Surprise! Please pay $236.

August 10, 2010 at 7:00 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment
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After unpacking the boxes we had quite a pile of paper

After unpacking the boxes we had quite a pile of paper. Somebody might have used it to bury Pico. (This photo was taken when the pile was only about 30% of its maximum size!)

Much of our stuff from Austin was delivered to temporary housing this weekend, which is really nice. There were a bunch of things in there that we needed, and we’re really glad to have them finally. As we unpacked the seven or so boxes, we discovered for the first time what a really good job the packers had done. (You may recall that I had had some doubts about them mentioned in this post.) They spared no expense with the wrapping paper to cushion objects, and it really made me feel confident about the rest of our stuff that’s still in storage.

That said, we’re having a little mini-dispute with Graebel at the moment about a delivery charge for some of our belongings. (Graebel is the relocating service contracted by Amazon to move us.) Before we left Austin, we were told by a Graebel employee that our moving package included (a) packing of our stuff, (b) transport of most of our stuff to storage while we’re in the temporary housing, (c) cost of storage while we’re in temporary housing, and (d) transport of some stuff to the temporary housing. So before the movers came we divided the house into storage-destined items and temporary-housing-destined items. It’s worth noting here that he didn’t just mention (d) — we asked him explicitly if delivery to the temporary housing was covered and he assured us that it was.

Well, this past Friday Blake got a call from Graebel: our stuff would be delivered the next day and it would cost about $236! Apparently the package included only delivery to the storage facility, and our items for the temporary housing were being charged to us despite our original assurance that it was included. I called our contact at Graebel, and he confirmed that no, it wasn’t covered by the package and yes, it would cost $236.

So he suggested I send an email to a few people at Graebel and see if they’ll cover it. He doesn’t sound too confident, but I can see that this is a dispute that may go on for a while: we have no intention of paying for something that we were told was free. In fact, it would have been a trivial matter to trim down our pile of temporary-housing-destined belongings and then bring a few more suitcases on the plane. Alaska Airlines would allow us to bring additional bags for only $20 apiece, so we definitely had other options.

I guess we’ll see what happens. Happily, they’re going to bill us for the delivery and didn’t make us pay when they dropped off our stuff. This is helpful because it’s way easier to get companies to decide they don’t want your money after all than to get them to give you money back. Stay tuned.

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A quick little rant about florists

March 18, 2010 at 1:25 am | Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment
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It turns out that finding a florist for your wedding can also be a frustrating experience. At the time of this writing, I have actually already settled on a florist with whom I am very happy, but before I found them it was quite frustrating indeed.

A carnation

Yuck.

I’m not too picky about flowers. I like ’em all. (Except carnations. They’re awful!) Pinks, blues, purples, yellows… They’re all just fine and would work fine with the wedding colors. Well, as I’ve been looking around at various wedding stuff, I’ve kept my eye out for photos of bouquets that I like.  When I’d find one I’d save the image into my wedding directory so that I could show it to some hypothetical florist in the future after I got all the more-important wedding plans taken care of. Well, after doing this for a while, a trend emerged: it turns out I did have a certain type of bouquet in mind! The images I saved all had bouquets of a particular shape and a particular color scheme even though I thought I didn’t care that much.

So I called a few florists to ask for prices. And I learned what is apparently the first rule of, um, wedding floristry:

Don’t tell any brides ANYTHING over the phone. Make them drive to your store for a consultation.

You want prices? Tough. You can only have prices if you make an appointment and then devote a few hours of your day to finding the place and then going in for the actual appointment. (This was unacceptable to me and so I did not visit any florists unwilling to give me prices over the phone.) After encountering this at all but one of the florists I called that day, I decided to try another mode of communication: email.

If you know me at all, you know I’m a big fan of email and not such a big fan of talking on the phone. So emailing florists seemed like the perfect way to go. Even better, I had a bunch of photos saved on my computer of exactly what I wanted, so I could convey that to the florists with zero ambiguity. And so that’s what I did. And then I learned the second rule of wedding floristry:

You can charge a million billion dollars for a bouquet and somebody will probably pay it.

I know, I know, it’s capitalism. And if florists can find people willing to pay a million billion dollars, I salute them and wish them all the prosperity they can produce. Still, though, it just seems ridiculous sometimes. Here is an image I sent to about seven florists asking for a quote on bouquets only:

Bouquets

This has been cropped, of course.

Guess how much the large one costs? All the florists who responded with prices (for which I applaud them!) gave me quotes between $175 and $200. How many roses can that thing have? 24? And then maybe seven sprigs of baby’s breath? I realize that florists are skilled labor, but even so that seems extreme. I bet the markup on this over the raw-materials cost is at least 500%. For the little bouquet containing (I’m guessing) a dozen roses, they told me $80. Needless to say, I did not order flowers from those people.

I also did not order flowers from these people:

Sarah,
Thank you for contacting us.  We do bridal consultations by appointment.  The cost for that is $35.00.  When you book with us (pay your deposit) we credit that fee back to you.
You will need to speak with [name omitted].  Consultations are done Tuesday-Thursday between 9am and 4pm.  Please call [phone number] to book one.
Kindest regards,
A florist with a ridiculous policy

Now if these crazies — I’m not going to give them publicity by saying their name — were working up a giant proposal for me, I could understand the need to charge a fee. If I needed to arrange flowers for every centerpiece, every aisle of seats, the cake, boutonnieres, corsages for the mothers, a church, and other reception decorations, I would totally understand the need for a consultation fee. Setting up a proposal for something like that would undoubtedly require a good bit of time from someone trained in flower stuff, and I can see the need to recoup those costs. That would be perfectly fine. If they need to tease my preferences out from some nebulous idea of what I want, that would take time.

But there’s no ambiguity here.

I sent them the photo. They know the kind of flowers, they know the color, they know the size, they know the accent flowers, and they know the date. How can a $35 fee be required before they’ll even give me a price? How absurd. I kind of wanted to reply to that email with all my thoughts on how preposterous a policy that was, but I knew it wasn’t worth my time and I didn’t. And really, if I had, what would they care? Somebody on the internet is mad about something? Scandalous!

So a few days later I called the fantastic folks at Smithville Florist and they couldn’t have been nicer. They gave me a quote over the phone and after some further discussion I agreed to come into the store to make the rest of the arrangements. I ended up with something a little bit different from the photo above — more beautiful, I think — and it has the roses I want and only came to $125. (Still a lot of money, but c’est la weddings.) I spoke with the owner (I think) and his daughter, and they were extremely flexible and friendly and were happy to discuss options til we had something I liked. Of course, I haven’t actually gotten married yet, but I certainly feel inclined to recommend them very highly based on my experiences so far. So if you’re getting married in Smithville or Bastrop and need a florist, be sure to check them out! Here’s the link once again: Smithville Florist.

Catering: A new hope

March 4, 2010 at 11:39 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment
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In the last week I’ve spent some time talking on the phone to caterers. Quite a lot of time, actually; selecting a caterer has been far more difficult than I expected. Here are some of the various pitfalls I’ve encountered:

  • Finding prices. 80% of the time, caterers’ websites are suspiciously devoid of pricing. I’m sure they’re flexible, everybody’s wedding needs are different, and they try to cater (no pun intended) their menus to individual needs. However, when you can’t find prices on the page it’s extremely frustrating. If you try, sometimes you can infer it from the website, though — Pink Avocado Catering, for example, mentions in passing that one of their clients was the government of Spain. Spain! They only mention it in the answer to some FAQ way down at the bottom of the page, but it did enable me to knock them off my list. Anybody who caters for Spain is probably not going to  be able to handle my little wedding at the sort of price I want to pay. Now Latvia or Kazakhstan’s caterer would be fine, I’m sure. But Spain? I don’t think so.

    Some delicious food

    We're not having this

  • Useless emails. So there I am looking at some pretty catering site and not finding prices. So what’s the natural thing to do next? Send them an email. So I type it up and tell them every relevant fact I can think of. Estimated number of guests, time of day, the sort of meal I have in mind, location, the sort of service (buffet or table), etc. And then I wait, of course, and after a day or so here’s what I get back: “Hi Sarah. I received your request for information, and I do think it would be great if we could chat a little over the phone first.   Please feel free to give me a call at your convenience.  Thanks!” (This quote is an actual example.) So I call. And guess what happens?
  • Looong phone calls. All of them are nice and friendly and congratulate me on my engagement (which still makes me really happy!), but they all have many, many questions. The initial phone call is often more than a half an hour, and at the end of it I still don’t know if their meals are $12 or $19 or $60 per person. “I’ll email you,” they say. (More on their emails in a moment.) Again, I understand that they need to know a great deal of information to know exactly what’s needed, and I would be perfectly happy to spend a very long time on the phone with my top three choices to help narrow it down and make a decision. But spending 30+ minutes with every Austin caterer Google shows me? It’s time consuming and frustrating and makes it very difficult to comparison shop. (Hmm, perhaps I’ve found a motive in all this…) So anyway, after I tell them all the details they say that they’ll process all the info and send me an email with some sample menus and prices. Sounds reasonable, no? It certainly would be. Except…

    Some sushi

    Also not having sushi

  • They don’t send me the email with the menus. They say they will and it took me several different caterers before I stopped getting my hopes up. But with each new caterer I’d say to myself, “Okay, this girl sounds sharp and nice and organized and on top of things. She said she was busy and would send it tomorrow night instead of tonight, and I believe her.” But then she wouldn’t send it. The first time this happened I called the girl back and she said she must have gotten my email address wrong and would send it a couple of days later. So I waited several more days to no avail. At one point I expressed my frustration to Blake and said I’d call her tomorrow, but he made an excellent point: “Don’t call her. It’s your wedding and you need a caterer that you can reach. And who will get back in touch with you. You don’t want a caterer like this.” And he was absolutely right. So I called a second caterer who had a slightly different problem:
  • Too flexible. She can make anything… what would we like? She was very nice and seemed pretty sharp, but she wouldn’t give me any meal choices! I asked for specialties or recommendations for side dishes, and she’d tell me how flexible they were and not give me a single suggestion besides one-word “dishes” like “broccoli” or “green beans.” Try though I might, I just couldn’t get a menu/meal/sugggestion out of her! After we got off the phone, I spent some time searching online for sample wedding menus, but all of them were for the really expensive caterers — “tuna tartare with a maple-caviar demi-glace and crab bisque.” So then I got all comfortable on my bed with a stack of cookbooks and looked for recipes that I guessed might not be too expensive but would be appropriate for a wedding reception… and I couldn’t find much. I have the Betty Crocker Cookbook and Where’s Mom Now That I Need Her? (which is a great book), but I just don’t buy cookbooks that have recipes suitable for fancy wedding food, I guess. A couple days later I told Dad with mild frustration how I was looking for more recipes, and he said, “You shouldn’t have to be doing that! That’s the caterer’s job!” And he, too, was right.

So the next day I sent about ten emails to different caterers around Austin and asked for info. Most of them responded with emails inviting me to call, but a very small number did something really great: they sent me menus! One in particular, An Affair to Remember Catering, sent me the following perfect email:

Hi Sarah,
I received a request from you for your event at Buescher State Park in Smithville, Texas. I just tried to reach you by phone to get a few questions answered but for now, I’ve taken the liberty to guess at a few things (see attached proposal). I would be happy to make suggestions to address  your budget concerns when we talk. Feel free to shoot me an email or use any of the numbers listed below. Thank you so much for your consideration and I look forward to working with you on your event.

Warmest regards,
Matthew Atchison
Event Planner
An Affair To Remember Catering
http://www.aatrc.com
512-443-3422 ext. 226

A bunch of plates of food

Not this either, whatever it is

Bravo, Matthew Atchison and An Affair to Remember Catering! (Normally I wouldn’t post someone’s email and contact info up here, but I’d like to give them good PR. And I did remove the cell number which was originally included in the email.) The proposal included about twenty menus in assorted price ranges — and an itemized total cost which allowed me to see what was included and determine for myself whether this price range was acceptable. How wonderfully refreshing that Matthew was able to say, “I don’t have all the information, but I have some. Let’s see what I can provide based on that.” Furthermore, I looked over the proposal and had several questions which I sent via email, and Matthew answered them all thoroughly and promptly. I haven’t signed anything with Matthew (or decided on a menu yet, even), but I have been impressed with his professionalism so far and I plan to set up a meeting with him. I’m optimistic. :-)

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