Traps for Young Wedding Players
Our son was married earlier this week at a really wonderful reception. The recently renovated hall put on an excellent show, and our guests seemed honestly to have thoroughly enjoyed themselves. By all reports, the food was delicious.
But there were a few flies in the ointment, and even though everything was great on the day, they do leave a bad taste in my mouth. I won't name the hall because this is not at all an isolated incident. I am writing this to give people an idea of what to look out for when planning, what Americans call, an affair.
While catering prices here are still way below what they are in New York and Sydney, prices have risen steeply in the last couple of years. The biggest rise occurred when the caterers stopped charging in nominal dollars. Unfortunately for the Israeli economy, many branches of industry used to quote their prices in dollars, but you paid in shekels at that day's exchange rate. For a few years, the exchange rate hovered around the 4.5 shekels to the dollar mark. With the decline in the US economy, the dollar exchange rate dropped to below 4 shekels. Industry suddenly realised that the shekel was now more stable than the dollar and started quoting in shekels. One day they were quoting in dollars, the exchange rate at 3.9 -- the next day, they moved to shekels, not at the 3.9 rate, but 4.5! A 15% rise overnight. This suddenly became the new baseline. To be honest, this happened in other areas too, but our topic today is wedding halls.
My son and his fiancée found a hall and were quoted a price of 180 shekels a head, not particularly cheap, but considered "reasonable" for the high summer season in the Jerusalem area. The hall agreed to hold the date for two days pending their parents' coming into the office to formalise the deal. Nothing in writing so far.
The next day the four parents arrive at the hall. We are seated opposite one of the catering managers who explains to us what they will provide for our money -- pre-wedding buffet, entrée, main course, the cheapest wine on the market -- very standard for this part of the world.
"And all of this for 210 shekels a head".
Even though this was not the first time we have arranged a wedding, we were still flustered. We didn't remember exactly how much our son said we were to pay. "Excuse me", Jill pipes up, "but you told our kids the price was 185!"
The lady sitting opposite us shuffles her papers in an intelligent looking manner. After a short while she looks up, "Yes indeed, we did agree to give you a special price of 185 per head".
The next morning, after speaking to our son, Jill phones the hall to say that we had erred and the original quote was "180". And guess what? They accepted our pricing.
"But the 'optional' coffee bar is an additional 750 shekels." They can't build this into the base -- one shekel a head!?
I have no way of knowing whether this is connected or not, but we were subsequently told by the office that this lady would not continue with us and from now on, all contact will be via another member of the food and beverages office.
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The halls, and I think this is especially of true of kibbutz enterprises where they also have to worry about their "next" generation, have interesting ways of helping you part with more money. For example, you must use their sound system. Many bands don't like using these in-house systems, preferring to use their own. We were given the privilege of writing a cheque, not to the hall, but to some unknown third party, for 3,000 shekels and receiving a discount from the band of 500 for "saving" them having to cart their own equipment to the hall.
With table and hall decorations, only the sky is the limit. "We provide a flower on each table and a bunch in a vase on either side of the hupa canopy. If you want anything else, you may not bring anything yourself. You must arrange it, via the guy down the corridor -- and please pay him directly."
We paid our deposit and a couple of months later, two weeks before the wedding, we were invited to a tasting session. They put on a nice, private show for us, with a rich variety of foods. What I, as a vegan, ate was delicious and the meat was nicely presented. The others seemed to find it tasty.
Following the tasting, we sat down with our catering contact to finalise the menu, based partly on the delectable tasting session and partly on promises via verbal descriptions. We selected all the courses as well as items that would be served at the pre-wedding buffet. Then came the stage show. The catering manager calls the chef into the room, introducing him to us a top professional chef, not just a cook. "I have written down here all our friends' selections", he tells the chef. "However, and I say this in front of them, you do as you see fit. Whatever you think people will enjoy. You can ignore everything written here. You have my agreement to serve whatever you choose".
I wasn't sure what to make of this performance, but I am usually sustained in the knowledge that halls have a reputation to maintain, and this is what sells their product.
As we were leaving, the topic of tips was raised. I don't like the system of tipping, especially the distortion of it in Israel. If it is a compulsory part of our agreement, then please call it a 'service charge', write it into the contract, and now I know up front that I'm paying the waiters' salaries. If it's a gratuity for good service, then the management should remove themselves from the transaction.
I want to add, to show you that I am not cheap, that at previous weddings I have left nice tips for the waiters. These were distributed to staff immediately. When the waiters seek you out to say thank you, you know you've provided adequately. I have no problem with this -- they have a right to make a living too and it's always nice to make fellow Jews happy. However . . . .
"Tips are generally in the three to four percent range, but seven hundred plus guests is indeed a large function. So you decide what you want to give."
"How do you distribute the 'tips'?"
"We have a unique formula here. We share it out between the waiters, kitchen staff and cleaners."
"Do the waiters receive their money on the night of the function?"
"No, the waiters get it the next day -- the others receive it at the end of the month."
" . . . together with their pay cheques?"
On the night, my friend awaits my arrival. Everything OK? Yes? Good!
And the next question, "What did you decide to do re the tips?"
I was taken a little by surprise. The tables were still being set.
"I haven't spoken yet to the other side, but I anticipate we will leave 1,800 to 2,000 shekels."
"OK whatever. Good. Of that, put 200 in one envelope for the chef, 200 for the maître-d. The rest mark, "service staff".
"OK, no problem".
That seemed fine.
The other side arrives. I report the conversation. Then he drops, "I just gave our contact man 350 for himself and 350 for the chef." Why did he do that? My advice to the readers -- the caterers know how divide and conquer -- always co-ordinate any payments and extras with the other side before talking to the catering staff. Don't do anything spontaneously.
I tell myself, "no-one's screwing me". The evening ends. I put 200 in an envelope for the maître-d and 1,000 for the others. The chef had already received his. And yes, as far as I was concerned, the caterer, who had left ages ago, now had 350 shekels of the waiters' money in his pocket. That makes a total of 1,900 shekels in 'tips' -- within the promised range.
The next day our contact man phones: "You didn't leave enough tip for waiters -- there were 37 waiters and you left them a mere 1,000 shekels! What am I to do?
"Well you and the cook each received 350 shekels!"
"No, that was a private payment to me by the other side! It has nothing to do with you."
I was prepared to leave it there. I loathe this audacity. But someone suggested that if you don't tip now, you'd better not plan to hold another reception in this hall. I bit my lip and asked someone to drop off another 500 shekels, "for the waiters". I have no way of knowing who really received this money.
A sweet [financial] point to end the night. We had agreed to pay the band 7,800 shekels, a fairly standard price. At the end of the evening I approach bandmaster and hand him an envelope containing half that sum, explaining that the rest will arrive in a few minutes. "Oh no", he says, "you don't owe us that much. The final price works out at 7,000 shekels."
I guess you can win some sometimes. There are still some nice people out there who care.
Menachem Kuchar, 14th July, 2011
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