Tag Archives: Tips + Tricks

71 Questions to Ask Your Wedding Vendors

Deborah Witt

You know you need a great venue, cake designer, florist, caterer, DJ and photographer. But other than help you pull off the wedding of your dreams, do you really know what you need each of them to do? Maybe if you’re an event planner by trade, but probably not if you’re like the rest of us. The fact is you’re not only taking on the role of bride-to-be, you’ve just become the operations manager of what will essentially become a small village for a day. Exciting, yes. But also more than a little overwhelming.

Take a deep breath, we’ve done the initial hard work for you. We asked a few of our favorite wedding designers to share the top questions every bride should be asking each of her vendors before signing the dotted line.

vineyard wedding
Photo Credit: Susan Stripling 

Key Questions That Apply to Every Vendor

Put these six important questions at the top of your list:

1. How long have you been in business and how many weddings do you do each year?

2. Can you share recent references and examples of your work? (In the case of your venue, be sure to ask to see recent pictures of weddings in the space you’re considering.)

3. Do you have liability insurance? (If not, you’ll very likely want to take out your own policy to cover unexpected mishaps such as a guest tripping over the photographer's tripod and getting hurt, or to repair or replace rented linens that were scorched by the votives in your floral centerpiece.

4. What’s your payment structure and cancellation policy?

5. What’s your backup plan should you fall ill or otherwise not be available at the time of the wedding? In the case of the venue site, what’s their plan if the weather takes a bad turn or another unforeseeable circumstance occurs?

6. What are your travel and/or overtime fees? (Unexpected travel fees may crop up if your ceremony and reception are in different locations or if you’re hiring out-of-town vendors.)

Next: What to ask your site manager ►


What to Ask Your Site Manager

"So many points about your event begin and end with the space or location you choose," says Amy Cagginello, owner of Amy Champagne Events in Milford, Connecticut. "It’s key to know exactly what to expect from your venue."

vineyard wedding
 Photo Credit: Damion Hamilton for Sasha Souza Events

1. How many people can you accommodate and how long will I have use of the event space?

2. What are the per-person charges? And are there additional service charges or other fees such as gratuities or overtime costs? 

3. Do prices differ based on the time of day and/or day of the week? What is your payment and cancellation policy?

4. What time can my vendors arrive to set up/clean up? Can any rentals or decor be dropped off the day before and picked up the day after?

5. Are tables, linens, etc. provided or will I need to rent them elsewhere?

6. Am I able to use an outside caterer and/or cake maker? Is there an extra cost to do so?

7. Can we bring in our own wine, beer, champagne or other alcohol? Is there a corkage fee?

8. Are there any restrictions regarding music? Is there an on-site technician to help with any lighting or sound problems that may crop up?

9. Is there parking on site or do you offer valet parking? If not, where can guests park?

10. Do you offer an on-site coordinator? If so, what services are included and will she/he be there on my wedding day?

For Outdoor Spaces:

11. What’s your weather contingency plan?

12. Can the space be heated or protected, if necessary? And if so, are those supplies on hand or would they need to be rented elsewhere?

13. How do you meet the technical needs of other vendors, such as a DJ, caterer or videographer? (Is there an on-site technician, for example.)

Next: What to ask your florist ►

What to Ask Your Florist

"The flowers are often the first thing your guests will notice," says Shawn Rabideau, of Shawn Rabideau Events & Design in New York City (who began his wedding career as a florist). "What florists do impacts the entire look of your event, not to mention your budget."

wedding centerpiece
 Photo Credit: Damion Hamilton for Sasha Souza Events

1. Do you have a signature design style? Will you be doing the arrangements yourself or using another floral designer?

2. Do you offer specific arrangements or can centerpieces, bouquets, etc. be customized?

3. What bloom recommendations can you suggest that fit within my budget and my theme/color story? What flowers will be in season for my wedding?

4. Have you done any weddings at my venue?

5. What can you suggest to help me get the most from my budget? And are there extra fees for containers or other vessels?

6. Is there a price difference between similar blooms? (Ideally you should see an itemized price list of flowers under consideration.)

7. Can you provide other decor, such as trees, arches, votives, and what are the additional costs?

8. Will you work with my cake designer to provide coordinating blooms for my cake? Is there an additional fee for this?

9. How far in advance are the arrangements/bouquets created? How are they stored?

10. Do you charge a delivery and/or set-up fee? Will you pick up any vases, etc. after the ceremony, or is that my responsibility?

Next: What to ask your caterer ►

What to Ask Your Caterer

If the caterer’s food tastes great you’re done, right? Not quite, says Napa, California–based event designer Sasha Souza. It’s not enough that they can prepare delicious meals, she says — they also have to be able to handle the size and scope of your event and have fantastic service.

Photo Credit: Shawna Yarbrough/Studio Seven Photography 

1. What foods do you specialize in? Do you have set menu options or can you create a custom or themed menu?  

2. What would you recommend given my budget, guest count and event theme?

3. How do you handle tastings? (Ideally each dish should be presented as your guests will see them, and you and your groom shouldn’t have to take a bite from the same serving.)

4. What’s the price difference between a buffet and a sit-down meal, and between passed appetizers and appetizer stations? How are your fees broken down?

5. Do you provide linens, utensils, serving table decor, etc.? How about tables and chairs? What colors and styles do you offer?

6. Will you be overseeing the meal service at the reception, or do you have an on-site manager to coordinate these things? (If the caterer won’t be present, it’s always a good idea to ask to meet whomever will be in charge ahead of time.)

7. Is there a cut-off date for making menu changes?

8. Are you licensed to serve alcohol? (If not you may need to hire a separate bar service.)

9. How much do you charge for vendor meals? (Musicians and photographers get hungry, too!) Can leftovers be wrapped for guests or donated?

10. What’s the ratio of servers to guests? How will servers be dressed?

Next: What to ask your cake maker ►

What to Ask Your Cake Maker

"You want a ‘wow’ factor here!" says Rabideau. "And that can happen if you’re clear with your cake designer about your wishes, and listen to their ideas, too." Taste and presentation are only part of the equation. You also need to know if they can handle the specifics of your wedding.

wedding cake
 Photo Credit: Damion Hamilton for Sasha Souza Events

1. What are your specialties and/or top flavors and fillings? Can you do gluten-free, organic, or vegan cakes?

2. Can I view examples of cakes you’ve baked and decorated? (Many newer cake makers may have photos in their portfolios of cakes they assisted on, but you want to see what they’ve done from start to finish.)

3. Do you work with set designs or can you design a custom cake to match my theme?

4. Can you outline your pricing fees? For example, do you charge for a cake tasting, are there additional fees for cake stands, cutting knives, toppers, etc.?)

5. Will you work with a recipe I’ve provided? If so, will there be an additional cost?

6. What icing options do you recommend for the cake style I’m looking for?

7. If I want fresh flowers on my cake will you work with my florist to include blooms that coordinate with my floral decor?

8. How far in advance is the cake actually made? How is it stored and transported?

9. Will you preserve the top tier of my wedding cake for my first anniversary?

For Outdoor Spaces:

10. How will my cake hold up to the elements? An unprotected table won’t be able to shield your wedding cake from stiff ocean breezes, high temps or humidity. You’ll want to know how your baker handles outdoor venues.

Next: What to ask your photographer and videographer 

What to Ask Your Photographer and Videographer

The images of your special day are so important, "yet many couples only focus on the pricing, or base their choice on portfolio alone," says Cagginello. But there are many more details to focus on.

Photo Credit: Michelle Vantine Photography

1. Do you specialize in wedding photography? (You don’t need a weddings-only shooter, but you do want someone who’s comfortable with both the ceremony and the reception.)

2. How would you describe your photography style? And can I see a portfolio of your work — beyond what’s on your website?

3. How/when do we go about creating a shot list? What information do you need from me before the event?

4. What is your working style on the day of the wedding? And how many shooters will cover the day?

5. How much time do you need to set up? And for how long will you shoot?

6. What type of equipment do you use? Do you have backup equipment on hand?

7. What’s the length of time for delivery of proofs? And what is the ordering process?

8. Can you provide me with a detailed price sheet? What do packages include?

9. Do you have a minimum number of hours? Will you stay if my event is running late and what are your overtime fees?

10. Will my wedding be your only job on that day? If not, what are the hours I can count on and what happens if you can’t make it to my wedding?

For Videographers:

11. How long is your editing process?

12. Is there a cost for a video “tease”? (This is typically a 1-minute video short to share on social media.)

Next: What to ask your musicians or DJs ►

What to Ask Your Musicians or DJs

"DJs and musicians set the tempo for your party," says Rabideau. "You want to make sure you find the right professionals who can keep your guests entertained."

bride and groom dancing
Photo Credit: Three Nail Photography 

1. What genres can you cover? Do you have any particular specialties?

2. Do you have a DVD from a previous wedding you performed at that I can view? And where can we see you perform live?

3. Can my fiancé and I give you “do play” and “do no-play” lists?

4. Do you have ideas to encourage more guests to dance? (For example, are they willing and able to deviate from their set list to try and energize the crowd?) What’s your game plan if you notice guests aren’t dancing?

5. Do you provide the sound equipment or does it have to be rented elsewhere? And do you have backup equipment should something go wrong?

6. Do you have a technician who stays on site if there’s a problem? (This is especially important if you have an outside event, or are booking a venue that doesn’t typically handle weddings.)

7. Do you provide any lighting design? What kind of space/staging requirements do you have?

8. Does your pricing include set-up and breakdown? How much time do you need for set-up, breaks, breakdown?

9. How many breaks do you need and for how long? Will you play recorded music during breaks?

10. What will you be wearing — can I make specific attire requests?


Time Crunch: How to (Quickly!) Plan a Wedding

Although many brides and grooms take up to a year and a half to organize their weddings, other couples want to make it snappy. "I'm getting more calls from brides who would like to get married in a couple of months," says event planner Julie Pryor of Pryor Events in Los Angeles. 

There are plenty of reasons for having a wedding in a hurry-from a job change or military deployment to just plain eagerness to tie the knot. Here, some pros' tips to ensure that even with fast-and-furious planning, your wedding goes off without a hitch.


1. Make the first month count. 
Wedding timelines usually start a year before the big day. So what’s a bride to do when she’s just six months out (or less)? "First, set your budget and make all your major decisions and purchases," recommends Christine Paul of Christine Paul Events in New York City.

"That means booking your ceremony and reception sites, purchasing or ordering your gown and the bridesmaids' dresses, hiring a photographer and deciding on the honeymoon."

You'll also want to sit down with your fiancé and set your priorities. For example, your top three might be great jazz music, authentic Italian food and a first-rate photographer. "Once you’ve done all that, you’ll be right on track with brides who’ve been at it for months," says Paul.

Tip: Enlist the help of your friends. Give them jobs they'll feel comfortable doing, like managing the RSVP list. You'll be glad you did.

2. Be flexible and creative. 
You may find that some of your first choices aren’t available. For example, many popular wedding locations are reserved a year in advance. So learn to be flexible; a fabulous venue could be a place you haven’t yet imagined. "Instead of the more obvious choices, perhaps a friend has a beautiful beach house, or you could get married in a local park," says Paul.

Open your mind to different dates and times as well. Sometimes it’s much easier to find and secure a place for a Friday or Sunday — or earlier in the day. The better able you are to come up with creative alternatives, the happier you’ll be with the end result.

3. Ask for help. 
Event planners may be hired to do the entire wedding, or simply to handle a few tasks you can’t fit in or even just to manage things on the big day itself. Researching vendors to learn who’s right for the job is time consuming, and a good wedding planner with a network of reliable vendors can figure out the logistics quickly and easily.

4. Enjoy yourself!
Remember to take time to soak it all in. Sure, you’ll be in a hurry, but taste-testing dishes and listening to bands is still fun. Luckily, you’re already on top of this. "Brides who’ve gotten their weddings together in six months or less have told me they actually enjoyed the process," says Paul. "They had less time to stress out and found the preparations surprisingly exciting."

5. But will it cost more? 
In many cases, you’ll receive the same treatment — and fees — as any other bride. In other words, giving shorter notice to vendors and other service providers doesn’t mean you’ll be getting a higher fee. And, says Debi Lilly of A Perfect Event in Chicago, "Don’t assume you should refrain from negotiating prices just because you’re on a short timetable. Negotiate whenever and wherever it seems reasonable."

Although there shouldn’t be rush fees for booking your venue, your band, your florist or most other vendors, Lilly notes, "You can expect to pay extra for hurrying your and your bridesmaids’ gowns and maybe the invitations or favors." So try to make quick, smart decisions. You really don’t have time to be fickle about the colors of your bridesmaids’ dresses or about whether to have roses or white orchids for your bouquet. Chances are, you won’t regret your choices — especially when you find you’ve eliminated costly "rush" fees.

Photo Credit: Mango Studios

Your Guide to Planning an Unforgettable Wedding Weekend

Lynne Kendall Lawson

Whether held in your hometown or a far-flung locale, wedding weekends give you and your guests more quality time to bond and celebrate than the standard one-day affair. You might not have seen some of your guests for years and other family and friends, often but perhaps not often enough. From the welcome party to farewell brunch, a wedding weekend gives you ample opportunities to entertain all of your loved ones with fun, memory-making, personalized events and details.

bride and groom
Photo Credit: Micha and Megan Photographers

What We ❤ About Wedding Weekends:

  • A multiday wedding is more affordable than you might think: Not every meal has to be a formal sit-down, and some events (the rehearsal dinner, for example) may be hosted by parents, which makes them free to you.
  • Guests get more value out of their travel and lodging expenses when there’s more for them to enjoy.
  • There are plenty of photo opportunities with your guests.
  • You get hours of opportunities to infuse family and cultural traditions into your celebration.

Typical Wedding Weekend Timeline:

Daytime events for early-arriving guests might include a ladies’ lunch and a guys’ outing to a driving range. If you have wedding planning tasks to handle on this day, arrange for a member of your wedding party to host these events. Rehearsal dinner/welcome buffet: Depending on your budget and number of guests, the rehearsal dinner can include just your bridal party, officiant and immediate family members or you can open it up to your out-of-town guests as well. If you hold a more exclusive dinner, be sure to provide your out-of–town guests with a welcome cocktail party/buffet, generally held at the hotel.

Before the wedding: a buffet breakfast for your bridal party. After the wedding: a fun after-party. You might all gather at the hotel lounge, or take your friends out on the town while parents host their own friends elsewhere. (Added bonus: Your hotel might allow you free use of their shuttle to take your group to the destination.)

The morning-after brunch or breakfast. And if some guests don’t need to depart right away, you might plan an early afternoon outing like a local souvenir shopping trip.

Next: Weekend planning essentials ►

Weekend Planning Essentials

1. “Save-the-dates should be sent out 6-8 months before the big day, and can be sent up to a year in advance for destination weddings. This will give guests plenty of time to plan for any necessary travel and assist in securing competitive rates,” says Amber Harrison, etiquette maven at Wedding Paper Divas. “Details can be confirmed and shared with guests closer to the event or updated through your wedding website.”

2. Make it clear when guests will be expected to pay for their own expenses. The best way to do this is through invitation or wedding website wording. For instance: “On Friday evening, we’ll head out to a country bar for drinks and dancing. See the menu, drinks list and pricing at (website.)” When guests see the word “pricing” mentioned, they’ll know to bring their wallets. When guests see that an event is hosted by you or someone in the wedding party, the message conveys that the hosts are paying.

3. Share dress codes for each event on your wedding website, so that guests will know what to pack.

4. Send guests a weekend itinerary in advance of the big day, whether print or a link to your wedding website. If a new event is planned just a few weeks before the wedding, send guests your itinerary page link with a message of “New Party Added!” or “Even More to Look Forward To!”

5. Print out copies of your itinerary and add one to each welcome basket, so guests have the schedule and details easily on hand.

weekend welcome bag
Photo Credit: Laura Hooper Calligraphy via Lover.ly

6. For a twist on the traditional welcome basket, surprise guests with a different treat in their hotel rooms each night, like a plate of fresh-baked cookies or chocolate candy.

Timing is Everything:

7. Space out activities so your guests don’t feel drained by racing from one event to the next and will have time to get back to the hotel, shower and change into the next event’s appropriate attire.

8. Allow for enough downtime so that guests can make plans amongst themselves, relax by the hotel pool, explore the area or enjoy some alone time.

9. Plan shorter events, not an all-day hike or endless touring excursion. 

Next: Reception locations and themes ►

1. Vineyard
Of course, a winery-hopping tour is a winning idea that guests love, and most vineyard area hotels will likely have fabulous wine-pairing catering options, plus fabulous views for outdoor celebrations. Activities abound: Wine country towns often host festivals, and there are plenty of quaint shops to visits plus notable chef-owned eateries.

vineyard wedding

Menu Ideas:
Chef Brandon Sharp, Executive Chef of Solage Calistoga resort in California, suggests “sweet cherry tomatoes stuffed with fresh ricotta and fino verde basil, petite legumes à la nicoise with marjoram and tempura of baby fava beans with Meyer lemon mayonnaise.” Charcuterie and cheese platters, and locally grown menu items complete the tasty fare. “

A party in the vineyard’s tasting room is a great way to get the weekend off to a fun and energetic start,” says Kim Pennel, director of catering and conference services at CordeValle, A Rosewood Resort in San Martin, California. “At CordeValle, we like to do the welcome party cocktail-style and serve wines from the vineyard with lots of passed hors d’oeuvres that showcase fresh California ingredients. To get people talking to one another, our winemakers mingle with the crowd and share tasting notes and stories about the wines and the winemaking process.”

Welcome Basket Ideas:

  • Bottle stoppers
  • Wine journal
  • Coasters
  • Cheese knife and cheese ID flag sets
  • Bottles of wine or champagne
  • Mini summer sausage trios

Next: Coastal wedding-themed ideas 

2. Coastal Town
Think Cape Cod, Mystic, Newport…those breezy, quaint towns by the shore often hold sweet family memories of sand, salt and sun-filled vacations, sailing and watching sunsets over the ocean. If you’re hosting an intimate wedding, you might consider having guests stay together in a rented beach house or a more traditional bed and breakfast. Beyond the typical water-centric activities such as sailing, water-skiing and paddle boarding, landlubbers can partake in the likes of beach walks, antiquing and museum visits.

coastal wedding

Menu Ideas:
Serve lobsters, clams (quintessential clambake fare), or raise the gourmet level with Chef Sharp’s suggestions of “barbecued oysters, and mini crab rolls with avocado green goddess and salt-and-vinegar chips.”

Shots of clam chowder or lobster bisque warm up a cool evening, as does sitting around a bonfire on the beach or a fire pit on a restaurant or hotel terrace.

Welcome Basket Ideas:

  • Nautical-theme-printed drink cozies
  • Mini jars filled with decorative sea glass
  • Polished seashells
  • Frosted cookies in lobster, crab, seahorse, starfish, sailboat, anchor or other themed shapes
  • Authentic regional fudge or saltwater taffy
  • Container of regional seasonings, like Old Bay

Next: Winter wedding-themed ideas ►

3. Winter Resort:
Spectacular scenery and winter sports add beauty and adventure to your wedding weekend events. Beyond drinks at the lodge, there’s skiing, horseback riding in the snow, hot-tubbing, snowmobiling and the resort’s spa to enjoy.

winter resort

Menu Ideas:
Go full-on gourmet with confit lamb shoulder with caramelized fuji apples, cheesy spaetzle with poached eggs and black truffles, donuts with cinnamon-cardamom sugar, and pistachio ice cream affogato (topped with espresso).

"Add in soup shots and hot spiked toddies for a tasty winter-themed menu," Kristin Polhemus, event planner at Reverie Events in Hamilton New Jersey, says. “For dessert, I love a hot chocolate drinking station. Guests can choose classic hot chocolate, or they can add fun elements like peppermint, cinnamon or chipotle.”

Welcome Basket Ideas:

  • Snowflake-motif mittens
  • Fun knit ski hats or headbands
  • Frosted coasters
  • SPF lip balm
  • Hot chocolate mix packets
  • S’mores package of graham crackers, chocolate bars and marshmallows
  • Locally brewed bottles of beer

Next: "Glamping" wedding-themed ideas 

4. Camping or "Glamping"
Weddings held at breezy rustic sites — some truly camplike, most more luxe interpretations — are becoming popular, whether you or your fiancé were once happy campers or simply love the casual outdoorsy vibe of carefree summer days gone by. “Glamping” adds in glam decor elements like lighting effects, crystals and chandeliers hung from trees, and lush fabric drapings in tents. Guests can join you in kayak races or on nature hikes and horseback trail rides.

glamping wedding

Menu Ideas:
How about adding homemade gourmet marshmallows to s’mores fixings, and a “hobo” dinner of beef short ribs, yellow finn potatoes, and cipollini onions cooked in the coals. Hotdogs, hamburgers, pulled-pork sandwiches, cornbread, popcorn and classic ice cream sandwiches evoke fun camp memories.

Welcome Basket Ideas:

  • “Care packages” with mini pampering items, packaged snacks and a pair of socks for a take on what parents would send to kids at camp
  • Mosquito repellent
  • Citronella travel candle tin
  • Playing cards
  • Bandannas
  • Blackberry jam, paying tribute to berry-picking memories at camp

Next: Dude Ranch-themed ideas 

5. Dude Ranch
Head out to the ranch for western-flair activities like horseback riding, roping lessons, archery, fly fishing and campfire cookouts in breathtaking natural scenery.

ranch wedding

Menu Ideas:
Chef Sharp suggests “bison sliders, empanadas and churros,” and prime rib, southern-fried chicken, roasted pork, sliders and breakfast burritos with slow-cooked beans and cornbread for authentic western flavor. Again, s’mores by the campfire are always a hit with guests.

Lottie Fowler, event planner at Fort Worth, Texas-based Grit and Gold, adds, “For an after-wedding breakfast, we serve southern Texas toast, biscuits with chocolate on top and muffins.”

Welcome Basket Ideas:

  • Packets of barbecue rub
  • Ranch logo drink bottles or cozies
  • Beer bottle openers
  • “Little bottles of whiskey,” says Fowler
  • Sheriff badges or toy horses for kids