You know you need a great venue, cake designer, florist, caterer, DJ and photographer. But other than help you pull off the wedding of your dreams, do you really know what you need each of them to do? Maybe if you’re an event-planner by trade, but probably not if you’re like the rest of us. The fact is you’re not only taking on the role of bride-to-be, you’ve just become the operations manager of what will essentially become a small village for a day. Exciting, yes. But also more than a little overwhelming.
Take a deep breath, we’ve done the initial hard work for you. We asked a few of our favorite wedding designers to share the top questions every bride should be asking each of her vendors before signing the dotted line.
Photo Credit: SUSAN STRIPLING
Key Questions That Apply to Every Vendor
Put these six important questions at the top of your list:
1. How long have you been in business and how many weddings do you do each year?
2. Can you share recent references and examples of your work? (In the case of your venue, be sure to ask to see recent pictures of weddings in the space you’re considering.)
3. Do you have liability insurance? (If not, you’ll very likely want to take out your own policy to cover unexpected mishaps such as a guest tripping over the photographer's tripod and getting hurt, or to repair or replace rented linens that were scorched by the votives in your floral centerpiece.
4. What’s your payment structure and cancellation policy?
5. What’s your backup plan should you fall ill or otherwise not be available at the time of the wedding? In the case of the venue site, what’s their plan if the weather takes a bad turn or another unforeseeable circumstance occurs?
6. What are your travel and/or overtime fees? (Unexpected travel fees may crop up if your ceremony and reception are in different locations or if you’re hiring out-of-town vendors.)
What to Ask Your Site Manager
“So many points about your event begin and end with the space or location you choose,” says Amy Cagginello, owner of Amy Champagne Events in Milford, Connecticut. “It’s key to know exactly what to expect from your venue.”
Photo Credit: DAMION HAMILTON FOR SASHA SOUZA EVENTS venue and flowers
1. How many people can you accommodate and how long will I have use of the event space?
2. What are the per-person charges? And are there additional service charges or other fees such as gratuities or overtime costs?
3. Do prices differ based on the time of day and/or day of the week? What is your payment and cancellation policy?
4. What time can my vendors arrive to set up/ clean up? Can any rentals or decor be dropped off the day before and picked up the day after?
5. Are tables, linens, etc. provided or will I need to rent them elsewhere?
6. Am I able to use an outside caterer and/or cake maker? Is there an extra cost to do so?
7. Can we bring in our own wine, beer, champagne or other alcohol? Is there a corkage fee?
8. Are there any restrictions regarding music? Is there an on-site technician to help with any lighting or sound problems that may crop up?
9. Is there parking on site or do you offer valet parking? If not, where can guests park?
10. Do you offer an on-site coordinator? If so, what services are included and will she/he be there on my wedding day?
For Outdoor Spaces:
11. What’s your weather contingency plan?
12. Can the space be heated or protected, if necessary? And if so, are those supplies on hand or would they need to be rented elsewhere?
13. How do you meet the technical needs of other vendors, such as a DJ, caterer or videographer? (Is there an on-site technician, for example.)
What to Ask Your Florist
“The flowers are often the first thing your guests will notice,” says Shawn Rabideau, of Shawn Rabideau Events & Design in New York City (who began his wedding career as a florist). “What florists do impacts the entire look of your event, not to mention your budget.”
1. Do you have a signature design style? Will you be doing the arrangements yourself or using another floral designer?
2. Do you offer specific arrangements or can centerpieces, bouquets, etc. be customized?
3. What bloom recommendations can you suggest that fit within my budget and my theme/color story? What flowers will be in season for my wedding?
4. Have you done any weddings at my venue?
5. What can you suggest to help me get the most from my budget? And are there extra fees for containers or other vessels?
6. Is there a price difference between similar blooms? (Ideally you should see an itemized price list of flowers under consideration.)
7. Can you provide other decor, such as trees, arches, votives, and what are the additional costs?
8. Will you work with my cake designer to provide coordinating blooms for my cake? Is there an additional fee for this?
9. How far in advance are the arrangements/ bouquets created? How are they stored?
10. Do you charge a delivery and/ or set-up fee? Will you pick up any vases, etc. after the ceremony, or is that my responsibility?
What to Ask Your Caterer
If the caterer’s food tastes great you’re done, right? Not quite, says Napa, California–based event designer Sasha Souza. It’s not enough that they can prepare delicious meals, she says—they also have to be able to handle the size and scope of your event and have fantastic service.
catering SHAWNA YARBROUGH STUDIOSEVEN PHOTOGRAPHY
1. What foods do you specialize in? Do you have set menu options or can you create a custom or themed menu?
2. What would you recommend given my budget, guest count and event theme?
3. How do you handle tastings? (Ideally each dish should be presented as your guests will see them, and you and your groom shouldn’t have to take a bite from the same serving.)
4. What’s the price difference between a buffet and a sit-down meal, and between passed appetizers and appetizer stations? How are your fees broken down?
5. Do you provide linens, utensils, serving table decor, etc.? How about tables and chairs? What colors and styles do you offer?
6. Will you be overseeing the meal service at the reception, or do you have an on-site manager to coordinate these things? (If the caterer won’t be present, it’s always a good idea to ask to meet whomever will be in charge ahead of time.)
7. Is there a cut-off date for making menu changes?
8. Are you licensed to serve alcohol? (If not you may need to hire a separate bar service.)
9. How much do you charge for vendor meals? (Musicians and photographers get hungry, too!) Can leftovers be wrapped for guests or donated?
10. What’s the ratio of servers to guests? How will servers be dressed?
What to Ask Your Cake Maker
“You want a ‘wow’ factor here!” says Rabideau. “And that can happen if you’re clear with your cake designer about your wishes, and listen to their ideas, too.” Taste and presentation are only part of the equation. You also need to know if they can handle the specifics of your wedding.
cake DAMION HAMILTON FOR SASHA SOUZA EVENTS
1. What are your specialties and/or top flavors and fillings? Can you do gluten-free, organic, or vegan cakes?
2. Can I view examples of cakes you’ve baked and decorated? (Many newer cake makers may have photos in their portfolios of cakes they assisted on, but you want to see what they’ve done from start to finish.)
3. Do you work with set designs or can you design a custom cake to match my theme?
4. Can you outline your pricing fees? For example, do you charge for a cake tasting, are there additional fees for cake stands, cutting knives, toppers, etc.?)
5. Will you work with a recipe I’ve provided? If so, will there be an additional cost?
6. What icing options do you recommend for the cake style I’m looking for?
7. If I want fresh flowers on my cake will you work with my florist to include blooms that coordinate with my floral decor?
8. How far in advance is the cake actually made? How is it stored and transported?
9. Will you preserve the top tier of my wedding cake for my first anniversary?
For Outdoor Spaces:
10. How will my cake hold up to the elements? An unprotected table won’t be able to shield your wedding cake from stiff ocean breezes, high temps or humidity. You’ll want to know how your baker handles outdoor venues.
What to Ask Your Photographer and Videographer
The images of your special day are so important, “yet many couples only focus on the pricing, or base their choice on portfolio alone,” says Cagginello. But there are many more details to focus on.
MICHELLE VANTINE PHOTOGRAPHY
1. Do you specialize in weddings? (You don’t need a weddings-only shooter, but you do want someone who’s comfortable with both the ceremony and the reception.)
2. How would you describe your photography style? And can I see a portfolio of your work— beyond what’s on your website?
3. How/when do we go about creating a shot list? What information do you need from me before the event?
4. What is your working style on the day of the wedding? And how many shooters will cover the day?
5. How much time do you need to set up? And for how long will you shoot?
6. What type of equipment do you use? Do you have backup equipment on hand?
7. What’s the length of time for delivery of proofs? And what is the ordering process?
8. Can you provide me with a detailed price sheet? What do packages include?
9. Do you have a minimum number of hours? Will you stay if my event is running late and what are your overtime fees?
10. Will my wedding be your only job on that day? If not, what are the hours I can count on and what happens if you can’t make it to my wedding?
11. How long is your editing process?
12. Is there a cost for a video “tease”? (This is typically a 1-minute video short to share on social media.)
What to Ask Your Musicians or DJs
“DJs and musicians set the tempo for your party,” says Rabideau. “You want to make sure you find the right professionals who can keep your guests entertained.”
THREE NAIL PHOTOGRAPHY
1. What genres can you cover? Do you have any particular specialties?
2. Do you have a DVD from a previous wedding you performed at that I can view? And where can we see you perform live?
3. Can my fiancé and I give you “do play” and “no-play” lists?
4. Do you have ideas to encourage more guests to dance? (For example, are they willing and able to deviate from their set list to try and energize the crowd?) What’s your game plan if you notice guests aren’t dancing?
5. Do you provide the sound equipment or does it have to be rented elsewhere? And do you have backup equipment should something go wrong?
6. Do you have a technician who stays on site if there’s a problem? (This is especially important if you have an outside event, or are booking a venue that doesn’t typically handle weddings.)
7. Do you provide any lighting design? What kind of space/staging requirements do you have?
8. Does your pricing include set-up and breakdown? How much time do you need for set-up, breaks, breakdown?
9. How many breaks do you need and for how long? Will you play recorded music during breaks?
10. What will you be wearing—can I make specific attire requests?