Everyone wants a beautiful, memorable wedding day. The definition of what is beautiful and memorable for some couples will be different from the definition for others. When you become engaged, talk to your loved one about what will be most meaningful — for both of you — to create your dream wedding.
Your parents may have been married in a church and had a simple cake-and-punch reception in the church basement. Times have changed. Today most people marry and have a reception at a private venue, not a church. Weddings and receptions have become full-scale productions.
While planning, determine if you want a simple, medium-size or large wedding. The next step is to determine your budget.
There are thousands of wedding professionals ready to help you plan your wedding and offer you first-rate products and amazing service. The more experienced wedding professionals have been involved in 100 or more weddings. At every wedding, they gain valuable experience, all the while learning what works best and what doesn’t — lessons and advice they can share with the next couple they work with. When you meet with professionals, you will learn about what they offer to make preparing for your wedding a calmer experience so you can relax and enjoy your wedding day.
When brides- and grooms-to-be want to save costs, they sometimes consider using an iPod for their music, having friends or family (or themselves) bake their wedding cake or cupcakes and having a friend cater their reception. But before you do this, consider the time, expense and frustration it may cost you. It’s not as easy as you think.
The do-it-yourself wedding works if you have the right people with professional-level skills and experience, everything is planned well, communications are clear and all helpers do their tasks flawlessly. But many times, someone cancels at the last minute, setup at the wedding and reception site takes longer than one anticipates and nonprofessionals aren’t aware of the importance of timing at a wedding.
For those who enjoy making crafts, handmade decorations are a good way to use your skills and creativity. Leave the catering, flowers, music (DJ), officiating, photography and other needs to the wedding professionals.
When touring venues, you will need to learn what is provided and what is not. For example: Are tables and chairs provided? If not, can you rent them from the facility? If so, who does the setup and tear-down? Be sure there is a place for the couple and wedding attendants to change clothes on site. Ask about different table and chair setups. If you are considering having both your wedding and your reception there, ask about the various layout options.
If you want to get married in a barn or at a farm, find out if there are farm animals on site. If so, consider that there might be a manure odor in hot weather. Ask the venue owner.
Vault Catering offers sound advice
“Once you become engaged, the biggest thing is to remember to relax, have fun, enjoy and take in every bit of this time, because it goes so fast,” says Sandra Winters, catering and event director for The Vault Catering Co
When planning your wedding, secure your venue, caterer and photographer first, as they are always the most likely to be booked a year or more out.
After you’ve narrowed your list of potential caterers, look at each caterer’s website to get an idea of what they offer and what you want served. Ask the caterer to give you a quote so you know if it will work with your budget. Once you have found the perfect menu, schedule your tasting. Bring along a list of questions.
“When we meet with a couple, I always tell them to ask me a lot of questions,” says Winters. “All questions are as important to me as they are to you. I have catered many weddings and events, and I have probably seen everything happen once. I know what you will need, what works best, guest favorites and things that might not work as well as a bride thought [they] would. When we sit down to work out their menu, I tell them to list everything they want, knowing that they can always reduce or add if needed. It's always best to see the big picture, knowing that anything can be changed.”
Photographers closely follow a schedule on your wedding day to ensure you are getting all the photographs you want. “It’s important to involve your photographer in the process of creating and troubleshooting a detailed timeline of your wedding day,” says Scott Schoeggl, co-owner of Wallflower Photography.
“It’s always good to have a little extra time built into your schedule so you don’t have to worry about being off by a few minutes from someone showing up late,” says Kier Smith, co-owner of Firstlight Photography. “A good professional photographer will be able to make up some of the time and keep things moving (a good reason for making sure you hire a professional wedding photographer), but the less you have to worry about this the better.”
When planning your wedding day photography schedule, it is important to decide where and when to shoot portraits of the couple, the wedding party and family groups — before the ceremony or after it.
“My preferred method is to shoot the couple and wedding party before the ceremony and the family groups after, but every wedding is different,” says Schoeggl. “The wedding day timeline should also include a list of each family portrait that needs to be photographed, with the names of every person who should appear in it. All this advance planning really helps the wedding day go smoothly, and when that day finally arrives, it becomes your job to worry no longer and let the professionals you hired give you an amazing day.”
Smith agrees, “We also suggest front-loading as many of your formal portraits, getting them done before the ceremony while you’re fresh, then taking the family portraits after the ceremony.”
For the reception, determine how much of it you want photographed. “If you aren’t doing a grand getaway at the end of the reception, you can save a lot of money just having the photographer at the reception long enough to cover the important events (toasts, dances, bouquet and garter toss) and anything else of importance, then let the photographer go,” says Smith. “This is also a good reason to make sure you hire a professional wedding DJ to make sure your reception flows smoothly and events take place on time so you don’t have to pay your photographer to stay for extra time.”
“We strongly suggest getting a book made by the photographer, something that will be a physical copy of your photos,” Smith adds. “We go [to] great lengths to preserve your wedding photos; however, a lot can go wrong with digital images, especially with technology changes.”
What to look for in a photographer
When meeting with photographers, find someone you like. “A wedding photographer plays a huge part in your wedding day and is at your side through most of it,” says Smith. “They are responsible for capturing one of the most important days of your life, and you want to make sure you are comfortable with them. Of course you want to make sure you like the style of their photos, but personality and the relationship with your photographer play a huge part in getting the best wedding photos.”
“Find an experienced wedding photographer,” advises Smith. “You are looking for a person that will be responsible for photographing a day that will be a huge part of your life; you don’t want to trust it to that $500 Craigslist photographer, or the uncle that likes taking photos and has a nice camera. We’ve got over 200 weddings under our belt; we know how weddings flow and know how to work under the stress of a wedding and make sure you get the photos you want, and you want that in a photographer on your wedding day.”
“There are photographers for every budget, and as with most things in life, you get what you pay for,” says Schoeggl. “If you’re hoping for a great set of wedding photos, prioritize them in your wedding budget and plans. Research wedding photographers early in your wedding planning so you can take your pick from a wider selection of available artists. At first, keep the price tag out of your evaluations, and focus on how much the photographer’s images, style and personality appeal to you. If you realize that the photographers you love cost more than you expected, you’ll still have time to readjust your budget to get the quality of photography you want.”
Flowers for your wedding day
As you do with other professionals, be sure to research wedding florists to find the best one for you. “I believe there is a perfect florist for every wedding,” said Julia Miller, owner of Julia’s Floral. Look at florists’ websites, social media pages and reviews to get a good sampling of each florist’s work.
“Some florists create hand-held bouquets that have a front and back side. “If you don’t know, look in front of a mirror. Turn the bouquet slowly to see which side is the fullest, most well-balanced and visually pleasing,” says Miller. “If your bouquet is a cascade style, naturally, the botanicals drape downward. So be mindful of this when carrying your bouquet. A cascade photographed tilting sideways, or even upside down, is a missed opportunity to create that perfect image.”
“Fresh flowers are more photogenic, so if the weather is hot, baby your flowers,” Miller says. “Keep them inside with water until you need them for pictures, and let them have another drink before the ceremony.”
Corina Bakery recommends tasting and sturdy cake stands
When choosing a bakery, Molly Ott, owner and general manager of Corina Bakery, recommends that you ask these questions: “Is the bakery located within a reasonable distance from the venue? Does it offer desserts for those with allergies (that taste as good as the rest)? Also, ask the expert, what is your cake serving-suggestion size?”
Make an appointment for tastings with two to three bakers, so they can prepare the foods you prefer and need, especially if there’s a special dietary need.
“We like to share this advice regarding wedding cakes: listen to the experts when it comes to the engineering and display of your cake,” said Molly. “Wedding cakes can often weigh upwards of 60 pounds. Many couples want to display cakes on pretty stands that weren't engineered to bear the weight of a tiered cake. Therefore be sure that the cake stand will hold your heavy wedding cake.”
If you plan to have an outdoor wedding, be realistic about climate and temperature. For an indoor wedding, pay attention to where the cake is displayed. Most wedding cakes are planted on tables in front of windows, causing them to be backlit. Find a space within the room that offers light to the front of the cake. That will ensure the cake is seen and photographed at its best!
Shopping for your wedding dress
Wedding dress stores usually also carry bridesmaid dresses, and some offer tuxedo rentals. When you find the stores where you want to shop, scheduling an appointment is highly recommended. Generally, most boutiques are small, so for the most positive experience, scheduling an appointment is recommended to ensure personal attention.
When you shop, be sure to bring photos of wedding dresses that you like to help the dress shop consultant understand what you are looking for. At the same time, it’s important to have an open mind when trying on different dress silhouettes. “Bridal industry dress sizing tends to run on the smaller side, so don’t get too hung up on the size of the dress,” says Courtney Foreman, owner of Weddings With Joy. She recommends that you keep your entourage small while shopping. Leaving any children in the care of others, she says, will help the appointment go more smoothly. Foreman also warns, “You can really make yourself go crazy if you start your search too early, so I recommend waiting to look for wedding dresses until you are within a year and a half of the wedding date.”
What to wear to the appointment
It’s helpful to wear proper undergarments so you can get a good idea of how the dress will look. Be sure to wear shoes with a heel height similar to what you think you will wear for your wedding. Foreman recommends that you schedule only two appointments in a given day to make it easier on the bride. “Once you try on eight or more dresses per boutique and you like multiple dresses, all you’re doing is causing more confusion [for] yourself,” says Foreman. “You lose focus on what could be potentially your dream dress, if you’re caught up in too many bridal appointments in one day.”
When will I get my dress?
It’s important to allow six months to special-order your dress. It takes three to four months for the dress to be made; then allow four to eight weeks for alterations. Sometimes dresses are already in stock with the designer, and for some dresses you can add rush shipping to receive them faster.
What’s the cost for alterations?
Alteration costs vary, depending on the independent seamstress you use. Many different things factor into the cost of alterations. The most common wedding dress alterations are having the dress hemmed to your height and putting in a bustle. It’s recommended to budget at least $400 (an average cost) for alterations.
Need a dress quickly?
Most of the dresses at Weddings With Joy can be purchased off the rack.
Music for your wedding and reception
Once you have researched DJs and selected three to interview, set up in-person meetings to determine which DJ is the right fit for you.
What to look for in a DJ and a master of ceremonies
A DJ plays music for your ceremony, reception or both, and a master of ceremonies (or emcee), who may also be the DJ, makes the announcements.
“This is one of the most important days of your life,” says Becka Page, BPM Entertainment. “You are throwing a party for a large number of people to attend. Plan early to book a quality entertainer to make your event the most successful.”
“This is the person you are hiring to be in front of all your guests the entire night with announcements and music,” says Page. “Your DJ can make or break your event. They should be experienced, organized, reputable and also have a great, approachable personality.”
“The photographer and DJ are the two people that couples will spend the most time with at the wedding,” explains David Sader, owner of Absolute Music. “Try to find professionals with personalities you are comfortable with.”
Find a DJ that fits your style and suits your needs. “Depending on your style of wedding, you may or may not want an overexaggerating game-style host,” says Cory Kollilis, owner of Sound EFX Music. “You may want a more laid-back [DJ], a formal DJ, or a DJ who can get the party going.”
When you meet with potential DJs, “Share your musical taste, your hobbies and your overall vision of the day with your DJ,” says Sader. “Weddings are not a one-size-fits-all kind of event.”
Some DJs offer lighting and other equipment rentals, so be sure to ask what they offer.
Planning music for your wedding and reception
You will need to notify the DJ about the venue, size of the room, floor plan and number of guests, so the DJ can plan the appropriate sound system. Sometimes two sound systems are needed.
When you are planning your reception seating chart, put the younger guests closest to the speakers and the older guests farther away.
If there is no wedding planner, the DJ can fill that role the day of the wedding. “Their expertise can make the difference between a day that flows smoothly and one with unnecessary confusion and missed opportunities,” says Sader. “For example, I always coordinate with the photographer to make sure they are ready and in place before I start any of the critical things that happen during a wedding. Since the DJ makes the announcements, it is the DJ’s responsibility to make sure that everything is in place before they start talking.”
When you are looking for a DJ, look at skill level, experience and equipment provided. “You also want to look for someone who can get the party going during the reception, but many clients love that I can control the whole night with my announcements, music and coordination with all the other vendors,” Kolilis says.
Coordinate with the DJ if you are having live music at your wedding or reception, so the DJ knows when to play recorded music.
When you meet with the DJ, talk about the music you like. “Choosing songs that are happy [and] fun and that people love to sing along to early in the reception creates anticipation for dancing later on,” says Page.
While you may have a few favorite songs that you want the DJ to play, it’s best to let the DJ select the songs that work best for getting the guests onto the dance floor, if that’s your goal. “The hardest situation for a DJ to be in is having a playlist of 100 must-play songs by the newlyweds and the songs aren’t working for the crowd,” said Page.
“I have been a music professional for most of my adult life, and I still prepare for each wedding in advance. I go over request lists, assemble folders of music that I will need that day . . . ,” says Sader. “What separates a good DJ from a not-so-good DJ is how they respond to the unexpected.”
With years of experience come skill and finesse. “I have learned over the years to start the music at the hook or chorus of the song instead of starting it from the beginning,” says Kollilis. “This is especially cool for the wedding ceremony. “Live mixing also gives us the ability to create excitement.”
Contributors to this article
Tips for meeting with wedding pros
Tips before you sign a contract
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