Re-Run: Sign on the Dotted Line

November 27th, 2017

I’m re-running some old posts since I think they have some useful information.  Here’s one from a few years ago that never goes out of style:

This bakery had a good contract--and good chocolate!  Photo by Carasco Photography.

This bakery had a good contract–and good chocolate! Photo by Carasco Photography.

I want to share with you some information I give to many of my clients.  It’s on a subject that is hardly glamorous, but is very, very important:  Contracts.  I’m not a contract lawyer, but this is what I have learned by experience.

When you are planning a big celebration, you will have to deal with a number of vendors, and each one of them should give you a contract.  And each one will require a certain amount of your attention.  You should read carefully each contract you are given.  Make sure you agree with every point in it before you sign it.  Because once you sign it, it becomes a legally binding document that might be very hard to get out of.  It’s much better to negotiate it before you sign it.

And all contracts are negotiable, no matter what your vendor says.  The point of a contract is to come to an agreement between parties, so don’t be afraid to negotiate your part of the agreement.  I’m not saying that you can get everything you want into (or out of) every contract, but you don’t have to take whatever they give you without a murmur if you don’t like it.

Every contract should contain a certain minimum of information.  It should have the vendor’s name, address, and phone number on it.  If the vendor wants you to contact them some other way than by phone, that information should also be on the contract so it is easily available.  The contract should also state clearly exactly what the vendor is going to do for you and when they are going to do it.  Likewise, it should say how much you are expected to pay and when.

It is a good idea to include details in the contract:  When and where will deliveries be made?  Will the vendor only bring their goods to the venue or will they also set things up?  If you change your mind and want something extra, what happens?  And what will it cost?  What happens if one party or the other fails to live up to the agreement?  Finally, the contract should be signed and dated by both parties.

Florists and bakeries (in my experience) are notorious for offering incomplete contracts.  Often, small shops don’t have the resources to put together complete contracts.  In this case, you should not hesitate to hand write the missing information onto the contract before it is signed, and make sure the vendor initials the changes.  This will protect both of you.

I learned some of this from my dealings with a certain florist.  What passed for a contract from this florist was just a list of floral options and prices, with one of them circled.  There was no information on delivery or set-up.  I understood from my client that the florist was going to bring all the floral arrangements into the venue and I would set them up.  I even discussed delivery with the shop in the week before the wedding.  Oddly, no one mentioned that the centerpieces weighed between 50 and 100 pounds, somewhat more than I can carry on my own.  The owner of the shop showed up with the centerpieces, carried them down a flight of steps, and placed them where they belonged.  I thought all was well.  Five days after the wedding, I got an e-mail from the floral shop asking for additional payment because the owner had had to do extra work on the delivery.  Fortunately, I had a copy of their contract and was able to explain that they should not expect to recoup their losses from me.  It also might have been better if a complaint had been made on the spot so I could have solved the problem before it happened.

That experience is also one of the reasons I always insist on having copies of every contract that a client has with their vendors.  I can head off a lot of trouble if I know exactly what is expected of each vendor.  So, read your contracts, make sure you agree with their contents, and send a copy on to your planner.  You’ll be happy you did.

Re-Run: A Little Advice To Start Planning

November 13th, 2017
One step in the process of wedding planning:  decor.  Photo courtesy of Agnes Malorney.

One step in the process of wedding planning: decor. Photo courtesy of Agnes Malorney.

When a cousin of mine announced his engagement a few years ago, I wrote a little something to help them get started planning:

Dear Cousins,
Thanks for asking about how to get started with your wedding planning and where to find a planning checklist.  There are probably 100 to be found on the internet and in wedding magazines.  They are all a lot alike.  I think the best thing to do is to take any random one you find and tailor it to your own use.  For myself, I would put it into an Excel spreadsheet, but there are lots of ways to make it useful.  Delete all the things that don’t apply to you.  If you don’t know yet if something is relevant, hang onto it for now and see if it is needed.  And take with a pinch of salt the exact timing recommended by any checklist.  You can adjust it to suit you.
At this point, the three or four things you probably need to be working on are all interconnected:  date of the wedding; location of the ceremony; officiant, if that doesn’t come with the location; location of the reception (assuming you are having a reception–I make no assumptions); and finding a caterer for the reception (assuming ditto).  Of course, there are a lot of other decisions you will need to make in order to make those few decisions, so you may end up working backwards a little and then going forwards.  (For example, you probably have to have some idea of how many people are on your guest list before you start looking for a venue.)  After you have that framework in place, then you can look for other vendors to help you:  florist; photographer; wedding coordinator; clothing; rings; jewelry, etc..  Then it will be time to work on decorative stuff (assuming you aren’t planning to do it all yourself–because if you are, you needed to start on that yesterday):  invitations (functional as well as decorative, of course!), any other paper goods, reception decor, if any, etc.  After that, there will be a lot of little details.
I will caution you about two things:  There is the thing that NPR’s Car Guys call the Wedding-Industrial Complex (or the “Marital-Industrial Complex”).  It is real and it can be dangerous.  It is the bridal industry’s marketing machine that wants you to believe that you can’t have a wedding without having all the stuff provided by all the various vendors.  Don’t buy into it.  It’s not true.  All you really need in order to have a wedding is the two of you and someone who can sign the paperwork–and in some states you need witnesses.  Everything else is optional.  I like to advise my clients to do the things that have some meaning for them and to skip anything else (unless it makes their parents happy, for instance).  So, don’t believe the hype.  Just do the things that will make you happy.
And here’s the other thing:  There are a lot of scams in the wedding industry.  There are unscrupulous vendors who know that you’ve never done this before, and they will not hesitate to jack up prices or insist that you do things their way.  But there are also lots of vendors who will help you to do what you really want to do.  Make sure you find those and steer clear of the others.  Trust your instincts.  If it doesn’t smell right, it probably isn’t right.
Take a look at this previous post of mine, this one and also this one for some tips on how to protect yourself against some of the most common scams and pitfalls of the wedding industry.  And feel free to keep asking.  It’s my pleasure to help you two have a wonderful wedding!

Information and Your Planner

October 9th, 2017
Here's me pinning flowers on a family member.  Naturally, you want me to know who gets which flowers.  (Photo by HappyBuddy Photo Art.)

Here’s me pinning flowers on a family member. Naturally, you want me to know who gets which flowers. (Photo by HappyBuddy Photo Art.)

Because most people don’t work with wedding or party planners (or coordinators) most of the time, when they hire one, they have to figure out how best to work with them.  If you’re in that position yourself, let me give you one really big tip on how to make the most of your planner or coordinator.

The first thing you can do to make sure your planner can do her best job is give her information, lots and lots of information.  I have had clients say to me (in these exact words), “I don’t want to overwhelm you with information.”  But it is my job–and it is my specialty–to hold and use and organize massive amounts of information.

In fact, most of what you might need a planner to do is organizing information.  Never thought of it that way?  Well, it’s true:  The schedule for your event is a document that organizes and systematizes information, as is the ground plan.  And you’ll get the best, most functional schedule or layout if you give your planner every bit of information at your disposal, even information that doesn’t seem vital.  Your planner might also be in charge of your decorations.  What she needs is not just the decorative items, themselves, but also the information about where they go and how.

You could say that my motto is, “There is no such thing as useless information.”  As a planner or coordinator, I am often asked the most obscure questions by other wedding vendors.  You never know what someone will want or need to know in order to make your event stellar.

So, please, overwhelm me with information.  I love it when you tell me everything you need–and everything you’re thinking is important.  When that avalanche of information arrives on my desk, I’m always so happy, because then I know I can do my absolute best work to make your wedding or event turn out as you envision it.

Re-run: DIY Weddings–Catering

December 12th, 2016

It’s time to revisit some articles about DIY weddings.  Here’s a good one:

Of all the things you might want to do yourself for your wedding, the one I would recommend against without hesitation is catering your wedding reception yourself.  You might think this would be obvious, but I have talked to people who thought they could do it.

Did I mention that presentation is a professional catering skill?  Photo courtesy of Artisan Events.

Did I mention that presentation is a professional catering skill? Photo courtesy of Artisan Events.

I have actually heard of self-catered weddings that were pulled off with a lot of help from friends and family.  I know it can be done, especially if there are people with special skills involved.  So, I won’t say you should never, ever do it.  I’m just going to give you a lot of reasons not to.

Caterers do a lot more than cook in quantity.  They also manage the kitchen; order and return rental items; keep the food (and so your reception) on schedule; hire and manage serving and bar staff; set up tables, chairs, and linens; set the tables; and clean up and take the garbage out.  Caterers also have food sanitation licenses, meaning there is a low probability of spoiled food or food poisoning from their kitchens.  They know how much ice to buy and bring.  Some of them own serving equipment that they provide at no charge.   And that is just the minimum of what a professional caterer has to offer.

On your wedding day, you are going to be very much occupied with, first, getting married.  Second, you will want to spend as much time as possible greeting your guests.  You’ll probably also want to have your photograph taken with many of your friends and family, not to mention with your spouse.  These things will take up most of your day, leaving you no time to be the caterer at your own wedding.

I would say that unless you are able to provide everything a caterer brings to the table, and unless you can also delegate all the catering on the wedding day to a trusted party, hire a professional and save cooking for a crowd for another day.