Measuring Out My Wedding in Serving Spoons

It’s Saturday evening in early summer and dusk has finally set it. I’m sitting cross-legged in the grass just outside the catering tent, and I’m shoveling down my dinner. I eat off a platter using a serving spoon because the dinner break is fleeting and this was the first clean cutlery I could find.

Thirty yards away, a bride sits at an ornately decorated table under a big white tent. She’s perched next to her new husband sipping a glass of wine and looking out at her family and friends. In October, I’ll take my turn as the bride. But for now, my job is to serve her and her guests.

I came upon catering after months of exploring side hustles. The job has several advantages: the scheduling is flexible, there’s an inexhaustible supply of gigs this time of year, and it’s physically active — a welcome change from my mostly sedentary day job.

Firmly in wedding planning mode, I now mentally tally up all the costs at the events I cater. The dress. Flowers. Photography. Decorations. Food and booze. I’ve worked parties where the catering bill alone easily exceeded my entire wedding budget. Ours will be low-key — no wedding party, coffee shop reception, a simple dress sewn by a friend. My fiancé and I are fortunate to have parents willing and able to pick up much of the tab for our wedding. Actually, we’re more than fortunate — we’re hugely privileged. As a result of our folks’ generosity, the amount I’m personally on the hook for is limited to $1000. It’s manageable, but for someone a year out of grad school working in the relatively low-paying counseling field, it’s still a stretch. For that reason, much of the money I make from catering flies out of my bank account as quickly as it comes in.

Most recently, I paid $120 — about what I make in two shifts — for my simple hammered gold wedding band. It’s delicate and beautiful and I can’t wait to wear it. It’s also a more reasonable alternative to the first ring I fell in love with. At $410, that ring is also affordable, at least as far as wedding bands go. But was it worth an additional five catering shifts? Shifts spent in the summer sun hauling trays of dirty dishes and bags of trash? Shifts that leave me with sore feet and bug bites and aching arms?

My fiancé and I both want to make sure our marriage doesn’t get lost in the excitement of the wedding, so $285 of our wedding budget was earmarked for premarital counseling — $35 for an online assessment and $250 for three sessions with a trained facilitator. We mapped out where we’re doing well and where we have room to grow. I cried, he got mad, and we shared what we admire most about each other. The counseling did exactly what it was supposed to do and I consider it money well spent — and well-earned.

Adding to the financial strain? Six weeks before our wedding, my fiancé will begin his own master’s program. I’m feeling the pressure of a soon-to-be primary breadwinner. We’ll add him to my health insurance policy, which will increase my premium by about $200 per month. Throw in retirement contributions, expanded emergency savings (now covering two asses instead of one!), an old car, and an even older cat with a shaky thyroid, and I’m starting to think I’ll try to keep the catering gig even after the summer wedding season winds down.

By now I’ve been serving for more than a month and I’m getting comfortable with the work. With a few minor variations, each party cycles through the same comforting routine: set the tables, serve and clear the salad course, serve and clear the main course, direct guests to dessert, and clear all remaining service items. One of my favorite tasks, in part because it’s one of the last chores before we hit the road, is to hunt down missing glasses. I scour window sills, floors, cocktail tables, barn rafters — basically any flat surface — trying to think like a tipsy wedding guest. Sometimes I carry a stack of plastic cups so I can propose trades with guests who are still hanging onto their glasses.

Now and then I consider the experiences I’m trading this summer for some extra cash, and what that cash will buy. A couple hours of kayaking becomes a gift for our ceremony reader. A night of camping will be the pizza and beer at the reception after-party. A weekend in Door County for another week of funds in our emergency account.

For now, these trades — and the nights and weekends attending other people’s weddings — feel worth it.

This article is part of our ‘Summer Series’ collection. Read more stories here.

Lindsay Woodbridge is trying to figure out where to have a rehearsal dinner in Madison, Wisconsin.

Support The Billfold

The Billfold continues to exist thanks to support from our readers. Help us continue to do our work by making a monthly pledge on Patreon or a one-time-only contribution through PayPal.