Not only am I a recent bride, I am also a lighting technician and stage manager. I put up the lights and operate them for rock shows, theatre, and dance, design night club lighting rigs, and do all manner of corporate events and weddings. What corporate events and weddings have in common is they are generally a show put on by organizations who don't typically put on shows. Furthermore, no one thinks of these kinds of events as shows at all — but that's exactly what they are.
Weddings are typically organized by people who are not show business types. Most often they have never been in the thick of planning or running an event to the scale that their wedding will be. That is not to say every couple needs to hire someone to do it for them — I am all about a hands-on couple. It is to say, though, that there is a lot of uncharted territory.
This in mind, here are my tips and hints to help you get the best out of vendors…
1. Know your goals
- Know what the overall feel of the event is. Is it fun, silly, dramatic, romantic?
- Do you have a theme? How thoroughly themed? Is this only in the centerpieces, are you providing props to your guests, are you requiring full costume from your guests?
- What are the few (no more than five) important elements of the event to you?
2. Know your budget
Nothing drives me up the wall more than a client who wants me to re-quote an event to them 16 times. It is understandable if you have no idea what flowers cost — I know I didn't before I was engaged. But asking for repeated quotes to try to chisel down a budget will only cause frustration and actually get you less bang for your buck.
My suggestions for working with vendors who don't have a posted price list:
- If you know how much you have to spend on an area (e.g. flowers) tell your florist, "I have $X. Is it realistic to get three bouquets, 12 boutonnieres/corsages, and 20 centrepieces for that?" If you are worried that they will give you more than you need just to fill that budget, or that they will take advantage of that number there are ways to combat that.
- Talk to them, get a sense of what their suggestions are — do you get good vibes from them or are they slimy feeling? I also suggest you have that conversation and give that same dollar figure to more than one cake baker/florist/lighting company. You will then be able to compare the bang for your buck factor between vendors. Framing the question this way will give the vendor the opportunity to either warn you that your budget will limit you to only Baby's Breath or that for that much money all the items you requested could be rare Japanese Lilies. This will help you make any budgetary adjustments, or choose to investigate alternatives (i.e. no boutonnieres, or doing the flowers out of your garden).
- If you end up with quotes that are more than you can afford but the DIY options are not your thing, don't try cutting items from the list; this will frustrate your vendors. I allow my clients two quotes. The first one is for everything they want. I only do a second quote if they give me a dollar figure I am aiming for, and 90% of the time we come up with something everyone is happy with for that dollar figure.
3. Know that these people are the professionals; let them do what they do
I have a confession to make: I am not a professional chef, florist, DJ, cake baker, or photographer. So when my partner and I hired these people for our wedding, we hired those professionals whose style seemed compatible with our own, and who seemed to understand the goals and feel we were setting out for the wedding. And then we let them do their thing.
I'm not suggesting that you give vendors cart-blanche; I am suggesting that you don't micro-manage them. Our photographer had a great time at our wedding, partly because the week before he had shot a wedding where he dealt with a lot of micro-management. At that wedding one of the fathers kept telling him which shots to take, and from what angle, and in general how to do his job. All the father was doing was preventing the photographer from doing his best work.
I have experienced this from the other side as well, and oh boy does it suck. You get your best work from your vendors when you (with some direction about what you want) let them do what you hired them to do.
4. Share your information.
Make a master schedule, and send it to everyone. I know it seems silly to send a complete timeline for the day to the florist, but really it could prevent a disaster. Any vendor worth their salt will look over the timeline and look for anything that will impact them or their product.
Actual quote from my wedding: "Your Dad is picking up the flowers at 11 am, but the ceremony is at 5? Please make sure you don't hang the bouquets outside on the garden arch until just before the guests are to arrive — keep them in the air-conditioning until then so they don't wilt." Problem avoided, with little-to-no effort.
Also make a script of the ceremony, send it a week ahead of time to anyone you can think it would affect. This includes the DJ, your officiant, that bridesmaid who always cries, anyone doing a reading, and maybe even the photographer. Maybe there is a line in the script that the photographer thinks the audience reaction would be worth seeing, or that a close or long shot would be especially fitting. Arming your vendors with information gives them the tools to do their best work.
Send all the vendors (or at least all who will be on-site) a contact list of everyone else involved, including expected delivery times of their products. Make sure you include the phone number and name (with stars and exclamation points) of the person they are supposed to call with questions on the big day, it is best if this is not you. You are busy enough. The caterer might be the first one to notice that the cake is an hour late, if they happen to know the baker they will probably call them, if not they will talk to your day-of questions person, who in turn will take care of it.
5. Treat your vendors like guests who have backstage passes.
You want the best work out of your vendors, you need them to be comfortable, confident, and have access to what they need.
I have had clients keep me at a venue for 22-hour days without feeding me or giving me time to run out for food (or sometimes even to run to the washroom!). How do you think their lights looked? Sloppy, that's how. Not my best work, but I don't feel guilty because I did everything I could with what I was given.
A note on feeding your vendors: At a seated dinner event they need a place to sit and eat (have a table for them). If they choose to eat at their workstation (e.g. sometimes the DJ, often the lighting tech) they will still need cutlery! Guests' cutlery is on their table… if the technicians are eating at their workstation make sure they get some. There was a period of time when hotels forgot to hand me a fork with my plate so often that I put one in my tool kit, right next to my wrench.
Also your vendors (DJ, photographer, etc.) need to not be the last ones to eat. I know this seems counter intuitive, but this is really important. If you feed your technicians before the bulk of your guests, then they are ready for action when it starts. Cold chicken and potatoes make for unhappy techs.
Make sure you treat your vendors with respect, feed them, share all the info you can and let them know what is going on. Make sure to tell them when you see something you like. If you treat them well, you will be happy with the results.