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US99 Interview: How Wedding Planning Has Changed from 2019 to 2020 to 2021 and Beyond
Our CEO, Alexis Alvarez, sat down with Melissa & Austin at US99 to talk about how couples planned Chicago weddings in 2019 and 2020 and how they're planning in 2021 and beyond. Q: So, how have things been with couples getting back into wedding planning again? A: 2019 was the land of should-haves & have-tos for weddings. Couples had clear-cut lists on what vendors they wanted to hire and who they wanted to invite for their celebration. Then 2020 completely flipped that on its head. Now that we’re starting to emerge from the thick of the pandemic, it’s been so interesting to see how couples have begun moving forward. There have been so many unexpected and special shifts in the wedding world thanks to the pandemic. Q: What are some of those differences you’ve seen? A: Couples have developed crystal clear boundaries -- what they want and what they don’t want. Couples are moving away from this “have to” or “should do” mindset and embracing the individuality of their big day. Say goodbye to the cookie-cutter wedding planning experience! Couples are really looking to hire the vendors that they WANT to hire. Our team recently chatted with a couple that really cares about giving their guests a special experience, and they plan on funneling a majority of their budget into food and music to make this happen. They might not spend any money on decor because it’s just not something that is important to them. Another shift has been with guest count. The pandemic gave couples the permission to say I don’t want to invite my great Aunt’s third cousin and are instead being more conscientious about who they’re inviting. We’re even seeing this with couples whose weddings are (hopefully) not affected by the pandemic in 2022 or 2023. Q: In your work in weddings from 2019 until now, have you seen an uptick in wedding budgets? A: For some couples, there have been shifts with their budgets. But for the majority, it’s more about how they’re spending their budget, rather than increasing or decreasing the amount. Q: And where are you seeing those budget shifts for what couples are spending on? Is there a certain area they’re pulling back on? A: That really just depends on the couple. For a couple this doesn’t care as much about the experiential factors, they may put more money into getting a venue that really fits their vision. They might allot more of their budget towards floral and stationery so they can really achieve that look they're going for. Overall, planning and budgeting have really become more priority-based than it ever has been. Rather than saying these are the vendors you’ll need to hire and we’re going to hire every one of them, it’s becoming so much more about where the couple’s priorities lie. Tune in next week to US99 for more of Alexis’s tips, tricks, and trends! Wondering if you need a Wedding Planner? TAKE THE QUIZ & FIND OUT NOW
Top 10 Must-Have Wedding Midnight Snacks to Keep the Party Going
Weddings are a celebration in the fullest sense. With friends and family coming together to celebrate a loving union, your reception might get a little rowdy once the drinks start flowing. After dinner, you’ll typically have two to three hours of open reception time with guests dancing, mingling, and drinking. As night falls and the energy levels start to drop, how do you keep your guests going? Well, by having a bunch of excellent and creative late-night snacks! Even if you won’t be offering alcohol at your nuptials, wedding days are long, and you’ll need something to get you through that late-night lull. Here’s a list of our ten favorite late-night snacks to keep the party going! 1. Build-Your-Own Nachos Like many good things in life, this one can get a little messy. To get guests started, have small plates with chips laid out on them. Next, guests get to get creative with their toppings! Make sure to have all the favorites, like ground beef or turkey, queso cheese, cilantro, corn, guacamole, and pico de gallo. 2. Gourmet taquitos When you think of taquitos, the microwaveable ones you see in the frozen section of supermarkets might be the first thing that comes to mind. But with a talented chef, the high-quality taquito options are endless. Opt for different fillings like shredded beef, roasted pork, cheese, and avocado. This is a simple grab-and-go option for guests to enjoy while keeping the party going. 3. Chocolate fountain This one is self-explanatory, but it cannot be underestimated and is such a crowd pleaser! You can offer milk, white, or dark chocolate, or even offer some specialty flavor options like peanut butter or s’mores. For items to dip into the chocolate stream, you can offer a variety of options - strawberries, bananas, wafers, marshmallows, mini cookies, and so on. 4. Your favorite fast food Whether it’s McDonald’s, Taco Bell, or Chick-fil-A, check with your venue to see if you are able to bring in your favorite fast food for your late-night snack. You can choose a variety of menu items, and who could say no to munching on some fresh McDonald’s fries? 5. Kabob skewers With so many meat and spice options, kabobs are a delicious way to keep the party going. Plus, they’re naturally so easy to eat, so guests can chow down without worrying about making a mess. If you’re looking to offer some more variety, you can include sides like pita and hummus, roasted potatoes, or even spiced rice. 6. Trail mix bar For a sweet and salty DIY option, try a trail mix station. The options here are truly endless - nuts, seeds, dried fruits, chocolate, popcorn, pretzels, candies. Guests can mix and match as they wish and even pack some nutty mix to take home with them. 7. Soft pretzels Who can say no to a warm soft pretzel? Like so many of these snack options, pretzels can be served with a variety of dips and toppings so that guests can customize their late-night nosh. Try displaying hot cheese, melted chocolate, mustard, pepperoni, and more! If you want to offer a unique experience for your guests, you could even provide beer pairings to go along with the pretzels. 8. Burger sliders Another versatile option, and an all-around favorite, are burger sliders. You can have vegan, vegetarian, and meat options so everyone is satisfied. These could be pre-made, or you can turn this into a create-your-own station by offering all the classic toppings - lettuce, tomato, mustard, ketchup, onion, etc. 9. Steamed buns A universally loved favorite across Asian countries and cultures, steamed buns are the ultimate comfort food. Filled with anything from sweet beans to chasu pork, the fluffy steamed buns are tantalizingly satisfying to bite into. 10. Rainbow gourmet fries This one is definitely an eye-catcher! By using potatoes of various colors to make fries, you’ll get a dazzling spread of this delicious treat. Set these out pre-portioned in small bags or boxes so that guests can easily grab one and dig in. Don’t forget to have a few dipping options for guests too like ketchup, BBQ sauce, ranch, or melted cheese. Whatever you choose as your late-night snack, make sure to keep any guests’ dietary restrictions in mind. You can offer a variety of vegetarian and meat options, as well as chat with your caterer to see if the above options can be made gluten-free, dairy-free, etc. so that all guests remain fed and happy. Once the time rolls around to bring out your late-night snack, it’ll likely be the last thing on your mind, so make sure to coordinate with your caterer, venue, and planner to iron out all the service details. Then, grab a taquito or two and get back out on the dance floor! Wondering if you need a Wedding Planner? TAKE THE QUIZ & FIND OUT NOW
Creative Wedding Catering Options
Catering can be one of the more daunting parts of the wedding planning process because it has so much impact on the bottom line of the budget. With so many options to choose from, a lot of couples don’t even know where to begin. And have you ever seen a catering proposal? Line item after line item can leave couples feeling totally overwhelmed. The great news is that catering is so versatile! It can really be whatever you want it to be. Based on weddings you’ve attended in the past, you might have a vision of what “traditional” wedding dining looks like: a cocktail hour with passed hors d'oeuvres followed by a seated meal usually including a salad, an entree, and some sides, followed by cake for dessert. Whether you don’t have the budget for a full four-course seated dinner or if a seated meal feels too formal for your vision, you don’t have to go this route! Like we always say, it’s your wedding, and there are always other options. Here are 3 of our favorite creative catering options, along with some important notes to remember when planning these dinner styles. 1. Cocktail-Style Reception Instead of feeding guests a full dinner, guests are treated to heavy hors d’oeuvres during a cocktail-style reception. This greatly decreases the cost of food compared to a traditional plated-style meal. Now, you may think that this style of catering could get a little monotonous. If guests are only offered the same 3 hors d’oeuvres for two hours, they’re likely to either get bored or hungry, right? There are a few ways to avoid this. The first is to offer different rounds of appetizers. For instance, your first round could include 3 hors d’oeuvres; after an hour of serving those 3, your servers would then switch over to a set of 3 new hors d’oeuvres. This keeps it interesting for guests, and you’re able to offer a wider variety of food. Depending on your budget, you could also add on a station or two to go along with your cocktail-style reception. This likewise adds a little more excitement to your dinner and keeps guests engaged. You could also introduce a station later on in the evening as a dessert bar or late-night snack. You’ll also be saving money when it comes to rental items. Generally, there won’t be seating to accommodate your entire guest count at a cocktail-style reception. We still recommend offering at least some seating for guests that can’t stand the entire evening or may not be partaking in reception activities like dancing. Since there’s not seating for everyone, you’ll erase the costs of extra tables, chairs, place setting items, table numbers, escort cards, and more. Keep in mind that guests may arrive to your wedding expecting a full meal, so make sure no one goes hungry by adding some info on your invitations or wedding website about your apps-only celebration. 2. An Intimate Dinner One of the silver linings of COVID was the rise in popularity of intimate weddings. Smaller weddings create such a special atmosphere and really allow the celebration to focus on what matters. But if you find yourself stuck between wanting an intimate celebration with just close family and friends and wanting to party all night long with your 300 favorite people, there is a way to have the best of both worlds! Cue the intimate dinner followed by a cocktail-style reception. Another great way to cut catering costs, an intimate dinner would follow your ceremony. You would keep your ceremony and dinner guest lists shorter - usually only close friends and family. After the dinner, you would transition into a cocktail-style reception that your full guest list is invited to. This option is great for couples that want a formal, plated dinner but don’t have the budget to feed hundreds of guests. Just like with the cocktail-style reception, make sure to give guests that are not invited to the dinner a heads-up about what to expect food-wise during the reception. 3. Drop-Off Catering Drop-off catering is just what it sounds like: a caterer or restaurant will drop off your food to your venue. The biggest difference here is that the caterer or restaurant would not provide staffing. For this, you would need to go through a staffing company. This is going to save you money on your food bill, as well as on staffing. But just because you’ll be saving money doesn’t mean you’ll be sacrificing variety when it comes to the menu. So many caterers and restaurants offer drop-off catering that you’ll still be able to have those fun and unique bites like barbeque, tacos, seasonal dishes, and more. Keep in mind that you’ll need to be at a venue with an open catering policy for drop-off catering to work, so check out your venue’s policies before diving in. When planning for drop-off catering, you’ll want to double-check your planning list to make sure you have all your bases covered. Will the catering company be providing you with disposable dinnerware or will you source China through a rental company? Will the staffing company need to provide bartenders? Who is providing alcohol, mixers, and barware? Because you shed the usual inclusions of a traditional catered meal with drop-off, it becomes even more important to think through the meal and ensure you have everything you’ll need. Another perk with drop-off catering is that you can work with multiple food vendors if needed. For example, say your main dinner meal is a more traditional buffet selection of proteins, starches, and vegetables. But, if the company that provided the food for dinner doesn’t offer the burger bar you were dying to have for a late-night snack, you can just source this from another company! The flexibility of drop-off catering means that you’ll still have the freedom to structure your wedding food options as you envision without breaking the bank. Sourcing catering for your wedding can definitely be an overwhelming experience. Getting that first proposal with dozens of line items each with a price next to it and a horrifying total at the end can easily send you spiraling. But, with a little creativity and (shameless plug) a cool wedding planner with some great connections can simplify the process and get you back to being excited about your wedding! Wondering if you need a Wedding Planner? TAKE THE QUIZ & FIND OUT NOW
How to Plan a Progressive Wedding Reception Dinner
In one way or another, almost every wedding has food woven into it as part of the overarching experience. Food can serve a lot of different purposes for couples - for some it’s just a means of feeding their guests; for others, it’s meant to be an experience by offering guests new and exciting ways to enjoy their food; and for others, it’s a way of incorporating their culture and background into their big day. Because food is something we see at every wedding, a lot of couples search for that “wow factor” to impress their guests and put a unique stamp on their wedding dining experience. One area of your catering that you could put a unique twist on is the format of your reception. Specifically, consider a progressive dinner party. What exactly is a progressive dinner party? Instead of eating a traditional seated meal, when you use a progressive dinner format, each course is in a unique location with a totally new vibe. Imagine eating your salad in a dining room that includes details from your first date and your main course as a picnic on a grassy knoll, just like the one during your proposal. Keep in mind this will take some coordination between the caterer, wedding planner, and venue, but it will be a truly memorable experience. Getting Things Started As for the nitty-gritty of how to plan a progressive dinner party, your first stop is still going to be cocktail hour, but we’re going to spice it up a bit. Imagine charcuterie and hors d'oeuvres with champagne or signature cocktails to set a tone of celebration, friendship, and making memories. Cocktail hour should be kept light and allow for guests to mingle. A great way to do this is to incorporate interactive elements. You could include a food station with a chef who prepares your favorite appetizer live. Or, try out a non-food activity like a caricature artist. This exciting introduction to your reception will get guests excited about what else is to come! The Main Course Next, you’ll head into your first course of dinner. Guests would take a quick stroll to another part of the venue for soup or salad. The feel of this course may depend heavily on what time of the year you’ll be getting married. If you’re opting for a wedding during the warmer Chicago months, this course could be set up outdoors with a picnic-like feel. You could offer guests a light and fresh salad that fits the season. On the flip side, if you’re planning your wedding in the cooler months, have guests cozy up in an intimate space in your venue (bonus if there’s a fireplace!). Warm guests up with a comforting soup. If you’re not a soup or salad kind of couple, don’t feel like you have to choose one of those options just because! You could offer guests a dressed-up fruit cocktail, a bowl of pasta, a slice of authentic pizza, or a delicious dip. After that, it’s time for the main course. Keep in mind that this should be seated with utensils. While it is relatively easy to eat appetizers standing or picnic style, wielding utensils adds another layer of complexity. This is another chance to really dive into the personalization of your menu and get creative with it! When it comes to choosing entrees, the options are endless. And there are so many ways to serve your guests. You could opt for a traditional plated meal, a family-style meal, a buffet, a food truck, or stations. If you wanted to keep your reception more casual, you could even continue with the cocktail-style and serve guests a fresh round of small plates and bites. As for your menu, there are so many ways to infuse your personality and background as a couple into the meal. For example, you could cater your food from your favorite restaurant that’s your go-to date night spot. Or, if you’re working with a traditional caterer, offer guests a duet plate of you and your partner’s favorite entrees. A Sweet Ending Once everyone’s satisfied with the main course, it’s time for dessert. If you’ll be having a wedding cake, consider other dessert options that you can offer guests. Since guests just spent the main course sitting, this is also a great opportunity to get them up and moving around again. Try out an ice cream cart where guests can choose their flavor and toppings or a DIY s’mores station with unique inclusions like flavored marshmallows. The dessert course may also be a fun time to introduce some wine, beer, or liqueur pairings. Whether you bring in a professional or just offer some guidance through signage, guests will be able to enjoy a delicious treat and learn a little something too! Wondering if you need a Wedding Planner? TAKE THE QUIZ & FIND OUT NOW
What To Do When Your Floral Vision is Bigger Than Your Budget
One of the most common concerns couples have with wedding planning is when it comes to design and florals. You’ve just shown your florist your inspiration photos, they asked you some questions, and sent back a proposal - and wow! Sticker shock is probably real right now. Don’t worry, you’re not alone! As wedding professionals, it’s our goal to bring our client’s dreams to life. But between tight budgets and elaborate, ever-changing Pinterest trends, it can start feeling like a recipe for disappointment when navigating your wedding florals. Many couples have their hearts set on a particular floral arrangement, only to find out that it will eat up half (or more) of their total budget. So, what can you do about this? Tip 1: Be Flexible Being flexible will allow you to get the dreamy look you want and love at a price you can actually afford. Flexibility allows for increased quality and realistic expectations. When you’re flexible with the type of flower you want, for instance, your florist can provide you with alternatives that are in-season and fit your budget but still capture the look you’re going for. Take peonies for example. They are stunning! But also expensive. Why? They’re only in season for a short window of time, which makes them difficult to source. This drives up the price and time it takes to acquire them. They are also a larger flower with layers of petals. This larger size generally makes them more expensive than their less showy counterparts. And the third problem is a simple supply and demand issue - they’re beautiful and everyone knows it. Being flexible will allow your florist to suggest lookalikes that are similar in size, shape, and feel, but with a much lower price tag. The takeaway here is that flexibility helps prevent you from paying a premium price for unnecessary reasons - like choosing out-of-season floral which costs the most but isn’t even at the peak of its quality. Tip 2: Be Intentional Search for and find those areas of your wedding where a big floral piece will have the biggest impact. You can’t recreate every single one of those stunning Pinterest images that you have your heart set on. Choose one and pick the area of focus. Perhaps you don’t have the budget for a luscious floral arch as the focal point of your ceremony. Instead, try an aisle runner of ombre rose petals like the photo below. The visual impact here is excellent compared to the cost! And the blending colors naturally usher your eyes to the front of the space, creating an entrance that demands attention. By using intentional design, we created a look that our client loved and helped stretch the value out of every petal. Intentional designs exceed expectations every single time because these are the pieces that are specifically created for your wedding to WOW you and your guests. Tip 3: Try the Trust Fall It is so important to trust your floral designer! It allows you to enjoy the experience. Trust is hard, we get it. But chances are, you’ve hired your florist based on their expertise, experience, and talent. They live and breathe weddings and will likely go above and beyond your expectations. So why not trust them? Putting your trust in your florist will allow them to take your ideas, inspiration, and perspective and translate them into a one-of-a-kind piece of art. By hand selecting each bloom, considering its placement, color, size, texture, and shape, florists use nature to curate art that reflects you as a couple. It’s great to have those inspo pics at the ready, but I encourage you to let go and trust the floral designer that really understands your vision. So close your eyes, take a breath, and trust fall into the very experienced arms of that floral designer who is waiting to catch a client just like you. Tip 4: Do DIY But Be Realistic DIY-ing can be a great money saver, but be realistic when it comes to your limitations and how much you can handle. Consider if you have the time, space, and skills to tackle the projects you’re thinking about taking on. It’s perfectly acceptable to purchase your bouquet from a florist and plan to create some centerpieces on your own. But beware! The last thing we want is for you to be up at 3 AM the night before your wedding struggling to finish that DIY greenery runner. Be honest with yourself about what you’ll be able to handle. If you are DIY-ing, ask your florist if they are willing to help you with a bulk order of loose stems for your project. This can help you to know how much product to order, ensure you get quality blooms, and get flowers that match any pieces the florist is creating for you. Bonus Tip: Don’t Add Things You Don’t Need Just to Check Off a Box If you don’t feel like personal flowers for your grandparents are important, don’t feel the need to pay for them just because! Really make sure that you are being intentional about where you’re spending your money and that it’s focused on the areas that are most important to you as a couple. Wondering if you need a Wedding Planner? ___ TAKE THE QUIZ & FIND OUT NOW
Why Choosing the More Expensive Photographer is Probably Worth it Even if Their Work Looks Similar
This week our friend Alana Lindenfeld is popping onto our blog to help you choose the right photographer for you (even if it means paying a little more). “...people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” - Maya Angelou If that ain’t the truth! I wanted to start this blog post off with that quote because it is so dang true. A few months ago, I placed a poll on my Instagram story asking if people rather have beautiful photos of themselves but a not-so-great experience, or have a really great experience with photos that maybe aren’t quiiiiite as good. And can you guess what happened? Way more people voted for a good experience. Like, way more. Now let’s look at this a different way--let’s say you’re choosing from two wedding photographers whose work and pricing is really similar. Would you opt for the one who gives you a better experience, makes you feel ultra comfortable and prepared, and confident in their abilities? Or would you choose the one who can’t give you all of that? It’s a no brainer that most people would choose the photographer who gives them a better experience. Chances are, you’ll actually end up liking those photos of yourselves more anyways, just because of how that person made you feel. I know I’m making you do a lot of thinking and question-answering, but let’s do one more. I want you to think of a photo that is important to you. It can be any photo, wedding-related or not. Really, think of one! When I ask this question during my wedding consultations, I hear a lot of answers about childhood memories and photos of people who never dance who are caught dancing together at a sibling’s wedding. It’s not the cute selfie they took the other day with the clearest skin and whitest teeth and perfect lighting. It’s the photo that has memories attached to it. Truthfully, all photos have memories attached to them, but some memories are stronger and more meaningful than others. This is why hiring the RIGHT photographer is SO important!!! One photographer may have beautiful work, but if you felt awkward during your engagement photos or wedding photos, you’re probably not going to love the photos when you look back on them. You’ll remember that you felt awkward and tense. On the other hand, if your photographer made you feel super comfortable, gave you lots of tips and planning advice and made the day feel relaxed and fun, you’ll see those photos in a completely different way, even if they look really similar. Related: What to wear for engagement photos Let’s rewind. Remember when I asked you to choose between two photographers who are similar in style and pricing, but one gives you a better experience? And you probably thought to yourself how it was obvious to go with the better experience, right? This is where pricing comes into play. If you’re deciding between two photographers with similar work, both of which you love, but one costs a little more, is it because they have more experience? Is it because of the better experience they’ll provide? Having a good experience as a client doesn’t always mean just hoping your personalities jive with your photographer’s personality--it means finding someone and hiring someone, and sometimes dishing out a little more moolah to someone, who gives you the ultimate experience that you deserve for your wedding photography. It means hiring someone who knows how to get you to loosen up, feel confident, and do it all in a professional yet friendly way. They know what questions to ask, how to ask them, and most importantly, they’re able to read the room and adjust to your pace as the clients--not the other way around. So if you’re stuck overthinking if you should drop an extra $1000 or $2000 or even more on one photographer over another, ask them about their process, how they take care of their clients, and read the dang reviews!!! Chances are they’re worth that extra money. Plus hey--what’s an extra $2000 on a $60,000 day? If you want your very own photographer who truly cares about you, you can find me at alanalindenfeld.com or on Instagram or Facebook! See you there!
Is Fear of the Unknown Stalling Your Wedding Planning Progress?
Hey engaged friend, You’re probably here because the title of this post resonated with you. Maybe you’re newly engaged and afraid to begin planning your wedding because you don’t know when COVID will be over. Maybe you’ve been engaged for a while and you’re looking at the reality of postponement or you’ve already postponed once, twice, three times. No matter what side of the engagement spectrum you find yourself on, I want to start by telling you that you’re not alone. I talk to dozens of couples every week. From our 1:1 wedding planning clients to prospective clients to couples in our Wedding Planning Membership to couples in Facebook groups and each and every one of you is feeling the same things. Frustration. Fear. Loss. Anxiety. Hopelessness. Confusion. You are not alone in your feelings. They are valid & they are normal. Many of you are stuck in paralysis. You don’t know how to move forward. How to decide whether to postpone (again) or to keep planning for your wedding date. Many of you are newly engaged and have seen 2020 and 2021 couples lose deposits, lose hope, lose their vision of their dream wedding and you’re afraid. What if it happens to me? We didn’t think this would last as long as it has, who’s to say we won’t be in the same place this time next year? I want to repeat, you are not alone in your feelings. They are valid & they are normal. Have you ever been in an underground cave? My husband and I went to one in Kentucky on a trip once. While it initially didn’t seem like a big deal to be in an underground cave, by the time we made it down there I was a little nervous. I mean, we were really underground. It was dark. I had no idea where I was going or how to get out. And if a crisis happened… like the roof caving in above us, I wouldn’t have known what to do. That’s why they don’t let you go into underground caves without a tour guide. I heard a statistic recently that something like 62% of couples is planning their wedding without a Planner. Maybe you’re one of them. Friends, the metaphorical roof is caving in above you. Between a pandemic with an unknown expiration date, 1 in 4 small businesses closing (the events industry being one of the hardest-hit), loved ones getting sick… your ideals are literally being buried as the roof caves in. I know it sounds dramatic, but I know you can feel it in your fear. You’re afraid of losing money. You’re afraid of getting a year into this experience to only have it be postponed. You’re afraid you won’t have the wedding you’ve been dreaming of. And that fear is keeping you from making decisions. You need a tour guide. You need someone who has navigated this path before. Who’s been trained in this specific type of crisis management. Someone who knows the questions to ask, the steps to take, how to make the tough calls and how to help you choose the right path for you. For my first time ever, I am going to type the words, you NEED a Wedding Planner. I’m sure some of you just rolled your eyes. “Of course she says I need a Wedding Planner, she is a Wedding Planner.” Yes, that’s true, but more than anything, I want you to experience the relief of knowing you’re not in this alone. Try it. Schedule a consultation with a Wedding Planner. Any Wedding Planner. I’m not even suggesting it be us. Schedule a call though and just see how you feel afterward. Do you feel supported? Do you feel heard? Do you feel led? Do you feel finally like you’re not in this alone? If you do, then hire them. I totally understand how decision paralysis can set in and you're not sure what the right call is to make. The truth is there are dozens of more decisions just like this one that you're going to face during planning. I get that the cost is high and so are the emotions, so I want you to have someone to guide you through them. If you don’t believe me, listen to what Lesly & Shane said. A couple who originally did not think they needed a Wedding Planner. To find out if we’re the right partner for you, schedule a free call to meet us and decide for yourself. Schedule your free consultation now
How to Plan a Wedding: Selecting the Right Venue for You
In case you’re new around here, we are 4 weeks into a series walking newly engaged couples through an easy to follow, step by step process to planning their wedding. We’ve covered whether your wedding budget determines your guest list or the other way around, which to hire first: your Chicago Wedding Planner or your Chicago Wedding Venue, & last week we looked at the order in which we recommend you book your Chicago wedding vendors in. This week we’re going to take a deep dive into how to select the right Chicago Wedding Venue for you. Before we dive into the how let’s talk about WHY this topic is so important. I can’t tell you how many couples I talk to after they’ve already booked their venue who are essentially, “venue poor”. They’ve poured so much of their budget into the venue that they now are working with scraps for the remainder of their planning. This results in 1 of 2 things. Either they end up cutting a lot of things that they really wanted to remain in their budget or they end up going over budget, usually by a lot. It’s a big problem. So let’s talk about HOW to effectively select the right venue for your wedding. Before we can get into the venue conversation we need to know a few things: Your all-in wedding budget How many guests you are inviting A basic idea of what your catering vision is A basic idea of your decor vision Where you are planning on hosting your ceremony If you plan to hire a band or a DJ Knowing all of these details are going to help you narrow down the hundreds of wedding venues to the one that is just right for you. Your All-In Wedding Budget Compared to the All-In Cost to Rent the Venue Your all-in wedding budget matters because you’re going to need to be able to run the numbers before committing. If the venue costs $10K to rent and has in-house catering with a $25K minimum and includes all of the rentals & staff you’d need, your venue costs $35K. But if your venue rental is $5000, has a preferred catering list with an average $200pp catering cost, doesn’t include any rentals and you’re inviting 150 people… assuming (for easy math) the average chair costs $5 to rent and the average table costs $15 to rent plus a $20 linen per table, that venue costs at least $36,625 to rent. If your all-in budget for your wedding is $50K this is going to leave you approximately $15K for photo, film, planning, entertainment, floral & decor, stationery, and whatever else you’re potentially wanting to include in your wedding. With this scenario, you’ll likely end up having to cut SOMETHING, possibly a few things. This is why understanding your all-in budget compared to the actual cost to rent the venue is so important. Your Guest List vs The Size of the Venue Guys, DO NOT book a venue based on how many guests you think will show up. Book a venue based on how many you’re actually inviting. If you invite 250 and book a venue for 200 because you assume that 50 will decline and then 30 of those 50 actually come, we are in for a NIGHTMARE when it comes to seating and layout. And the first thing that will get cut is your dance floor. Literally no one wants that. Your Catering Vision vs The Venue’s Catering Policies I had a couple that loved a venue. I mean LOVED a venue. It was exactly what they pictured for their wedding. It seemed like a no brainer. Except that the venue had in-house catering that the couple was required to use. Sometimes that’s not a problem, but this couple wanted a fusion of Indian and Mexican food and this is NOT what the venue’s in-house catering specialized in. It wasn’t that the in house catering wasn’t delicious food, they just didn’t have the experience with the type of food they were wanting to serve enough to ensure successful execution of their menu. Here’s why this is important. If this couple hadn’t known ahead of time that this is what they wanted, they probably would have booked a venue that they loved, but ultimately been disappointed, and possibly even regretted their decision when it came time for the tasting. If your vision is 5 food trucks for your guests to interact with, then make sure you book a venue with a lot or with large enough doors and ceilings to accommodate and an open catering policy. If you want a fusion menu, book a venue that has a caterer on their list that can create custom, fusion menus or book a venue with an open catering policy. If you love a venue but are on a more restrictive budget and their least expensive catering option is coming in at an average of $200pp, it probably isn’t the right venue for you. Your Decor Vision vs. The Venues Capabilities and Rules If you want a light and airy look with lots of natural light, a venue with dark exposed brick probably isn’t the right choice, but that’s the basic stuff, right? What if you picture hanging chandeliers? Did you know you need to A. make sure that the venue has the physical ability to suspend chandeliers and B. that they’ll allow it? Some venues don’t allow hanging installations. Some require that only certain vendors be booked if there are installations on the property. And most require insurance with a minimum amount of coverage. It’s important to know & understand this information before booking so you know if your visions can be accommodated or is even allowed in the venue and if it is, what policies they have in place that your florist or decorator will have to follow. If they have a specific set of vendors that are pre-approved for installation work, you should do the work before booking to see what their average investments are to make sure you can afford them. Another more basic example of this is candles. Make sure your venue allows candles if you want candles. Your Ceremony Location vs Your Reception Venue If you plan to host your ceremony at the same location as your reception, make sure you understand if there are additional costs, what the flip looks like during cocktail hour, and what the flow of the guests throughout the night will be. If you plan to host your ceremony at a church or other offsite property, take into consideration the drive between the 2 venues. I don’t care how much you want to argue with me about it, hosting your ceremony at a church downtown and reception a venue in the suburbs is a terrible idea. Don’t do it. Your Desired Entertainment vs The Venue’s Capacity + Tech Setup Bands take up a lot of space, so just because your venue can comfortably accommodate 250 people, when you account for a band, it might be more like 200. If you’re inviting 250 and plan on hiring a band, then a venue that can only fit 200 people with a band, won’t be a good fit. The layout will be too tight and like I mentioned above, the first thing to get trimmed is your dance floor. But even if you’re not having a band, it’s important to understand the tech setup of your venue. Most DJs require access to electricity and internet. While this sounds like an easy, duh, of course, my venue has these things, if you’re at an outdoor property or hosting your wedding in a country setting, it might not be as easy as plugging it in & connecting to wifi. Make sure you understand what their capabilities are in terms of tech & electricity before booking. Understanding how all of these components work together will help you narrow down the venue that is right for you! Wondering if you need a Wedding Planner? TAKE THE QUIZ & FIND OUT NOW
How to Plan a Wedding: What Order to Book Your Vendors In
We’re in week 3 of a series walking you through the step by step process of planning your wedding. In week 1, we talked about whether you should determine your wedding budget or guest list first & last week we took a dive into whether to book your Chicago wedding venue or Chicago Wedding Planner/Coordinator first. And now that you have your wedding budget, your guest list, your Venue, and your Wedding Planner/Coordinator, we’re going to take a look at what order you should book your Chicago wedding vendors in. The first step to this is to determine your priorities. I’ll give you the exact order we recommend our clients book in, BUT we also customize this process based on their specific needs and priorities. Here’s what I mean by this: if you have a hairstylist you’ve been following on IG for the last 2 years and can’t imagine anyone else doing your hair for your wedding, BOOK THEM as soon as you have a date. While we absolutely have a process we guide our clients through, customize this order how it makes sense for YOU. It’s important to remember that for wedding vendors, our calendar is our inventory, and most of the time, we can’t just make more of it. So if there’s a key piece to your wedding vision, book that vendor at the top, regardless of where it falls on our list. Now, wedding pros. I see you. Before I even get into this list I can hear some of you rolling your eyes from here. Our job as wedding planners are to create systems for our clients to follow and the reality is (or should be) that every single one of you requires a retainer payment and for most couples, it’s just not possible to pay every vendor a retainer payment at the same time. It’s also a giant pain in the ass to be interviewing dozens of vendors simultaneously. So yes, we have created a system to help our clients simplify their process and some of you are at the top of our process and some of you are at the bottom. It is what it. Ok, now that we have all of that out of the way, let’s get into the vendor booking system. We break our planning process down into 4 phases. Phase 1: Vendor Booking: Begins immediately after setting a budget & guest list and finishes at least 8 months before the wedding. Phase 2: Design & Logistics: Begins 8 months before the wedding & finishes at least 4 months before the wedding. Phase 3: Reconciliation: Begins 4 months before the wedding & finishes at least 2 weeks before the wedding. Phase 4: The Wedding Day Vendor bookings will happen in both phases 1 & 2, with the goal being to have all vendors secured no later than 6 months before the wedding. In Phase 1 we book the following vendors in the following order: Photographer Caterer Videographer Entertainment Officiant Then, in Phase 2, we book the following vendors in the following order: Hair & Makeup Florist Stationery Cake Room blocks Transportation Again, this list can be totally customized to fit your needs & priorities. We’ve had couples book their caterer as their 1st vendor because they really wanted to know those numbers before securing other contracts. We’ve had a bride book a hairstylist who specializes in boho braids first because they loved her work so much. We’ve had a client say photo was their bottom priority and it was the last thing we booked (though I’ll admit, this one gave me heart palpitations and nightmares for months). I cannot stress enough to DO YOU, but when it doubt, this booking order should give you some guidance on who to talk to next. Next week, we’re going to go back in the planning process a bit & take a deeper dive into booking your venue with tips on how to select the right venue for you. Wondering if you need a Wedding Planner? TAKE THE QUIZ & FIND OUT NOW
How to Plan a Wedding: Venue or Planner 1st?
If you’re following along, last week we talked through which should come first, the guest list or the budget. We talked about why it’s so important to set your budget first and how your budget actually determines how many guests you can invite. So now that we have a budget and guest list, the next step is to decide if you should book your venue or hire a Planner first. This answer is pretty simple, actually. It depends on if you want a Planner’s help from the very beginning of the planning process. I recommend you have a few consultations with different Planners early on to understand the benefits of various service levels, as well as the investment level. If you decide you’re interested in Full-Service planning, you’ll get the most out of your investment by booking your Planner before any other vendors. If you decide you’re interested in some sort of partial, a la carte or Wedding Management (AKA Day of Coordination) service, then I’d book your venue first so you have that date secured and then book with your Planner. Now, you might be asking yourself, “if I’m booking a Planner for Wedding Management (or Day of Coordination) do I really need to secure that contract so early?” The short answer is, no, you definitely don’t have to, but I’m all about getting the most out of your investment in a Planner, whatever the service level is. Most Planners offer some sort of guidance throughout the planning process for their wedding management clients. Whether that’s in the form of access to their client planning portal with resources for planning (think checklists, budgets, vendor recs, guest management tools, etc), monthly check-in emails, unlimited email communication, or something else that will serve you throughout your planning process. So the earlier you book your Planner, even for Wedding Management (or Day of Coordination) the more you’re going to get out of that investment over the long term. Next week we’ll be talking about what order you should book your wedding vendors in, but in the meantime, schedule a few consultations with some local wedding planners (you can schedule one with us here) to decide what service level is best for you & then start working on finding your wedding venue (YAY!) Wondering if you need a Wedding Planner? TAKE THE QUIZ & FIND OUT NOW
How To Plan a Wedding: Budget or Guest List 1st?
You’re engaged! Congrats! You’ve posted your ring selfies, FaceTimed your friends, called your parents… and now what? The first 2 steps of planning your wedding are going to be to determine your budget and guest list. But which comes first? YOUR BUDGET Your budget determines how many guests you can invite to your wedding, not the other way around. So first determine what your all-in wedding budget is and THEN work to create a guest list. But once you know your budget, how do you determine how many people you can invite? There are a few ways to do this. Connect with a local Wedding Planner and ask what the average PP cost is of catering in your local area. Do a search for local wedding caterers and check out their website to see their average range of cost PP for wedding menus. Connect in some local Facebook groups and ask other couples what their PP catering cost is. Why does this all keep coming back to catering? Because catering is going to be the most variable cost you experience when planning your wedding. If the average cost of catering in your area is $150pp - inviting 100 people will cost you $15K in catering alone. Inviting 200 will cost you $30K. See? Your budget has to come first. It only creates frustration to start with deciding there are 200 people you want to invite and try to make those 200 people fit into a $40K budget versus deciding you have a $40K budget and working backward to decide how many guests you can invite. Next week we’ll talk about whether you should book your venue or Planner first, but in the meantime, determine that wedding budget & start doing some research on how many guests you might be able to invite on that budget. Wondering if you need a Wedding Planner? TAKE THE QUIZ & FIND OUT NOW
When Should I Get Married?
If you’re one of the 100K couples that got engaged over the holidays (an unverified statistic as always used to make a point) then you’re probably deep in the debate of whether to host a 2021, 2022, or maybe even a 2023 wedding. What year you get married in is going to depend on a few factors: How flexible you are. Look, COVID is throwing everything for a loop. Last year we had guidelines everywhere from no weddings to 100 guests outdoors in the city of Chicago back to no weddings by the end of the year. If you’re going to get married in 2021, you have to be flexible. I keep hearing from couples “but the vaccine”, but there’s no guarantee on WHEN we’ll have the herd immunity needed to allow for large events. IL has also been a very cautious when it comes to opening up the state for “business as usual”, so even when we have herd immunity in 2021, I doubt we’ll go balls to the walls with guest counts. Besides just COVID factors, 2021 is packed with postponements from 2020 & we’ll start to see even more (into 2022 most likely) from Winter and Spring 2021 weddings that have or will postpone as well. That being said, if you’re newly engaged and are set on getting married in 2021, you need to be flexible on your date, what day of the week you get married, and your venue/vendor selection. Which leads me to next point. Your vision/ideal for your wedding. If you have any part of your weddings that are non-negotiables that could even potentially be impacted by COVID safety guidelines or availability constraints due to postponements, you’re going to want to plan for 2022 (soon) or possibly even early 2023. If you have a dream venue or must get married during one of 2 weeks in July because of work or can’t possibly imagine having your wedding on any day of the week other than a Saturday or have a photographer you’ve been stalking on IG for years, you’re going to want to plan for 2022 or 2023 so that you can preserve your ideal. Where is your line in the sand? It’s important to decide what your non-negotiables are when planning your wedding, even without a pandemic, but when trying to decide if 2021, 2022, or 2023 is the best year for you to get married, you need to know where your line in the sand is and to decide if that line is likely to be flirted with in 2021. For example, masks. If masks are a no go for you, 2021 is not the year for your wedding. Is it possible that we could end the year mask-free? Sure, but as you already know, weddings are a big expense and as you’ve already heard, postponements are a pain & can be even more expensive. If there’s even a chance that 2021 could cross your pre-determined boundaries, plan for 2022 or 2023. Your financial situation. Let’s take 2021 out of the picture for this one and just talk about how to decide if you should get married in 2022 or 2023. This is going to be largely determined by your financial situation. I want to preface with there is zero budget shame here, we’re just talking about your financial viability for planning a wedding in 2022 or 2023. The big question here is: do you, or whoever is contributing to the budget, have access to liquid cash for deposits & retainers? We already discussed the likelihood of more postponements into 2022 because of winter & spring event limitations due to COVID, and the potential for more as the year goes on. The truth is, we just don’t know, so if you’re wanting to preserve your ideal wedding in 2022, you need to start interviewing and booking venues and vendors now. If you don’t have the liquid cash to make those retainer payments, then it’s best to start saving now and start planning for 2023 later this year. Planning a wedding in 2021 might not be the easiest thing you’ve ever done, but begin by determining when you should get married and the rest of the pieces will start to fall into place. Wondering if you need a Wedding Planner? TAKE THE QUIZ & FIND OUT NOW