Your Vendors: An Overview

Be an informed, discerning customer, not someone who's grateful to sign on the dotted line.
You've got the ring. You've set a date. What's next? You'll need to hire a platoon of vendors to make your wedding dreams come true. We teamed up with wedding consultant Beverly Dembo of Dembo Productions, Inc., in Northbrook, IL, to help you find the right suppliers for your tastes and budget.

Get referrals from wedding consultants and recent brides -- friends, coworkers, neighbors, even the newlywed in your boxing class. Based on those referrals, schedule interviews and prepare a list of questions. Be an informed, discerning customer, not someone who's grateful to sign on the dotted line. Remember that you're in charge -- the vendors you hire work for you.

"The music sets the mood for the wedding," says Dembo. "This should be your first booking -- right after you've set the date and chosen a location." The type of musicians you hire -- a ten-piece orchestra, a rock band, a jazz ensemble -- will depend on your personal style, taste, and reception venue. Listen to a demo tape and drop by some live gigs if possible. For the ceremony, don't settle for traditional selections if you'd rather explore other options. If you want harp instead of organ, Pachelbel instead of Wagner, Aerosmith instead of Ave Maria, go for it. The ceremony is as much a reflection of you as the reception.

Do you want a mellow, smooth-groovin' DJ or a flashy, high-energy tune-spinner? Don't hire a DJ sight unseen. Make sure you meet with professionals in person so you get to know their personalities -- some might even have videos that show off their talent as an MC in action. Be sure to make a point of calling past clients to ask specific questions about the DJ's style. For example, "How did XYZ DJ interact with your guests?" And as a follow up: "Was that what you requested?" "Styles vary, so make sure it's the right person for your reception," says Dembo. And you'll want to have input into the playlist (jukebox heaven) -- it's not your DJ's wedding, after all!

Who will capture your wedding on film? The studio owner, whose portfolio is so dazzling you want to book him on the spot? Or a staff photographer you might not have spoken with at all? "Many couples assume they're going to get the photographer they're talking to," says Dembo, "but they might get somebody else. It's imperative to see samples and perhaps a proof set from the photographer who will shoot your wedding -- and to emphasize that you really want this photographer, not another staff member." Keep in mind that proofs (the initial, un-airbrushed shots the photographer shows you after the wedding) aren't perfect: There will be hits and misses. On the plus side, viewing proofs will give you a better sense of the photographer's ability. For more, check out Photography: Costs, Tips & Trends.

"Your videographer should be as unobtrusive as possible," cautions Dembo. "The videographer's presence can affect the atmosphere. If he requires too many lights, it's likely to detract from the romance." Find out if the camera will be on a tripod or shoulder-mounted, and ask how much supplemental lighting is needed. Try to find a videographer who shares your vision. Dembo recommends specifying which guests you want interviewed and how you'd like the videographer to approach them.

Hidden catering expenses abound in the form of service (waiters and bartenders), equipment (plates, silverware, and linens), and bar items (liquor and garnishes). Don't ask about the base food cost -- find out the cost per person including these extras. Ask the caterer to prepare a tasting before you finalize the menu, so you'll know exactly what you're getting. Our article Your Caterer: 17 Questions to Ask should come in handy.

Finding first-rate flowers depends on finding a florist who shares your tastes and understands your vision. Look at samples of bouquets and centerpieces or photos of weddings a florist has done, and discuss prices for flowers you prefer. If they're too expensive, ask how to get the same effect with cheaper blooms and greens. "It's important to know which flowers are costly and which are cost effective [as far as looking great the longest, not having too strong a scent, or wilting early]," advises Dembo. "If cost is a big factor and you're not picky, let the florist choose what's best at the market that week." For more information, check out Flowers: Costs, Tips & Trends and questions to ask florists.

Cakes are priced by the slice -- this price is usually based on ingredients and decorative elements, which vary greatly between cakes. Dembo advises couples to decide what they want before approaching potential bakers. "That way, you're comparing apples and apples," she says. "A general price range doesn't help much; you'll fare better if you ask for the price of something specific." Dembo also notes that it's extremely important to set the cake's delivery time in stone. "That way, the location can prepare for its arrival," she says. "Your cake should arrive promptly to give you peace of mind, and the cake table, in turn, should be dressed and ready." Want more? Cakes: Costs, Tips & Tricks provides the basic info you need to get started.

The most important caveat when dealing with vendors? Contracts. Make *sure* you sign one with every wedding professional you hire, and make sure the contract lists all details: dates, times, and exactly what you'll get (and what you don't want) from the person or company. That way, you'll have recourse in case something goes wrong.


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