Key Questions to Ask When Planning Your Wedding…

by Caroline Gould

Grab yourself a cuppa and get settled in, this is a long post but has everything you need to know!

If you’ve just got engaged, let me be one of the first to say congratulations!

Once you get over the extra weight you’re now carrying around on your left hand you will at some point ask yourself “So, where do I actually start?”.  Visiting wedding fairs and buying wedding magazines can be great inspiration for your wedding but can also be very overwhelming as you quickly realise there is a lot of choice when it comes to planning a wedding.  So, there are a few things I suggest you do first of all:

 Set a realistic budget

You may have some money put aside for your special day, now is the time to think about how much you feel is reasonable to spend on all the elements of your wedding, and ensure you have at least 5% put aside as a contingency. It may also be worth setting up a dedicated wedding bank account to start saving. If you have set your budget right from the start, it will be much easier to stick to it.  Also, don’t forget to ask family members if they would be willing to contribute to the budget.

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Draft a guest list and choose a venue

You can expect to spend around 40% of your budget on your reception so finding the right venue is an important choice – here are a few things to consider:

How many guests? – It will be difficult to book a venue (and ultimately set a date) if you don’t know how many people will be attending. Some venues will only be licensed up to a certain number and you don’t want to cram all of your guests in. Likewise, you wouldn’t want your 60 guests to be lost in a room big enough for 300.  Some venues are more suitable for spending lots of time outside, likewise there are venues that have a beautiful interior that you will want to enjoy.  When looking around venues, be sure to ask what the alternatives are to outside spaces if the weather is bad.

Do you want the ceremony and reception to be in the same location? – Most venues have a civil ceremony licence so the choice for your ceremony location is very wide. If you wish to marry in a church then it’s unlikely that you will have a reception venue within walking distance. However, there are some venues that have a church within their grounds.

Where are guests coming from? – Locations that are closer to home are much easier to liaise with. If your venue is an hour’s drive from home, you will need to factor that in to your ‘getting ready’ time on the day. If a lot of your guests are based far away from the venue it may be prudent to provide some transport.

Is accommodation available? – You may want to stay at the venue on the wedding night or even get ready there on the day, ask to see the honeymoon suite so you know what to expect. If accommodation is available for guests, find out if you can hold a number of rooms to ensure your guests get the accommodation they need.

What style is the venue? – Is it a country house, stately home, or a modern hotel? The style of the venue needs to complement the overall style of the wedding. A vintage style wedding would be much better suited to a country house or marquee venue than a modern hotel.

Are there in-house caterers? – Venues often have in-house caterers that you will have to use. However some venues allow you to bring in your own caterer. Bear in mind that this means you will need to choose yet another supplier!

Bear in mind that popular venues and popular dates (i.e. Saturdays in the Summer) can get booked up to 2 years in advance so the sooner you start looking the better.

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Choosing a theme

One of the things I do for my clients is to help them choose a theme for their wedding.  I’m not necessarily talking about a full on themed wedding for example a historical theme with horse drawn carriage, medieval food and guests in fancy dress – however that is absolutely fine if you like that!  I think every single wedding has a theme of some sort.  It may be a particular colour that is present on the invitations, the bridesmaid dresses, right through to the flowers.  It may be a word like ‘love’, or the bride and grooms initials intertwined, or a symbol like a butterfly or heart.  As long as it’s something that has meaning to the bride and groom, it will work.   A wedding invitation should set the scene for the wedding day and be representative of the bride and groom.  It is the first hint your guests will see of the overall wedding theme.  Often when I ask a bride and groom what style/design their wedding will be the response is a rather blank look.  You may think you don’t know what you want, but you do!  The best way to start choosing your theme is to look at bridal magazines and on the internet, there are some fantastic and very inspiring wedding blogs out there with lots of real wedding features.  Start collecting pictures of the things you like, don’t worry whether they match or not.  Start a file with cakes you like, dresses you like, flowers you like, colours you like etc.  One you have started to build a collection a theme will soon naturally emerge.  You could think about making a display with your collection of cuttings.  Something I do with all of my full planning clients is to put together a design board.  A design board is a collation of all the things you like – it really helps to pull together the theme and it’s also a lovely keepsake.  There is a way to do this online using Pinterest (www.pinterest.com).  Pinterest is an online pin board, you can set-up as many boards as you like and pin photographs that you find anywhere on the internet or on Pinterest itself.  You can also share your pin boards with other users (maybe your wedding party) so that they can add ideas too.  You can even share it with your suppliers so they know exactly what you are looking for. The overall style of the wedding should represent you, the bride and groom, try not to get hung up on traditions or etiquette – if that’s just not you then it won’t work on your wedding day.

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Choosing a Photographer

This is one area where doing your research will really pay off.  There are an awful lot of great photographers to choose from so finding the right one for you can be a challenge.  Here’s an idea of the questions to ask when doing your research:

What’s your style? – If you have already started researching photographers you will probably have noticed that no two photographers are the same.  Before finding out what style your potential photographers prefer, have a think about what you would prefer.  Do you like the vintage style that is very popular at the moment, how about a more fashion-inspired look, or maybe you just love unobtrusive black and white photography.  Also think about whether you would like lots of staged group shots, or if an informal relaxed style is more you.  Bear in mind that if you plan to have a lot of staged shots between the ceremony and wedding breakfast you will need to allow plenty of time for this.

How will my photographs be presented? – There are two common options, an album or a disc.  In both cases, find out how many photos will be included.  If you go for an album, will you be able to have some input into how it is presented and how long will it take to received the finished product.  If you have a disc find out what usage rights you will have i.e. Will you have the rights to reprint.  What size will the images be i.e. Will they be full resolution allowing you to print them any size, or will the size be limited.

What happens if you are unable to attend on the day? – It’s important to ensure your photographer has a contingency plan in case they are unable to attend.  For example; I am a member of the UK Alliance of Wedding Planners which is a network of similarly qualified wedding planners across the country.  So if, in the unlikely event, I was unable to attend a wedding, there is a back-up network I can call upon.

What happens if it rains? – Photographers should always have a contingency plan in the event of bad weather.  If they have not worked at your chosen venue before they will almost certainly go for a visit to look for ideal areas for photos inside and out.  It’s important to know if they have thought about this as the weather is something you can never guarantee!

I would suggest doing some online research so that you can look at examples of the photographers work before arranging to meet them and see if you click.  A lot of photographers offer an engagement or pre-wedding photo shoot.  This is a great opportunity to get to know the photographer and how they work – ultimately making you more relaxed on the day and producing some great memories.

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Choosing a Florist

Flowers can be one of the best ways to bring some colour to your wedding.  With arrangements in the church or ceremony room, on the reception tables, bouquets, buttonholes and corsages.  Most brides will carry a bouquet even if they are not using flowers elsewhere.  Here’s a few questions to ask your florist:

What flowers will be in season on my wedding date? – Most types of flower can be available all year round but the cost can be high and the quality low if the flower is out of season.  A good florist will suggest flowers that are in season to keep the costs down and to keep your flowers looking great.

Have you worked at my venue before? – If your florist knows the venue, they will almost always have suggestions of good places for flowers and also photographs of work they have done there before.  Ask to look through their portfolio, particularly at photos of the venue or of other weddings using a similar floral theme.

What type of bouquet will work with my dress? – Take a picture of your dress and a swatch of material if you can.  You florist will work with you and your dress to create a bouquet that is comfortable for you to hold and doesn’t take away the impact of your fabulous dress.

Will you provide vases, pedestals etc.? – Most florists will hire out all the glassware you need, make sure you check the cost of these and also find out how they will be returned to the florist afterwards.  Will you need to collect them at the end of the day or will the florist return to the venue?

If you have no idea where to start with flowers, look through some bridal or gardening magazines to identify which colours/types of flowers you like.  Take them along when you meet your florist and they will be able to make suggestions.

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Choosing a Cake Maker

Shopping for a cake is one of the most fun and tasty experiences in the run up to your wedding.  Here’s a few questions to ask potential cake makers:

Can you make a bespoke design or do we have to choose from a list? – A good cake maker should, within reason, be able to create anything you can imagine.  Ask to see their portfolio and scour wedding cake magazines to find your perfect cake.

Can we sample the cake? – If the answer to this is no, run!  You should be able to sample what you are buying.  Most cake makers provide a wide range of flavours, if they are not willing to let you taste them you should be concerned.

Will you deliver and set-up the cake? – If the answer is no, you will need to make alternative arrangements.  This is a lot of pressure to put on a family member or friend.

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With all suppliers, communication is key.  If you don’t tell them what you want, they cannot provide it.  Be honest with them about the budget you are working to and do your research to find the right suppliers for you.

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