Wedding Planner Chat with Maria Cooke, Thursday, July 17 at 11 am

Planning a wedding? Want expert advice? Thursday, July 17 at 11 AM, we'll be hosting a live online chat with Maria Cooke. Submit your questions now.

Silver Spring, MD
My partner and I are getting married and trying to decide who should officiate our 'wedding.' We are of different faiths, so respective clergy will not oversee the ceremony and because it is not (yet) legally binding, a government official has no place. Thoughts?
Congratulations on your upcoming wedding! This is actually a great question and very common in this day and age, especially in the DC area with so many wonderful cultures living in the area. The good news is that there are several officiants in the DC area who will preside over an interfaith wedding ceremony. The Reverend Julie Price is a wonderful contact I have worked with who I would recommend and encourage you and your partner to contact.  Her website:
Fairfax, Virginia
What venues in Virginia would you recommend for a budget conscience bride planning a fall 2009 wedding? I'm planning to have around 100 guests total.
Thanks for your question! There are so many wonderful options in the Virginia area for weddings – especially in the fall. In the Northern Virginia area, I would recommend you consider looking into The Barns at Wolf Trap which is a beautiful rustic setting for a fall wedding that has very reasonable rental rate options. My advice would be to look into their availability early to find out what their indoor concert schedules will be in 2009 since they only allow rentals on dates they do not have other scheduled events. Other wonderful affordable venues include some of the beautiful historic properties owned by the Fairfax County Parks, such as Cabell's Mill. 
Germantown, Md
Hi Maria! I cannot narrow down a theme to save my life! I keep flip flopping from colorful summer fun using bright bold colors to a more elegant affair using golds and whites. Even within the the different themes I can't pick a color scheme. Do you have any suggests to keep me from going crazy? Thank you so much!

Hi there! It can be very overwhelming trying to narrow down all the options out there to focus on a particular color palette for your wedding. I tell the clients I work with to start with considering things like the season, setting and what colors you love. I also think it is a good idea to choose no more than 3 – 4 colors for your color palette that compliment each other. The good news is that these days there are so many helpful websites and blogs that post wonderful ideas and color palette inspiration boards…one of my favorites for daily color inspiration is Snippet & Ink: 

Fairfax, VA
I am struggling with gift ideas for everyone. There are just too many people! Do you have any suggestions for creative "budget friendly" gifts for the following people: reader in the wedding, guest book attendant, host of the bridesmaid luncheon and hosts of a brunch on Saturday morning for out of town guests? Thanks!
Thanks for your question! It's so important to thank the friends and family members who are a part of your big day. My personal opinion is to give a little more to someone who has hosted an event on your behalf since that takes a  lot of work! I like gifts that reflects personality – if they are a wine lover give them the best bottle of wine your budget will allow. You might consider giving them something that is more focused around the area/region you are getting married in like a gift basket with items from the area (honey, jams, etc) or a nice coffee table book about the area. I always love personalized stationary as a gift as well! 
Dulles, VA
What is the best piece of advice you have for a bride in the beginning stages of planning her wedding?
Great question! I think the best advice I can offer for someone in the beginnig stages of planning is to carefully consider some important details. 1. Figuring out your budget is probably THE most important factor that will help make all of your decisions a little easier. 2. Although it is very easy to get carried away with picking a date first…I really encourage couples to first decide where you want to get married (both ceremony & reception locations) and find out their availability as soon as you can. I have seen couples who select a date first and begin making plans only to find out that either a church and/or the reception sites are unavailable and this causes a lot of disappointment! 3. Decide on what is most important to you…especially if you have a limited budget! You might decide to spend a little more on a great photographer but planning for this will allow you to save along the way in other areas. Happy planning! 
Washington, DC
Generally, what is more affordable for brides on a budget – buffet, stations, or plated dinner?
It actually really depends on the types of food you choose and the catering company as well. Typically a dinner buffet and served dinner run about the same. I am a big fan of couples on a budget who opt to do a cocktail reception with heavy appetizers vs. a more traditional dinner. This is generally more affordable and you can still provide enough food to your guests so they have plenty to eat! 
Washington, DC
How do you know when you are supposed to give an additional tip to a vendor?
This is a good question! Typically the rule of thumb is to tip a vendor if you feel you were given outstanding service during the wedding or planning. You might consider a band or DJ that really kept the crowd entertained or to the catering company staff who went above and beyond with professionalism and service. It is really your call and what your budget will allow!  
Arlington, VA
As a boutique style wedding planner do you limit yourself to the same wedding that you will help coordinate?
Thanks for your question! Yes, I definitely want to give my clients the full service and attention they deserve and only book one wedding a weekend and I am always there from start to finish! If you are interested in finding out more about Ritzy Bee Events, please feel free to contact me at 
Arlington, VA
What are some of your favorite shower/wedding favors?
Personally my favorite wedding/shower favors are things your guests will use! I think you can't go wrong with food…mini champagne bottles…a tea gift set…these are all things you are sure to please a crowd with! I recently saw a wedding where the couple gave their favorite book, To Kill a Mockingbird, as their wedding favor to guests…very personal and unique! 
Washington, DC
There are very unique and strange themed weddings referenced in "27 Dresses" (i.e. Gone with the Wind theme, bridesmaid wear tuxes instead of dresses, etc.) I realize this is just a fictional movie, but do those weddings happen often? What is the most unique themed wedding you've ever planned?
What a fun question! Yes, 27 Dresses had some outrageous wedding themes! I can honestly say I have not yet seen a wedding theme quite as unique as one like that before in my planning. I have seen and love couples that do go for something unique. I recently worked with a couple who wanted lots of surprises for their guests…they planned little things during the evening. At the very end of the evening as guests left the venue, there was a concession food stand like you would see at a carnival waiting for guests to serve up mini-burgers, fries, milkshakes and other treats that were very appreciated by guests who had been celebrating late into the night! 
Washington, DC
Is it typical for your invitations to match your wedding colors/reception theme?
I think that it is always nice to use your invitations as a way to set the tone of the event since it is the first element of your wedding guests see. If you can select invitations that reflect the style and color palette of your wedding, all of the details will tie in nicely together! 
Arlington, Va
It's often a lot less expensive to book a DJ rather than a band. How do you help your couples decide between the two? Should putting money into booking a band be a priority? Thanks Maria!
Yes, typically a band is a lot less expensive then a band. Either are perfectly acceptable entertainment at at wedding…it's what your budget will allow! If you are having a hard time deciding you might consider having live music during your cocktail hour and then a DJ for the remainder of the reception. 
Washington, DC
Help! I'm planning a wedding and this awful economy is not helping. I want to save a little money where I can – but not on things that will cause too much stress or look terrible if I do them on my own. What are a few safe areas to DIY?
Don't worry, you are in the same boat as a lot of other couples! I think the important thing to remember is you can DIY if it will look good and if it won't stretch you too thin during the rest of your planning. Areas you might consider are invitations, programs and favors!
Alexandria, VA
One more question… We are trying to cut costs…is it ok not to have a wedding cake and just dessert instead? I have never eaten the cake at a wedding so it just isn't that important to me… Thanks again– Jennifer

Absolutley, desserts are just as wonderful as a wedding cake and I really like the idea of finding a food item that might tie into your wedding style…anything from cupcakes to cookies & milk make a great wedding treat! 

We are just about out of time for the chat today. Thank you so much for joining us! I realize I could not respond to every question so please feel free to email me with any other questions I did not answer to: I also would love for you to visit my blog Ritzy Bee which is updated daily with lots of wedding inspiration! Good luck and best planning wishes!