Puzzling About Rentals

August 1st, 2016
Rental dishes and linens are part of most big parties. Photo by Carasco Photography.

Rental dishes and linens are part of most big parties. Photo by Carasco Photography.

You are planning a big party or wedding reception, so you plan to hire a caterer to make things easier.  Your caterer is handling rentals of dishes, furniture, and other necessities, because that makes it even easier for you.  But maybe you’d like to know how much you are paying for this convenience.

There are three different ways that caterers generally handle pricing of rentals:  pass-through, mark-up, and (for lack of a better word) kick-backs.

Pass-through is exactly what it sounds like:  The caterer passes the exact price from the rental company on to their client.  Some caterers do this as a courtesy to their customers, and because they make their profits in other areas.

Marking up rentals is a fairly common practice.  The caterer adds a percentage or small amount on to the rental bill to compensate them for the time they spend managing your rental order.  This is generally not itemized on your invoice.

A few caterers have arrangements with one or more rental houses whereby the caterer receives an amount equal to a percentage of the total rental bill from the rental company.  Unfortunately for you, this means that the caterer has a financial incentive to steer you to the more expensive parts of the rental catalogue.  You can be sure that no caterer who does this will tell you up front that this is their practice.  (I’ve written about this subject in greater detail before.)

So, how do you know what your caterer does with regard to rentals?  You’ll have to ask.  Good interview questions to ask might be: “Do you mark up rentals?  If so, how much is your mark-up?” and “Does your rental company give you any incentives to work with them?”  If you don’t like the answer, you can negotiate with them or move on to a company whose answers you like better.

News from Consumer Reports

July 18th, 2016
Florists are unlikely to mark up their prices for weddings. Photo by Peter Coombs.

Florists are unlikely to mark up their prices for weddings. Photo by Peter Coombs.

If you’re familiar with Consumer Reports, you probably associate the magazine with reviews for cars and appliances.  Every once in a while, though, they do something else.  Their June 2016 issue has some reporting on wedding pricing that I found interesting.

The CR team made phone calls to wedding/event vendors in several markets and asked for pricing on two identical events, a wedding and an anniversary party.  They found that some types of vendors were more likely than others to have a wedding surcharge.  Specifically, photographers and limo companies were most likely to increase their prices for a wedding.  Some caterers also have higher wedding prices.

Interestingly, they found that florists, photo booth rentals, and bakeries did not generally have a mark-up for a wedding.  (For bakeries, they only priced sheet cakes, not wedding cakes, which are notoriously expensive.)  I was glad to read this research, since it matches my experience, as well.

I don’t rush to judgment on vendors who raise their prices for a wedding.  In any field, there are always some people out to gouge their customers, but, for the most part, it’s likely that the extra level of service required of weddings is a good justification for higher prices.  After all, you don’t want to skimp on service!  But this information is helpful to savvy consumers on a budget who want to know where their wedding dollar is going.

You can read the whole article on the CR website.

Vendors I Know: Vistaprint

June 27th, 2016
Need a menu printed?. Photo by hannahelaine photography (hannahelaine.com).

Need a menu printed?. Photo by hannahelaine photography (hannahelaine.com).

When you’re planning an event or a wedding, you might find that you need printing services.  If you plan to send paper invitations, you’ll need invitations, envelopes, and reply cards.  You might also want to have a program for your guests or a menu at dinner.  And you could want signs to direct your guests to the location.

There are many options for all of these items, but some of them are expensive.  Traditional engraved invitations, for example, are costly.  They can also take several weeks to be printed.  But it turns out that the place where you can get inexpensive business cards is the same place where you can get some or all of your wedding or event printing done:  Vistaprint.

A recent client of mine used Vistaprint for her invitations, place cards, and signage, and she was very happy with the service–and, especially, with the turn-around time.

The only drawback to the service is the designs.  If you like their designs, then it is a convenient service. If you don’t find one to your taste in their gallery, you can upload a design for them to print, but that means that you still have to get the invitations designed.  It’s great if you are a designer yourself and can do the work.  But if you’re already working with a designer, then you probably also want to use whatever printing services they recommend.

You might not think that a service that is primarily thought of as a business service would be good for weddings and events, but it turns out that under some circumstances, it can be both convenient and economical.

Band vs. DJ

May 23rd, 2016
Here's a hot dance band.

Here’s a hot dance band.

So, you’re planning your wedding and you are wondering what kind of music you should have.  Should you hire a band?  Or hire a DJ?  How do you decide?  Both options have things in their favor.

Hiring a DJ is definitely one good choice.  You get a wide range of music and it’s generally less expensive than hiring a dance band.  Quality DJs can not only be your reception MC, but they know how to keep the dance floor full and make sure that everyone has a good time.

If you have the funds, though, there are a lot of high quality bands available.  With a band, you get almost everything that a DJ offers, and you get a more vibrant sonic experience.  While a band might not have the breadth of repertoire you can get from a DJ, there is something about the sound of a live band that says “party.”  The best bands have a wide and deep song list with something for everyone, and they also bring their own unique sound to the dance floor.

Either way, you really can’t go wrong.  Make your decision based on your taste, your budget, and your preferences.