Can You Send Me a Price List? Why I don’t like standard pricing

As you probably know, I completely redid my website in early April.  I had been meaning to do so for a very long time.  I realized that so much of it was out of date, and so much had changed within my business, that it really needed a facelift.  One of the many, many changes I made was to move to simpler packaging for weddings.

Just design, planning, or coordination.  Well, and Design with Coordination, or Design+.  I decided that having Day-of and Month-of services was just too confusing.  That, and I kept finding that my Day-of Coordination package was actually equivalent to most other Month-of Packages.

For the last few months before the big change, I had been explaining this change in e-mails to prospective clients.  I wished so badly that I could snap my fingers and make it all happen on my website too, but these things take time to get right, and this change actually took longer than I had originally intended because my first design simply wasn’t very functional.  So I had to keep explaining that what I do hasn’t changed – just how I talk about it.

With that move toward simplification, I also decided to publish my adjusted pricing for the first time.  I talked about this briefly in my announcement of the new site, but I wanted to get into it a little more here.  There are several schools of thought for wedding professionals as to whether prices should be published online, and originally (before my first site went live to the world, when I was asking for feedback from friends and mentors) I’d published mine.  I wanted transparency.  I remembered planning my own wedding, and how helpful it was to have prices published.  I was counseled to have them by request only, at first, and I’m glad I was, because the more weddings and events I did, the more I learned about how long each process takes and what is involved.

But now I am pretty confident in my pricing structure.  And I still think it’s important (in fact I heard feedback once from a friend who had referred someone to me; that someone had taken one look at my services page and said “She doesn’t publish her prices, so she has to be too expensive for me!”).  So I’m feeling pretty good about service structure and price publishing.  But it also is tough.

I often get e-mails that say simply, “My fiancé and I are getting married [on a certain date, in a certain month, or sometimes even in a certain year].  Can you send me your pricing sheet?”  It’s hard, really.  Because I don’t like standard pricing, and I have never had a pricing sheet.  Even now, my website reads “starting at…” for a reason.  Because each wedding is different.

Wedding Design, Planning, and Coordination are all best when they’re personal to you.  Just like your house, your phone, your wardrobe…  You are an individual.  Your wedding is not the same as anyone else’s.  In fact, I relish weddings that are personalized, handmade, and quirky.  It’s my favorite thing to do, planning a wedding with a couple who wants their personalities to shine.

Married by a Robot. Oh yes.

Standard pricing assumes that you have a “standard” wedding.  And what does that mean?  That you’re just the same as the next couple?  That you have the same needs? That your planner or coordinator just charges everyone the same price without putting any thought into it?  That you’re getting charged for services you might not need, or maybe that you’re not getting enough service for your wedding because it’s not in the package?

For a while I was actually putting together a full quote for every couple who contacted me, adding up all my costs each time (which is why I was glad that I was counseled to not post standard pricing, because it did fluctuate).  As I said before, I have decided to streamline my packages, based on what normally happens at a wedding and what I’ve learned is necessary (all my weddings now happen with at least one assistant, for example).  This will help give my potential clients a ballpark figure for the service they want before they ever contact me, and I think that’s important.

But I’m leery of standard pricing.  It’s like going to buy your first house without any inkling of the market around you.  You know you want three bedrooms and two baths, but you’ve never bought a house before and have no clue if you’ll need to plan on $20,000 or $200,000 or $2,000,000 to purchase it (and have apparently been living under a rock, but bear with me on the analogy).  You contact a real estate agent who says to you that all of their three-bedroom, two-bath homes cost $400,000, regardless of neighborhood, lot size, or condition of the home.

It doesn’t make a lot of sense in real estate, and I don’t think it makes a lot of sense in wedding planning either.

Every wedding has it’s own personality – the unique number of guests and attendants, location, and setup details.  An outdoor wedding under the stars will require far more complicated a setup (tables, chairs, dance floor, lighting, heaters, restrooms, cooking equipment, etc.) than a ballroom wedding.  Especially an outdoor wedding with tons of DIY details (or one without professional vendors for things like floral design and music).  Hanging hundreds of ribbons in a tree for your ceremony or a backdrop to your sweets table looks amazing (and I love, love, love doing it – I’m so looking forward to sharing my next post with you where I can show you what it looks like!), but it can take hours.  Hours of painstaking detail work.   On a ladder.  So can arranging the perfect combination of wildflowers in jars.  Or creating that tower of favors, or that escort card puzzle.  The Chinese lantern sculpture I created last year for Emily + Jeremy  was insanely gorgeous and a breathtaking piece to decorate the entry to their wedding reception.  But it took three people four hours to complete.  No joke.

One of the biggest factors in my pricing is making sure that I have enough hands to complete heavy setup jobs like these.  But the number of guests is also a factor, since setting up place settings and favors for 300 guests is a far different story than setting up for 50 (to say nothing of guest management during the wedding or cleanup afterwards, or all the other things we do and decor we set up).  Based on the whole picture of the wedding day, I’ll hire either my regular assistant or a combination of full- and half-day assistants to help make it all happen.  And of course, I have to charge for travel outside of San Diego County, in order to make sure I don’t lose money on events in Los Angeles, Orange, Riverside, or Santa Barbara Counties.

The thing is, I suppose that if I charged an extreme amount for my services, I could absorb things like extra assistants and mileage into my bottom line.  But I don’t – I try to provide the best value cost possible for my services while still offering excellent service and quality.  And I hate charging people for things they don’t need.  So I always will need more specifics before confirming a price for a potential client.  Which is part of the reason I’m excited that I built my new website with an inquiry page that asks for more information than would be included in the e-mail I mentioned above.

And I’m happy about that.  I’d much rather review all the details of a wedding day before giving my potential couples a final price.  It takes a little longer, and is more work intensive.  And there’s the dreaded “starting at…” listed on my site.  But I’m truly happy.  Because I don’t want to do cookie cutter weddings, and I don’t want to overcharge any of my clients.  I’m proud to say that my weddings are anything but “standard,” and that’s just the way I want them to be!

Photo from the McAwesome Wedding, by Events by Elisa

Lynn’s Peter Rabbit Tea Party Baby Shower, 01*21*2012

This baby shower was a very special one for me to plan.  It was for a very special momma.  My friend Lynn, also known as the bridal half of Lynn + David, my very first clients!

Lynn’s sister in law Leita called me at the very beginning of January asking for my help planning Lynn’s shower for her baby boy.  Typically parties like these take 2-3 months to plan, but Leita gave me free reign to let my creativity run wild (within our very modest budget!).  My only words to go on were “Peter Rabbit” and “tea party.”  So I threw Lynn a Peter Rabbit Tea Party, of course! 🙂

Lynn and her family are British; they moved to the states when Lynn was quite young, but she still considers England “home.”  So I knew that the “tea” portion of the shower had to be spot on.  I contracted with Shakespeare’s Corner Shoppe to provide us with an authentic taste of the UK.  The provided us with delicious scones and tea sandwiches, and the three hosts provided lots of varieties of tea, cream, sugar, honey, and lemon.  I got a beautiful hand-painted Peter Rabbit cake from Sweeter by the Dozen Cakes and carrot-shaped cake pop favors from Calculated Whisk too!

Of course this was a small affair (with total decor and food budget of approximately $450), so we didn’t have a professional photographer or a big spread.  I’m going to have to start taking photography classes for things like this, but in the mean time I don’t want to not share an event just because my photography skills are sub-par.  After all, I’m a designer, not a photographer! 🙂  I just have to share the darling details with you, starting with our “MacGregor’s Garden.”  We had planned to hang Peter’s jacket above the hand-lettered garden sign, but had to move to Plan B when it didn’t work out:

And the buffet, complete with hand-lettered chalk signs (I love these so much – I wish I’d bought more when they were on sale at Michael’s because they were so cute!):

We used real mismatched serving plates, teacups, and silverware from my collection, which made the party feel more elegant and special than using paper cups and plastic silverware:

And of course no baby shower would be complete without sweets…  Specifically this gorgeous hand-painted cake (the fondant apparently didn’t like the rainy weather much, but you can see the detail that Jessica put into it!):

And the adorable cake pop favors!  I had a little too much fun cramming them into my wooden wheelbarrow like they were vegetables going to market:

This was one happy momma (despite my out of focus photography job…  yowch!)…  And back in February, she and David welcomed a healthy baby, Simon, into the world! <3!

Lynn’s Peter Rabbit Baby Shower Details:

What Wedding Planners REALLY Do: Mover

Have you ever wondered HOW all the bits and pieces, the decorations and menus and favors and special details, get to a wedding?  The answer is simple: The planner.

The Wedding Planner as Mover

Venues and vendors who know me know that when I first arrive on-site for a wedding or event I “move in.”  Typically my car is completely full of wedding supplies – both from the couple and from my personal stash – and it takes my assistant and I a decent amount of time to truly unpack.  This is because part of my final pre-rehearsal meeting with my couples is to get all their wedding supplies from them.

What does this mean for you?

No worrying about whether escort cards or guestbooks will get to the wedding, or sending your third cousin to your apartment an hour before the ceremony starts to pick up the programs.  We go through an inventory of all the pieces needed for your big day and where they should be at what time, and then I take them off your hands.  Then on your wedding day I stuff everything into my car and “move in” to your venue.

It’s not glamorous, it means a lot of sweat, and it can mean that my home office is stuffed full of your wedding supplies for a few days or weeks.  But it translates to less stress on the wedding day itself for both the couple (no last-second forgotten items) and my staff (everything is centralized and organized, and the function for each piece is known).

I often joke that 90% of my job is schlepping things from one place to another.  But when those “things” are details crucial to your wedding day, it’s one of the most important parts of my job!

Budget Wedding Tips

I’ve planned and coordinated events with budgets of almost nothing (like a party for 80 with a budget of $150!) and those with budgets upwards of $500 per person.  While the scope of each event is different, one thing remains the same.  Each event was special to the client and the attendees.  So no matter whether everyone was eating off of paper plates or bone china (or one of the many, many choices in between), I directed the budget we did have to making the party feel special.

The same goes for wedding planning – very few people have unlimited budgets, so as a planner I try to make every budgetary decision count.  Of course we’d all like to have the perfect wedding or event, precisely as we envision, but sometimes tough choices have to be made.  I’ve seen all kinds of cost-cutting scenarios; some work well, but others leave brides unhappy.  Here are my favorite ways to trim your budget without sacrificing the wedding of your dreams:

Guest List

Do: Invite people you want to be there, and trim those you can’t afford.

Don’t: Invite people just because you feel you should.

I think this is probably the number one cost-cutting scenario across all planners and wedding publications.  Taking the guest list from 250 to 125 not only allows you to save on food, drinks and incidental costs (favors, printing, rentals), it probably will translate into many more dollars saved in the form of a smaller venue.  Instead of tracking down a large ballroom, you may be able to hold your wedding in a more cost-effective location.

Yes – this means that you probably won’t be inviting your third cousins from across the country…  But a smaller wedding can mean less stress for the bride and groom – and more time with your guests.

But try not to get caught up in the “should” game – weddings are often about what we feel we’re “supposed” to do and many brides feel as though they must invite someone, even though they’d rather not.  Even if you were invited to someone’s wedding, or they’re your distant relative, or they’ve asked nicely, you are under no obligation to invite anyone.  Make sure that your invited wedding guests are the people you want to spend your wedding day with – they’ll be in your wedding memories forever.

I’m not saying that you shouldn’t invite people that you want to – just that you don’t have to invite people you don’t want to.


Do: Find a location that you love.

Don’t: Go with the cheapest location you can find, just because it’s cheap.

In addition to keeping your guest list down, it’s often easier than you’d think to find a location that meets your expectations while keeping your budget in check.  Want a beautiful outdoor setting?  Many golf clubs offer excellent wedding specials at reasonable prices.  Have a vintage soiree in mind?  Keep an eye out for historical homes, womens clubs, and restaurants.  Often times you’ll be able to find a great location that isn’t well-advertised; my mother found my wedding reception location in the yellow pages (after my husband and I spent days looking on the internet!).

The important part of making this work, though, is finding a place you will love to spend your wedding day.  Make sure that it meets your needs – aesthetic and otherwise.  In choosing a location, keep in mind the following:

  • Where will you hold the ceremony? Indoors?  Outdoors?  A church?  What does the site look like?  What does it need?  Will I be happy getting married here?
  • Where will you hold the reception? Indoors?  Outdoors?  How will the site be set up?  When will my vendors be able to arrive for setup?  Will I be comfortable?  Will my guests?  How far is it from the ceremony?  How will people get there?
  • What is included in the price? Tables?  Chairs?  Linens?  Dishes, glasses, silverware?  Food?  Florals or other decorations?  Heaters?  What will I need to bring in?  Keep in mind that rental prices can add up quickly; sometimes a very inexpensive location without their own equipment can have a bigger overall price tag than a more expensive place where everything is included.  When one of my best friends was getting married last year, I went on site visits with her and her now-husband.  Their number one choice for venue was a picturesque little chapel where every stick of furniture, all the lighting, and every bit of food had to be brought in from the outside.  The chapel itself was a steal to rent, but as estimates skyrocketed my friend realized she could actually save money by having the wedding at a fancy golf club a short distance away, and that her guests could dine on filet and salmon instead of pasta salad because of the money saved on rentals.
  • What is the fine print? Are there restrictions on start and end times?  Outside vendors?  Alcohol or dancing?  A friend of mine is getting married soon and discovered after signing the paperwork with her venue that she has a very limited selection of bakeries at which to get her cake.  She is forbidden by the contract with her venue to get a cake from anywhere except their “preferred” vendors.  Whose cakes just aren’t very good.  Bottom line: make sure you’re actually happy with the terms of your rental agreement with your venue, before signing it!  Very inexpensive venues often have very good reasons for being so inexpensive.

Mushroom appetizers!

Food and Drinks

Do: Serve something you want to eat.

Don’t: Feel badly serving food and drinks within your means.

Food and drinks are another area where brides and grooms hear several “shoulds”.  As in, “You should serve dinner,” or “You should have an open bar,” or “You should choose whatever food your guests will like.”  Again, the trick to trimming wedding day costs without cutting down on your day is making the right choices, within your means.  But don’t forget to keep these points in mind:

  • If food is included, am I happy with it? If you want to stop by McDonald’s on the way from your reception, whether it’s because you didn’t like the food or because you didn’t get enough food, it’s not worth serving food at your reception.  While I definitely believe that serving food at a wedding is part of the party atmosphere, I would rather focus on having tasty heavy appetizers than pay for bad dinners.  Some venues will let you cook your own food (these are generally “DIY” venues), which can work if you have a good plan.  Or have a potluck, if you can (although this gets logistically tricky, so be sure you, your guests, AND your planner are well-organized if you go this route).  Or have a short wedding reception sans food altogether except cake.  There are a lot of creative ways to serve good food on your wedding day.
  • For the cocktail hour appetizers, what will you serve? Most weddings include a cocktail hour, to give time for the bride and groom to take photos following the ceremony.  Cocktails and appetizers are served, which can add hundreds or thousands of dollars onto your bottom-line total.  Appetizers are often priced above and beyond your “regular” food cost, and priced per piece consumed, which can add up quickly.  If you are planning to serve appetizers, consider your options.  Often, a “station” can be set up, where platters of food are artfully displayed for guests’ consumption.  This option is typically less expensive, overall, than tray-passed appetizers, and includes more food.  Or give your guests their party favors early:  include individually-wrapped favors such as bags of cookies or candy in pretty containers near the entrance to the cocktail hour space.  Another great option is to create a cookie, candy, or popcorn bar.  Just make sure that your venue doesn’t have any restrictions prohibiting this, before you start purchasing supplies.
  • How do you want to handle the bar situation? Some brides and grooms have reasons other than budget to restrict drinking at their weddings, of course.  But even if your decision is purely monetary, not having an open bar is okay.  No matter what your cranky cousin or that wedding “expert” might tell you.  If it’s a choice between having a beautiful wedding you’re proud of and having an open bar, forget the bar.  Even without an open bar, many venues provide a celebratory champagne toast, or wine at dinner.  You could also give all your guests drink tickets, provide an alcoholic punch, restrict the bar to house beer and wine only, or open the bar for just the cocktail hour.  Each of these options provides you with a different set of circumstances.  But remember that most venues price their open bars upon consumption – that means you’ll pay a certain price for every drink that’s ordered by every single guest – and it adds up quickly.


Do: Explore Your Options.

Don’t: Use a photographer with no background in weddings.  Ever.  Just trust me on this one.

Your photographer captures your wedding day, and nothing else from the day will be as lasting.  Photographers’ prices vary widely, from a few hundred to several thousand dollars.  Many times there are good reasons for this – some photographers may be more experienced, or have better references, or provide more services than others.  But sometimes as a bride it can feel overwhelmingly expensive just to have someone photograph your wedding.  It may be tempting to completely ignore professional photographers altogether, perhaps asking friends to take photos with their personal cameras.  But there is a reason that pros charge so much: they know what photos to take, and when.  So before you cut out a photographer completely, consider these options:

  • Hire a photography school student.  They often will work for portfolio-building experiences, or for a fraction of the price of a professional wedding photographer.  One caveat, though: make sure that either a) they have photographed weddings before or b) you have a backup.  This case is near and dear to my heart; my husband and I jumped on the offer of free photography for our wedding.  We met the photographer and liked her, a lot.  Her work was beautiful.  She’d never done a wedding before, but we thought it would no problem.  How hard could a wedding be?  The photos she got were – and are – truly gorgeous.  She captured some incredible moments.  But she failed to get several moments on film at all; from the first kiss to the wedding details I worked so hard on, I won’t be able to get those back.  I wish I’d assigned a friend with a good camera to be her “backup” – to make sure he or she took serious photos of all the florals and the major parts of the wedding.  We’ve been able to construct a decent wedding album, cobbling together the photos our photographer took with those provided by friends, but our photography experience has lead me to recommend to all my brides that they be very, very careful if they work with a non-pro photographer.
  • Hire a photographer for just a few hours.  I just have to say it: As a planner I do prefer when photographers stay until the end.  That’s when so many of the best moments of a wedding happen.  Dance offs abound, and candid shots are fantastic.  But in the event that your wedding budget simply can’t stretch far enough, consider hiring a professional photographer for just a few hours.  Pro photographers often can work out an hourly rate with couples to fall within your budget restrictions.  I always recommend that couples hire their photographer for the ceremony, some formal portraits, a few shots of the details, and the “special” parts of the reception (first dance, father/daughter dance, toasts, etc.).  If your photographer has to shoot and dash, work with your planner to create a timeline that “front-loads” all these special items before you sit down to dinner!


Do: Have someone to help you get organized.

Don’t: Try to do it all yourself.

I’m not saying you need to hire a full wedding planner.  I know that it’s not a realistic expectation, and that hiring a wedding planner is not at the top of every bride’s to-do list.  I’m also not saying this just because I want you to hire me.  But a planner can be especially valuable to budget couples in a variety of ways:

  • Consult with a planner for an hour or two; pick their brain and just pay their hourly rate.  Many planners don’t advertise this service.  But most of us are open to the idea.  As long as we know up front that we’re only consulting with you – please don’t pretend that you’re a potential client! – we’re happy to help.  You’ll likely make a quick agreement, pay up front, and receive your recommendations directly from the planner.  Depending on what you agree to, you may have more than one a-la-carte consultation.  You may even get an inspiration board or design plan out of it.  But let me reiterate: please be up front and honest.  Most of us don’t bite.
  • Hire a Coordinator instead of a Full Planner.  If you’ve got this planning thing down, you might not need a planner.  I happen to be biased about this because I think that everyone can benefit from the guidance full planning offers – but I’m also realistic.  For some people it’s simply not in the cards!  A Coordinator can still help keep you on track, and on the day of your wedding will help make sure that your wedding day runs smoothly.
  • Have your planner keep track of your budget.  I’m not sure if anyone would do this service a-la-carte (I usually only offer it as part of my planning packages), but one of the perks to hiring me as a planner is that I keep track of your major budget items.  This means that you know where your money is going – and how much of it is left – at all times.
  • Ask your planner for recommendations.  You might not know the awesome little bakery that makes tasty custom wedding cakes for under $2 a slice, or the florist who specializes in stretching every penny.  But your planner does.  She also might be able to help you with your invitations, rentals, and favors, because she deals with these things all the time.  She might be able to buy in bulk or wholesale; she might even have a stash of wedding items just for her couples to use (I do!).  Your planner might be able to save you serious cash if you ask her to help you keep down your costs!

In short: do consider alternatives you haven’t thought of yet (such as a “more expensive” venue that actually costs less overall, a-la-carte consulting with a planner, or hiring a photographer for part of your day) and don’t let planning your wedding on a strict budget stress you out.  You can do this!

Photo credits:

Vendor Table at the Inspired Bridal Bowl!

Desiree of Penny Blooms Floral Design and I not only shared an Inspiration Table at last November’s Inspired Events {San Diego} Inspired Bridal Bowl, we shared a vendor table too!  I had to share some pretty photos of our vendor table (featuring Desiree’s florals and linens by Classy Covers) with you, taken by Sunday Romance Photography! 🙂

There was a fantastic caricature artist set up at the show, Julia of JK Expressions.  She offered to sketch some pictures for us!

First, myself and my Assistant Rachael!

Aren’t we cute?

And then me with Desiree. 🙂

Rustic Modern Snow White Inspiration Table at the Inspired Bridal Bowl!

Last November I was honored to be asked to participate in the second Inspired Events {San Diego} event, the Inspired Bridal Bowl.  The intimate bridal show at North County Tavern and Bowl was full of hand-picked vendors from throughout San Diego (all members of the Inspired Network went through a rigorous screening process) and, along with my good friend Desiree from Penny Blooms Floral Design, I was able to design the featured showpiece of the event – a modern rustic table inspired by Snow White!

I’d worked with Desiree a few times already at this point, and when we found out that we’d been assigned to create the tablescape together, we were thrilled!  Nothing is better than the synergy created when you’re working with a good friend who also happens to be a creative partner and an excellent match for your creativity.  I can’t say enough for working with someone you feel truly comfortable with, to design something greater than you could alone!

At any rate, we started discussing our ideas and Desiree hit on the modern rustic trend (this show actually took place the day after Alex + Allen’s wedding, but we started planning before Alex hired me – by luck it was a modern rustic weekend!).  We started thinking of moss and pine trees and acorns and…  The table just sort of built itself.  And then I realized that I’d already done a table based on a fairy tale – my Vintage Cinderella table at the Alfred Angelo show last year.  I guess maybe I’ll always be a dreamer at heart?

We were working with an oversized table – a pool table, to be exact (huge thank you to my husband who stood in line at Home Depot for an hour the day of the show to get the large piece of plywood we used to create a flat surface, and then brought it to us in the rain!).  And an oddly-lit room with lots of busyness behind and around the table, since the bowling alley itself has large windows that look out onto the mall.  That said, I think that the photos taken by Stacy and Melissa of Sunday Romance Photography give you a taste of this stunning table.  And we just might have another taste of it coming up in a few months. 😉

Of course Desiree and I worked together on the design.  She also created the gorgeous floral arrangements (including the fantastic birch-wrapped bouquet!!!).  We also got amazing support from our friends at Classy Covers and Calculated Whisk.  We also made a new friend – the incredible Nicole of paper | scissors | print, who provided us with gorgeous stationery!

So without further ado…  The photos by Sunday Romance Photography!!!

First, the whole table.  Desiree and I spent lots and lots of hours searching for just the right pieces (like our mismatched flatware and glasses, and our fantastic “wood” chargers!

And the details…  Like Desiree’s STUNNING birch-wrapped bouquet and the arrangements in hollowed-out pieces of wood:

And the stationery Nicole created for us!  She’s truly an artist, and came up with this amazing design with just the words “modern rustic.” Love her!

Nicki of Calculated Whisk created the cutest little apple cake pops for us!

And the most.incredible.gem-shaped cake balls.  Seriously they were perfect.  Everyone was amazed that they were cake!

More details!  Desiree and I had a fantastic time decking out the table with whimsical elements!  I adore the moss runners and the little moss squirrels and rabbits, as well as the little acorns we scattered like jewels.  🙂

You’d never know that this entire place setting (not including the napkin, generously provided by Classy Covers) cost under $5 to buy.

I’m so happy to finally be able to share these with you!  Next up, more photos from the Inspired Bridal Bowl!

Modern Rustic Snow White Inspiration Table at the Inspired Bridal Bowl Details:

Happy Birthday Noni!

It would have been my grandmother’s 90th birthday today.

This photo was taken on my grandparents’ wedding day, in her dress that I’d have loved to wear.  My grandfather didn’t know where to look to find it, so I couldn’t, for my wedding a few years ago.  But I love that dress.

I miss her all the time, but especially right now, with my business.  She would have loved to see my work.

She was an entertainer herself – always throwing beautiful holiday parties, decorating the tree just so, and creating artful meals in her tiny (no counter space whatsoever!) kitchen.  It was in that kitchen that I learned to make bread and fold pasta and roll out cookies and snap crisp green beans straight from the garden.  When my parents decided to get married in my mom’s hometown (rather than here in San Diego, where they both lived), her inner wedding planner kicked in.  She planned my parents’ entire wedding for them, in a few months, including a beautiful cocktail reception in her backyard.  All without having a drivers’ license.  I look at the photos of that day and I know that if she were alive she’d want to be on the phone every night talking about the weddings I’m planning.

My mom says she doesn’t have a planning bone in her body (although she loves throwing parties) – when it came to planning my wedding in 2008 she only relaxed when she realized that because I planned galas professionally I had it handled.  My grandmother on the other hand?  A list maker.  Like me.  When we go to visit my grandpa we still find lists she made, hidden around the house.  Groceries, or packing, or Christmas presents.  She was a planner.

She also loved to decorate.  Her dining room was perfectly coordinated, always ready for a family dinner.  Her living room was set just so, ready for guests at any second.  And when I was visiting my grandfather last week I went down to the basement and happened to look up. And see five peach and pink crepe paper poufs.  Guess my love of them is deeper than I thought.

When I got my new headshots a few months ago, I was struck by two things – 1) I look a lot like my four-year-old self (the one on my website’s About page) and 2) I look a lot like my grandmother.  It’s in the smile.  I was almost in tears.  When I finished my website last month I had the sudden urge to show it to her.  She’s been gone for almost twenty years and yet I wanted so badly to call her up on the phone.

I miss her terribly, especially now that I’m an adult.  I wish I’d had the opportunity to know her in this capacity.  I wish she knew my husband, my future kids, the woman I’ve become, the fact that we used some of her jewelry in our Boho Glam shoot.  I know she’s proud of me, but I wish I could just give her a hug and tell her how much I love her.  Today on her birthday I just had to share.

Obviously all the photos are family photos.  The top one is my grandparents on their wedding day, taken by a professional photographer in the 1940s.  And my parents on their wedding day, taken by our family friend (and professional photographer) George.  The other two are strictly non-professional photos, and, I think, speak for themselves. 🙂

What to Look for When Choosing Wedding Vendors

This post has been inspired by some conversations I’ve had over the last few months, both with other vendors and with clients and potential clients.  Every single point addressed here has come from more than one source, so I hope no one feels singled out!  I’ve been meaning to write something like this for a while!

Ah, wedding planning.  The fun! The joy!  The feeling of balancing on a tight rope with hundred-pound weights on your feet.

How do you know where to go?  For advice?  For support?  For recommendations?  After all, Aunt Mildred might have known all about wedding planning when she got married in 1943, but things have changed.  Drastically.  Even in just the last ten years.  Even in the last five.

With the advent of the internet, it’s incredibly easy to do research on your own.  And it can be incredibly overwhelming too.  How can you decide what you want when everything starts melting together after hours of searching into a big puddle of jewel-encrusted, lace-embellished, rose-scented goo?

Budgets are important of course – and it’s certainly not a good idea to spend more than you feel comfortable with.  But having been both a budget bride and a wedding vendor who works with brides who have budgets of all sizes, I think there are some other really important – and often overlooked – points to keep in mind when you’re choosing the vendors who will make your wedding day special.

  • How does the vendor talk about his or her clients? Client reviews are obviously the number one way that potential clients find their vendors.  If a vendor has high ratings, chances are that you’ll be more inclined to check them out.  But check to see, too, how a vendor talks about his or her clients online – in blog posts and comments, on Facebook and Twitter, and anywhere else they might be interacting with other vendors and clients – and to you specifically.  Are they excited?  Engaged?  Interested?  Helpful?  If a vendor consistently has a whiney, pushy, snobby, or complaining tone, it’s a big red flag.  I’m not a big fan of vendors who bash their clients.  And if a vendor ever tells you “Well, you don’t know, because you’ve never been married, but I’m an expert at this, so listen to me…”  Well, let’s just say that it’s a HUGE pet peeve of mine.  To clarify: I know you’ve probably never been married before, and I try to be an expert.  But I will never ever tell you that you must do something my way, just because I “know” what to do.

  • How does the vendor present him or herself? How do they come across online? On the phone?  In person?  Do they type in complete sentences or netspeak?  Do they answer e-mails promptly?  Do they dress professionally?  Do they have an informative website?  This is not to say that a vendor has to have the prettiest, flashiest, or most up-to-date website (goodness knows it took me long enough to have one I was proud of!).  But if they consistently come across as unprofessional, uneducated, or unprepared, they probably are.
  • Does the vendor’s work come across as high-quality? Please don’t confuse “work” with “photos of work,” unless you’re talking specifically about photography/videography.  Even then I have a caveat (see below).  High quality work doesn’t always mean high-quality photos or high-budget items.  Just like any foodie can tell you, the most authentic and best-tasting food can often be found in less-than-picturesque locations.  When you’re looking for a talented designer (florals, invitations, dresses, or weddings in general), look for thoughtful details, carefully placed.  Often, the most creative styling goes into the event with the smallest budget – it takes an out-of-the-box designer to stretch a few decoration dollars!  Instead of looking for exactly the details or the design you’d want, and instead of judging a wedding vendor by the budget of their last wedding, look for a vendor who puts thought into everything they put out, whether or not they have the best photographs.  By the way, this same principle can be applied to photographers too – don’t judge a photographer by the details in his or her photographs, but rather on the quality and composition of the photos themselves.

Handcrafted rice paper circle "sculpture" table runners by Events by Elisa

  • How do they work? This can sometimes be hard to determine from websites alone – you usually need to ask your potential vendors this question when you meet them. First and foremost, it’s important that you have compatible working styles (if you expect constant communication and they expect to not have contact with you after your contract signing, you might not work well together!).  But more than that, learning about their working style will help you to know whether you can trust them to really give your wedding special attention.
  • Value is not the same as cheap.  You’ve probably heard that you can have either low cost or high quality service.  I don’t necessarily subscribe to that idea – I think that it’s very possible to get a good balance of both.  But the best value service is usually not the lowest cost service – it’s the best mixture of quality and price.  Couples will often get so focused on the bottom line of their wedding that they overlook a vendor’s lack of experience or expertise.  I even made this mistake when planning my own wedding (despite my years of planning events for other people – it’s an easy trap to fall into!).  A good value vendor will be one who goes above and beyond the minimum, who offers you consistently good service and communication, and who knows how to make things happen.  Think of wedding vendors like purses – the ones who offer you the most value are not usually the least expensive.  Low quality purses can be expected to last a week or a month before breaking.  But high quality purses will easily last for years, and often buying a single high-quality purse can end up saving you money in the long run over buying low-quality pieces.  The same principle applies to vendors – if you’ll have to provide your DJ with a CD of all of the songs you want played at your wedding, or your florist requires constant attention, or your coordinator shows up an hour before the wedding ceremony and hasn’t even glanced at the timeline she didn’t help to make, you might be paying rock-bottom prices, but what are you really getting?  Look for vendors who go above and beyond the minimum, and your dollar will be well-spent.

Beautiful Handmade Guestbook

  • Book early! It’s never too early to book a high-quality wedding vendor.  For one thing, good vendors are in demand.  Waiting until late in your process can mean that you miss out on your favorite vendor because he or she is already busy on the day of your wedding.  For another, prices can go up (sometimes several times a year) as vendors find the best pricing structure for them.  And for a third, the earlier you book a vendor (particularly a coordinator/planner, but any vendor, really), the more value they can add.  From referring other quality vendors to adding on extras to helping you to create your design vision, good wedding vendors, when brought in early, can actually save you money, time, and hassle.
  • Do you LIKE this person? Your wedding vendors are going to be spending a lot of time making your wedding great.  It doesn’t make any sense to hire them if they don’t seem like someone you’d enjoy being around.  Coordinators, planners, designers, DJs, photographers, and officiants are integral to the success of your day.  Florists, graphic designers, and bakers won’t actually BE at your wedding, but you’ll still be trusting them to make your wedding day vision happen.  TRUST is key.  Don’t hire anyone you don’t like!

Photo credits:

Alex + Allen’s Modern Rustic Wedding at Olivenhain Meeting Hall, 11*19*2011

Alex was referred to me by my old coworker Tanya.  She had worked alongside me for over a year back in my former life as a gala planner, and she now works in the same office as Alex.  It turned out that over half of the vendors involved in her modern rustic wedding (held in a building over 100 years old!) are connected to my alma mater (which also happens to be where Alex and Allen both work)!  Go Tritons!

Alex is gentle and graceful.  She moves softly, like a cat, but has a sparkling smile.  And she brought all her vendor contracts, plus a layout of the venue, to our initial meeting!  Mind you, there was only a month to go before the wedding, but I was super impressed!

Jason Almazan took some great photos of the day (especially in the challenging lighting conditions of the century-old meeting hall), including one of my favorite photos of any of my clients (which we’ll get to in a bit).  Organic Elements created the most amazing sculptural pieces from driftwood and flowers, and Classic Party Rentals provided the backbone – tables, chairs, linens, and lighting (I *heart* festival lights!).

I think after last week’s especially long-winded post, I’d rather let the photos of this elegant, modern rustic wedding speak for themselves…  So without (much) further chatter…  The pretty photos!!!

OMG – look at that SMILE!  And Alex made that brooch bouquet herself! 🙂

Alex and Allen wanted to incorporate seven traditions for marriage (from different cultures) into their wedding, so they drank wine together and smashed a glass, among other things.

And the bridesmaids surprised Alex by coming to the venue early the morning of the wedding to decorate the ceremony space with chalk!


Can I just pause for a second and say how much I adore these two?  And how absolutely the two of them together radiate love?  They are so open, so giving, and so generous.  I didn’t even meet Allen until the day of the wedding (they chose to go rehearsal-less), and by the end of the night he gave me a huge bear hug.  Just seeing these photos makes me so happy.

And this next photo?  This is one of my favorites.  Ever.  Of any of my couples.  I just adore the expression.  The pure happiness.  The couple who is so at ease with each other.  Bliss.

The ceremony was over – and now it was time to party!  This reception was pretty relaxed, since the venue won’t allow dancing on its antique floors.  But we did set up a DIY photo booth using my props.  Everyone enjoyed it!

A beautiful reception it was, too.  It’s an incredibly small venue, but Alex and Allen made great use of the space available, including the benches along the walls, for seating.  Each table was decorated with flower-dotted driftwood and battery-operated candles (open flames aren’t permitted inside the old structure either).

What a great group of guests this was – they didn’t mind not dancing one bit…  Instead, it felt like a party at someone’s house, with everyone talking and laughing until long after the official party “ended.”

One of my favorite things that Jason did was take photos of the vendors.  So instead of my usual vendor roundup, I present you with photographs!

Alex + Allen’s Modern Rustic Wedding at Olivenhain Meeting Hall, 11*19*2011 Vendor Details:

(not pictured; they only dropped off!)