The competition between wedding venues is fierce and every location is pushing to offer something bigger and brighter than the other. But what of the bride or groom that wants more of a say? Hannah Patterson sat down with John Anthony at the Masonic Centre in Tunbridge Wells to find out why he’s playing the wedding game…
The rulebook for weddings has become irrelevant, and the day is an opportunity to not just celebrate a marriage, but also to exercise creativity in some spectacular ways. With the steady rise in popularity of DIY weddings and Pinterest, venues cannot so easily predict what the next couple will expect from their special day. There are trends, of course, but no one is the same, and the search for a venue that does not suppress the ever-growing ambitions of future newlyweds is not so very easy.
This is when John Anthony, resident Chef at the Masonic Centre, throws his hat further into the wedding industries’ ring. The centre, nestled quietly off St John’s road, can be easy to overlook if you don’t happen to know it’s there, but it’s something of a gem for those not seeking to contribute a large bank loan to a billion-pound industry.
Marketed as a blank canvas – ‘your own venue… day and night’ – John believes the centre offers more potential than most. “The venue is yours from 11am to 1am, and boasts a fully-licensed bar. There’s no need for
your celebration to end at 11pm.” Like most potential spots for a reception, the price is dependent on your choices. It is possible to hire just the centre for a significantly reduced price, and organise your own decorations and food.
However, if that all sounds like a little too much hard work, John also offers a number of options from his catering company, John Anthony Catering. His new offering is a hog roast buffet, which has become a wedding favourite for a tasty, but less formal meal. “We wanted to broaden our options,” says John, “although we offer what are considered more formal dinner set-ups, it’s important that it is the couple’s choice for what sort of atmosphere they want their day to have. It’s also ideal for keeping costs down if you’re trying not to break the bank.”
John acquired most of his chef experience from working in bustling London restaurants, so why come to Kent? “I wanted to start my own business – it was always the goal. The flexibility to be imaginative in what I do and to be reliant on my own judgement was freeing. I knew what I wanted to do and I was ready.”
Aside from weddings, one of John’s most popular hostings is the Sunday carvery – a more reasonably priced option compared to some of the pubs in surrounding areas, without sacrificing the quality of his food. “I think people find it a more relaxed alternative, and not as costly. It also has a real feel of community. There are a lot of regulars here, and everyone says hello to one another. We have plenty of birthdays and people celebrating – there’s always a happy and bustling atmosphere.”
John invited us to experience the carvery for ourselves, and the atmosphere was just as he had described it. The welcome was warm and the bar is both comfortable and well stocked, with an array of plush chairs, most of which were already filled with eager guests waiting to be seated. The drinks menu is varied enough to suit most tastes, although you may find yourself disappointed if you like a choice of IPAs. The price for the carvery is £12.50, inclusive of dessert, and is comparatively cheap to most of the other local venues who offer Sunday roasts, and although some might think that the centre doesn’t boast the same level of charm as a country pub, I can think of nowhere quite as friendly. The waitresses were smartly dressed in white shirts, black trousers and neat maroon ties, and darted amongst the ever-filling bar being excessively attentive to their guests.
The food itself was of a high standard, and you certainly get your money’s worth with the opportunity to have your plate filled to the brim with pork, turkey, beef and ham, along with roast potatoes – crisped to perfection – and all the usual trimmings, including stuffing. It would be difficult to imagine having any room remaining for dessert, but the menu is enticing with profiteroles and warm pie. John can be seen darting in and out of his
kitchen, and, considering the amount of food required to feed such a large number of guests, you have to wonder how he’s managed to do it all
with such a small team? “It’s a busy day. I get into work at 6am and work
through to the early evening. You have to care about the guests’ experience to be able to do it. “But I also have my attention on events that have the centre hired out – weddings being an example.”
John acknowledges the high level of competition with regard to wedding receptions,but he believes his venue has what it takes to compete with reasonable costs and freedom of choice. “We can serve up to 150 guests, more than the usual 120 you see in most wedding brochures. It’s such a large and adaptable space with so much potential. When you hire the venue, it’s your venue.” Is that something other locations lack? “I think so. Not all of them, but you’ll often find there are hidden expenses and excessive limitations on what you can do with the space. Sometimes they can feel a little restrictive.“Depending on what the couple wants, we can provide chairs, tables, linen, decorations, and all food and drink.
“The potential is what I want people to see when they visit the centre, and we are more than willing to help. I genuinely feel we should be on everyone’s list when visiting potential venues.” The Masonic Centre really is a blank canvas for the creative bride or groom in an ideal location, and now is the time, for it is about to undergo a major redecoration. From fresh paint to new floors, the Masonic Centre is re-branding itself as the wedding venue of choice.