The bloom is on the rose, and weddings are in the air. That means wedding registries are on the Internet. Which in turn means that, I am sorry to say, there are a lot of young, giggly, blushing people running through stores with handheld scanners, preparing to make terrible mistakes about their kitchen equipment.
Please don't take this the wrong way. There's no reason that you should be any good at assembling a wedding registry; after all, if all goes well, it is the sort of thing you will do only once in your life. That's why it struck me that a bit of advice from someone who a) is obsessed with kitchen equipment and b) has already been through the harrowing process of wondering exactly which items were good enough to demand from your friends might be helpful. So here goes.
1) The very first thing you need to do is ask yourself two simple questions: Do I want to spend a lot of time cooking? And what do I plan to spend a lot of time cooking?
There is absolutely no shame in answering the first question "no." Americans have never had more and better options with convenience foods, between the frozen-food aisle, pre-cut and washed vegetables, prepared supermarket foods, and an amazing array of takeout. If you hate to cook, own it proudly. Don't ask your wedding guests to outfit a professional kitchen you will never get around to using; instead, ask for linens, lamps, vases and other nonfood items that you will actually use.
If you do like to cook, be honest and realistic about what you like to cook. There is no shame in not cooking, and there is no shame in knowing that what you really like to cook are the 20 quick and easy meals you were raised on.
There is also no shame in being an extremist who has to try the latest thing in molecular gastronomy. The important thing is that you should keep your style of cooking and entertaining in mind when you create your registry. This sounds stupid and obvious, until you see your strict paleo friend request a top-of-the-line KitchenAid mixer, an appliance that is mostly useful for cooking with grain.
2) Pick a "top-shelf appliance" that goes with the cooking that is most important to you. You shouldn't have all $300 items on your registry, but everyone is allowed one or two. Some suggestions:
a. Don't like to cook: a top-of-the-line microwave
b. Meat lover: a sous vide inverter and vacuum sealer
c. Baker: stand mixer or food processor
d. Paleo or raw: Vitamix or food processor
e. Working parents: Pressure cooker or slow cooker. (To be honest, I don't think the high-end All-Clad models work any better than the models that cost $100 or less. But if you want a showpiece for the counter, they do look nice.)
f. Already has everything: Thermomix
g. Minimalist: All-Clad stainless steel saute pan
h. Soup and stew lover: Slow cooker, giant Le Creuset Dutch oven
i. Entertainer: small wine fridge, ice machine, Vitamix
j. Grillmaster: Grill, electric smoker
k. Coffee fiend: Technivorm
3) Don't focus on trophies. There are probably millions of unused KitchenAid mixers sitting on counters across America. I have a KitchenAid mixer, now almost 20 years old. It's an awesome appliance. But if you make one batch of cookies every alternate Leap Year, then for heaven's sake, ask for something you'll actually use.
4) Don't indulge your fantasy cook. Maybe you've always wanted to be the sort of cook who whips up fresh pasta every weekend. But unless you already make fresh pasta on a regular basis, you should not ask for an expensive pasta-rolling machine, because odds are you'll quickly realize that making fresh pasta is a huge pain in the butt and you'd rather buy Ronzoni. Ditto Margaritaville frozen beverage makers if the last time you made frozen cocktails was never, fancy baking pans for someone who hates the feeling of dry flour on his hands, a creme brulee torch for someone who has never cooked custard, and so on. A better gadget than your current model, or a gadget that does something you already like to do by hand: great idea. A gadget that is supposed to make you like doing something you've never bothered with before: probable waste of space.
5) If a small appliance won't live on the counter, skip it. There are exceptions to this rule: The ice cream maker is seasonal, the deep fryer probably shouldn't be used too often, and the waffle iron . . . well, no one I've ever met eats waffles every day. But this is a good general rule, and you should be as ruthless as possible: If it won't live on the counter, that means you probably won't use it often enough to justify owning it.
6) Don't obsess about things that fit with your current kitchen. Slight modification to the above: You're probably going to move in the next few years. Think about the sort of kitchen you are likely to end up settling your family in, not your current bachelor apartment with the tiny galley kitchen. You can always store the stuff for a little while . . . if you think you're really likely to use it. Though do keep in mind that your fantasy HGTV kitchen, which is 90 by 90 and has six acres of counter space, will probably not be in your budget much before the age of 50, if ever.
7) Forget the color of the year for sturdy appliances. I know, I know . . . it's adorable! In 10 years, however, it is going to make you want to poke your eyes out with an Avocado Green meat fork. It will clash madly with your new curtains, and you will want to take it off the counter to hide it from your guests. See Rule 5, and pick white, black or stainless steel for your major appliances. Get your pops of color from curtains, canisters and other small items that you won't mind buying again every five to 10 years.
8) Think hard about single-task appliances. I own a waffle iron, because how else can you make waffles? But the profusion of cupcake makers, crepe irons, egg cookers, bagel slicers and so forth are awfully . . . specific. Specific to things you don't really do that often. You don't want to have nine different specialty gadgets and not a single decent pan in which to saute a chicken breast.
9) Think metal, not plastic. A microplane grater is likely to last decades. Silicone spatulas and plastic mixing spoons, not so much. Every time you look at your wedding gifts, you are going to have happy memories of the beloved people who gave them to you, so make those memories last. Put sturdy, long-lived items on the registry, and buy the cheap plastic items yourself. There are lots of lovely, inexpensive, long-lasting things that you can register for: cookbooks, refrigerator magnets that give you measurement equivalents, sturdy metal measuring cups and spoons, china canisters, kitchen twine dispensers.
10) Consider fancy china -- but only if you'll use it. It's fashionable right now to disparage fancy china, but I think it's nice to have lovely plates for company and special occasions.
11) Don't get anything so delicate you can't use it. We registered for the most beautiful champagne glasses -- slender and airy as a reed. We still treasure them, but we are terrified to use them. Get something that won't break if you breathe on it.
12) Get more of the fancy stuff than you want to have. If you use them, you will break a few. If the pattern is discontinued, you will have to pay a lot of money to replace them later. So if you want a service for 10, get a service for 12.
13) Don't skimp on serving dishes to go with your china. It is nice to have a full service for a big holiday dinner, which means at least four bowls for side dishes, a couple of big platters, a butter dish or two.
14) Bakers: Consider a covered cake plate. It's impressive for a dinner party dessert, but also useful because when you make a cake, you can leave it on the sideboard for a week instead of scarring up the frosting with tin foil. A good pound cake stored this way will keep about a month without refrigeration, and yes, I've done this -- you don't need to be June Cleaver to like having a cake on hand.
15) Get a pitcher or two. No one ever registers for pitchers for some reason. But a nice glass pitcher is awfully useful -- for lemonade in the garden or ice water at a dinner party so you don't have to keep running out to the kitchen to refill glasses. The newly fashionable beverage dispensers are also great, but they won't actually substitute for something you can carry and pass with one hand.
16) If you ever entertain, a punch bowl is much more useful than you suspect.
17) Get nice flatware. It doesn't have to be silver, because silver costs the earth and has to be polished. But many manufacturers are doing many lovely things with stainless steel. Have a nice set that comes out for parties and makes them feel like a special occasion. Or just replace the motley assortment of hand-me-downs and supermarket fill-ins you've been using. Get 18/10 stainless steel that feels heavy and solid in your hand, and you'll have it for decades.
18) Don't forget serving utensils! So useful! So under-requested! Meat forks, generous serving spoons, asparagus tongs, pie and cake servers, sauce ladles, butter knives . . . the first time you give a big dinner party, you will wish you had nice ones. And they're great for registries because individually, they're not very expensive. Load up in this section of the flatware registry, because if you ever plan to feed more than a couple of people, you almost can't have too many.
19) Think big: If you register for 12 small ramekins, you're likely to end up with five or some other useless number. Make sure you have a full array of good mixing bowls, square and rectangular bakers, large souffles and covered casseroles before you delve into tiny, adorable dishes. Buy the tiny, adorable things yourself, a few at a time, or pick them up at estate sales and flea markets, where they abound from other people who got three ramekins off their wedding registries.
20) Be cautious about weird shapes. I own a heart-shaped pan, which seemed to just express my feelings when we were getting married. It's very nice every Valentine's Day. The rest of the time, it takes up space.
21) Be even more cautious about sets of things. The nice people at kitchen stores are all too eager to give you your kitchen pre-built with lovely knife sets, utensil sets, pot and pan sets, and so forth. And in the case of things like nesting mixing bowls, that's fine. But when it comes to more complicated kitchen tools, the set probably doesn't have everything you need, probably has a bunch of stuff you won't use, and will use up space you need to expand. Register for individual items, plus a nice large knife block and utensil holder.
22) Don't ask for money. If people want to give you money, they probably know the way to the bank. A registry is for the people who want to give you something lovely to help you start your home who need a little assistance in figuring out what is needed and wanted.
23) Write your thank-you notes immediately. Two weeks after we returned from our honeymoon, a malfunctioning washing machine flooded our house, forcing us to evacuate in a rush. We lost the list of who had given us what, and I am not kidding when I say that I am still haunted by the guilt. If you were at our wedding, this is yet another apology for my shameful lapse.
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