Last week we chatted about where to even begin in the wedding planning process. I mentioned Budget, Venue, and Guest List as the wedding triad and encouraged everyone to solidify those three things before moving forward in the planning process. This week we’re taking a look and how to find the absolute best vendors for your day. There’s a lot to consider when putting together your Tune Squad style Dream Team, so bust out a pen and paper and we’ll go through ways to make this complicated process a whole lot easier. That brings us to our beer for the week, one of my favorite breweries is going to help us all turn the craziness of vendor planning into “Sumpin’ Easy” (Lagunitas). So cheers to all my couples out there, grab a cold brew, let’s get down to it!
The first thing to consider when thinking about vendors is your venue. Some venues have a vendor list that you’re required to choose from. Places like Auberge du Soleil in Napa and The Brazilian Room in Berkeley want to consistently work with vetted vendors that know the venue, understand the rules, and always provide top-notch service to their couples. This may be fine with some folks, but for a lot of you, paying a few or having your options limited may cause an issue for your budget or even just your personal tastes. You may not see a photographer on the list with a style you want and, if that’s a priority to you, then you may want to dig deeper into finding out the fee to go off list or even consider a different venue. In any case, most venues have a list of suggested vendors, but you aren’t required to choose from there, which opens up a TON of possibilities when building your team.
Now, this is where I stop and say that if you have a wedding designer or you have considered getting one, now would be the time to really utilize them. They can not only save you time but money while you’re on your search. They use their relationships and connections to get off-the-chain deals that most vendors wouldn’t offer directly to a couple.
Once you’ve checked in with the venue and you’ve seen their list, it’s time to set your priorities in stone. This is important because it allows you to dedicate your budget to the most important things first and let the rest trickle down. For most people, catering and photography rank pretty high on the list and, in turn, can also be two of the more expensive services on your day. If you’re wearing a dress, those can run you a good chunk of change as well and it’s important to count that as part of your budget. Things like DJ and floral run closely behind the first few and then items like bounce houses, signature cocktails, ice cream trucks, invites, and stationery all kind of follow up.
Once you’ve got your priorities in place, it’s time to start talking to people. This is where things can start to feel hectic, but my advice is to tackle just one service at a time so you don’t get overwhelmed. Spend an evening looking through wedding photos on Instagram, google people, peruse wedding blogs and figure out a style of photography that both you and your fiancé love.
If you’re looking for an even easier way, ask for referrals from friends instead of just trolling Yelp and The Knot for every vendor. This includes referrals from the venue! If you’ve got married friends, friends in the industry, and even friends that are also planning their big day, see who they connected with and there’s a good chance you’ll connect with them too!
Once you choose a few options, you can start sending intro emails. Create a short sweet description about your big day and pop it into the contact form on their vendor pages. Once you get ahold of a few people via email you’ll want to set up a phone call. A service is not just about the service itself, it’s about the person providing it. When you go to a restaurant, the food might be incredible but if your server is inattentive or standoffish, it can ruin even the best meal. The same goes for wedding vendors. If you don’t genuinely enjoy being around your photographer, you’re going to have a hell of a time spending your entire wedding day with them. Likewise for your DJ, who you want to be upbeat and charismatic to keep that party going. Surrounding yourself with like-minded people whom you get along with is a surefire way to have a blast on your day.
Another reason for phone calls is to go over your investment. Many vendors won’t post their pricing publicly. This isn’t a way for them to hide anything from you or trick you, it’s just a lot of us want to hear who you are and what you’re looking for in order to provide information on the best package for your event. This goes beyond the wedding date and venue, it’s much more personal and it gives us a chance to build a connection with you before chatting about your investment.
Like I mentioned when chatting about venues, sometimes seeing printed numbers on a page can give you a sense of sticker shock. But when you’re able to have a conversation with a vendor about why their pricing is set that way and what all your get with their packages, it becomes a lot more reasonable, especially if you have a good rapport. We want a chance to wow you and woo you to, as I tell my clients, come to the dark side. It’s really our chance to show you what we’re made of and impress the hell out of you, give us the chance!
Once you’re talking to the vendors, take notes. It’s a LOT of info to remember and you don’t want to forget, especially if you’re asking questions along the way. This is a perfect time to bust out your handy dandy wedding planner so everything is in one place. If a vendor is chatting with you and you’re not vibing, make sure to make note of it so you can let them know you’re not interested in a follow-up email. You obviously don’t have to tell them you didn’t like them, but a courtesy email saying you’re going with another option is always SUPER appreciated. I’d rather get a rejection than just… never hear from you again. As far as etiquette goes, I highly recommend sending the vendors you chatted with in person or on the phone a little note to keep them updated.
Likewise, if a vendor’s services don’t match up with the budget you’ve set out to invest, let them know! Some vendors extend discounts for weekdays or off-season events, so it can never hurt to mention exactly what your budget is and see if you can make it work. And remember, be gracious when a vendor doesn’t offer a discount or is simply out of your price range. We’ve all heard horror stories of entitled couples that shame vendors for simply adhering to their pricing or their contract, and I’ll tell you now, you don’t want to be one of them. You wouldn’t just ask the head chef at French Laundry to just… take some dollars off your bill. The reason that people try and do this with services is beyond me, so keep in mind that we’re all out here trying to make a living, pay our taxes, and give you the best experience possible.
Now, when adhering to a budget, you do have to be careful of things that are “too good to be true”. If you’re seeing high-quality images from high-end weddings but they’re 75% cheaper than the other vendors you’ve spoken to, you’re going to want to consider why that is. One of my biggest pieces of advice is to trust your gut and take the time to do the research. You may really love chatting with someone on the phone, but if they have NO reviews, NO example photos, NO contract, that kind of thing, then you may want to reconsider.
Trust your gut because, while many people starting out in the wedding game may not have a ton of experience, they should have some kind of portfolio and at least one past customer you can hear from. If they are honest about not having experience but you vibe well and think it can work, then absolutely book, but do it at your own risk. I highly recommend that your top priority vendors are people with experience that can push your day along and create the wedding you’ve always dreamt of.
One of the biggest stress reliefs of doing your research and finding qualified and experienced vendors is that you’re never going to have to micromanage them. They will get all the info they need from you in the time they need it so you won’t have to remember every single thing without some kind of reminder. For photography, this is having the confidence that they know they should get photos of the rings and your first kiss and first dance, without having to send them that awful 3-page “The Knot list of Wedding Shots”. No photographer worth their salt will use it and people who still need to use something like it to guide them will already have their own.
What you DO want to tell them is all the special parts of your day that aren’t always a part of a wedding; your grandma’s locket tied to your bouquet, an open seat in the front row for a lost loved one, a special performance someone is doing during dinner. These are things that you absolutely should mention because there’s no way for us to know it’s important if we can’t anticipate it. As awesome as your vendors are, you never want to assume that they already know what you want. We may be talented, but we aren’t mind readers. If you want a dipping photo on the cliff behind your venue at sunset, TELL ME. I am always open to suggestions and want to hear from my couples about their ideas so they can get exactly the photos they want. Just have a little faith that we know how to do our jobs well and that’s what you hired us to stress about, not something you have to stress about. 🙂
Last but not least, when choosing your vendors, YOU are the ones who should be making the decisions. Uncle Bob might have a nice eye for landscape photography or have a fancy camera, but if you’re hiring him just to appease your parents then you most likely won’t get what you want out of the photos. Don’t let an excited family member or friend push you in a direction you weren’t already going. Have the peace of mind to buck the traditions you aren’t into, hire the vendors who bring you joy, and craft a wedding that’s succinctly and uniquely you. That’s the key to having the perfect day.
That’s my spiel for the day! Lots to consider when booking your vendors. To recap, you’ve got to check on the venue rules and lists, get yourself a planner, set your priorities, do some research and get lots of referrals, see if you vibe with people, consider your budget and investment, take lots of notes to compare services side by side, don’t try and lowball people but be honest about what your budget actually is, trust your instincts, hire yourself some tried and true professionals, don’t be afraid to tell us what you want, and just DO YOU!