A Plea: This Wedding Season, Let's Stop Judging Weddings

June 29, 2016

As our editorial team was brainstorming what we wanted to talk about during Food52’s recent Wedding Week, much of the thread was hopped up on cakes and toasts and unbelievably sentimental jewelry, but some of it made me (and maybe me alone, since I was the only one actively planning a wedding at the time) wince.

It was the part where the thread devolved into rants, specifically rants against wedding traditions and trends: a rant against flash mobs, a rant against silent discos.

Photo by James Ransom

I imagine we’ve all felt our own private mini-rants about weddings before—questioned decisions made by the couple (why fourteen bridesmaids? Why an un-airconditioned church in July? Why silent disco, why??). We’ve judged an awkward song choice or food that should never be left to die in a steam tray or allowing the ex-boyfriend to make a toast.

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Having now lived through the stress, the budgeting, and the politics of planning a wedding, I’ll tell you exactly why those couples did everything they did: because they’ve probably never done this before—and hopefully will never do it again.

They’ve likely never tried to make sure the grandmas and the toddlers and childhood friends and coworkers in their lives all felt cared for and welcomed at the same time. Or been asked to time a shuttle service, or to know what angle the sun would be in a distant location in six months' time, or tried to feed dozens if not hundreds of people at once.

As Food52’s wise Director of Events Kate Kudish, a former wedding planner, told me days before my own wedding, “A wedding is like opening a restaurant for one night only.” (You’ve seen Restaurant Wars, right? Just be glad more weddings aren’t like that.)

And in all of those joyful, exciting, unnerving decisions leading up to the event, if they were like us, that couple was trying to plan a day that would fill their loved ones with joy and understanding, a celebration for this one special moment in life when everyone they loved would be in the same place, at the same time, spilling bubbly and dancing to Footloose.

They might choose something unoriginal—like a photo booth—because they’ve seen that it will bring people together, bonding children and grownups, and give you the only opportunity for a photo of your uncle and aunt making wacky faces you didn’t know they were capable of. They might choose a cheesy song because a relative asked them to, or cupcakes not because they’re trendy, but because they fit in a shrinking budget and won’t incur a cake-cutting fee. Or because they’re just tired of making decisions. You can’t know what went into their choices, but it’s probably different (and more) than you’d expect.

This is not to complain or sound put-upon. If I didn’t want to plan a wedding; I probably could have found relatives or a package deal kind of place that would do it for me (or eloped!). Even though planning mine (in under 6 months, from 3,000 miles away) was stressful and confusing at times, I don’t regret it one bit and couldn’t have been happier about the day, even though the art table was poorly attended and the twinkly lights from Kmart stayed in their boxes and I didn’t get nearly enough cobbler.

This is just to say—just as bussing tables will give you a newfound respect for the service industry and you’ll never tip badly again (trust me)—take it from a well-meaning, but out-of-her-element recent bride: Weddings are complicated. And expensive. And they won’t be perfect. But they will be, if hearts are in the right place, memorable and meaningful and important, especially to the couple, but also to you. So I recommend you suspend judgement, listen and reflect and toast (and dance—please dance), help yourself to the free booze and food, and when Neil Diamond sings, “Good times never seemed so good,” you shout “So good! So good!” with the best of them.

And should the powers that be decide to have a flash mob (i.e. some sort of surprise, choreographed dance routine, like these), that flash mob is probably the most delightful, memorable moment in a lot of people’s lives, who haven’t honed their cynicism by watching too many YouTube videos. And the silent disco might not have been for me, but I will gladly dance with myself at your wedding, should you decide it’s for you.

See what other Food52 readers are saying.

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I'm an ex-economist, lifelong-Californian who moved to New York to work in food media in 2007, before returning to the land of Dutch Crunch bread and tri-tip barbecues in 2020. Dodgy career choices aside, I can't help but apply the rational tendencies of my former life to things like: recipe tweaking, digging up obscure facts about pizza, and deciding how many pastries to put in my purse for "later."


scott.finkelstein.5 July 20, 2016
People criticize weddings because you're inflicting them on a large number of your supposed friends. That's why the harshest criticism is reserved for making guests jump through hoops just so the hosts can look/feel trendy or like a special snowflake.
702551 June 29, 2016
The act of judging something often says as much of the person who is passing the judgment as that which/whom is being judged.

Regarding weddings, some of it is tied to the maturity level of the judge as well as the event planning skills of the marrying couple. It's easy to verbalize criticism for weddings, however, what good does it do? To the couple getting married, nothing, it's over. Nobody thinks they'll get married again.

If you're discussing this amongst your friends, family, etc., well it might help unmarried folks think about future considerations in their own wedding plans, but it really don't help you if you've already gotten married.

Unlike commenting on a recipe which would be made again or on a recurring event like Thanksgiving dinner, wedding criticism is less helpful because hopefully it's a one-time event in their lives.

If a miscue causes an uncomfortable situation during a wedding, it may be better just to grin and bear it, or find a way to mitigate/fix it on the spot. If there's no fix possible, remember that the wedding couple gets to live with that particular failure for as long as they are together.

The burden is on the couple to get as much right as possible. The chances of getting an extremely complicated one-off event like a wedding perfect (usually organized by people who have minimal event planning experience) is going to be very low.

It's different than critiquing the people who organize recurring events like a longstanding chili cookoff, a football tailgate or a weekly farmers market.

If I've been helping out at five tailgates per season for twenty years, yeah, I could take some deserved criticism for a major screw-up. Hopefully, the criticism comes in the early years, you learn from it, then it stops. That's when a tailgate gets better, when you can focus on improving it rather than clean up mistakes take really shouldn't be happening from experienced planners.

That's not the case with a wedding.
Jacque D. June 29, 2016
Great advice. If I ever get married again I would not have a formal wedding but elope and then have a fun party. Too difficult to deal with relatives!!
Jeanne June 29, 2016
99 percent of the time I would agree with you and try to give everyone the benefit of the doubt. But I still going to say that my husband's cousin, who kept all of the wedding guests waiting outside for an hour standing on a gravel walkway with no chairs, no food, and no drink while they had their pictures taken was selfish and thoughtless.
ChefJune June 29, 2016
There are exceptions to every rule. [And then there was the wedding I attended some years ago where the caterer "surprised" the bride by serving Oscar Mayer Braunschweiger (with Ritz crackers!) as pate for an horsd'oeuvre.]
fiveandspice June 29, 2016
Preach! This is so, so true. I'm forwarding this to my younger brother and his fiance who are in the final stressed out stages of getting ready for their wedding next week.
ChefJune June 29, 2016
I spent a whole bunch of years in the 80's and early 90's wedding planning and catering. You are so right, Kristen! Everyone has their own concept about what will make the "perfect" wedding, and there really are no wrong answers. Because your special day should make YOU happy, above all.
EmilyC June 29, 2016
This line is perfect! "I’ll tell you exactly why those couples did everything they did: because they’ve probably never done this before—and hopefully will never do it again."
Cait L. June 29, 2016
Ha! I feel so convicted after this post - in a good way. Even after having my own wedding in November, I am a constant critic and have something to say about all events. Thanks for realigning me to what MATTERS.
Leslie G. June 29, 2016
Very nice article and something to remember, not just about weddings either. We do too much judging as a society and not enough understanding.