Back in 2010, we had the idea that we could add something truly great to wedding catering. Indeed, we’d convinced ourselves that our simple, tasty, visually stunning, homemade food was going to take the wedding catering industry by storm, but where to start? We had no venue of our own, where exactly do we deliver this amazing catering?
We ‘googled’ a few places that looked ‘very us’ and soon discovered that there was no room. Wedding venues either provided their own catering (especially hotels) or already had cosy relationships with one or two caterers – – and whilst a few bothered to reply, those that did reply (ever-so-nicely) said that they weren’t looking to add to their list.
We realised we needed more than just wonderful food to offer, and the idea of ‘Independent Weddings’ was born. It was to be a virtual community of like-minded venues with open enough minds, and the self-belief not to worry about limiting the marketplace, but intent on giving their customers maximum choice.
We created a website called simply, ‘Independent Weddings’ (www.independent-weddings.co.uk) and the only qualification for an entry was that the venue allowed us (and others) to cater there, and of course was of the quality our customers would expect. In return (and only after we’d performed), we asked them for a reciprocal mention. We created for each a brief summary, written by us (not an ad, written by the venue), with contact details to provide a service to our customers – and of course to make it easier for them to choose us for their wedding catering! No money has ever changed hands, as to do so, we believe, would undermine the central ethos of the idea – – that of independence.
Amongst the first venue to go onto the independent weddings website was the Staffordshire pile at Ingestre. The site is so ‘very us’, remote, different, other-worldly and at the end of a leafy lane with no passing traffic, set in rolling fields and open parkland. The rules are few, the approach laid-back, the choices unlimited by petty restrictions.
Another ‘discovery’ for us (and indeed the outside world) was Alveston Pastures Farm, just outside Stratford-upon-Avon – this wonderful barn – again set in remote, sweeping fields was little-promoted, but a real gem and run by the wonderfully helpful Marion Clayton-Wright. No restrictions, not many rules, just choice, choice, choice.
As we discovered more and more similar venues across the West Midlands, the critical mass of venues who wanted to join us began to give us authority, and we were approached by like-minded new venues who shared our values. For example, in 2013, Charlie Taylor of Hadsham Farm in North Oxfordshire contacted us after he stumbled across the website and asked if he could put his new venue on. The answer was ‘yes’ and three years later (this summer in fact) we delivered our first two weddings at his amazing lakeside marquee site (where you can of course choose your own marquee provider as well as your own caterer!). His entry on the website follows…
Where: North Oxfordshire, Nr Banbury, but nearly in Warwickshire.
What: Superb location for a marquee. Your own secluded site at the head of a deep, green valley with a teeming fishing lake; wildlife & wild flowers, a level terrace for parking and a marquee – and all in complete and utter silence, yet 6 miles from the M40.
Weddings: Not licensed for marriages, but another amazing reception site.
Who: Phone Charlie Taylor on 07920 587406, or e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org
We added other services, like marquees, fridge trailer hire, wine suppliers, photographers, all of whom we’d worked with and understood the idea. One supplier, Whitebridge Wines in Stone offered us 5% of the value of wine if one of our customer’s ordered their wine from him. Of course, this was against the ethos of independence, but we asked if they’d offer the discount direct to our customers instead and they said ‘yes’. This is wonderful as it retains our independence, but gives an extra service to customers as well as (we hope!) a motivation for them to book with us (as if the wonderful food and service were not enough!!).
The site now has over 70 venues and a similar number of other suppliers and is used by many couples to find their wedding venue, and (of course) we hope they use us as their caterer.