Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Evaluating Rental Needs and Eco Plastic Options

I need help. I managed to get a recommendation for an affordable rental company, which is great (I'll let you know which one after we sign a contract). But now they want me to submit a list of rental needs for a quote... which is difficult when you've never planned a wedding before. So that's why I'm turning to all my wise readers who have been there/done that for your own weddings. I need to know if I'm missing anything or being ridiculous about the items I included. I also listed some information on our eco-plastic alternative options (yes, this post will be needy and servicey!) So please throw your words of rental wisdom into the comments. Because otherwise, it's me and the rabbit hole of internet research (which hasn't been treating me so kindly lately. Darn that rabbit hole.)

Let's start out with some assumptions, shall we?
  • We're going to have 175 guests  (no, I don't want to think about what happens if more than 150 people show up, space-wise or budget-wise. But dang if people aren't enthusiastic about coming to this shindig. And dang if I'm not terrified of what happens if they all come. Terrified and happy, of course) 
  • We are not renting plates or silverware. Instead, we already bought these eco-plastic plates and I am looking into bamboo fork options (we don't need knives or spoons).
  • We are willing to nix all rented glassware for eco-plastic options, if the options are truly eco-friendly and not terribly ugly.
  • Our site comes with a few included items (yay!): reception chairs and reception tables that we can't bring outside for the ceremony or buffet set up (boo) and a brushed concrete floor that eliminates the need for a dance floor. It's not a lot, but every bit helps.
  • We asked out caterers if they need any rentals, and they said "just two banquet tables for the buffet line." Sweet. 
  • We have hired a bartender and two bussers through Border Grill Truck to help with the day. Border Grill will also have five people working the actual food set up/serving line. Yes, the Border Grill Truck is still incredibly affordable, even when we hired these extra helper-staff, who are worth their weight in worry-free logistics gold.
  • For drinks, we are getting a few kegs, lots of bottles of wine (kept at the bar), sangria (during cocktail hour), and we are providing pitchers of water at each table. 
I think that's it. If I missed something, I'll clarify in the comments. So here are screenshots of my assumed rental needs for 175 people:

If we decide to go with rented glassware, we need to add this:

I read somewhere that we need three glasses (for both wine AND beer) per person, since people all get tipsy enough to set down multiple glasses and walk away. I have no idea if it's true that people can't keep track of their own glasses, but I wouldn't want to impede our ability to imbibe.

Alternatively, we could go with eco-plastic cup purchases, which would save us about $800, if my back of the envelope calculations and cost assumptions are right. Here's what we could get, while still saving $800:

The big question regarding eco-plastic options is what the second-best sustainable option is, since rentals are the greenest choice. But we're trying to be ethical and frugal, leaving us wondering whether to use compostable cups (generally corn-based, or "bagasse") or cups made from 50% recycled materials. The problem with compostable options is that many industrial composting facilities won't accept bagasse-plastics. Really. I called the City of Los Angeles' Department of Sanitation to ask about composting locations, but they explained that bagasse needs to be in the composter for a longer time than standard food scraps or green waste to properly break down. Therefore, bagasse throws off commercial composting operations and can't generally be included with standard industrial compost materials. I found a website that might be able to help me find alternative local composting options, but I need to call and check if these options really compost bagasse. If I can't find an industrial composting facility to take the corn-based cups, I refuse to buy them because I refuse to send that many cups to a landfill. Even though bagasse cups are technically biodegradable... nothing really biodegrades in a landfill. If you throw a banana peel in a modern landfill, it won't biodegrade. Organic substances need air to break down, but the trash is too tightly packed to allow air to work its biodegrading magic on landfill items.

If composting isn't an option, we can consider buying cups made out of 50% recycled material (the FDA regulates post-consumer plastics in food packaging, so it's hard to find concentrations above 50% recycled plastic.) Using recycled PET plastic saves petroleum (oil is used to make plastic as both a component and for energy) and keeps the reused plastic waste out of landfill, so I like that this option is somewhat eco-friendly(er) and very affordable. Unfortunately, PET plastic is not recyclable in most areas (plastics can't be endlessly recycled. At some point, they cannot be remade into a new product). However, Santa Monica (where I work) definitely recycles PET and I'll need to research it for Los Angeles (where I live). If you're considering these cups, you should check with your local municipality or "materials recovered facility" (MRF for short) to see if #1 PET plastic is accepted (they are labeled with a #1 inside the recycling symbol, which is the code for PET plastic).

I need your help. Did I leave anything off the rental list? And what's your honest opinion of the attractiveness of the eco-plastic glasses? The ones I posted here would be our 9 oz "wine glass" choice and we'd also order a 16 oz "beer mug" choice.

Bah to decisions. Especially decisions made as I stab blindly, in the dark, hoping I'm not making too many mistakes that won't cost too too much*

*Ha. Since we're talking about rentals with same day drop-off and pick-up, it definitely costs a lot. Like $2000+ a lot. Even without the need for tables.

If you're interested in more rental overview issues for your wedding, check out this post from Amber Events, a wise local wedding planner.


  1. To be honest, as a highly aesthetics-oriented person, I never really notice what drinking glasses look like once I'm using them. Seriously, I know this sounds boring and practical, but I'm guessing most people wouldn't be able to describe what kind of glasses you used, the day after the wedding. (And I write this as someone who obsessed over this same issue, as you know!)

  2. This stuff is SO hard to figure out! I remember standing in Costco feeling like I wanted to cry because I realized I had no idea how many coffee creamer things we should buy and what percentage of people would drink decaf at a night time reception.

    For our wedding, we were planning to have enough stuff for 150 (the biggest number I figured could possibly come because I would rather have too much than not enough), and then we had about 100 show up (which was the realistic number I had expected). I rented 150 coffee cups, 160 champagne flutes, 150 water glasses, and 200 wine glasses. I also had been told people would set glasses down and so we would need extras. And I was completely stressed about it on our wedding day and worried we would have tons of "lost" dishes we would have to pay for. (On our wedding day, I was SO wishing I had gotten compostable so I wouldn't have to worry about lost and broken glasses.) Anyhow, it turns out that we lost NO dishes and only had two that were broken. Anyhow, we had WAY-WAY-WAY too many glasses/flutes/mugs/silverware/etc. People did not use multiple glasses and it also seemed nobody (or very few people) used one of everything. We could have really lowered our estimates. It was a night time wedding with a champagne toast (which everyone did) and then a dessert reception from about 9 pm til midnight-ish for most people, but then the party kept going til 3 am at the very end. I think people tend to keep up with their own stuff way better than we give them credit for. :)

    Good luck deciding! I found the compostable vs renting decision super stressful! We almost did compostable, until I decided that it was more green to rent and that just fit the look we wanted more. But then, after we decided that I totally second-guessed myself until after the wedding and wished I had done compostable. But now that I know it all turned out okay, I am glad we rented because we did not have to figure out how to compost all those things.

    Keep us posted on your decision process! I think each way has pros and cons, and it's just a matter of deciding which pros and cons you are more happy with.... I am curious to see what you decide, and I think your plastic options look nice. (And I love that they say they are eco-products, because I always try to look for that info on the disposable cups/plates I have to use occasionally.) Sorry for the novel---eek. :)

  3. I should also add that the cash bar supplied their own (non-eco-friendly, ugly) plastic cups (to my slight aesthetic and eco-dismay). But I don't remember seeing many of them around because it seems there was not a lot of heavy drinking at our wedding, even among those that are more into partying. And even though there were free alcohol options too (champagne and beer). Who knows.

  4. For some things (like silverware) buying a case from a restaurant supply place can be the cheapest option. After the festivities, the (clean) items can be donated to a shelter, church or other charity.

    I'm interested to hear how your glassware gets resolved; FH and I disagree on glass/plastic. I've never cared what my drink is served in at a party, but as a klutz, the idea of dropping a real glass seems more embarrassing than drinking from a disposable one. In our area, there are eco hauling/recycling services that do special pickups--they'll take just about anything, sort it and get it recycled/reused. If you ask, they'll tell you about where things end up and who they're affiliated with.

  5. This stuff freaks me out, and I have no idea why. I think it might be because my mom's idea of hospitality is always more food, more drinks, did you get enough?

    We were just at Ikea the other day, and they had super-cheap glassware. It made me wonder whether it would be cheaper to go the Ikea route and then donate the ones that don't break for the tax credit instead of renting or buying plastic (particularly eco-friendly plastic, which seems to be more expensive than your standard ravage-the-earth variety).

    Also, I saw someone who stamped their wedding date on the bamboo forks and it was adorable.

    I wish I could be more help, but I've just decided that if we run out of plates, everyone can pick up a take-out container and some free chopsticks and chow down.

  6. First, you will absolutely not need 1 coffee cup per guest (unless you know for sure that they are all RABID coffee drinkers). I ordered one per guest for my sis's wedding and I think maybe a quarter of them were used (generous estimate). And it was a dessert reception, where I sort of thought everyone would want coffee to go with cookies and such.

    Second, I've always thought the three glasses per person estimate is a bit off. Some guests will lose their glasses, but most won't, especially if you have a seated dinner where people have a dedicated spot to leave their glass and come back to that spot between dancing. I think a full standing cocktail reception with a manned bar is where you would be more likely to need that many replacement glasses.

    Third, I would be not at all offended to drink out of those plastic cups. They look fine, they're serviceable, they aren't the ubiquitous red plastic cups that remind people of keggers. I'd go for that option, honestly. Although people will probably go through at least three glasses per person if you go that route, because they are more likely to get a new glass for each drink.

    Side note - the touting of biodegradable stuff drives me crazy for this very reason! If you aren't actually composting it, it doesn't matter if it's compostable. I wish we had a better societal understanding of how landfills work.

  7. My wedding will be a lot smaller so I think I'm going to go the Ikea route, then keep everything afterwards and donate my existing (non-matching) plates, glassware, utensils. It would come in handy for entertaining, and I could loan (or give away) extras out to friends. Or just sell everything. The only downside to this is dealing with a bulk amount of dirty plates, glasses, utensils right after the wedding itself.

  8. @Adventures - glad to know I'm not the only stresscase about this. It makes me feel less batty to know others agonize about aesthetics/ethics/logistics/budget questions related to tableware.

    @Stephanie - I thought about getting the bulk silverware, but we genuinely only need forks! two forks per person! Blerg.

    @Sarah - I like being and being perceived as a generous host too, which is why this is so stressful. And I fear that Ikea simply won't work for 150+ people when we need to cart it all away at the end of the night. Waaaay more hassle than scraping it for the rental company or eco plastic. Also, Ikea is all glass, not plastic (ie breakable.) Boo.

    @Rachel - Thank you. Great points to keep in mind. And lack-of-knowledge about of landfills and recycling is a pet peeve of mine

  9. First off - relax. I stressed about this and totally didn't need to. Here's what we did. We had 134 guests confirmed - 130 showed up. We purchased 150 linen cocktail napkins (for us it was cheaper than renting). All of the cloth napkins were used - guests dropped napkins/spilled and baskets of bread we didn't know we were having were lined with napkins. We just the napkins laundered and are going to keep some for ourselves and sell the rest. We went compostable cups - 16 oz for beer/signature drink (2 per person all were used) and the 9 oz for wine (2 per person just 1 per person was used) - the writing is on the bottom of the glass and most people wrapped their glasses with cocktail napkins. Nice thing was that when glasses fell there was no shattered glass. One area we overpurchased on were paper cocktail napkins - for the bar/passed appetizers/dessert areas. Maybe 2 per person were used (they came in bulk of 500 so we have a lot left).

    Finally, what you might be missing. Corkscrews/wine keys to open wine bottles. Bar towels to wipe up spills at the bar. Ice tongs/scoop for ice. Does your table linen count include two tablecloths for the buffet tables? I agree with less coffee. Have you considered Hot Water? I'd get extra forks - someone is invariably going to drop one on the ground or forget and throw theirs out between dinner and cake.

  10. To @Stephanie's comment, check to see if you have restaurant supply stores near you that are open to the public. We found bulk forks - no knives/spoons. Our venue supplied silverware so we did need it.

  11. @Eden - ohmygoodness thank you. Truly. (And I've been looking for good restaurant supply places, unsuccessfully. Boo.)

  12. I really don't think you have to worry about the aesthetics of the cups. Both seem pretty nodescript to me — neither bad nor great — so I think it's a moot point.

    As long as you don't have a waiter coming around to collect glasses people have set down, you should be ok with three per person. It is the bane of my existence that the second I leave a glass unattended, someone scoops it up forcing me to get a new one.

  13. oh man, bravo. i'm taking my first environmental science class and i was AWFUL to this environment before...i'm filled with all this guilt now over my past littering and what not, so inviting eco-friendly options into the wedding would be excellent. i love the corn-cups!

  14. oh and as far as silverware goes, this isn't bamboo, but it is biodegradable (you still have to compost it, obviously, but it doesn't *have* to be a commercial facility, as far as I could deduce), strong, and doesn't taste funky -- and it was the cheapest option I could find, including shipping:


    We went 'round and 'round as far as how many packs to order ("do people even USE knives for BBQ?" "what if someone drops 2 forks?!"). We finally decided on 200 knives, 200 spoons, and 300 forks (for a projected 150 people). It was a bit too much, but we didn't have tons leftover, either.

  15. Have you considered not serving coffee? I've been to a lot of weddings where coffee was offered and very little was consumed. I enjoy coffee with my dessert sometimes, but I don't miss it if it's not there, and I would suspect that very few people do (and you can never please everyone). My husband and I had a similar non-full service catering set up at our wedding, and after we considered the additional expense of all the coffee making/coffee serving stuff and having to arrange for someone to make it, we decided to skip it. By all means go for it if it's something you would really enjoy though.

  16. I ran the kitchen at a friends "low key" reception and a big problem we had was people putting down their glass EVERY time they wanted another drink. It just led to washing up chaos. If I could do it over I would somehow prompt people to "hold onto your glass/cup" at the start of the night, either as a note on the tables or by the MC. It ended up being hard work, and I'd hate to think what we would have done if they were disposable and people threw them in the trash as we'd have had none left by half way.
    The other thing I'd add is that about 8 people out of 60 guests had coffee or tea. So I second Julia's no coffee suggestion.
    As far as glass versus plastic, I dont have much to offer on the compost front, but if you go with glass make sure you have supplies for someone to clean up a dropped/smashed glass quickly and effectively. Even appoint a person specifically to be the glass cleaner-up-erer.

  17. Ok, if you use the eco-cups, what about making a pretty little sign about asking people to try to hold on to the same cup during the night, as much as possible. You could provide Sharpies so people can write their names on it? (Or maybe that is something "not done" at weddings? Who knows.) But as a guest, I certainly would love this and be glad to keep up with my cup and minimize the trash (even the compostable stuff) that goes out into the world because I used it. And I would think it was awesome that you cared about that too! :)

  18. How attached are you to kegs? We got one, and only used half, which sucked. And we realized afterwards that if we had gotten (the exact same) beer in bottles, we wouldn't have had to have as many glasses. And for what we were buying, the price difference was surprisingly low between the two formats.

    Also, for the wine glasses, are you having set tables? We put wine glasses and wine out on the table settings, and had no problem with people using more than one glass. This would work less well if people are getting wine from a bar. But yeah, three glasses pp seems insane.

  19. We rented one wine glass and one water glass per person, and bought eco-friendly plastic cups for the bar. This worked, because we had a full catering setup that could find discarded glasses, wash them and use them again while the party was going, and we had a nearly full bar (affordable because we self-stocked it, we didn't pay for a catered bar).

    We did rent plates, forks etc. because, living abroad, we just didn't have the resources to find bamboo/eco-friendly/Goodwill/borrowed options local to our venue, we could afford to rent it all, and it solved a big problem made worse by geography.

    I am so with you on "but how much do we need?" because while we let the caterer figure out coffee and tea, we had to do our own math on the bar. We over-bought but by an acceptable amount, much of which was finished during the afterparty. I remember standing there, frozen in some discount liquor store (not quite Boozy Bill's Deep Discount Tipple & Moonshine-o-Rama but not far from it) freaking out about how many cases of wine, how many liters of vodka...

    For white wine, I highly recommend Famega's Vinho Verde. It was a huge hit, it's really quite good and very cheap by the case. We got a very inexpensive but delicious Portuguese wine for the red: Vidigal Vinho Regional Lisboa, also dirt cheap by the case...but then we had a card to a discount place.

  20. We're having a billion people, too, and glasses were going to be an issue, till we realized you can get nice glasses at Costco. They are made of glass, so not discardable, but I'm giving them as the favors so I don't have to deal with suddenly having all these glasses. My mom and I are making little winecharms to go with them, which turned out to be super easy- you can buy little metal rings the right size and just stick beads on them and bend the free end and you're done. And people can just deal with keeping track of their glass, so no need to buy three each.

  21. oh, and they end up being about $1 each (slightly more if you get all crafty with wine charms).

  22. We ran out of cups(we rented glasses for water + wine but used plastic for kegs and champagne punch)and my best friend's boyfriend ran up to her parents' house to get red solo cups...real classy! 3 per guest might be a lot but people are terrible about reusing...I was probably the worst culprit because every time I put my glass down someone would grab me. Also, this isn't a rental item but ice...buy lots and lots of ice if the bar/caterer doesn't provide it.

  23. We rented, mainly b/c we were moving after the wedding, so many options like buying napkins/silverware and donating afterwards, or collecting glass jars for a year (we went from deciding to get hitched to getting hitched in 5 months).
    - We rented water goblets for all the beverages we served (water, beer, wine, natural sodas). Water goblets made glassware possible, without crazy place settings (ie, water glass, wine glass, pint glass, etc) and high rental costs. We rented twice the number of guests, so had 1 goblet of water at each place setting, and enough for 1 per-person at our drink station. It went super well, really wasn't much more expensive then purchasing plastic options, and alcohol is so much tastier out of glass then plastic! Some of the goblets (of 200 total, maybe 30?) went unused. No biggy.

  24. Wow, I just randomly found your blog while searching for Saja dresses off Google. I don't regret it at all. I feel like you've taken everything I wanted to say, but said it so much better. I wish more people planning their weddings took the environment into more consideration. Just because a product says "eco-friendly" on it, doesn't necessarily mean it's a better alternative.

    I'm hoping to create most of our decor out of scrap fabric and other things I find around the house. As pretty as fresh floral centerpieces and letterpressed stationery can be, it's not as great for the environment as we'd like it to be.


I love active conversations, including (civil) disagreement. I don't love spam or people who use internet anonymity to be rude and disparaging. Spam and rudeness will be deleted.