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You're engaged, and probably have 100 wedding-planning questions (at minimum) swirling in your mind. Here, wedding experts provide solutions for 20 of the most common conundrums.
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Q: How much does a wedding cost?
A: "Every wedding and couple is different! No two weddings are alike, just as no two couples are alike, nor are two wedding budgets alike. I encourage my clients to come up with an amount they feel is reasonable to spend on their wedding - a place where their comfort zone, financially, remains intact. We work from that number to develop and design a wedding that is right for them," says Candice Coppola of Jubilee Events and Jubilee Events: Caribbean in Connecticut.
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Q: Should we have a "first look"?
A: "While it has become popular in the last 10 years, a first look might not be the right fit for traditional clients, who may not want to see one another before the ceremony. Time constraints and the desire to have lots of beautiful pictures make it a hard decision. I can say that I've never had a client regret organizing a first look, but I have had clients after the wedding say, 'I wish we had done a first look and had more time for pictures and with our guests.' If you're on the fence about it, come up with ways to make your first look really special. And remember, there is no moment like the one when the church doors open and everyone sees you standing there, moments before you walk down the aisle; a first look will never take that magical moment away, I promise," says Coppola.
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Q: Do we have to ____________?
A: "Usually the answer is no. A wedding is such a specifically defined event in most people's minds that I find couples need 'permission' to go off-script. They need the planner to help them realize they can call the shots and make the wedding exactly what they want it to be. For example, it is OK if they don't want to have a garter toss. Most of the couples I work with are extremely thoughtful and want to create a great experience for all their guests, but they need help figuring out how to make it more meaningful and enjoyable for themselves," says Joy Thigpen of Joy Thigpen Environments in Cambridge, Massachusetts.
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Q: How do I sort through all of the information that's out there?
A: "The moment a bride is engaged, she may find herself surrounded by well-meaning friends and family who are suddenly experts in wedding traditions and etiquette. Many of my brides can feel overwhelmed by all of the (sometimes, contradictory) advice and find that some of it may conflict with their own ideas of how they envisioned their wedding day and details. While I am all for tradition, and especially etiquette, I remind the bride and groom to stay true to themselves. Wedding guests know you, either as individuals or as a couple, and as long as the wedding reflects who you are, it will brim with love and charm," says Nancy Park of So Happi Together in Los Angeles, California.
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Q: Do we need to invite plus ones?
A: "Certainly not. However, if your budget and venue capacity allow for it, it is a nice gesture. Celebrating your love and union can be even more enjoyable if guests have the ones they love by their sides," says Park.
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Q: Should we have an open bar?
A: "You know your crowd best, and if they are not much of a drinking group, then it is understandable that you may be hesitant to invest in an open bar. However, even people who don't drink on a normal basis are apt to want to enjoy a glass of wine or champagne at a wedding, and it's a generous gesture. If budget is an issue, consider an open bar for the cocktail reception only, or assign a dollar amount that you are comfortable with on a hosted bar. Once that number is reached, guests can start picking up their tabs," Park explains.
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Q: Should I hire a band or a DJ?
A: "Nothing kicks off a wedding reception like a live band. A short and lively dance set before dinner is even served can start the night off on a high-note and set the tone for the rest of the evening. If budget, musical preference, or variety is a concern, consider transitioning to a DJ for the post-dinner, open-dancing portion of the evening," says Park.
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Q: What elements will make the biggest impact on ambience?
A: "Lighting is an important factor in setting the mood for your event. When in doubt, opt for 'soft amber' bulbs; they're classic and flattering. Candles are a part of the lighting design and even just a few votives on a dining table can make all the difference. If you fall in love with an elaborate, vintage place setting on Pinterest, don't feel like you have to mimic the exact pieces to get the same look. Just adding upgraded flatware or glassware will capture the same essence and give you room in the budget to add other details like custom calligraphed signage or a sprig of greenery for a napkin treatment. A mock-up of your place setting can help you determine what is absolutely essential and what you can do without, while still conveying the look and feel you want guests to experience when they sit to dine with you for the first time as husband and wife," says Park.
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Q: How do we find the best venue?
A: "It depends on the size of your wedding and location, of course, but we definitely recommend reaching out to several venues for quotes to get you started. Once you've narrowed it down based on budget, we highly recommend visiting the venues in person to get a sense of the ambiance and décor possibilities," explains Isabella Sikaffy of Florabella in Burlingame, California.
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Q: Where should I focus my budget?
A: "This depends on what's important to you and your groom. Do you want the decor to be outstanding? Then find an amazing designer who can help identify the overall look and creative elements. Do you want a roaring party with a lively band? Put your money towards a spectacular band and bar list. Before putting together your budget, sit down with your planner, fiancé, and parents and discuss how you envision the day going and what is going to bring your vision to life," says Sikaffy.
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Q: How do I form a guest list?
A: "We recommend reviewing your guest list several times after you think it's final. You don't need to invite everyone on your high school sports team, and the same goes for work friends: you may find yourself in a different job during the planning process. Make sure that your list is full of relationships that you value now and will value later. Those are the people you'll want to take part in your day. And don't forget the cardinal rule: once you send a save the date, the guest is invited to the wedding, no questions asked. If you're on the fence about anyone, better to hold the save the date and send an invitation only later, once you're 100 percent sure," explains Sikaffy.
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Q: How do I know what to do next?
A: "When working with a planner, rely on their experience to help guide you through the process. They will help you outline the decisions that need to be made, and in what order. If you do not have a planner to guide you, there are many resources and lists online that will help you to know which steps to tackle next. With an overall "next step" timeline, as well as a budget, to help guide your decisions, you can walk confidently through the process!" says Melanie McKinley of Mayhar Design in Texas.
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Q: How can I predict how many guests will RSVP 'yes'?
A: "There is always the tried—and mostly true—'two-thirds of the invited guests will attend' rule, but I have quickly learned that this theory can be very wrong. When planning your list, feel free to use this as guidance, but ALWAYS be prepared to host a full guest list, just in case. If you are unable to host the full list for some reason, you may want to re-evaluate your numbers!" notes McKinley.
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Q: Why can't you guarantee flowers will be a specific color?
A: "Flowers are a product of nature, and the same plant can yield different shades. Some blooms change color as they open, like the coral charm peony. Give thoughtful direction, share images of what flowers and shades you like best, and set expectations, but then trust that the floral designer will do their job," recommends Lisa Thomas of Out of Hand & Out of Garden in Mount Pleasant, South Carolina.
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Q: We want to stock the bar ourselves to save money. Will it?
A: "By the time you buy all the mixers, liquors, beers, fruits, ice, and tools, you'll spend more money then an average per person bar cost. Plus, you'll be burdened with setting it up, and—not too mention—the liability should any guests over serve themselves (assuming you also forgo any bartenders)," says Thomas.
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Q: How can I incorporate something special at the end of the ceremony?
A: "Go for an element of surprise. Most recently, one of my brides hired musicians and a gospel choir. The musicians were sporadically seated with guests during the ceremony, and after they said 'I do's' and kissed, the musicians stood and began playing All You Need Is Love as the choir walked down the aisle singing, Love Actually style," says Sharon Sacks of Sacks Productions in Calabasas, California
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Q: Should I list a dress code on the invitation?
A: "It is always helpful for guests to have an idea of the attire expectations. But use clear, common sense language. People generally understand 'cocktail attire' but won't necessarily know the rules of a 'barn chic' dress code," notes Robin Baab of GATHER Events in Los Angeles, California.
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Q: When should I send out my invitations?
A: "We recommend mailing invitations nine weeks before the wedding date and setting the RSVP deadline for five weeks from the big day. Typically, your head count is due to your caterer or venue one month before you're set to celebrate, so requesting RSVPs five weeks in advance gives you one week to chase down any stragglers, while keeping your timeline on track," says Baab.
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Q: Is there a venue that will let us dance until 2 a.m.?
A: "Your wedding day is one of the most important days of your life, and, understandably, you want it to last forever. But all good things, even weddings, must come to an end. Six to seven hours is plenty of time to wine and dine your guests and dance the night away (start your event by 5 p.m. and have it end by midnight). The affair should end with a bang (and with your guests wanting more), rather than with a fizzle. Plus, you'll spend extra money on overtime staffing fees so that your handful of raging friends can stay out late, and that's just not worth it!" notes Baab.
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Q: Which side is the bride's side and which is the groom's side at the ceremony?
A: "Traditionally in Christian ceremonies, the bride stands on the left side of the altar. For a Jewish ceremony, she is traditionally on the right side. These days, people are ditching designated sides in favor of everyone feeling united and sitting where they like. Communicate your seating preference to your guests with fun signage or ceremony markers, or give your ushers clear instructions to avoid awkward maneuvering once guests have already taken their seats," explains Baab.