Before and After: Wedding Vendors

5 Jun

Wedding day gazebo restaurant celebrationThis blog post may have a rather vanilla title, but I wanted to share our experience with our wedding vendors because – in all honesty – they were the biggest cause of stress during our big day preparations. It wasn’t disagreements my groom and I had with each other, it wasn’t meddling parents… it was lack of communication or vendors not delivering what was promised. I want to pass on to brides and grooms our experience, and tips on what to consider when choosing your wedding suppliers.

We chose all the vendors ourselves, as we did not have a wedding planner for recommendations. The decision usually came down to 1) who has the best price, 2) with a great looking product, customer testimonials or industry awards, 3) and is responsive with communication. The latter point was particularly important to us, because we were organizing the wedding in my hometown on the other side of the globe, with a nine-hour time difference that made phone communication difficult.

So here are our wedding day vendors, in alphamabetical order:

My fav vendor! Our wedding day beautician was fast on email, with prices far cheaper than other providers. In person, she was very friendly, and even informed me I wouldn’t need the eyebrow wax I’d planned with her, as they looked fine as is. (Wow! She would have made money from that, so I was very impressed with her honesty!) My  manicure looked great and her spray tan evened out my sunburn lines. During the make-up trial we decided too much eyeliner and darkened brows were not a good look for me, and she took all feedback on board for the day and really toned it back… and our look turned out amazing! I couldn’t stop taking pictures of my bridesmaids during prep time because they looked so gorgeous, and I felt amazing too. And the make-up definitely lasted all day.

We chose a wedding cake maker with amazing example cakes on her website, and who had won several wedding industry awards for her work. However, it would take weeks for her to respond to emails, when I would eventually give up and got up early in the morning to telephone her. It even took her a month to confirm she’d received our deposit and that our spec requests were fine. However, it turned out well; the cake tasted great and looked absolutely magnificent! She matched the sugar flowers on the cake exactly to my bouquet, and replicated the damask design from our invitations and wedding website on the outside of the cake.

We also ordered additional sweets from a bakery chain for our cake buffet table. I ordered three cakes a month in advance, from a place my family regularly uses for birthday cakes. My sister called the day before the wedding to confirm… and they told her they didn’t have any such order. She called to tell me while my groom and I were driving to our hotel… and I promptly freaked out. I waited 10 minutes while my sister SMSed me their phone number, and when I called they said, “Oh no, we actually found it; that’s all fine for tomorrow.” What?! You didn’t think to call back and tell us that?! Guh! Thank you for causing me a meltdown for no reason the evening before our wedding.

MusicCeremony music
We chose a trio of a violin, cello and flute for our ceremony music. All the vendors were quite expensive, but the group we chose had good reviews and a great selection of classical and contemporary music. Again, they were unreliable on email communication, so quite a few early morning calls were made to them. Things did not go so well with them on the day. The flautist arrived only 10 minutes before the ceremony (I found out later), and for some reason they started playing the processional music too early; all the guests rose and were looking expectantly up the aisle a good 2-3 minutes before the first bridesmaid even came in! Also, the flute was really off-key. Sharp, flat – I don’t know… but it made our mid-ceremony musical interlude of “You Raise Me Up” pretty awful to listen to.

We chose this vendor because their decorations are absolutely gorgeous, and they have a huge variety of products and themes. What I found in the process though was that they were not very creative. I don’t know anything about decorating so said to them “our theme is formal elegance and we’d like the centerpieces to involve candles; what can you recommend?”… they just said to look in their catalog for ideas. Erm, yes… I have looked in your catalog and seen every item, but I have no idea how to put them together – and was kind of hoping you would. Tip: if you know there is an area of wedding planning where you’ll need advice, make sure the vendor you choose is willing to spend time with you on it. So I ended up having to design things myself, and while I think our reception room looked completely magical even with fairly basic decorations, I have no idea if anyone else thought it looked good. There were no problems with delivery, but they did string up the fairy lights differently than how we’d discussed. Learning point there: if you can, go with the decorator to your venue to make sure you’re on the same page, and put everything in writing.

Equipment hire
The only extra equipment we hired for the big day was a wooden dancefloor, as our reception venue was fully carpeted and my groom thought that would be strange to dance on. They were fast with email and reasonably priced. The day before the wedding, during our bridal party luncheon, they telephoned to say we hadn’t paid the balance of the hire fee. I informed them I’d transferred money four days before. They insisted I hadn’t, so in the middle of a restaurant I had to read out my credit card details to set up a new payment. On the wedding day, all went fine with delivery and set-up of the dancefloor. Five days later I checked my internet bank, and I saw that the hire company had transferred me the amount of the dancefloor fee, two days after the wedding. This means that I had been correct and they hadn’t checked their own accounts properly, and had refunded me the double-payment. They never contacted me about the mistake.

We used artificial flowers for the bouquets, as I wanted to keep my wedding flowers. This made it easy when planning from the other side of the world, as the florist could put together a “draft” bouquet, send me pictures, and get my feedback. I gave suggestions like “more of the blue orchids, less of the copper rosebuds, not with the fluorescent-looking foliage underneath”, but after a bit of back-and-forth she suddenly got impatient and said I couldn’t have any more changes. Despite sending me photos of the bouquets on four occasions, after weeks of silence she sent an email saying she’d finished and couriered them out – without sending me a snap of the final product to approve. As a result the ribbons around the stem were not what I wanted, but I couldn’t do anything about it then. Oh well. Anyway, the flowers turned out beautifully, and fit fantastically with our color scheme. No one asked us if they were fake, so we assume our guests had no idea! They are a great keepsake.

WelcomeAnother wedding vendor we were completely happy with was the florist providing the buttonholes. She had a great price, was lightning fast on email, and had the boutonnieres fresh and ready for the pick-up time. The flower, a white open rose with camellia leaves and ivy berry in front (all the florist’s suggestion!), was gorgeous. Interestingly my groom had been expecting something larger, while I had been expecting something smaller – so it worked out as a good compromise!

The hairdresser I was originally in touch with moonlighted as a mobile service for weddings, but worked in a salon during the week. Suddenly another woman contacted me saying she would do our wedding day hairdressing instead. It turned out that the new woman was the owner/manager of the salon, and she seemed far less flaky, so I was quite happy with the switcheroo! She had a free hair trial as part of her price, and a bridesmaid came with me to give a second opinion. The hairdresser was really friendly, supportive and honest during the hair trial, taking on board feedback and advising me that my hair bling didn’t match my veil. She even did a trial on my bridesmaid… which was a life saver, as with the bridesmaids’ chin-length hair, the style I had in mind looked too grandmotherly, and it took us five goes to find a style my bridesmaid was happy with. On the wedding day, the bridesmaids’ hair turned out lovely. Mine, however… not so much. We had our hair done on a hotel room balcony and not in front of a mirror, so I didn’t realize until it was all done that she hadn’t added the volume we’d discussed. We also realized as soon as we stepped out into the windy day that she hadn’t added enough hairspray; by the post-ceremony pictures my ‘do is looking like a birds’ nest.

Our handmade wedding invitations were purchased through a Groupon-style offer. Buying this way meant many other couples booked the company at the same time, leading to slow email communication and a long time to wait for the invitations; fortunately we had sent save-the-dates and our wedding website 13 months ahead of the big day, so the paper invitations were just a formality. When we eventually received our invitations, they were just beautiful and the company did a fantastic job matching the damask pattern on them to our wedding website. One learning point to share with you all: hand- made invitations, even when made by professionals, still look handmade. The ribbons across the front were slightly crooked on each and every invitation, some had smudged ink, and some text inserts were not glued on straight. There were also a few typos: one family surname spelled wrong across three invitations, an envelope with the wrong street number, and – ironically – a guest named Errol misprinted as “Error”. Ha! Second learning point: it’s not enough to proofread what you send to the printer, you should also proofread the final product.

We chose our wedding officiant after visiting her booth at a wedding expo. She was very friendly and experienced with international weddings, so knew all the legal ins-and-outs for getting our marriage recognized in both countries. What also impressed us was that she was very focused on tailoring the ceremony to us. She had lots of resources for us, like 25 suggested readings, 25 possible texts for giving each other the rings, and a long list of possible rituals like hand fasting and sand ceremonies. She wowed us a little less during the preparation process though; she would ask us questions or to write anecdotes about our relationship, and then just copy-paste it into the ceremony rather than putting it into her own words. A little lazy? She also had trouble with versioning, and would send us “updated” texts that were actually two versions old and required more work from me to update them. Learning point: use track changes and save each version anew with the date in the file name. On the wedding day itself, she at one point called my groom by a wrong (but similar) name! However, our guests didn’t notice her slip, and in fact gave us really positive reviews about her! Everyone said that she really ran our ceremony well, created a lovely atmosphere, and gave beautiful insights into our relationship. So it all turned out splendidly then!

Ah, the vendor we were most disappointed with. The photographer for our big day was chosen as he was very local (hopefully knowing great spots for shots) and with a great price, which included an engagement photo shoot. Another poor communicator, when we phoned him to chase things after more than a month of radio silence he told us he’d changed email address – and not bothered to inform his (paying) customers. He was pretty friendly, but tried to claim that our booking with him was only until 6pm and not 7pm as agreed; we held him to the original 7pm plan. On the day, things went smoothly… until 6:30pm when he asked if he could leave. We didn’t want to argue on our special day, so told him that was fine. Later, when we saw all of his pictures, we realized that in his half-hour at the reception he’d only taken four pictures – just of the bridal party making their entrances one by one (and not even each bridal party member). What on earth was he doing for 30 minutes? He also hadn’t taken any pictures at the cocktail hour, and had spent that entire time inside taking pictures of table decorations. Guh! I’m not going to frame pictures of our table decorations! As a result we have hardly any pictures of our guests on the day. 😦 Learning point: be specific with where you want your photographer to be, even if you think it’s obvious. We also asked him about the pictures of our engagement photo shoot, and he informed us that while the shoot was free the photographs from it were not. Very dodgy! We said that was fine and we would like to see the pictures anyway, and then decide if we want to buy them. He said he hadn’t processed them yet. When I contacted him a few months later, he replied only: “can’t seem to find your photos – sorry.” What?! You lost them?! I wrote back again saying we’re really keen to see them and politely asking if he could look for them again… and got no reply.

First DanceReception music
We met our DJ at the same wedding expo, and chose him because he had a great selection of music and offered MCing services (and because the other DJs we saw there were really cheesy!). He gave us his music list so we could choose songs for the dinner and dancing, and also a form to fill out on music for key moments in the reception, like the cake cutting and bouquet toss. This was a great prompt for musical moments we hadn’t thought about! During preparation we learned that if we wanted him to also play MC we would need to write the entire script for him ourselves (take heed, other couples!), so we ended up asking a friend to do the honors. We sent the DJ our final song list two weeks before the wedding, then panicked when we didn’t hear back from him until two days before… at first we were worried he hadn’t received our preferences, then – after many emails and phone calls – we started to worry he’d been injured and we’d have to find a replacement DJ. Sounds like an overreaction in hindsight, but it was definitely a bit stressful! On the night, he following our song requests and do-not-play lists to the letter (and wasn’t cheesy at all :D).

For the bridal party transport, we shied away from a fancy car, as the layout of both our ceremony and reception venues meant no one would see us arrive or what we arrived in. We found a limousine company that hired out chauffeur-driven white sedans with wedding ribbons on the front, for almost half the price of our limousine. The company was great with email communication and super friendly. On the day, the driver came to our hotel room to meet us and escort us to the car, and even helped me and my massive wedding dress into and out of the car. We approached the ceremony site five minutes early so he did an extra lap to make sure we arrived at the scheduled time. He was very friendly, very punctual, and we adored his chauffeur outfit and the red carpet treatment (literally, they rolled out a little red carpet for us when we arrived!). Only problem, we realized later, was that champagne for the bride and groom during the car ride to the reception was included in the price… but we never received it.

(Our mini-bus wasn't nearly as cool as this one!)

(Our mini-bus wasn’t nearly as cool as this one!)

We also booked transport for our guests to and from the ceremony. The company we chose offered the best price for the number of seats in their mini-buses, and also provided the largest mini-buses we could find in my hometown. They added a sign at the front of the bus on the day saying “Wedding Charter” so everyone knew it was the right bus. We didn’t hear any complaints from guests about the transport, so assume there were no logistical problems on the day!

Our reception venue was chosen because it had accommodation on-site and was close to the beach – big pluses for our 90% out-of-town guests! A big selling point was that the venue manager was a former wedding planner who said she could do “eeeeeeeverything” with assisting us with wedding preparations. This turned out not to be the case, and the most she did was recommend one baby-sitting service and one cake maker, and didn’t even make introductions. Six months before the wedding she emailed us that she had quit her position and only had a few weeks left. Eek! We had phone meetings in that time to clarify all loose ends. Her boss stepped in, and it soon emerged that our venue manager had over-promised quite a lot: they could not in fact waive the cake-cutting fee, we were not allowed to hold an after-party on site, and we couldn’t simply reserve an area for our farewell breakfast but had to pay a hire fee. Yikes! Fortunately, everything went swimmingly in the final weeks. They were very helpful with walking us through the venue, answering questions and getting set up. All went smoothly on the big day, and I was impressed to see them all communicating on walkie-talkies… except they forgot the guests who had dietary requirements, and my groom’s family’s table didn’t get drinks. However, the food was fantastic, the venue looked gorgeous all decorated, and our out-of-town guests loved their hotel rooms and being nearby the beach!

Who has been your favorite wedding vendor to work with, and why? Have you had any stressful experiences or learning points from working with your big day suppliers?

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One Response to “Before and After: Wedding Vendors”


  1. Why do you need a Wedding Day of Coordinator? - SwaLaRue Events - December 26, 2014

    […] ensure we knew all the options to make the best decision, as was revealed in last week’s post reviewing our wedding day vendors this didn’t work out so swimmingly. Out of 15 or so wedding day vendors, it was only three […]

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