Confession time: I never fully appreciated just how stressful wedding planning can be until I began planning my own. Sure, I've worked with plenty of brides, grooms (and moms) who had at least some level of anxiety over planning the big day. However, I was always on the other side - calmly reassuring them that everything would work out beautifully and besides, you are about to marry the love of your life - that's the important thing. Insert eye roll here. It wasn't until I stared at that year-long planning checklist in front of me for my wedding, that I fully appreciated the "holy crap, there is no way I can do this - let's cancel this whole thing and elope" feeling. Pinterest alone can suck you down into such a rabbit hole that you're pretty convinced that yes, you do need a white horse wearing a wreath of flowers around it's neck to casually stroll through a field as you and your groom frolic underneath a gorgeous sunset. Do you even like horses? You're not sure anymore.
Enter your wedding vendors. There's a saying that most of us in this industry (or any service industry) absolutely love,
"If you think it's expensive to hire a professional, wait until you hire an amateur."
Preach. Nothing could be more true and here's why. A professional wedding vendor will not just do their job. They will go above and beyond to 100% ensure that every "i" is dotted, every "t" is crossed and that you remain stress-free. Still need convincing? When do you send save-the-dates? What's the proper etiquette for invitations? What the heck is an "enclosure card"? You may not know, but your professional stationery designer will. Sure, your Great Aunt Sue might love arranging flowers, but is she going to create a vision board for you and suggest coordinating linens? Will she school you on the various types and costs of flowers? Will she be there at midnight tearing down and cleaning up? I doubt it. The minute I started booking professional, experienced wedding vendors, my anxiety decreased a million percent. I don't have to worry about all the technical stuff because I'm hiring people who's sole job is to know all the technical stuff and handle it for me. Don't get me wrong, I am well aware that weddings are crazy expensive and you need to cut corners when necessary. I'm just saying to think very carefully about cutting out a professional photographer for your neighbor who just bought a DSLR and offered to take your photos for $500. You get what you pay for people.
To help with your planning and shed some light into how valuable your vendors really are, I asked some of my faves in the industry to share their best tips, tricks and advice for pulling off a flawless wedding day!
1. We always remind couples to make sure they know the real costs of the rental or the rental/catering. You can find a venue you love that fits your budget only to find out you have to rent all the tables and chairs or there are extra fees for security, cleanup or a dance floor you haven’t considered. At venues that have exclusive caterers you need to find out if they have minimums as well as what’s included in the packages they offer. In addition, service charges and gratuities can really add up if you aren’t expecting them. It’s really important to have eyes wide open about those numbers. If couples aren't sure what to ask, we tell them just to ask if there are any additional fees they can expect or anything else they should know before booking.
- Tamra from the Carnegie Science Center
For more information on what to ask your wedding venue, check out this post.
2. Your invitation suite is one of the first tangible items that your guests will receive regarding your wedding day, and first impressions are key! I highly recommend not trying to DIY your invitations, going with evites, or using one of those online, click-and-drag websites. Even if you're not allocating a significant portion of your budget to stationery, semi-custom invitations are probably more inexpensive than you think. But, if you've got the room in your budget, don't be afraid to go with a completely custom design tailored to you and your special day.
- Rachel from Hello Rachel Creative
3. Even though invitations won’t be sent out until 6-8 weeks before your wedding, it’s wise to plan ahead and get started on the process early! I recommend starting at least 4-6 months before your wedding, especially when you’re looking for a custom design. Also, consider including an enclosure card in your invitations. If your reception is at a different location that your ceremony, if you have a wedding website, if you need to give specific hotel accommodations or parking/shuttle instructions, or if you just want to include a pretty map or venue drawing, the enclosure card is the place for it.
- Erin from Fresh Cut Prints
4. Each piece in your wedding suite should look like sisters, not twins. Together, we can make sure that your save-the-date, invitation, and rsvp stationery all look related, but not identical.
- Jen from Blush Paper Co.
Makeup & Hair
5. My advice, besides doing your research and reading reviews for all possible vendors, is to use a makeup artist that has the option of a trial run! This is critical so you can see their technique, get a feel for their personality, and see if they can create a look that you feel comfortable with and photographs well. I always suggest that you bring a few Pinterest photos with you and explain in detail the look you are trying to achieve. Don't say "just do what you think is best, I trust you!" Tell the makeup artist what you do like and most importantly, what you do not like! If you do not like eyeliner under your eye, or you always love to wear purple eyeshadow, or you like to have your brows done a certain way, let the artist know so that he or she can create a beautiful look that you not only love but that you also feel comfortable in!
- Clare from Ciel Cosmetics
6. Make sure to book your hair and makeup artist ASAP. If you really want to work with a specific stylist, BOOK them. That way you are comfortable with your choice and you have plenty of time to schedule a trial run. Go on Instagram to check out real weddings that the artist has done. This will give you a better ideal of their style and the type of weddings they have done to make sure it's the right match for you. Also if you have a question ASK it!! As a hair and makeup artist, we LOVE to talk.
- Annika from Glam to Go
7. We recommend to start dress shopping about 8-9 months before the big day. Many brides are unaware of how long the bridal gown ordering process takes once they find their gown, usually about 5-6 months and you will need additional time for alterations for your gowns to have the perfect fit. During your bridal consultations, trust your consultant and don't be afraid to try on gowns that feel outside your comfort zone. You'll be so surprised how different gowns and details look on your body as opposed to the hanger. Bring a small, positive and supportive crew with you to your gown shopping appointments. Too many people could take the focus away from the bride and what type of gown she truly wants to find.
- Angelea from Blanc de Blanc Bridal
Hiring a Caterer
8. When it comes to hiring a caterer you should strive to find one who you feel a connection with, after all, your wedding will be one of the most emotional purchases that you will be making in your entire life. You need a caterer who will understand your vision — who gets it and one who will cater to you. Second, what is the caterer's experience and style? Both go hand in hand. If you look strictly at experience, you may run into a caterer that claims to have done tons of weddings, but were they your style?
Choosing the Food
9. Work with your caterer so that they understand your vision. No matter how big or small, look at your wedding reception as though it were a dinner party that you were throwing. Your guests should be able to identify you and your partner through the food's flavors and style. If you're still hitting a wall, start with some of your favorite dishes or restaurants to present a feel to your caterer.
10. Think about your budget because you will get what you pay for — the food industry is transparent like that. Your caterer should call you out if you've got champagne-taste on a beer budget.
11. Opt for a seasonal menu that will not only provide the freshest ingredients but will also help your bottom line.
12. Have fun! Allow your caterer to do the deep thinking.
- Kimberley of Kimberley Ashlee Catering
13. When designing your wedding cake, I highly recommend choosing a cake stand to accompany it. Cake stands are a great way to add height and elegance to your cake, without adding a lot of extra cost. A well coordinated cake stand can turn a great cake into an amazing cake!
- Janelle from Mixed With Love Cake & Cookie Co.
14. Pick two flavors for your wedding cake. Chose something more common such as an almond or vanilla cake with berry filling and vanilla buttercream. Your crowd pleaser. Then choose something that speaks to the two of you and your personalities. Possibly something unique that your more adventurous guests will also appreciate. My favorite "wild card" recommendation is chocolate fudge cake with Guinness buttercream. It is likely that none of your guests have had the pleasure of tasting Guinness buttercream but I guarantee that it is something that they will remember.
- Cathy from Frosted Envy
15. Don't let linens be an afterthought or think they aren't a priority within your budget. Linens set the tone and design for the entire look of your reception and enhance your centerpieces. Dress your tables in color and try using different fabrics in the same color tone, it gives your room and tables visual interest. White on white on white wedding linens are a way of the past!
- DeAnne from Linen Hero
16. It is always nice to have a variety of centerpieces. Whether you are mixing high and low or a variety of all low, the room will have much more dimension and interest with different (yet cohesive) styles. It also can be a good way to stay on budget if you prefer all tall centerpieces or really want to make a statement, some can be more grand while some are a bit simpler. Keep in mind the colors and style of your venue. If your venue has a lot of colors in the carpeting, wallpaper, etc., it might be best to stick with neutrals for your centerpieces so that nothing clashes.
- Miranda from Community Flower Shop
17. Focus on the quality of your wedding. This may mean taking the bulk of your floral budget and doing 10 large centerpieces instead of 20 tiny. Incorporate something that is easy to buy and resell, like candles! Mix that with some quality flowers for a romantic and lush vibe. Candlelight always adds such a soft texture to any space too, from modern to rustic to classic.
Sydney from Stems by Syd - soon to be Floralush Studio!
18. Who said budget-savvy can’t be beautiful? Put this planner-approved tip to the test and take your reception from basic to brilliant just like that! Many people choose to use a mixture of basic round linen covered tables and farm tables, rather than all round or farm tables. You can achieve an upscale look for a fraction of the price. It’s actually quite beautiful and no one would ever know you were trying to save money.
- Paul & Hope from Penn Rustic Rentals
19. To rent or not to rent that is the question? When thinking about adding specialty decor to your big day such as a lovely ceremony structure or a fabulous vintage lounge let your personality and eye for style shine through. By selecting rustic, classic vintage, bohemian or even just by adding a little patina to your wedding you can create a unique and warm vibe that represents you and your style. Vintage rentals can bring your vision to life or can tie your vision completely together. Having a professional stylist as a part of your vendor team can enhance your special day and take it to the next level. By choosing old dressers, unique desks, gorgeous sofas and one of a kind pieces you will create an unforgettable atmosphere that your guests will love. My advice is to forgo the ordinary, such as old banquet tables, standard seating and run of the mill decor and embrace the unique inventory that a vintage rental company has to offer.
- Tricia from Vintage Alley Rentals
20. When feeling overwhelmed, take a break, take a deep breath and think about what it's really all about - love, happiness, family & friends - give yourself space to reset and refocus, and then keep going. Besides, whatever doesn't go the way you planned it, most likely, will make a fun story later - like when my husband forgot his shoes on the wedding day and now we all laugh about it ;) - no big deal, he wore chucks instead!
21. While it's good to have a list of the formal photos you want captured on your wedding day, try not to set your mind in specific poses or looks for your bride and groom portraits. True emotions come out when you and your now spouse feel comfortable and are being yourselves, whether that's hugging and kissing each other or having a little dance!
- Levana from Levana Melamed Photography
22. Plan your wedding the way YOU want it to be - not how everyone else THINKS it should be. If you want over the top decorations - do it, if not - don't. If you want to take more time to hang alone with your bridal party - do it. The guests will still come - and they will still be there when you're ready....all while enjoying the food & drinks you carefully picked for them.
- Kaitlin from Kaitlin Powell Photography
23. While taking formal family photos probably isn't anyone's favorite part of the day, these photos are still very important. Be sure to carefully plan your specific family groupings ahead of time to make the best use of your limited time. Keep in mind that larger groups take longer to organize and that more people in a photo means smaller faces. And be sure everyone that needs to stay for family photos knows that they need to stay!
24. Maximize your photographer's time by having your details ready to be photographed when they arrive. This means tags cut off of your jewelry, dress out of the garment bag and shoes readily available (not "in the gray box in the pink bag in my suitcase in the closet"). This means your photographer can get right to work on capturing people and details instead of going on a scavenger hunt.
25. While you may be tempted to have a "really short ceremony," try not to make it too short. You don't want it to be so fast you barely remember it happening. And from a photography and video perspective, it can be hard to capture the important people and different angles of the setup if it's too short!
- Christina from Christina Montemurro Photography
26. Sound is very important in video. Having your ceremony near a waterfall or fountain may be pretty, but the sound of rushing water may compete with your voices saying your vows in your video. (And in reality, too!) Your videographer will be in very close proximity to you for the majority of your day. Take just as much care in choosing your videographer as you do your videographer! Make sure it's someone that makes you feel at ease.
- Christina from Christina Montemurro Photography
27. The style and creativity of video has received a 21st century make over. While you can still find classic styles, the doors have been opened and you’re bound to find something new that you will love. These new technologies have also brought on easier ways to share and preserve video. Gone are the days of tapes, and even DVDs for some. Not to mention all the social media outlets to share, post, tag, and pin video for everyone you know to enjoy. Ask potential videographers what types of products and delivery methods they offer in this very digital and social world we live in. The good ones will have systems already in place to make it easier than ever to share films with every friend, follower, and family member.
- Nick & Lisa from So Fresh Films
28. Beyond the dancing, consider an additional element of entertaining your guests. Photo booths are here to stay and are a great way to get guests engaged in the party. And not all photo booths are created equal. There are so many customization options to suit your style - from booths that are the classic enclosure with boas and crazy props, to modern open-air booths for that clean and minimalistic look, to slow-mo video, gifs, and social media sharing. Adding a photo booth gives you a few hundred more fun photos to remember all those important faces that shared your wedding day with you.
- Stephanie from Lux Photobooth
29. 3 things to think about: 1. Do you want traditional Classical wedding music or Contemporary Pop and Rock favorites? 2. Make sure you choose the right musician or group to fit your musical tastes. 3. The 5 top music choices you will have to make: the Bride’s Processional, Bridesmaids Processional, Mom’s Processional, the Recessional and one or two special moments during the service.
- Steven from Steven Vance Entertainment
30. When considering DJ’s there are several important factors to consider. 1. What is your style? Do you want the DJ who jumps on the table and leads “The Macarena” and rolls around on the floor during “Shout” or do you want a more polished but engaging approach allowing you and your guests to be the center of attention? 2. Do they have professional equipment? Speakers, laptops, turntable(s), wireless microphone, basic dance floor lighting and - importantly - a backup for critical components. 3. Read the reviews on The Knot, Wedding Wire and other sources. Do the comments from other couples match the type of experience you want?
- Steven from Steven Vance Entertainment
Wedding Party Gifts
31. Gifts are a fun way to show your gratitude to your bridal party for standing by your side on your big day. Our tips for great gifting? Keep it thoughtful, personal, and give them something they'll be able to use well after the wedding. While we favor custom gift boxes (made by us or DIY) for your bridal party, our other great gifts include personalized robes, jewelry they can wear during the wedding, or a simple framed photo of the two of you. As always, it's important to top your gifts off with a handwritten note or card. Include an inside joke, express your excitement, or simply say "thanks." No matter what you write, a handwritten note is the most effective way to show them that you care, and that you're thankful for their friendship.
- Kelley from Foxblossom Co.