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How to Plan a Wedding

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Your big day requires a lot of thought, creativity, and input. Maureen Woodman, Director of Sales at Woodman’s and The Essex Room, gives tips on how to plan a wedding.

John Maher: Hi, I’m John Maher. I’m here today with Maureen Woodman, Director of Sales at Woodman’s and the Essex Room, which is a Massachusetts’ wedding venue north of Boston. Maureen is also a wedding planner, and today she’s here to talk about how to plan a wedding.

Maureen Woodman: Hi, John, thank you for having me today. I’m excited to talk about this and see if I can help all the brides around the area.

John: Sounds great. A bride has just gotten engaged. What’s the first step?

Maureen: Congratulations. The first thing I think a lot of the girls do is run down to the store and buy all the bridal magazines. Maybe that helps set their theme and their vision. I would recommend one of the biggest things to do would be to put your guest list together and have some kind of an idea of a budget.

John: They have to think about the guest list, figure out who they want to invite to the wedding, that’s the first step. They come up with a number. They know what their budget is. What do they do next?

Maureen: Then what I would do is contact a few venues, maybe a church if you’re going to have a church wedding. If you’re going to have an onsite wedding, I would make sure the venue can accommodate that. Then I would make sure there was some kind of hotel in the area as well if you have a lot of guests that are coming from out of town.

Those three things kind of have to come together as well as a season for your wedding. Before you actually lock in a date, you may just choose a season that will help guide you. Choose those three and go on some tours. Then choose a date.

John: Why is it important to look at the venues first before picking a date?

Maureen: I equate looking at the venue to looking at college. I feel like the girl has to see themselves there as well as the parents and make sure they fit in. It really takes their vision and dream of their day. I think they can look online at all the photos and see things, but I think, a lot of times, until they actually see themselves in the room, just like when you see yourself in that college campus, you can’t imagine that it’s a perfect fit for you. It’s very important. It’s a very big part of the process.

John: So it wouldn’t make sense to pick a date and then go look around at venues and found that venue doesn’t work for that particular date. That’s why picking the venue you want to be at first and then matching your date to what’s available makes that most sense?

Maureen: That would make the most sense. Again, a season, a lot of girls have a particular feeling about their wedding dress, whether they want it to be strapless or they want it to have sleeves or they want to have fur trim. Everything has to come together in order to go forward with that.

John: They’ve done a guest list, come up with a budget, picked a wedding venue, a church, hotel accommodations. They have that all figured out. What’s the next step after that?

Maureen: The next step I would look into would probably be entertainment. If you’re going to try to get yourself a band, that’s very popular. If you’re going to go with a DJ, I think you’d be OK, but if you have a very popular band, I would probably make that call very quickly.

After that I probably would go buy my dress. Once I had the season marked down, there’s usually a six to eight month lead time on wedding gowns where you can get yourself in a situation where you’re paying additional money because you didn’t order the dress with a long enough time out. I think that’s something that a lot of girls are very surprised at. It takes a good six months to actually get a dress.

John: You said they pick their theme or vision as probably one of the first things they might do. Is that right?

Maureen: I would say, once they lock down whether they’re a princess or they’re in a barn or they have burlap or mason jars full of flowers or they see themselves with some kind of sports theme, from there you probably would want to set your food with your chef that’s at your venue. Your food is going to go along, most likely, with your theme.

John: Do you have any recommendations for food, different seasonal things that people could do?

Maureen: I think the best thing is to organize a menu tasting. I think a menu tasting that’s private, as opposed to doing it in a group, is also very helpful. I think you can sit there and pair your wine or champagne with your food. A lot of girls come in, and they want to start with station food. Then they end up with plated dinners.

Again, depending on the size of your wedding, it’s going to depend if the venue can handle stations or if the venue can only handle plated meals. This is a question for your chef as well as your wedding coordinator.

John: Are there other things to consider when choosing whether or not to do stations? You said the size of the venue is important to making sure that the venue can handle that. Do people these days tend to do more station weddings, or is it still really popular to have plated meals?

Maureen: I find that the brides always want to have station food, and the mothers always want to have plated food. It’s really a very funny thing. When you’re all dressed up, nobody wants to wait in lines.

When it comes down to the day of the actual event and there are lines at stations because you have a lot of customized things that are being done to order and chaffing dishes, whether it’s a mashed potato bar, a pasta station, a salad bar, or a carving station, I think people don’t really want to wait in line when it comes right down to it. I think they’d rather be served and get up and get to the entertainment and start having fun.

John: What about a photographer or videographer? Is that one of the things that they have to plan early on?

Maureen: This is something you can find a huge money swing. You can see photographers that are anywhere from $3,000 to $14,000 dollars. You, really, really need to do your homework here. Not only do you have to look at the quality of the pictures, you have to understand what’s in the package.

A lot of things the girls are doing now are called first look pictures, where they’re taking the pictures before the wedding so they can be part of the wedding instead of that hour and a half where they’re missing the happy hour that they paid all the money for at the venue.

They’d rather take their pictures, then get married, then join the party right away. Another thing you look at today is the video. There are all different kinds of video that are available. There are videos that are actually shown right at the wedding now where they bring the screen in. It’s almost like a nightclub atmosphere.

I think a lot of people now, with their iPhones, they take a lot of really good pictures. It’s something to really do your homework on, more than it used to be. There are black and white photos. There are mother’s books. There’s Shutterfly.

There are sites that go up now where you can see all the pictures ahead of time. All your guests can go and log in, buy the pictures. There’s a lot to your photographer. Most of the people who are doing photos are very, very good. It’s not so much the quality. It’s more the package that you’re shopping.

John: When does the bride buy a dress?

Maureen: Again, the dress, I think, is very important. You should search around. It should be based on your season. You should go in there with your mind open. You should try the dress on. Then you should walk away and come back.

You should go to a couple of stores. You should try to also meet the seamstress when you buy your dress. In the end, you’re really going to have the most relationship with your seamstress. You’re going to see her four to five times before that wedding.

John: What about the wedding cake? What’s involved in planning with that?

Maureen: The wedding cake, again, is kind of a changing thing, even though people still have a cake and the bride and groom still do seem to feed each other. A lot of the girls are opting for cupcakes or sundae bars or some more bars. A lot of girls are doing dessert as well as a smaller wedding cake.

When you go to get the cake, I would say this is something you could do probably three months out, unless, again, you have a baker that’s very, very popular. You might want to just call them and make sure they have your date.

Set up a time to go with your fiancée and do a cake tasting. Most bakeries are very, very accommodating. This can be a really fun time. If you can’t make a decision, they actually let you do three tiered cakes with three different flavors.

One thing I don’t like about that is when you go to serve the cake, the people always seem to want more of the flavor that you don’t have. It’s a fun time to pick your cake. It’s not stressful. It’s very romantic in a funny way. It’s something that, I think, you should really shop two or three bakers and find the perfect cake.

Then you have to find the perfect frosting. There are four to five different kinds of styles of frosting. Right now one of the most popular ones is called the lace frosting where they actually decorate the cake. It’s very, very feminine and very, very beautiful.

John: Do you do a lot of groom cakes? I know some people are doing that these days as well.

Maureen: A lot of people are doing the black velvet cake right now. They’ll have one flavor, and then the separate cake would be the black velvet, which would be the grooms cake traditionally.

John: Transportation is something else to think about when planning a wedding. We’re talking about limos and things like that. What’s involved in transportation?

Maureen: Again, if you’re going to do something really popular like The Trolley Company or you’re going to do a horse and buggy or you have some special vintage car that you want to rent, I would get on that sooner rather than later.

If you’re just going to go with the traditional limo or possibly a Rolls‑Royce, there are three or four great companies that are always around, just like your photographers. I would shop price on that. This is another thing where hours come into play, the timeline.

Do you want to be picked up, brought to the wedding? Do you also want to be picked up after the reception and brought to your honeymoon? How much time do you really need to have this? Is your wedding party going to go in special transportation, or is it just you and your groom?

There are a few decisions there. Not too difficult unless you want to have a vintage car or if you want to have one of the trollies. There are not always a lot of trollies available on certain days. There’s just not a lot of supply around here.

John: Flowers are, obviously, another thing to consider. What are people looking at in terms of flowers?

Maureen: I think flowers, again, are another one of these places where you could have seasonal flowers. You could get your own flowers. You could spend $1,000, but then you could go sky’s the limit. I’ve seen flowers up to $20,000.

This is a very giant place where I recommend the girls get their bridal magazines, cut out photos of what they think they want, and really set a budget before you go to the florist. Many of the florists will do a sample for you, if you ask them, of what you’re centerpiece or bouquet will look like.

It’s also wise to choose a flower that’s in the season of your wedding as opposed to choosing a flower that’s out of season. This could cost you three times the amount of money when you go to buy a flower that’s out of season.

Do a little bit of homework. Again, all the flower people, they do beautiful, beautiful work. I think the biggest thing is timing. You want to make sure they’re at your house the day of the wedding early enough. You want to make sure that the flowers are going to stay fresh, especially in the hot summer months. Also in the really cold months you have to watch that.

John: Are there certain types of flowers that you might choose depending on what season your wedding is in?

Maureen: Absolutely. Look up flowers for the month of your local area. When you pick the date and you start to get your colors in place and your vision, then you go to the florist and say to them, “Which flower do you recommend would be the best for this month? These are the colors that I like. This is really what I’m looking for for my centerpiece, for my bouquet, for my parents’ flowers,” and go from there.

John: When does a bride need to choose their invitations and send those out? I know the last couple of weddings that I’ve been to, I’ve gotten a save the date card right after they were engaged. Is that something that’s important to do, or is that just in certain situations?

Maureen: I think the save the date is very trendy. It’s been around now probably for a good 7 to 10 years. It’s getting more and more popular. I think with Vista Print and all these companies on the internet, the young bride and groom of today are very internet savvy, making their own invitations.

For the save the date they usually like to put fun photos on those. Usually that has to do with hotel accommodations when a lot of their friends are coming from out of state. They want them to know that they have to book a plane ticket. They have to book a hotel, and they have to lock that date in. A lot of people add that to their Christmas card or holiday card as well, so you know it’s coming up.

Then as far as your invitations, again, once you meet with your chef, then you’re ready to go with your invitations. If you’re going to have a choice of food, you have to put that on your invitation as well as your wedding coordinator has to tell you what’s the day that you would have to have your final count in.

We like the girls to send their invitations out six to eight weeks ahead of time but leave themselves three weeks before their wedding, one last week, where they can call everyone that was a little tardy on their RSVP. Then they have to come in to us with their final count. So many people are having chicken. So many people are having beef.

If you’re going with one food item or all stations where everyone is getting the same kind of food, then you don’t really have to worry as much about the count, because the count is just going to be the people or the number. You still need that last week to call the people that did not call you.

The other thing that’s very popular now is the girls are adding email to their respond cards. Even though they’re sending them out, they seem to have a better response from people on email than actually sending the invitation back in a timely manner.

John: Then, of course, everyone wants to know about the honeymoon. Is that something that needs to be planned well out in advance? I’d imagine if you’re going far away and need to book a plane that you’ll get the best deals the further out that you plan that.

Maureen: Yeah, like anything else. I also think this is something you do alone with your groom or your fiancée. This is another one of those romantic times that the bride and groom get together. They make their first decision of where they’re going to travel together as a married couple.

The same thing, you can shop on the internet. You can pick a destination. You can pick it by seasonality. There are still a lot of girls who actually use travel agents now on their honeymoon, because the travel agent is going to know the most time.

Remember, everybody is working. Most people even work on Saturdays now. Your time is precious. Usually the only time anyone has to do anything is on Sunday, and on Sunday you have other things to do in your life. You really have to be efficient with your time management and try to get one task done before you go to the next.

John: There are an awful lot of different things to think about in terms of planning a wedding and a lot to do. What’s the overall time line for this? Is this something that can get planned in a year? Do you need longer than that? Can you plan a wedding in six months?

Maureen: At The Essex Room we’ve done both. We’ve planned weddings in three months. We’ve planned weddings in two years. I think 12 months is a nice amount of time, 9‑12 months, I think, is plenty of time.

If you have too much time, you’re going to change your mind. You’re going to be disappointed. The trends are going to change. You’re going to constantly be second guessing yourself. Once you get yourself down to that nine months, if you take your checklist, which you can find anywhere, every bridal magazine has one, you just go in order. I would say nine months is plenty of time.

John: All right. Maureen, thank you very much for speaking with me.

Maureen: OK, John. Thank you so much for having me today.

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