Meet our friends at Crystal Gardens at Navy Pier

We recently got to interview Sharon Plucinski, Catering Sales Manager handling the Social/ Wedding Marketer for Crystal Gardens to get her thoughts on Wedding Planning process and get her tips.


If you have not yet visited Crystal Gardens it is this amazing oasis in the middle of Chicago.   It is an incredible one acre indoor botanical garden, with over 80 beautiful palm trees,  lush foliage, hanging “twinkle lights,” and dancing “leapfrog” fountains, it makes an unbelievable setting for your special day.  With its location in Navy Pier it makes it a fabulous location for your quintessential Chicago wedding!  And of course lots of amazing places for great wedding picture opportunites

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For people who may not be familiar with Crystal Gardens can you tell us a bit about the location?

The Crystal Gardens is a perfect and unique location to host your event. The Crystal Gardens is a beautiful indoor, one-acre – botanical garden. This six-story glass atrium with a 50 foot arched ceiling holds over 80 live palm trees, lush foliage, hanging “twinkle lights” and dancing “leapfrog” fountains.

Sharon tell us a bit about you and your team?

I feel in love with the hospitality industry at an early age, I’ve always loved throwing parties and being creative. While studying Art & Design at Iowa State University, during the summer months I would come home and work as a florist. I got to see many different venues, set- ups and break downs and got to spend lots of time being creative surrounded by flowers! After my Senior year fall semester studying abroad in Italy, I figured out I wanted to go into events full time and learn the ins and outs. I was lucky enough to get connected to a lot of fabulous people in the city of Chicago. I started my career at the Sheraton Chicago as a Catering & Convention Service Assistant and then worked my way up to the Food & Beverage Sales Manager for all of our outlet spaces. After 4 years at the Sheraton I moved to our sister property The Westin River North as a Catering Sales Manager where I sold & serviced Corporate Events 0-100 people and Social from 0-175. I learned so much “growing up” in hotels, there is never a day that goes by that I don’t use the skills I’ve learned from hotels. I jumped at the experience to join the Phil Stefani Signature Events team this past July as their Catering Sales Manager, selling the Crystal Gardens at Navy Pier for all weddings. I love weddings and have had a love affair with everything weddings for many, many years. Down the road I do wish to own my own Bed & Breakfast…somewhere beautiful that I can also sell for social events For now, I’m in love selling & living the dream!!!

Our team at Crystal Gardens also comprises of 3 Sales & Catering professionals with over 20 years experience in creating an award winning events. It includes Kate Samuelson is our Senior Sales Manager handling the Corporate Market and our GM Pete Laliberte.

What services do you offer?

Full service catering and event space to service sit down events up to 525 guests and receptions up to 1,500 guests.

Is there a particular bride style you feel you cater to best?

The non-traditional, out of the box bride and the Foodie bride would be the style type we best cater too.

What is the first thing a couple should do after getting engaged?
After jumping up and down and telling all of your loved ones the next thing you must do is sit down and agree on a date/month/ or time of the year for your wedding. Then starting the selection process for venues, typically in Chicago if a Bride & Groom have a particular date or time frame in mind it’s best to book at least a year out if not a year and a half depending on venue.

What is your favorite part/moment of a wedding?
If we are hosting both the ceremony & reception my ultimate FAVORITE part is the VOWS, you feel so personally connected to the bride & groom by the time their big day gets here that it’s touching to hear what they are personally vowing to do for each other. If we are only hosting the reception my favorite part is when I ask the bride & groom how everything is going and they answer with “AMAZING!!!” I love making their dreams for the day come true!

Can you give me 1-2 of your favorite requests/ ideas that a couple has come to you with?
We get quite a few requests and ideas one that really stands out was….since it’s pretty much a jungle in here would it be alright if my dad rents a monkey for the night to swing from the trees, that takes the cake. Unfortunately, the request was denied….

What are the trends you are seeing for 2013/14?
Trends wise for 2013 -2014, Brides & Grooms are booking way in advance.
They are also way more educated on food trends and wine, we have quite a bit of “FOODIE” Brides & Grooms that we love to cater to and get creative with their menus.
Sweet stations are still all the craze and more and more couples are choosing to do Late Night snack comfort foods.
Colors wise we are seeing lots of the purple and silver moving forward I think we are going to get more of the yellows and greens.
Within our venue less is more on the décor side since the environment is already so unique so floral arrangements vary in color and texture and help to accent the final finishing touches with glowing candles and our hanging lights.

So who is Sharon when you are not at work:
– what is your rule of thumb you live by? “No Regrets”
– what do you do in your free time?  Go out to eat and hang out with friends, if I have lots of time CRAFTS
– If you were to turn on the TV right now what would you choose to watch? My DVR’d shows: New Girl, Nashville, Heart of Dixie and Walking Dead… I have A LOT stored on my DVR right now.
– what book are you reading right now? or what is the last book you read? I just finished a quick read: The Time Keeper, By Mitch Albom and started The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky (I love to read!)

Finally we have to ask but what is an item you would have on your wedding registry?
Since I currently am in the process of planning my own wedding and starting on my own wedding registry I personally have to say I LOVE the idea of being able to register for massages, they are my guilty pleasure I think something like that is a personal touch and a fabulous shower gift!!!

Not Your Mother’s Wedding Gift Registry – Guest blogger

When I got married in 1986, my mother basically took me by the hand and told me what items my future husband and I would be needing. I created wedding registries at a number of Chicago-area stores. My mother guided me in the categories and choice of stores but left the selection to my questionable taste (my husband, known as my fiancé at the time, couldn’t have cared less). Every day china, Waterford goblets and stainless steel flatware we found at Marshall Fields; formal china in a Wedgwood pattern from Tiffanys. And, of course, I needed to register for my sterling silver flatware from Spaulding & Co., a Chicago-based purveyor of fine china, silver and jewelry that went out of business a few years after I married. The silver was expensive – roughly $250 a place setting. I hesitated to even register for it but my mother told me I would use it for years and years and should have something fine. Maybe someone would buy me a tea spoon or a fork. But I was fairly certain that any dinner I hosted for more than one person would see the table set with my everyday stainless flatware.

Ultimately, the bulk of wedding gifts we received came from my wedding registry at Marshall Fields in Chicago. There were many advantages to having a gift registry there. One was that they had a great variety of products in a wide range of prices. Even though I didn’t really need them, I was encouraged by recent brides to register for a number of smaller items; toaster, coffee maker, waffle iron (I received two and don’t eat waffles!); popcorn popper, oven mitts, covered casserole dishes and a bundt cake pan. The idea, recent brides explained, was that I could return for cash any items I didn’t really want (but were particularly attractive for gift givers due to either price or sentimental reasons) and put that cash towards some of the bigger ticket items I probably would not receive.

After my wedding, I think I returned ten crystal bowls, multiple salt and pepper shakers and a number of kitchen items I never had any intention of using (and in many cases, hadn’t registered for). These returns involved a number of weekends and a lot of dragging large boxes to downtown Chicago and waiting in line at customer service to return them. And what did I do with the cash? I walked down Michigan Avenue to Spauldings and purchased six place settings of my English sterling silver flatware.

Poladora would have made all this so easy. A consolidated online wedding registry that aggregates products from a local network of partner stores under one website, Poladora allows a couple the option to literally aggregate the credits from their gifts and use them towards any items within their network of partner stores. No time-wasting returns, no fears about registering for an expensive item at a smaller store and only receiving one place setting while unable to use credits from the big box store where you got the bulk of your gifts. Because, if it’s within the Poladora network, you can just reallocate your gift credits towards whatever items you want – be it a side board, payment towards your wedding cake or maybe even sterling silver flatware. Poladora; many gifts…one site…and it’s NOT your mother’s wedding registry!