Weddings are expensive -- everyone knows that. In fact, the average wedding in the NYC tri-state area averages out between $52,000-$80,000 depending on location. It's no wonder that couples are looking to save money anywhere they can. As a planner, I can save my clients money by booking with vendors that we trust and work with frequently. However, there are a few things that you shouldn't do when watching your budget. Here are the top 10 things we tell our clients never to do:
1. Hiring a friend/family member instead of a professional. Sure, you might be super close with someone that has DJ'd a few parties, and maybe you do like the idea of your cousin as your officiant. Trust us, keep your friends and family as guests at your wedding and not as vendors. It becomes a nightmare for your planner to work with your friends and family because if they mess up, suddenly you have to choose who is right. Frequently, friends and family are a lot more laid back than a professional would be, and thus, they aren't going to be as prepared or handle your wedding the way they should. We have had many couples bring in their friend to preside over the ceremony, only to be flooded with phone calls by this friend about how to officiate. Since we are planners, and not officiants, we can't really offer advice to them. We have also seen friends as DJs that show up late, are under prepared and that ignore the carefully designed timeline because they're "friends" with the couple. The result? The food comes out cold, the photographer misses the shots you wanted and every other vendor is thrown off. Again, this is a sticky situation for your planner because if we try to correct it on the wedding day, odds are, you'll take your friend's side. Let your friends and family enjoy the wedding and leave the jobs to the professionals.
2. Foregoing an extra set of chairs. In the case where your ceremony, cocktail hour and reception are all at the same place and you are responsible for your rentals, we are begging you to bring in that second set of chairs. You might think that your 200 or so ceremony chairs can all be moved during cocktail hour from your ceremony location to your reception location, but that's a dangerous bet to make. Plus, you're not really saving that much money by using the same set of chairs. We have seen couples ignore this piece of advice and then their cocktail hour turned into two hours because the chairs still weren't set up in time. In fact, we've even been told by brides that they are frustrated that their reception is starting late. At that point, there's really nothing we can do because we told you to bring in a second set of chairs, you didn't listen, and there is nowhere for anyone to sit. Don't spend the money to hire people to move the chairs, just rent a second set of chairs. Also, don't ask your guests to move their chairs either because that's just tacky.
3. Hiring an all-in-one DJ/planner/horse whisperer. The package deal may seem like a really good one. Then again, there is the saying "jack of all trades, master of none." This couldn't be more true. More and more we are seeing vendors market themselves as more than what they truly are. The biggest offender we see is when DJs market themselves as officiants and event planners. Speaking as an event planner, I would never try to officiate a wedding, nor would I attempt to handle the music. Your DJ should be just that: your DJ. Don't fall for the amazing deal you're getting when they offer to plan your wedding as well as preside over your ceremony for just a few hundred dollars more. You are truly wasting your money here and would be better off hiring a DJ that just handled being a DJ.
4. Cash bar or no bar. Thankfully, we haven't had too many clients make the mistake of either ditching the bar or making their guests pay for it. With so many other ways to save money, this is probably the worst thing that a couple can do. Even if the couple doesn't drink, that doesn't mean that their guests won't want to. If your funds are truly limited, then offer up a simple signature drink, champagne or prosecco for the toasts, and just wine and beer for the reception. Nothing is a bigger buzz kill (pun intended) then when you walk up to a bar at a wedding, ask for a glass of Chablis, and are denied. Worse than no bar is expecting your guests to open their wallets and pay for their drinks. It's tacky enough when there is a tip jar out on the bar at a wedding (we remove those by the way), but it's a cardinal sin to charge anything for the martini that Uncle George wants to have.
5. No videographer. This is one of the biggest regrets we hear from our clients, "I wish I had video of our wedding." You will never get to hear those vows again, you'll never see your first dance, and as beautiful as pictures are, it's video that tells the story of your wedding day. Frequently, you can hire a photographer that also has a videographer on staff and end up saving money for a package deal. However, if you have to hire two separate companies, we suggest doing just that. You may not watch your wedding video for years after your wedding, but trust us, you will watch it. There are so many packages available from videographers from basic coverage to a fully produced film. Find something you can afford and book it.
6. No professional hair and make up artist. For a bride, this is her day to look her best. Even if the bride is a professional stylist, she should not do her own hair and make up. No matter how "simple" you want to look, it takes a professional to bring that out so that it shows up in photographs. Also, it's not just the bride that needs professional hair and make up, but all of her bridesmaids as well as any other women that are going to be photographed. Frequently, the women in the bridal party are responsible for this expense, but sometimes brides offer this as their gift and pay for the service themselves. No matter how you handle it, always hire a professional hair stylist and make up artist. This way you can relax and enjoy getting pampered, and everyone will look camera ready.
7. Not hiring a planner. We know we're biased on this one, but trust us, not hiring a planner, or even a "day of" coordinator, is a bad idea. We frequently hear from couples that their venue "comes with" a coordinator/wedding planner. The difference between a wedding planner and a venue coordinator is that the venue coordinator works only for the venue. They are not going to go with you to your floral appointments and make sure that the linens match the flowers. The venue coordinator is not going to work out a full timeline for all of the vendors and make sure that you leave with enough time to get to the ceremony. The bottom line is, the venue coordinator is going to do less than half of what your wedding planner would. Don't let a venue tell you that you don't need a wedding planner because that is just code for "we don't like working with planners." If a full planner isn't in your budget, the next best thing is to hire a "day of" Coordinator. What you can expect from this coordinator is someone that will start working with you two months prior to your wedding date when things really get busy. The coordinator will design a timeline with all of your vendors from beginning to end to make sure that everything stays on time. The coordinator will also be on site, typically with an assistant, for the entire day to make sure that they are there to handle any problems that come up. Typically these coordinators will charge between $1,500-$3,500 for their package. Word to the wise: do not hire anyone charging you $500 for the day. You want a planner that will work with you prior to the wedding and if they only offer to be there on the actual day of the wedding and have super low rates, run away. You will always get what you pay for, and a true "day of" coordinator needs to be involved leading up to the wedding so that they are useful to you on the wedding day. Anyone that just shows up on the day of will have no idea what is going on and is a waste of your money.
8. Not hiring enough staff. If you are getting married at a venue where there is no event coordinator and everything is being brought in from the outside, always hire enough staff. For instance, if your caterer suggests hiring two waiters per 10 guests, then hire two waiters per guest. If your planner suggests hiring 30 bussers for your 300 person event, then hire 30 bussers for your 300 person event. If you don't have enough staff, your guests will wind up with empty water glasses, no champagne to toast with and plates that never get cleared away, or at least, not quickly enough. There is a reason that your caterer and planner recommend how many staff members to bring on and the reason isn't that they want more money. The professionals know how to make your wedding run smoothly, so if you hire less than they recommend, be prepared for bumps in the road. It is extremely important to make sure you have enough people to valet cars as it is to have enough bartenders to pour drinks.
9. Using a caterer with no wedding experience. Food is becoming a number one priority for couples, and because of this, many couples are booking venues where the can bring in their own caterer. The key word here is "caterer" and not restaurant. Of course, there are restaurants that have experience catering private events such as weddings, but if your favorite restaurant has no experience, then don't let your wedding be their first shot. A proper caterer will bring in enough staff to serve the food and drinks, as well as handle clearing the tables and making sure the glasses are always full. We have seen restaurants show up to weddings, serve food from stations and buffets and that's it. Their staff didn't clear the plates or the glasses, and the tables weren't cleared until guests got frustrated enough to bring their dirty dishes up to the buffet line. In fact at one wedding, my company even ended up clearing dozens of plates just to get them off the table, as well as cleaning up an entire cocktail hour area where plates were left for hours with ants crawling all over them. A good caterer can make or break a wedding, because no matter how good the food is, if there are empty glasses and messy plates everywhere, that is what people will remember.
10. Skimping on your cocktail hour. Cocktail hour is one of the best parts of the wedding. Your guests have just sat through your ceremony, and now they can grab a drink, mingle with their friends and have something to eat. But what happens when they can have something to drink, mingle with their friends and have nothing to eat? The result is a lot of drunk guests by the time the reception rolls around which is not good. Even if the couple doesn't get to enjoy the cocktail hour, that doesn't mean that the guests should suffer. Make sure to offer plenty of food for your guests including passed appetizers and selections from stations. There needs to be enough variety so that your guests aren't seeing the same dish over and over, and so that they aren't waiting on endless lines only to find empty dishes when they reach the front. For cocktail hour, less isn't more, and more is always better.