Everything You Need to Know About Wedding Vendors

THE WEDDING PLANNER

On average, planning a wedding can take as much as 400-500 hours of work. And this is where we have to say: there’s no shame in asking for a little help. Wedding planners and designers can be lifesavers when it comes to pulling off the biggest party of your life. Not only do they have the experience and know-how, they also have the connections to save their couples time and money when pulling it all together.

Event stylist Jenn Elliott Blake provides an easy rundown of the different types of wedding pros: “The simplest way to think about it is a planner deals with the logistics (when you walk down the aisle, what time the first dance starts), the designer helps you create and execute decor ideas (you show them an inspiration photo and they help you find a way to interpret it and create that vision), and a stylist is someone who will be there on the day to perfect all the decor details for photos (the brides dress in formal photos, the details on the dinner table). Sometimes a planner can also be a designer, sometimes the designer can also be the stylist. Be sure to ask up front when you are considering someone to help you with your day what area they are most comfortable with.”

As you decide whether or not you need a wedding planner, designer, or stylist, and what kind of wedding pro you need, ask yourself if you want someone to help you from the beginning through your big day or if you’re just looking for an extra hand through the final push. “It’s worth meeting with two to three planners. It’s also worthwhile to ask your friends or coworkers if they have any recommendations. Consultations with wedding planners are typically complimentary so why not,” says Lauren Sozman of Loli Events.

FINDING THE RIGHT PLANNER, DESIGNER, OR STYLIST FOR YOU

Your wedding planner and / or designer’s job is to make your life easier, and your job is to let them handle the details while you focus on the big picture. You’ll know you’ve found the right wedding planner or designer when he or she gets your vision and puts you at ease. If you feel comfortable putting your party in his or her hands and confident that what needs to get done will get done, then you’ve found the one.

When asked what couples should bring to their first consultation, event stylist and planner Jessica Sloane says, “Nothing. I actually prefer that we start with a clean slate! But of course, I want them to come with their questions, so that I can answer those. And my clients always have a notebook with them to jot stuff down since our work is very collaborative.”

SIGNING THE WEDDING PLANNING CONTRACT

When you find the right wedding planner and / or designer for you, arrange a time to meet and sign the contract. Before you sign, make sure it includes all of the information below.

  • Who: name and contact info (your’s and their’s)
  • What: everything they’ll be providing
  • Where: the location of your events
  • When: dates of service
  • How much: cost for service, including any additional fees
  • Receipt: the deposit paid, the balance due and due dates
  • Uh oh: cancellation policies and emergencies

Once the two of you have signed on the dotted line, file your copy of the contract into a folder that you can easily access later. Update your budget to reflect any deposits you made and any additional funds owed.

THE PHOTOGRAPHER

Photography is usually one of the biggest pieces of your budget, and for good reason. Professional wedding photographers bring the right lighting, lenses, and previous experience to capture little details and moments in a way that untrained photographers simply cannot.

When you’re looking for photographers, you want to go with one that whose style fits your aesthetic and budget, and who can best capture your special day. The right photographer can help you relive the emotions of your wedding day for years to come.

FINDING THE RIGHT PHOTOGRAPHER

When you find a few photographers that you like, schedule a consultation with them so that you can get to know each other. While you’re meeting with them, see if you click and if they get your vision for your wedding day. Next to your wedding planner, your photographer will be the vendor you interact with most on your wedding day, so go with someone who makes you feel comfortable and relaxed from the get-go, and who can bring out a natural smile.

If all of that clicks, you’re in a good place. From there, ask about specific details, including the questions below:

  • Will he or she be joined by a second shooter?
  • How many weddings does he or she shoot in one day?
  • How many hours does a typical wedding day contract cover?
  • What the typical turnaround time is for photos after the wedding day?

And lastly, if you’re using an event stylist he or she “should be well aware of all of the details that are most important to you and should also be given the opportunity to know the wedding day schedule and connect with the photographer before the day begins,” says event stylist Jenn Elliott Blake. “Event styling is typically something that happens hand in hand with the work of the photographer and therefore these two vendors should be comfortable with each other (or at the very least know each other’s names) before the day of the wedding.”

SIGNING THE PHOTOGRAPHY CONTRACT

Photographers book up early, so when you find one try to make it official as soon as possible. When you’re ready to sign the contract, look it over to make sure it includes the information below.

  • Who: name and contact info (your’s and their’s)
  • What: everything they’ll be providing
  • Where: the location of your events
  • When: dates and times of service
  • How much: cost per service
  • Receipt: the deposit paid, the balance due and due dates
  • Uh oh: cancellation policies and emergencies

Once you’ve both signed the contract, file your copy in a place where you can easily access it later, and update your budget to reflect what you spent and what you still owe.

THE ENGAGEMENT SESSION

Some photographers include a complimentary or discounted engagement photo session before the wedding. While it’s totally optional and up to you, if you do decide to go forward with your engagement shoot, it can be a great way to get to know your photographer and see how you work together before the big day. Engagement sessions usually take place anywhere from 9 months to 3 months before the wedding and last just a few hours. Have fun – choose a location that carries special meaning for you.

DRAFTING A SHOT LIST

While a great photographer will already know which general pictures to take and how, it can’t hurt to brainstorm about specific moments you’d like captured. Some photographers will want to walk through a basic shot list with you and your fiance before the wedding so they have a clear idea what you’d like from your photos. But even if they don’t, it’s OK to reach out and provide a brief rundown of the photos you’d like to see in your album.

As you’re planning for your wedding day, provide your photographer with a small list of photos that matter most to you.

  • Family portraits: Make a list of those family members you must get a photo with.
  • You and your spouse: Are there any shots that are really important to you? Let your photographer know (but also trust their instincts).
  • Special details: Your wedding will likely have a lot of small details, so if any of them carry special meaning point it out to your photographer beforehand.
  • Special moments: Let your photographer know if the cake cutting or mother-son dance are especially important.

If you’re working with a videographer, loop him or her into your photo shot list and conversations with your photographer, too. “Photographers share the same space with videographers nearly all day, so we work together very closely,” says Leslee Leaming of Leslee Leaming Films. “Teamwork is important since we are both getting the same shots. My assistant and I take a mostly candid approach to filming, so we rarely ask couples to pose, but photographers have to do a lot of that, so we give photographers the lead in these situations while we stand back and capture it as it happens.”

THE VIDEOGRAPHER

No matter how present you are on your wedding day or how good you are at being everywhere at once, there will be moments that pass by in a blur. You may have heard it one too many times by now, but the saying is true: it will be over before you know it.

Videographers capture the things that can’t be caught on film alone, like when you couldn’t say your vows because of your happy tears or that hilarious impersonation your Best Man did in his roast, so that you can revisit and relive those special moments long after the wedding day.

“The benefits of having your day professionally captured on film are numerous,” says Leslee Leaming of Leslee Leaming Films. “It’s surprising how quickly the wedding day passes. Your memories are what you have left after the cake is eaten and the flowers have wilted. Photos are priceless, but nothing captures the raw emotion and feel of your day like film. Your wedding film is the truest account of your big day. Each time you watch it, you truly relive it all over again.”

FINDING THE RIGHT VIDEOGRAPHER

When meeting with your videographer, Leslee Leaming of Leslee Leaming Films suggests that you start with talking about yourselves. “At our first meeting, I want to learn all about you and your fiancé. I want to hear about how you met, how he proposed, and what you love about each other.” After that, you’ll talk about your vision for your wedding day. “I also want to learn about your wedding plans and your other vendors. Then I will ask you to tell me what you love about the wedding films you’ve seen online. What about your wedding day do you want to be able to show your children someday? In the months leading up to the big day, you and I will stay in touch regarding details and wedding day timeline.”

SIGNING THE VIDEOGRAPHY CONTRACT

When you’ve found a videographer who understands your wedding day vision and the moments you want to capture, arrange to sign a contract. Review the contract for the information below before signing:

  • Who: name and contact info (your’s and their’s)
  • What: services they’ll be providing
  • Where: the location of your events
  • When: dates and times of service
  • How much: cost per service, including set-up and clean-up fees
  • Receipt: the deposit paid, the balance due and due dates
  • Uh oh: cancellation policies and emergencies

Once you and your videographer have signed the contract, file it with the rest of your vendor contracts and update your budget to reflect the deposit paid and any balances due.

TO PHOTO BOOTH OR NOT TO PHOTO BOOTH?

A photo booth is another great way to offer an entertainment experience for your guests. “Professional photography provides an excellent way to treasure the memories of your day, and a photo booth gives you all the tomfoolery you don’t want to miss! Photo booths provide people with a unique and fun experience revolving around a particular moment in time. After all, some of our favorite moments are candid,” says David Chitwood, owner of BotBooth photo booths.

THE CATERER

If you selected a full-service venue or are working with a wedding planner, your catering selection may already be done(one less thing on your plate!). But if not, give a quick glance to your budget and start thinking about how you want to feed your people.

Obviously, brunch, lunch, and light bites are more affordable than serving a three course plated dinner. (Belgian waffles or gourmet doughnuts, anyone?) If you know you want to serve dinner, but you’re working with a limited budget, why not get creative? Check with a few restaurants within close distance of your venue or ask about food trucks, since both can be more affordable than stand-alone caterers.

Wedding planners are typically familiar with vendors in your area, so consulting with your planner before picking a caterer is a good idea. Jaime Dydalewicz of Coordinate This event planners advises that your wedding planner can be “as involved as you want us to be. We can help guide or we can select a few choice vendors for the clients to choose from. Ultimately, it is the clients’ decision.”

FINDING THE RIGHT CATERER

When meeting with caterers, it’s best to come armed with as much information as possible. Share your venue name and location, and provide photos of the reception space and any kitchen facilities on site. Bring a rough estimate of how many guests you’ll be serving, including the number of children and vendors (Hello Wedding breaks down your guest list so that you can easily see how many adults versus children will be attending). Be sure to communicate the style and level of formality of your event, because your caterer will want to make sure the style of food is a good compliment to the rest of the atmosphere. And be upfront about your budget.

If you’re working with a wedding planner, ask her to tag along to your tastings since catering plays such a big role in setting the tone of your reception. At the consultation, run through the questions below:

  • Is the caterer licensed and insured (some venues require proof of this in order to approve your caterer)?
  • What does their typical wedding catering service looks like? Does it include tables, chairs, and linens if need be? What about serving ware and cutlery?
  • Is there a charge per waiter, and how many waiters do they recommend for a wedding your size?
  • Can the wait staff also act as bartenders?
  • Are there any additional fees on top of waitstaff and dinner service, such as cake cutting, breakage, or overtime charges?

If you’re choosing between multiple caterers, ask for a proposal listing all of the menu items you discussed (hors d’oeuvres, appetizers, entrees, drinks, and dessert) as well as the total fees, including cost per person, tips and tax, service fees, rentals, delivery, set up, and clean up fees, and how many hours of service the quoted price includes. Compare proposals and determine which is best for you.

THE BEVERAGES

If you’re looking for your guests to eat, drink, and be merry, you’re probably setting up some type of bar. And while some experts suggest making sure you have enough alcohol to give each person one drink per hour, keep in mind it’s not your job to send them home reeling. It’s totally acceptable to provide a limited amount of alcohol or even a cash bar if you’re working with a smaller budget. Plus, cousin Sam’s less likely to get sloppy if he’s the one paying.

Usually your caterer can suggest a red and a white wine to go best with the menu. From there you can zero in on any additional mixed drinks or liquor you want to provide, what types of non-alcoholic beverages you want to make available, and if you want to offer a Champagne toast.

If your caterer is providing all beverages, find out what the cost is per bottle and what the cost difference is between house and premium brands. If you’re able to provide your own drinks you may be able to save a little money by shopping around at local wine and grocery stores, wholesale alcohol distributors or bulk stores like Costco. Proseccos, Cavas, or domestic sparkling wines make for great cheaper alternatives to Champagne. Some states prohibit alcohol sales on certain days (like Sunday), so make sure to pick things up in advance if need be.

Whether or not your caterer is providing beverages, ask the following questions.

  • Will their waitstaff serve the beverages throughout the reception?
  • Is there an extra bartending or corkage fee?
  • Can they provide all glassware for water, wine, beer, and a Champagne toast?

If the answer is yes to all of the above, you’re in good hands. If not, consider shopping around for standalone bartenders or perhaps place a bottle of wine on each table and buckets of beer, soda, and water at a side table.

Loop your planner into all of your decisions. “A planner will definitely make sure you have reliable and wonderful vendors that are not trying to rip you off,” says Lauren Sozman of Loli Events. “Planners also can come up with creative ideas to maximize your budget. Certainly your planner will tell you if it is worth it to spend an extra $5 for a table charger or if more impactful to spend it on a better band.”

SIGNING THE CATERING CONTRACT

Once you’ve met with several caterers and determined what kind of catering style is best for you, you’re ready to sign a contract. Before you sign it, review it to make sure it includes the information below.

  • Who: name and contact info (your’s and their’s)
  • What: everything they’ll be providing (hors d’oeuvres, salads, entrees, and more)
  • Where: the location of your events
  • When: dates and times of service
  • How much: cost per item, delivery, set-up, and clean-up fees
  • Receipt: the deposit paid, the balance due and due dates
  • Uh oh: cancellation policies and emergencies

After signing the catering contract, put your caterer, wedding planner, and venue manager in touch with one another to discuss logistics before your big day. File the contract in the same place as each of your additional vendor contracts so you can find it later.

FINDING YOUR ENTERTAINMENT

Your wedding wouldn’t be a party without a good dose of entertainment. When you’re picking out your DJs or musicians for your big day, find out if your ceremony and reception venues have any sound or light restrictions, then decide if you want to go with multiple musicians or a single band or DJ to cover the entire night.

Not sure where to start? Check out Wedj.com to find wedding DJs in your area.

MEETING WITH YOUR BAND OR DJ

When you meet with DJs or band leaders, try to get a feel for their typical playlist and what kind of entertainment they’ll bring to your big day. Ask the below questions during your consultation:

  • How long will they typically perform?
  • Will they take any breaks?
  • Are they open to playlists or night-of requests?
  • Will they provide their own equipment?
  • Will they need access to a power source throughout the night? (You’ll have to confirm with your venue if the answer is yes.)
  • What will they wear to your ceremony or your reception?

SIGNING THE ENTERTAINMENT CONTRACT

Once you find the DJ or band you want to hire, review the contract to make sure it includes the information below:

  • Who: name and contact info (your’s and their’s)
  • What: services they’ll be providing (ceremony music, reception music, MC)
  • Where: the location of your events
  • When: dates and times of service
  • How much: cost of service, set-up and clean-up fees
  • Receipt: the deposit paid, the balance due and due dates
  • Uh oh: cancellation policies and emergencies

Once you’ve signed the contract, file it with the rest of your contracts and update to budget to note what you’ve already deposited and how much you still owe.

DIY DJ

Regardless of whether or not you go with a professional, you will need a master of ceremonies at the wedding reception to announce the dinner, toasts, first dance, mother-son and father-daughter dances, bouquet toss, and the cake cutting. We all have that friend who loves to be the center of attention, so if he or she is any good at it, ask him to M.C. Just make sure your friend is familiar with the schedule of events (more on those later!) and that he or she can keep everyone on track without going over the top.

SELECTING YOUR DESSERTS

Desserts – the cause and solution to all of life’s problems. Picking out your dessert(s) can be a great opportunity to pay homage to the special people in your lives or to carry on fun family traditions. For example, If your fiance(e)’s mother makes a killer carrot cake, incorporate it into one of your wedding cake tiers, or have some carrot cake cupcakes. This could be a touching gesture that makes her day!

Before you begin to look for a baker, spend some time daydreaming about your ideal dessert set up. Go back to your Top Three Things again and ask yourself what matters most and what tone you’re trying to set. Do you want your cake to reflect the formality of the event or do you want a homey dessert table that invites guests to pick and choose their favorite treats?

Donna Munson of Madison’s on Main asks couples to bring any ideas they have with them to the consultation. “If they have pictures of cakes saved (95% do…and they typically have a Pinterest board with photos as well), to bring those, color swatches, invitations, and a picture of their dress, if they want to use it as inspiration. I always ask if there is a certain feel that they want to convey. Most brides already have a vision when they come in, and then we use that to begin the conversation with design. If they don’t have any ideas, then I will ask to see the items I mentioned above and then I will pull ideas for them that I feel conveys their vision.”

If you’re on a budget, think outside the cake box! Even gourmet doughnuts can say ‘wedding’ if presented in the right way. And, heck, as long as you’re doing things your way, why not break the mold with a froyo or ice cream buffet. in place of baked desserts. Or a make your own cookie station (think sugar cookies, icing, and toppings of your choice).

STAYING SANE

When you’re visiting bakeries, there can be a lot of flavors and styles to choose from, and it can be easy to get caught up in choosing the best ones. If it feels overwhelming, take a deep breath and remind yourselves that your guests will have no idea if you had the option to choose between a chocolate buttercream or an amaretto filling. All they’ll know is that your desserts are delicious and they’re happy to be with you.

FINDING THE RIGHT BAKER

Award-winning cake designer Donna Munson of Madison’s on Main says, “I actually only do one consult with the couple in person. The rest we do through phone calls and emails. They do their tasting at the same time as we do the design process. (If a couple doesn’t know what they want beforehand) I will ask if they want to go with a traditional design or something more about “them.” That starts the conversation and the wheels turning!”

SIGNING THE DESSERT CONTRACT

Once you’re ready to sign a contract with a baker, look it over to make sure it includes the information below:

  • Who: name and contact info (your’s and their’s)
  • What: everything they’ll be providing (cake, cupcakes, etc.)
  • Where: the location of your events
  • When: dates and times of service
  • How much: cost per item, delivery and set-up fees
  • Receipt: the deposit paid, the balance due and due dates
  • Uh oh: cancellation policies and emergencies

Once both you and your baker have signed on the dotted line, share your baker’s contact information with your caterer, venue, and wedding planner / designer. The more in-tune your wedding vendors are, the more seamlessly your event will come together. Then file your contract with the additional wedding contracts you’ve signed up to this point.

DIY DESSERTS

If you can’t afford to go through a professional bakery, find out if any friends or family members can provide smaller pastries or treats. Homemade brownies, cookies, or even cupcakes are perfect for weddings, especially if wrapped in a small ribbon with cute gift tags or stacked on cake stands and dessert trees. Have fun with it and let the dessert selection process be a fun experience, not a stressful one.

YOUR WEDDING FLOWERS

When shopping for flowers, you’re sure to encounter some or all of the following.

If it seems like a lot to take in, take a peek at your budget and reference your Top Three Things. In the scheme of your wedding planning priorities, where do flowers fall? Knowing how much you can spend and what you’d like to spend it on will help when decisions come into play.

FINDING THE RIGHT FLORAL DESIGNER

Make your consultations with floral designers or flower shops easier for both you and the designer by bringing as much information and inspiration as possible to the meeting. Let him or her know where and when you’re getting married. Bring photos of your wedding dress, your bridesmaid dresses, and any decorations or details you’ve already selected, and all of those flowers you’ve been “Pinning” for the last two weeks.

During your consultation, you’ll talk the following and firm up which ones are right for you:

  • bridal bouquet
  • bridesmaids’ bouquets
  • groom’s boutonnieres
  • wedding party boutonnieres
  • mother of the bride and mother of the groom corsages
  • centerpieces
  • aisle decorations
  • reception hall decorations
  • tossing bouquet
  • flower girls
  • cake embellishment

You’ll know you’re meeting with the right floral designer when he or she “gets” your vision (thank you, Pinterest) and can recommend specific flowers based on your budget and what’s in season. The availability of certain flowers varies depending on your location and season, so it’s important to note that even if a floral designer isn’t able to create an exact replica of all of your inspiration photos, they can often create something comparable using similar flowers.

“As a designer, I put a lot of emphasis on the aesthetic of the wedding experience. I start out with a creative session to get to know my clients, their values and style. In this session, we find inspiration we want to communicate through the wedding. We share this with the vendors so we can all work together to ensure the overall mood we want is in every element of the event,” says event planner and designer Jessica Sloane. “I’m always challenging my clients to think about how they want the celebration to feel because those feelings create the basis of the inspiration for the whole day.”

SIGNING THE FLORAL CONTRACT

Once you’ve found the right floral designer for you, you’re ready to make it official. Review the floral contract to make sure it includes the information below:

  • Who: name and contact info (your’s and their’s)
  • What: everything they’ll be providing (flowers and more)
  • Where: the location of your events
  • When: dates and times of service
  • How much: cost per item, delivery and set-up fees
  • Receipt: the deposit paid, the balance due and due dates
  • Uh oh: cancellation policies and emergencies

When both you and your floral designer have signed the contract, file your copy with the rest of your wedding contracts and update your budget to note how much you spent on the deposit and what you still owe.

DIY WEDDING FLORALS

If working with a floral designer is out of the budget, don’t despair! Check out the floral departments of local grocery stores to buy in bulk, look at online wholesalers like Fifty Flowers and Bloom by the Box, or make plans to pick up pre-arranged bouquets the night before your wedding (so long as you aren’t picky about the colors and have access to a refrigerator to keep them cool). Often you can find good last-minute deals at local flower markets or farmer’s markets.

Depending on the season, potted plants, lanterns, pumpkins, or galvanized metal tubs filled with apples or baby’s breath also make great aisle markers in place of flower arrangements. And bulk mason jars make great vases.

If you have experience working with flowers and want to DIY your bouquets, enlist the help of your wedding party, friends, or family and stick to single flower arrangements in simple color palettes (think calla lilies, baby’s breath, hydrangeas, or roses for easy DIY bouquets). Even if you’ve done it before, give yourself extra time to put the bouquets together so you don’t feel rushed.

Want even more tips for planning your wedding? Our weekly countdown walks you through the entire wedding planning process from beginning to end, telling you exactly what you need to do and when you need to do it. Check it out HERE.