Business has never been better at many of NJ’s traditional wedding venues. A peek behind the scenes at the Park Savoy shows why.
Every bride begins her matrimonial journey with one thought: Make my wedding day a day to remember. There is more than a little wiggle room within that sentiment. Theoretically, you could have an unforgettable service and reception in a field of daisies, the upper deck at Yankee Stadium, a tropical resort, or your college roommate’s uncle’s backyard. To the out-of-the-boxers we say more power to you. Theory is one thing, however, and practice another. Which is why, despite all those “do-it-yourself” receptions you hear about, the demand for formal wedding halls has never been greater. It also explains why the folks who brought you Naninas on the Park—those original take-charge guys Barry Maurillo, Joe Maurillo and Vito Cucci—had over 250 weddings booked (no, that’s not a typo) just a couple of weeks after reopening The Park Savoy Estate following a $6 million renovation that began last December.
It doesn’t take an expert to spot where the money went. Every square foot of the 19th century mansion—which at various times played host to everyone from Charles Lindbergh to Jean Harlow to Lucky Luciano—was re-conceived to deliver the utmost in luxury, comfort and opulence. The entire property, indoors and out (they stopped counting at 30,000 sq. ft.), is devoted to one bride and groom at a time, and can comfortably accommodate over 400 guests. Weddings typically take place Thursday through Sunday, in the afternoon and evening, with an average of three to five a week. Guests flow from a spacious reception area and wood-paneled barroom to the veranda and landscaped grounds and ultimately to a grand ballroom. There is also a separate bridal retreat with its own martini bar (ask and the Park Savoy will create a “signature drink” for bride and groom). If you’re picturing a typical “wedding factory” then you’re missing the point. For those few magical hours, the Park Savoy is meant to feel like home. “People walk through the front door and they fall in love,” says Joe Maurillo. “They sense right away that there’s something different happening here. It’s not just the beauty of the space, it’s how we interact with them. They’re not clients, they’re family. We treat all of our guests that way. We even treat our employees like family.” All of this comes at a price, of course. The Park Savoy represents the gold standard of formal wedding venues in New Jersey, and it’s not for every budget. That being said, at roughly $135 to $250 a head, it is more than competitive in the current marketplace.
What’s on the Menu? Everyone has a different idea of what “wedding food” should be. When booking a venue, it is absolutely critical that your expectations are in synch with the kitchen’s. If chicken parm and pasta does it for you, fine, no need to pay for a CIA-trained chef. By the same token, if you expect the food at your event to meet the standards of your favorite four-star restaurant, then make that determination before you sign on the dotted line. The Park Savoy happens to have a CIA-trained chef, George Atieh. Among the favorites on his extensive passing menu are brie and pear tartlets, lobster bon-bons, grilled scallops with orange-saffron aioli, and spinach-and-feta “cigars.” Favorite main courses include porcini-encrusted Chilean sea bass, asiago chicken in a shitake-lime sauce, and a filet mignon with a secret rub (which Atieh will probably take to his grave).
The advantage of booking a wedding at the Park Savoy— or just about any other first-rate wedding hall—is that every aspect of the event is handled seamlessly by the staff. The bride and groom and their families are free to enjoy the day without sweating the details. That peace of mind can be absolutely priceless. “Our management becomes your wedding planner,” explains Sales Manager Melanie Clarke. “We have three different house bands, we have DJs, photographers, videographers, florists, and we can even make hotel arrangements for guests.” The process for booking a formal space is fairly standard throughout the industry. The initial meeting usually takes an hour and involves a tour of the facility and a sit-down with a sales manager. It’s helpful to have a few items squared away before you call, including the time of year you plan on tying the knot, the number of guests you’re considering and whether you intend to have the actual ceremony on-site or somewhere else. Be aware that every venue has a minimum and a maximum number of guests it can accommodate.
Also, afternoon weddings typically come with a generous discount, so consider that option to a prime-time evening affair. Part of the initial meeting will almost certainly involve a discussion of food. Every place has a set menu, often with a mind-boggling range of choices. Be prepared to think about hors d’oeuvres, chef’s stations, main dishes, and desserts—and whether you want waiter service or a lavish buffet. Some places will even handle your wedding cake, or at least point you in a reliable direction. If the executive chef is on hand, see if he or she can join the meeting. Often they will ask you things a salesperson won’t, and can guide you through the menu and answer questions. Most places will happily tweak their dishes to address dietary or cultural preferences. Alas, the rule of thumb for choosing a formal, do-it-all wedding venue is that there is no particular rule. It’s your day and your dollar, so pick a place that promises a memorable experience. If you get a good vibe when you walk in the door, trust it. If the chef speaks your language, listen. And if that final number is reachable, grab it and go!
Editor’s Note: Special thanks to George Atieh of The Park Savoy Estate in Florham Park. The property’s web address is theparksavoy.com.