble the outfits of the bride and groom, something that is more common today than the toppers of the past.


Here is another example of some toppers made by Lil’ Cake Toppers that are reminiscent of various backgrounds and ethnicities. Notice the top left are the newly wed Duke and Duchess of Wales (not their actual cake topper).

If you are more interested in displaying an object rather than people on the top of your wedding cake, below is an example of an alternative decoration.


For a wedding that is beach themed, this chair idea is a perfect choice. For an additional fun flair, you can add some glitter including your initials on each chair to make it more personalized.

If there is a specific animal that you and your fiance’ share a passion for, this is another neat way to separate your wedding cake topper from others. Above is an example of two owls that really make the cake.

Also a great way  to make an impression on your guests and jump from tradition, is for you to use cupcakes instead of a wedding cake and create personalized and unique family photo cutouts.

If you have time to explore your creative side, doing so with the wedding cake topper is a great way for your guests to really remember your wedding from the rest. For more cake topper ideas, visit Simply Delicious! and Martha Stewart weddings.