Whom Do You Trust?

November 18th, 2009
No disappointments here!  Photo by Magical Moments Photography.

No disappointments here! Photo by Magical Moments Photography.

How do you know which vendors are trustworthy?  How can you be sure to hire people who will deliver?  How do you avoid wedding scam artists?  If you’re planning a party or a wedding, I am sure that these questions have crossed your mind.

Well, because of who I am, I will give you the self-promotional answer first and then some further thoughts:  The easiest way to get trusted vendors is to hire an event planner who doesn’t take commissions from vendors and ask for her recommendations.  Not only does a professional have to have good contacts, but also no vendor is going to take a chance by letting down a planner.  Vendors rely on planners to recommend them to future clients, so they are less likely to let you down.

Not everyone can or needs to hire a professional planner, however.  If you are hiring vendors on your own, here is how I find good ones.  First, I ask around.  Someone you know has the information you want.  I found my favorite caterer via the recommendation of a friend of my mother-in-law.  You never know who knows someone.

Then, always (and I do mean always) check references.  Ask for the names and phone numbers or e-mail addresses of at least three recent clients.  Don’t just get the information but also call or e-mail these people.  They have agreed to be references so they won’t mind talking to you.  Chances are, they are more than happy to tell you the good experiences they had with the vendor.  Ask specific questions, such as:

  • Did this person deliver on what they said they would do?
  • Were they easy to work with?
  • Did you have any difficulties with them?
  • Do you think you got value for your money?
  • Would you recommend this person?

You can also ask for a general description of the reference’s experience with the vendor.  Almost any specific question you ask will probably give you some of the information you need.

Some people, I think, hesitate to ask for references, thinking somehow that it is a sign of a lack of trust.  But when potential clients ask me for references, I am actually very glad.  First, I know that my references will say good things about me.  Second, it shows that the client has done her or his homework.  Finally, I find that clients who ask for references end up trusting me a lot more.  When they believe they can trust me, we work well together.

With a little time and effort, you can find trustworthy vendors who will make you happy with their work.

A Great Team

November 9th, 2009
My photo of the gallery set up for the ceremony.

My photo of the gallery set up for the ceremony.

Wedding planning is, in part, about putting together a great team of people who will make your wedding as perfect as possible.  In the case of the wedding I managed on Saturday night, the two women who were marrying found exactly the right people.  I am happy to say that I was of some help making it all go according to plan, including guiding them to some of the team members.

They called me just about a year ago needing help finding the right wedding vendors.  They had their location already, the Black Walnut Gallery in the West Loop.  It is a small, intimate art gallery with a back courtyard.  It was the perfect size for a wedding with 35 guests (although the gallery will easily accommodate more guests).

The next thing they needed was a caterer.  I recommended two caterers for them to try.  First, they had a tasting with Dave at Dave’s Specialty Foods.  After meeting with him and tasting his food, they canceled their other tasting.  Dave was hired!  I was thrilled for them because I knew they had made a very good choice.

They hired Victoria Sprung as their photographer.  And we used BBJ Linen and Arlington Rental for linens, tables, chairs, dishes, and all the other necessities.  The flowers came from a florist in their home town in Wisconsin.  I never met her, but she did a beautiful job.  Finally, they hired Rev. Rebecca to perform the ceremony.  They found her independently, but she was the officiant I was going to recommend if they had asked.

Flowers on the bar, with some art in the background.

Flowers on the bar, with some art in the background.

Good planning always pays off.  I had gone over all the details with everyone, making changes as necessary, so when the day of the wedding arrived, everyone was ready to make a beautiful day for them.  The servers set up tables, chairs and the bar; I set place cards, flowers, and decor for the ceremony; Dave put together his kitchen in the basement of the gallery and prepared to dish out splendid food; Reverend Rebecca arrived and began to give the place an air of sanctity.  A few friends and family members pitched in to set up because they wanted to, but no one felt stressed.  Even the weather cooperated with sunshine and 60 degrees in November.

Finally, it was time for the ceremony.  Everyone commented on how personal and meaningful it was.  Vows were made and rings were exchanged in a very moving manner.  And then a celebration was in order.

While the guests enjoyed drinks and appetizers in the warm, candle-lit courtyard, the servers brought in the tables, as if by magic.  I placed the ribbons, flowers, candles, and flower confetti on the tables while the tables were set.  Dinner and dancing followed.  Everyone worked together like a well oiled machine to make sure that all the guests had a good time.  And at the end of the evening, I called cabs and congratulated the families on a very happy occasion.  All the hard work that went into planning really paid off.

In a few weeks, I hope to showcase some of Victoria’s photos of the wedding here.  From what I could see, hers are much nicer than mine.

Oh, Those Invitations

November 2nd, 2009

I get a lot of questions from my clients about when to send out invitations.  Here are a few guidelines to get you through this part of wedding or party planning:

You can send out save-the-date cards (or e-mails, or you can make phone calls) about six months in advance.  If you have guests who might come from overseas or who have other situations that require more notice, you can alert them to the date a year in advance.  Most people have trouble planning anything more than a year in advance, though, so if you tell people farther ahead than that, expect to remind them at about the 6 to 9 month mark.

Be prepared to put your invitations into the mail six to eight weeks before the event. Leave yourself ample time to address all the invitations if you are doing them yourself.  If you are hiring a calligrapher to address them, be sure to ask him or her how much time is needed for the number of invitations you have.  Then add a week, just to be on the safe side.

Your RSVP deadline should be about three weeks ahead of the wedding or party.  (If you only plan to get the invitations into the mail six weeks ahead of the wedding date, you can get away with about 2 weeks for the RSVP date.)  Your caterer will probably want a final head count between a week and two weeks ahead of the date, and you want to leave yourself enough time to call the people who have not responded by the deadline.

And there will be people who don’t respond.  Be sure to leave yourself enough time to call them and just check in.  You don’t have to remind them that they have been rude enough not to reply.  Just ask them if they plan to be there (and what they plan to eat if you have asked people to tell you in advance).  Don’t skip this step.  You don’t want to have people show up if you haven’t planned to feed them.

Your spreadsheet is useful for making place cards, too.  Photo courtesy of Artisan Events, Inc.

Your spreadsheet is useful for making place cards, too. Photo courtesy of Artisan Events, Inc.

I find that the best way to keep track of the guest list is with a spreadsheet program.  I like to have columns for name; address; save-the-date card sent; invitation sent; responded yes or no; and dish requested.  The same sheet can also double as a gift tracker so you know what to thank people for and whether you have done so.  And you can use it to help you make place cards.

These are only guidelines, of course.  Special situations may require a different approach.  But you can use them as a road map to get you started on this most important part of the process.