Centerpieces turn out wrong? Not happy with your makeup trial? The experts you hire are there to help you pull off a snag-free celebration, but there's no such thing as a perfect wedding. Here, solutions to common dilemmas that may pop up when working with everyone from your photographer and florist to your DJ. We've got the answers for all of your pressing vendor questions—even the ones you're too afraid to ask.
How can we ask our vendors to dress nicely (for example, not in jeans) for the event?
Typically, the pros choose all black or functional, professional clothing (in keeping with the occasion), so your request won't be coming out of left field. "Some vendors go so far as to spell out attire in their contracts," says Courtney Spencer of Merriment Events in Richmond, Virginia. Still, it's easiest to express—and set—expectations at booking. "Many venues have a dress code," adds Spencer. "Refer vendors to it to take the pressure off you." Or simply say, "The dress code will be formal, and we'd like our vendors to follow suit." If you've already signed on the dotted line, confirm getups when you talk through final details, about one month before the "I do"s.
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How do we politely ask our planner (who charges by the hour) to spend less time on certain things?
Before assigning a task to your planner, request an hour-spent estimate or a flat fee. Some projects (stuffing envelopes, assembling gift bags) are time-sucking vortices, so if your costs are creeping up, do them yourselves. Set a time limit on the total amount you're willing to spend so you and your planner can agree on how best to allocate her time and your cash.
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It's up to you to ask for adjustments during your meeting, and for best results with any wedding vendor or pro, always offer some direction first—whether they solicit your opinion or not. Going forward, you have two options: If you think she can create a look you'll love once she has clear direction, offer to pay for a second trial. But if you feel it's just not going to work out, now is when you should part ways.
"A good ratio is one bartender for every 30 people," says contributing editor Peter Callahan, owner of Peter Callahan Catering in New York City. If you're celebrating with 150 loved ones, for example, you'll want five mix masters. "Also, designate four to six waiters to pass prepoured beverages, which will help prevent bottlenecks at the bar," he says. Anything that doesn't require shaking or stirring is ideal for distributing on trays, such as glasses of wine, sparkling water, or a signature drink.
Probably not. But the authority he or she brings is what actually legitimizes the marriage, so it might feel abrupt to dismiss him immediately after the service. Consider inviting your officiant to the cocktail hour, especially if you spent much time working with him preparing the service. That invite can be issued verbally. In a case where the justice of the peace has no additional responsibilities and is not previously known to you, you are not obligated to invite him—and he is most likely not expecting an invitation. If your officiant helps you rehearse, you may want to invite him to the rehearsal dinner. Justices of the peace who charge for their time at a rehearsal, however, needn't be included.
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Lines do get blurred when you turn to a pal to provide a service at your wedding, whether she’s an amateur or a professional. "You'll have to talk compensation, and that can get awkward between friends," points out real weddings editor Shira Savada. "Plus, you'll be providing feedback on her work, and how forthcoming you are will likely be influenced by your personal relationship." If you're considering going for it, then treat her as you would any vendor and request to see photos of her wedding cakes. If you feel that it's too big a gamble, you could preempt her likely request to make your wedding cake by asking her to contribute on a smaller scale by baking the groom's cake. "She'll still feel as if she's a special part of the celebration, and it will take some of the pressure off," Savada says. And if you just don't see it working out at all and want to hire someone else, turn her down gently and emphasize the positive—that on your special day, you'd rather have her by your side, not behind the scenes.
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Your wedding isn't the time to be guilt-tripped into anything. Turn her down gently. Since she's already invited to the event, tell her you've decided to go with another florist so she can focus on enjoying it, and you'd love it if she contributed something smaller, such as flowers for the cake topper. That way it'll feel less like a consolation prize and more like an honor.
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Your first instinct may be, "why not?" After all, he's your friend. But if he makes a living as a shutterbug, it's actually inappropriate to request a reduced rate. You can certainly ask him to take you on as a regular, paying client—and if he extends a discount, feel free to accept it. However, you may want to reconsider hiring him in the first place. Wedding photographers are constantly on the go, so he won't have time to enjoy the festivities. If you don't feel right about that, bring in your own pro, and ask your friend to share any shots he snaps.
Unfortunately, this isn't a rare occurrence, which is why it's important that your contract have all the details in writing. Even better, have a picture taken of the final chosen design, suggests Karen Bussen, author of Simple Stunning Wedding Etiquette. "On the wedding day, if the issue can't be corrected on-site, ask your photographer to be sure to document the centerpieces," she says. "Then let it go, and enjoy the happiest day of your life!" You wouldn't want an argument to cast a pall on the rest of the occasion. You can lodge your complaint and attempt to get a refund—once you've returned from your honeymoon and have your photo evidence in hand.
Yours is a common fear, says Martha Stewart Weddings contributing editor Claudia Hanlin of the Wedding Library in New York City. Since the DJ is usually the reception MC, too, it's important to find a person who'll set the right tone. A safe bet? Hire someone you've heard before—preferably at another wedding (events like birthday and anniversary parties have totally different requirements), or ask your planner or venue manager for a recommendation. When you interview potentials, Hanlin suggests being completely direct. "Discuss how he should dress, what kind of music he typically plays, and pose specific questions: How would he encourage guests to dance or liven up a lull?" And—even if your best friend swears by his work—always ask to see him in action, either in person or on a DVD. It's the only way to make sure your styles mesh. Most important, be clear about your expectations. If you don't want your wedding party introduced at the reception, say so. Hate a certain song, band, or singer? Mention that, too. Once you decide on a game plan, add it to the contract so everything is set in stone.
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Are we required to feed the people we hire at the wedding?
Yes, and with good reason: The last thing you want is for your musicians to flag just as revelers take to the dance floor. The people you hire, including your event planner and videographer, are putting on your affair so that you don't have to. Work their meals into your budget and consider it part of their fee. And instead of handing out PB&J sandwiches while the rest of the crowd is dining on Chateaubriand, talk to the caterers about staff meals and designate a quiet spot for your team to eat during a break.
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First, make sure gratuities weren't included in fees you'll already pay, then follow this standard tipping protocol:
Waitstaff (in lump sum) and Driver: 15 to 20 percent
Makeup Artist and Hairstylist: 15 to 20 percent
Catering Manager: 1 to 2 percent
Bathroom Attendants: $1 per guest
Coat Checker: $1 to $2 per guest
Valets: $1 to $5 per guest
Bartenders: $200 to $400 each
Ceremony Musicians (optional): $50 each, or 10 percent of total fee to split
DJ: 10 to 20 percent of fee
Bandleader: at least $200, plus $50 per band member
Officiant: $100, a thoughtful present, or a donation to their house of worship
Note: You do not tip business owners (say, your florist), so if you love their work, give them the greatest gift of all: a rave review online.
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Before you write off your photographer's album outright, see if she offers different pricing options. Then, consider the benefits of a professionally designed book. While the tab can reach upward of $1,500, the end result is worth it, says New York–based photographer Christian Oth: "It's an heirloom that will be passed down, and a pro knows how to create an outstanding visual story, from aligning margins and spacing to retouching and tweaking the layout." It's also the easiest, quickest way to get a gorgeous album (if you're a procrastinator, you may not get around to DIYing one until your silver anniversary). If you're not able to re-jigger your budget, or you just like the idea of making a bound keepsake on your own, there are other routes you can take.
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I love our venue but hate the dark green and red carpet, especially because I had envisioned pastels for our wedding, but I don't want them to clash!
"Don't worry—you can still decorate with light colors," says contributing editor Cassidy Iwersen. "The trick is to pull eyes away from the carpet by focusing on the more pleasing details in the room." She recommends drawing from the carpet's palette to find coordinating soft colors, like moss and melon, and incorporating those shades into table linens, chairs, and centerpieces. A lighting designer can help too, by strategically illuminating above-the-floor focal points, such as hanging garlands or stately mantelpieces. Rest assured that no one else will be as bothered by the carpet as you are—people likely won't even notice it. "Once tables, chairs, a dance floor, and guests fill the room, the carpet will seem to fade away," says Cassidy.