There are so many questions leading up to your big day, and since this is likely your first and only time planning a wedding, it's sometimes hard to know where to start. We sat down with St. Marys Golf & Country Club's in-house senior Wedding Planner, Ashton Staffen, to gather her expert advice on what to consider when putting together your own wedding plans.
The Wedding Planner's Role
As a Wedding Planner, you are probably asked this question a lot: What services does a Wedding Planner usually take care of, and how can this help relieve some of the stress for the Bride during the planning process and on the big day itself?
Ashton: This question does come up a lot! The answer depends on whether the Wedding Planner works for a particular venue (which is the case with our Planners at St. Marys Golf & Country Club), or if the couple has hired their own freelance Wedding Planner.
If your venue includes an in-house Wedding Planner with your booking, the exact services they provide to you will depend on the venue. Speaking to our own in-house services, during scheduled meetings, we help our couples understand what is important to include in their wedding plan, what timelines to meet (on their own, with the venue, and with other vendors), advice and recommendations that fit their particular vision, and a list of preferred vendors who are trusted and familiar with our venue. Our onsite Planners also provide a customized floor plan of the reception space, and a timeline for the portion of the wedding booked with the venue. Above all else, our onsite Planners keep couples organized through the process, and pair them with one of our venue’s Maitre D’s, who coordinates all of the day of details (including vendors, Wedding Party, Master of Ceremonies, and the kitchen) – so that the Bride and Groom can enjoy their moment and not worry about the little things!
The biggest difference between an onsite Wedding Planner and a freelance Wedding Planner is that freelance Planners work directly for the couple, and thus normally provide additional hours of service. They will help the couple with the initial creation of their wedding vision, book vendors for the couple, and ensure the full vision is carried through beginning to end.
Expected Guest List
The venue is an important decision that can set the tone for the wedding theme and style. Should the Bride know the guest list number prior to looking at venues?
Ashton: Absolutely! At least having an idea of guest count is important for your first meeting with a venue. We understand that your guest count is likely to drop 10-15% when RSVPs come in, but knowing your expected guest count will determine such factors as the dates and spaces available to you (as most venues have minimum and maximum guest counts), your estimate total (so you can accurately budget), and possible suggestions to help you meet your budget.
It’s very exciting to get engaged and often couples start thinking about wedding details right away. When should the wedding planning begin? Is there a specific timeline for booking certain services or vendors?
Ashton: It really depends on the particular couple and their expectations, but normally most start their wedding planning 12-18 months before their wedding date (starting with selecting their venue). Mind you, I’ve helped plan weddings that were three months out, and they went off without a hitch! Again, this goes back to the expectations of the couple. Having the option of customizing a menu, booking certain vendors, or wearing a particular dress is made all the more possible when you have time on your side. Key vendors that are the best in their field – such as venues, photographers, decorators, florists, and even entertainment – will often book peak dates more than a year in advance. If accommodations are limited for the area of your wedding, reserving rooms at local hotels is also good to do early in the planning process. To avoid paying rush fees and to give you the maximum amount of alteration time, I recommend searching for your perfect bridal gown 12 months in advance, and purchasing no later than 10 months before your wedding. Securing an officiant, baker, makeup artist and hair stylist is best to think about six months in advance, or earlier.
When selecting vendors for various services, there are several contracts that the Bride and Groom will be presented with. What are some tips for dealing with “the fine print” and how can you be sure you understand all of the terms, including any refund policies?
Ashton: The best tip I could ever pass along to a Bride and Groom is to select vendors that they can trust. This often means starting with the venue, and choosing vendors that are on their preferred list – we, the venue, have already done the homework for you and work with particular vendors for a reason. With that said, ensure you always read through contracts thoroughly so that you can ask questions before it’s too late to make changes. Understand that most vendors will require a signed contract and deposit at the time of booking, and often deposits are non-refundable. Keep in mind that most of these vendors book a year or more in advance, so if you later cancel your wedding, they will likely be left in a tough spot since they won’t be able to fill your date.
Staying True to You
There can be a lot of input in the wedding planning process from the Bride and Groom’s parents, the wedding party and other close friends. How can the couple stay true to their preferences, and their hopes of how their wedding day will unfold?
Ashton: Remember that this day is about the two of you and that wedding planning should be fun! While it’s nice to consider family traditions or wishes, if it doesn’t feel like a representation of the two of you, then you shouldn’t feel guilty about saying no. Your wedding day is the one day you are allowed to put your needs before others, so you want to do what feels true to you as a couple. Some family or friends may not understand why you chose a certain backdrop for your head table, why you wanted an adult only reception, why you decided to have Mom instead of Dad walk you down the aisle, or why you skipped saying Grace before dinner. However, these decisions aren’t theirs to make – unless it’s their wedding day!
Wedding favours used to be seen as a staple at weddings. Although we are past the fruitcake trend, are favours still common? If so, are there any common trends, or are people opting for other gestures such as charity donations?
Ashton: Definitely! Many couples are still opting for edible favours, such as chocolate mint smoothies, homemade jams, tea, or s’mores or hot chocolate kits. Choosing an edible favour will give you the best bang for you buck, since guests will often (unintentionally) leave at the end of the night without their personalized shot glass or baggie of flower seeds – and then you will have wasted several hundred dollars. One of my favourite edible ideas is having your Baker present your wedding cake on a table alongside a beautiful arrangement of colour-matched deluxe sweets, such as macarons, cake pops, canolli, cookies, and donuts. Add a few personalized bags, and your sweets table serves as a guest favour, while also enhancing the décor in your space!
Charity donations are also quite popular as wedding favours, with many couples opting to support charities that have a personal connection to their family or beliefs as a couple. As well, photo booths are a fun way of creating wedding keepsakes for you and your guests. Have your photographer take Polaroid photos as guests arrive (or during cocktail period), and have your guests sign with a message – then have them place one copy in your guestbook, and gift them with the other copy.
Setting the Budget
During wedding planning, financials can be a hot topic between the couple, as well as family. Do you have any advice on how to stick to a budget or find ways to cut costs?
Ashton: The first thing I would say is to be realistic about what you can afford, and to keep your expectations in-line. Understand that weddings can be expensive, and that everything comes with a price. Thus, if you have 150 guests invited for dinner, it will be hard for your venue to work with a budget suitable for an average wedding of 100 people. As well, while Pinterest and wedding publications are wonderful for creating your wedding inspiration board, keep in mind that your budget may differ from the budget of the wedding you are browsing.
That being said, if your desires outweigh your budget, consider making the following modifications to your plans: choose a Friday wedding date instead of a Saturday, invite a certain number of guests to your dinner and the rest to your dance, eliminate plus ones (that you have never met) to reduce your guest count, choose a casual menu instead of a full dinner, and cut back on the amount of décor or florals to just the necessities. It’s definitely worth it to investigate these options with your preferred vendors, even if they seem out of reach. If you end up getting lower pricing from alternative vendors, this doesn’t mean that they will match your vision at a lower price – you are not always comparing apples to apples, so that extra little bit of money will likely be worth it in the long run.
With custom wedding sites and other online tools, couples may be confused about when invitations should be sent out. Is there a standard amount of time to send them and to wait to receive all RSVPs?
Ashton: Since everyone has so many commitments these days, it’s a good idea to send out Save the Dates a year in advance. To save some money for the formal invites, Save the Dates can simply be sent as evites. Wedding invitations should be sent out three months in advance – regardless of if you choose traditional paper and postage, or modern tools like evites or websites. I recommend an RSVP date of six weeks prior to your wedding, so that you have a few weeks to chase down tardy guests before you have to confirm final numbers and seating plans with your vendors.
Food allergies and various preferences have become more common, which can become a challenge when planning dinner events. Should couples choose their menu based on guest allergies, or can allergies be addressed during the menu planning?
Ashton: Most venues anticipate dietary restrictions (like common gluten and dairy allergies), and will make the necessary meal accommodations on an individual basis. This means that you are likely free to select the menu you want, regardless of your guests’ allergies. Any known allergies should be discussed with the Chef during your menu consultation, but most you will discover as guests RSVP (in which case, you will confirm with your venue when you confirm final numbers).
The First Look
First looks are becoming quite popular. What are the main perks of deciding to see each other prior to the ceremony versus during the walk down the aisle?
Ashton: I am a huge fan of first looks! Not only do you get to spend more time with each other on the day of your wedding, but you also get to spend more time with your guests! Having your photographer take all of your wedding party and couple photos before the ceremony frees up time during cocktail hour to mingle with your family and friends, which then gives you more time during your dance to do what you want to do – dance! Moreover, if you’re nervous in front of large groups of people, and worry that you may be overwhelmed when walking down the aisle, having your special moment together before the ceremony will calm your nerves and help you better remember the first moment you saw each other on your big day.
Outdoor weddings create a naturally beautiful backdrop for the ceremony. What should couples plan for when considering an outdoor venue?
Ashton: The three biggest things to consider with outdoor weddings are seating arrangements, seasonal weather, and of course, the contingency plan. Seating arrangements are necessary to consider, since there likely won’t be permanent chairs or benches for guests to sit on. You will want to look into the seating options with your venue or Wedding Planner, and allow them to help you with making the appropriate arrangements – types of chairs, number of rows, number of chairs per row, and comfort level (especially if you're planning for a longer ceremony).
Secondly, consider the average climate for the season you wish to get married. If you're planning to say your 'I Do's' in Ontario early spring (May) or late fall (October), you may want to indicate on your invitations that your ceremony will be outdoors, so that guests come prepared with a light jacket or shall. If you're hoping for a romantic vow exchange in the snow, arrange for your caterer to give out hot chocolate or cider to guests as they arrive for your winter wonderland ceremony - and keep to a shorter service.
And lastly, although weather predictions are usually wrong, it’s necessary to set a backup plan for unfavourable situations (such as rain or strong winds). If your reception venue is also hosting your ceremony, have them explain to you what your ceremony would look like if it were moved indoors, and then trust in them to deliver on your wedding day. Their specialty is weddings, and they will always do what is in your best interests.
Enjoying the Moment
There is a lot of anticipation and excitement on the morning of wedding days. What preparations can the Bride make in order to stay calm and relaxed on her big day?
Ashton: Surround yourself with good people (bridal party, family, and vendors), overestimate the time you will need to get ready and then assign someone to watch the clock for you, realize that some things are out of your control, and most importantly, remember the reason for your wedding – you are marrying your best friend, and that is really all that matters!
What's the best piece of advice you've been given about wedding planning or marriage? Let us know in the comments below.