You Had Questions, We Got Answers

As I mentioned in Thursday’s recap of wedding planner Jodi Moraru’s online chat, Jodi received such a flood of questions that she couldn’t get to the very last few. Since there won’t be a wedding planner next week to pick up where Jodi left off (we’re having a cake baker instead), I turned to former chat guest Allison Jackson to answer these final four questions. Thanks, Allison!

Arlington: I’m somehow hoping to get a caterer with open bar for 160 to come for under $10K. Am I dreaming? Any recommendations?

No, you aren’t dreaming. You may just need to be flexible on your choice of caterer and focus on companies that are more moderately priced. When calling various catering companies, I would be very up front about your budget. If the catering company cannot meet your budget, the catering consultant will let you know and perhaps even refer you to another caterer.

A few things that may help you stay at that $10,000 budget. . . . If possible, purchase the alcohol on your own and have the bartenders serve it. Ideally, purchase the alcohol from a retailer or distributor that will allow you to return for credit what you don’t consume that night. That will save you a lot of money. Keep in mind that liquor laws require that you purchase alcohol in the state where you plan on hosting your event.

Also, consider hosting a cocktail buffet with heavy hors d’oeuvres instead of a seated dinner or buffet dinner with full seating. Ask your caterer for tips on how you can keep food and catering equipment simple so that you can stay within your budget. Most caterers would be happy to work out a plan to meet your budget.

DC: Where are good places in DC to take dance lessons before the wedding?

Anyone living in Washington—whether preparing for a wedding or not—should at some point take advantage of the lessons and regular social dances offered at historic Glen Echo Park. Most classes are held in the newly renovated Spanish Ballroom, and you can practice what you learn at the dance events held there regularly throughout the year. Glen Echo Park is a Washington treasure, and incidentally a very unique wedding reception venue.

Also, Arthur Murray Studios has franchises in the Washington area, including Bethesda, Alexandria, and Tysons Corner.

DC: I’m recently engaged and planning a June 2009 wedding. I know that this is prime wedding season, but due to my fiancée’s studies, it’s the earliest we can get married and I’d prefer not to wait until next fall. That said, do you have any suggestions on how to negotiate  prices with vendors or tips for saving money during prime wedding season? Thanks!

First of all, I’m not sure there is a “slow season” for vendors in the hospitality industry in Washington. When not servicing weddings during the typical wedding seasons, caterers and florists and musicians are busy servicing corporate, political, and nonprofit events.

With that in mind, I would say that what you have going for you is that you are planning well in advance. In my experience, vendors like the idea of locking in a job far into the future and may be willing to be flexible on price if they are interested in working with you.

One way to generate vendor interest in your wedding is simply to be nice. The most important thing to keep in mind is that when negotiating with vendors in the hospitality industry, being nice and respectful goes a long way. I cannot stress that enough.

When contacting vendors, I would be up front and let them know that you are hoping to receive bids from a few different sources. Also, give them a sense of your budget. The more information you give your vendors up front, the more meaningful their proposals will be. If you are interested in bringing your prices down, just ask the vendors in a respectful way what you may be able to do to save money. If you are interested in having a vendor include a special service or item in their proposal at no additional cost, just ask. Just be sure to ask in a nice way.

Finally, if there is room in your budget, consider hiring a wedding planner. Vendors tend to want the business of respected event planners because they are repeat customers. Any good wedding planner should come with strong vendor relationships, which usually translates into price breaks for clients.

Atlanta: My ceremony and reception are at two different locations, and it will take about 20 minutes to get across town. If I expect my ceremony to be over around 4 PM, do I officially start the reception at 5? Or 4:30? My fiancé and I are taking pictures after the ceremony but want to attend as much of the cocktail  reception as possible. Is it okay to start it at 5, or will that leave guests standing around  waiting for the bar to open? The reception is at a country club, not at a hotel where guests are staying. Is it in poor taste to suggest they walk over to a famous bar after the ceremony and offer them bus service from the bar running to the reception site at 4:45? Do we host that brief one-cocktail reception or are we just throwing away too much money for our already tight budget?

I definitely would not start the cocktail reception at 5 because absolutely you will have guests standing around waiting for the bar to open. The way your guests are received and treated at the start of your reception really sets the tone for the rest of the celebration.

The idea of inviting guests to a well-known nearby bar sounds fun! However, you will need to be sure the bar will set aside enough room and staff to service all of your guests. This might require a food and beverage minimum or some sort of extra rental or service fee. Depending on how the bar handles these kinds of private bookings, this could add significantly to your costs.

Another way to approach this is to try to minimize your time taking pictures after the ceremony. Many photographers will work with organized shot lists and even bring a long an assistant to help organize family and wedding-party groupings. The more organized your shot list is, the faster your portraits will go.

You also could ask the country club to extend your cocktail hour a little bit—perhaps from 4:30 to 5:45. Just be careful here. After an hour’s worth of mingling and sampling passed hors d’oeuvres, guests usually get a little restless and are ready for the next thing—whether it’s a seated dinner, food stations, or getting dancing under way.


Click here for a transcript of Allison Jackson’s original chat. Then look to the rightmost column for links to all of our other January wedding chat transcripts. 

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