Thursday, 8 November 2007

Where oh where?

Last year I did a report for Ethical Consumer magazine on the British hotel sector, and everything I turned up then put me off having any bit of my wedding in a standard hotel function suite, which seems to be one of the standard places for having a wedding reception. The hotel industry in general (along with the restaurant industry, which I'm researching at the moment) was just stunning in its poor grasp of basic ideas of corporate responsibility, an industry whose idea of addressing its environmental impact in an era of impending ecological doom goes, in the vast majority of cases, no further than asking guests to use their towels more than one day on the trot. And that's without going into the toe-curling horribleness of the working conditions in this notoriously poorly paid and casualised market, which is of course dependent on the labour of hundreds or thousands of exploited illegal or precarious immigrants. See for their Living Wage campaign, and The Guardian's article about their hospitality sector campaign for some really depressing individual stories –
One of the problems with avoiding horrible hotel chains is that you can't always spot them immediately. While some hotels, such as Hilton and Radisson, use their brand names as a major selling point, the current fashion for 'individual, authentic, boutique' hotels means that there is also a subset of quite nice looking-places that spend lots of marketing money pretending to be all those things and then turn out to be owned by a set of generic scumbags.
Of course, hotels are just one option, and a pretty expensive one at that. As I will probably mention a bunch of times in the coming ten months, about the first thing my colleague Jenny said to me when I announced that I was getting married was: don't tell anyone who's selling you anything that it's for a wedding – they'll just double the price. And wedding suites are no exception. Apparently the fashionable place for big weddings in Manchester at the moment is the beautiful atrium space at City Art Gallery, but I can only assume that the price of that would be somewhere in a different galaxy from what I'm looking at, and to be honest I think I'd feel like a bit of a nana using a place that grand.
My mate Liz overcame this by basically renting the local church hall, and doing by all accounts a gorgeous job of decorating it – she put out an appeal for those lovely cobalt-blue Ty Nant mineral water bottles months before, and had them on each table with flowers in. My friend Sarah did a similar thing for her hippy wedding ten years ago – ceremony in an apple orchard under an umbrella followed by a proper knees up in a village hall, well away from any neighbours who were going to want the band to be quiet at midnight or one or three a.m. Jenny's big back garden, hidden behind an ordinary looking urban semi, came in very handy for a buffet in what used to be the stable and lots of space to mill about and talk to the chickens. Good thing it didn't rain. Anything outdoorsy is obviously OFF the agenda for Manchester in September...
This kind of thing can work well depending on how much organising time you have. My inclination is to find some way of doing as little organising as possible, but that's currently proving difficult. Liz is bloody marvellous at organising things – it's her job, in some respects – and even she hired a kind of on-site administrator for the day, so that she wouldn't have to handle anything that went All Wrong with the venue or the caterers or the transport. I haven't asked her what she did about cleaning up the church hall afterwards, though. And what about drinking and dancing? A Church of England booklet my sister told me about on how to do weddings on a budget suggests a bring-a-bottle approach to avoid the cost of huge amounts of booze, which is one option. I quite fancy the idea of somewhere that has a cash bar, so I don't have to think about that much.
So, unlike the posts up to now, I don't have an answer to this one yet. I suppose I should have anticipated the fact that even little nice not-for-profit bar venues in the town centre would be booked out a year in advance. But they are, or at least threaten to be. So I'm still looking.

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