Being a wedding planner, I spend an infinite amount of time listening to other peoples ideas and trying to translate them into something that will make their day uniquely theirs. Over the years, I have found that a few things top the list on what you should and should not do when planning a wedding. Though many other details and wedding day aspects should be considered when taking on the challenge of creating the perfect wedding, these 10 things, if carefully considered, will get you moving in the right direction.
1-DO pay close attention to the existing surroundings and décor of your reception venue.
If you want to have an upscale polished event, consider having it in a ballroom, at a local country club or in a mansion rather then in a cabin at the top of Vail’s chair lift. Working with what is around you will help you to minimize the amount of money that you need to spend in order to achieve a “look” or “style”. It would take a lot of fabric and flowers to transform a rustic space into a refined venue. Along the same lines, it is near impossible to get an extremely casual Colorado feel from a local Mansion. If you start with a venue that is more neutral or closer to the overall feel that you are ultimately going for, then you will have to spend less time and effort on your space.
2-DO book EARLY.
Planners in Colorado know that there are many gems out there that have not worked the way up the ladder of “most sought after venues”, therefore they are not at the top of the list regarding price and overall expense. Since planners know this, they snatch up those inexpensive gems 12-18 months in advance, leaving the more well known (and substantially more expensive) mainstream venues for the average bride and groom. Though these venues still have the charm and vistas that people flock to Colorado to enjoy, they are costly. Having to pay $4,000-10,000 for just the location can make a serious dent in a budget. If you pay less for the space, then you have more for the food, beverage and overall décor. So start the venue search early.
3- DO limit your guest list to maximize the experience of the guests that you do invite.
People travel to the state of Colorado when they are invited, so the standard 2/3 yes 1/3 no ratio for RSVPs does not apply here. Knowing that a good majority on your guest list will come if they are invited in a timely fashion, you should seriously consider limiting your guest list if your budget is limited. Sure, you want all the people you can think of to come and celebrate, there are so many important people in your life and you would hate to leave any of them out, but whether anyone else out there will admit it out loud or not, people speak ill of cheap weddings. If you invite everyone you can think of but have to go without an open bar, you are going to frustrate the people you invite.
Instead of spreading yourself thin and giving a big group of people a mediocre evening, be selective and give those that come an amazing experience. People talk about weddings for a long time after they have gone to them and you would hope that those that talk about yours have had a brilliant time and have nothing but nice things to say. So, less (people) is more when it comes to a tight budget and a guest list!
Regardless of whether or not you can cut the list down, one rule, do not ever make your guests come out of pocket for anything at all at your reception. NOTHING.
4- DON’T make people pay for alcohol.
Cash bars are an unfortunate way to thank your guests for flying, driving, walking or biking to your wedding. They have taken the time to step out of their routines to travel to your event, most have purchased some sort of present and found a special outfit to wear. Keeping in mind the thought they have put into your event, you should not expect that any of them will come with cash to pay for their own drinks. If you can not afford a full bar of premium brands, pick two specialty liquor drinks to offer and then offer ample beer and wine. If your budget is terribly limited and alcohol is questionable, just go with beer and wine. Also consider your venues policies on alcohol BEFORE you sign. A hotel or country club has fixed pricing and you can not get away from it, but an event site that has no restaurant allows you to bring in alcohol as long as it is served by a licensed bartender. A Keg of domestic beer bought at a local store serves 144 beers and costs you $60.00 but a bottle of beer at a Hotel ballroom can cost you $5 or $6. Do the math….HUGE SAVINGS!!! So just to recap…no matter what, do not make your guests pay for alcohol at your event…ANY kind, in any format… if you are not going to foot the bill for it, do not serve it, period.
5- DO consider your photographer very carefully.
Maybe you have a friend that got married last year and you thought her photographs were nice, maybe you have a cousin that has a Nikon and has taken some classes in college, or maybe you just haven’t really thought about it that much, regardless of where you stand, take time to look around and ask professionals their opinions’ on photographers in the area. The photographs that are taken that day are going to be the ONLY tangible object that will move forward with you past that day. They are what you will look back on to remember and they have to tell a compelling and complete story. You have to be moved by them, you have to see the feelings and emotions that surrounded you, your family and friends that day when you look at them. They have to speak to you, not merely record the story, but TELL the story.
There are a lot of photographers out there. Many have true talent and have mastered the current techniques and equipment, but many more are just trying to get their foot in the door on a career that seems like fun. You want a true professional that has true talent and experience so they can handle a variety of situations, lighting conditions and timing obstacles. Those that are not experienced can change the flow and momentum for the day with lengthy formal pictures that take you from the party and your guests. Or others, without proper training, spend all night with flashes mounted to their cameras overexposing and interrupting the intimacy of subtle moments. So even if you think you liked your friend’s photographer, ask people in the industry who they recommend and interview several so you know what they do and if you mesh with them.
6-DO pay attention to your floral centerpieces, especially if your budget is limited.
Bouquets are beautiful, flowers at the alter are nice and, man, the flower girls halo headpiece seems precious, BUT these things are seen very briefly and should not take a huge portion of a limited budget. Since people will essentially sit at the same table all night staring at the same flowers for 4-7 hours, you should find a way to maximize the centerpiece. Any floral designer worth their weight can give you multiple suggestions on alternatives for your centerpieces. If you don’t have $200+ to spend on each one, think about mass flowers that take up space and larger elements that have volume so that your centerpiece seems lusher than the price tag would imply. Often I hear and see couples that have smaller budgets err on the side of smaller minimalistic arrangements like a Gerber daisy floating in a square vase with colored glass on the bottom, or something similar, but these arrangements, while tasteful, seem dwarfed by the volume of the average event space. Instead of that, consider an 18 inch tall thin square glass vase with only Alstroemaria and curly willow in it. Inexpensive, but dramatic.
7-DO read your venues contract (and any other vendor’s contract for that matter) VERY carefully.
Many people are caught by surprise to find out that the chunk of change they threw down on their beautiful reception site does not allow for any extra set up time and now they have to pay xyz per hour just to have access to the space at a time that will allow all the decorations and décor to be installed prior to the ceremony. The additions of extra security, early access for install, bartenders and many other things can add up quickly and before you know it what seemed like a good deal on a great site has become a huge budget drain. Along the same lines, read the fine print for bands, djs and the like as well as extra charges are always an unpleasant surprise.
8-DO take the time to think about small touches that could make your event personal and unique.
Everyone has been to a wedding (well just about everyone). What will make your wedding different from anyone else? Personal touches… Perhaps you and your fiancé met while studying art history…You could name your tables’ famous works of art that you both like and have a small reproduction of each piece on each table in lieu of a table name. Or perhaps you have several loved ones that were integral in your upbringing and you want to pay homage to them, create a small gallery of antique pictures in intricate frames on a table or hanging on a wall near the guest book. Another example, if the bride is in love with Chiclets and a lot of people know this, put a small box in each persons favor bag or on their place setting. Whatever is important to you as a person, be it pets from the past, grandma “Bunny” that passed away or your love of travel, find ways to intermingle your personal lives into the day, but stay tasteful. Do not make it cheesy or overdone.
9-Beware of online wedding warehouse sites when looking for your vendors.
Though these sites are spectacular for getting ideas for décor and interesting design, they are not always the best place to try to find vendors. Since a lot of the most visited wedding sites only list vendors that pay for positioning, it is safe to assume that they are not on there because of their top notch reputation in the region. That does not mean that they are not top notch, nor does it mean that they do not have a great reputation, it simply means that there is no screening process that makes them “eligible” to be on a site. Same goes for wedding magazines, if you see vendors listed in a special section of a magazine, chances are because they advertise with that magazine. There are a lot of quality sites out there that are geared towards professions that have solid screening processes that allow people to become part of their listing, but clearing house, “do it yourself” or wedding vendors listings are not the same thing. Keeping that in mind, one should not be swayed solely by the fact that they find a vendor listed on the most popular site for wedding research. So, if you see something that looks good on one of the websites, click through to them and start your own research. Follow the links on their site (if they have quality vendor referrals on their site, chances are they have a high standard themselves), contact them and look at their work first hand, ask how many weddings they have done, ask for references from vendors (quality vendors will not give references unless they are 100% sure about the business in question’s work as their reputation is at stake as well). There is no substitution for referrals and first hand exposure to a vendors work.
10- DO hire a planner to help you navigate the vendor network and to help make recommendations for other cost savings.
As mentioned in many of the above sections, planners have been there and done that. They know where the hidden gems or special venues are, they have a resource guide that helps you find things for less, the can tell you what vendors are top notch and they tend to get better rates or deals on all aspects of an event then you would not get without their help. Some think they can not afford a good planner because of budget restrictions, or because they simply have no idea how much they cost, but planners are available at all price points. Some can help you with everything from décor design and planning, others simple make referrals and help set appointments, other still help with just day of coordination. Whatever your budget, there is a planner that can help. One word of caution, as with everything else, all planners are not created equal and the best charge accordingly, so know what you want and do the research to make sure you are getting it before you sign on the dotted line.