Our $21K Russ And Daughters Cafe Wedding

Appetizing since 1914 (and dancing not required)

Rachel, Project Manager & David, Mechanical Engineer

sum-up of the wedding vibe: Appetizing, kibbitzing, and schmoozing all night long.

Planned Budget: $15,000
Actual Budget: $21,399
Number of Guests: 57
Location: Russ And Daughters | New York City

Where we allocated the most funds:

The reception ($13,300 all in for food, alcoholic and non-alcoholic drinks, custom menus, place cards, table numbers, service, and gratuity). We’re culturally Jewish and major foodies, so when the time came to decide where to celebrate our marriage, it didn’t take long to agree on a dinner party at Russ & Daughters Cafe. Jewish deli food has been a huge part of our nearly decade-long relationship, and while we dismissed the idea of a traditional wedding, we knew when the day finally came to make things official we would want to celebrate with a big party for our friends and family. Our love of bagels and lox is almost as great as our love for each other, and we wanted the focus of our wedding to be quality time spent with loved ones over a great meal. While we didn’t get to nosh much ourselves (it really is true what they say, you never eat at your own wedding!), our friends and family are still raving about the food, and we were able to enjoy the most special evening at a restaurant that has long been special to both of us.

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Where we allocated the least funds:

Rachel’s wedding dress and our ceremony. The polka dot dress Rachel found from Anthropologie was comfortable, classy, and fun (a white dress was never in the cards), and at $200 with alterations it left us feeling like we could do a few more floral arrangements for the restaurant (we’d originally planned just to do a bouquet and boutonnière). We’ve always known that when we did get married it would be a more intimate, private expression of our love for each other; we don’t like to stand up in front of crowds or be the center of attention (around people we know). David, one half of our amazing photography duo L&L Style Photo, served as our officiant free of charge, and Rachel’s sister was our witness. We kept this moment for us, and with random skaters in the park cheering us on (David used to skate and this was a highlight of his day) it couldn’t have been more perfect.

What was totally worth it:

Polaroid cameras at the reception! We decided to put some Fujifilm InstaX Mini 9 cameras on a table near the entrance at our reception. Our guests picked them up the moment they entered the restaurant and captured some of the most hilarious and entertaining snapshots of the night. After the wedding we rounded up the photos into a Google Photos album and shared them with our friends and family. Between those, the photos from people’s phones, and our incredible professional photos, we’re thrilled to have memories from so many different perspectives throughout the night! Also Rachel’s shoe splurge (a gift from her late Grandmother). So. Worth. It.

What was totally not worth it:

Every part of our wedding was worth it. We kept it low key and focused on what we wanted out of the evening, so we didn’t waste our effort on anything that we weren’t a hundred percent enthusiastic about. Initially a few people questioned our nontraditional approach but our focus on celebrating our love and love for our friends and family paid off—everyone had a great time!

A few things that helped us along the way:

There were several weeks during which Rachel had stress-induced nightmares about our lack of dance floor and DJ (we made the playlist ourselves via Spotify). Our friends like to get DOWN and, while we’re not wallflowers, we lean toward the “sheriff in Footloose” end of the spectrum and weren’t into the idea of a formal dance floor. Rachel read a plethora of APW articles bucking the notion of dancing as a wedding requirement, which was instrumental in reducing her anxiety about excluding such a traditional element from the festivities.

My best practical advice for my planning self:

Do as much as you can through one vendor (we’re fortunate we worked nearly entirely through the cafe) and leverage professionals where you can. We’re far from DIY proficient, though we did contribute a custom sandwich board welcome sign and tags for our Polaroid cameras, and Emily, the GM at Russ & Daughters Cafe, was an amazing help to us and an incredible resource. She connected us with florists and graphic designers who created custom menus and place cards, as well as floral arrangements that fit the cafe ambiance perfectly. We didn’t consider a lot of the practical logistics of the evening in our initial planning, and working with an experienced restaurant manager helped ensure everything ran smoothly. Communicating with venue managers and keeping them in the loop as your plans come together is key to a great, low-stress wedding.

Favorite thing about the wedding:

Having all of our friends and family in one place to support and celebrate us was absolutely a highlight, as were the strangers on the streets of the Lower East Side congratulating us as we took photos. Also the quiet, (almost) private moment in the cab on the way to the reception just after we officially said “I do” sticks with us, as it was the only time we had to ourselves all weekend to reflect and be together just the two of us.

Something else We’d Like To Share:

We’re incredibly lucky that we had quite a bit of flexibility in our budget. For those without the same, we’d suggest creating a budget early and sticking to it at all costs. Those small details add up, and wedding planning is such an emotional thing it’s easy to get carried away. We also cannot overstate how important it is to stay true to who you are as a couple and to what it is you want out of your celebration. Our wedding wasn’t traditional by any stretch of the imagination, but it was a hundred percent authentic to us and was a day to remember!


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