Wedding Planner Chat with Laura Auer, Thursday, August 28 at 11 AM

Planning a wedding? Want expert advice? Every Thursday at 11 AM, check out the Bridal Party blog for a live online chat with a different wedding expert.

Worcester, MA
Hi Laura, My reception challenge is this: FI and I have committed to the indoor venue and DJ for our small afternoon (60 to be invited) wedding. It didn't hit me until a recent family gathering on FI's side how much his family (half our guest list) just stands around in their cliques and smoke and drink and they aren't the dance floor grooving type either. We will probably do buffet to get people up and moving around but I'm envisioning a sad looking dance floor. Someone suggested a mobile casino, FI and I like the idea but we'd have to give up the DJ and use our iPod in order to afford the casino stuff. In some way shape or form I want my reception to be fun but at this point I'm not sure where to turn. Thanks!!

Good morning! I understand your predicament and have to admit that most afternoon weddings end up with less dancing overall. For your fiance's family, how about a lounge area where they can migrate to and chat?  DaVinci's Florist or Capital Decor and events both offer reasonably priced furniture rental pieces.  Another entertainment option might be a photo booth.  Party Booths and Regeti's Photography both offer versions that would be fun for your guests.  Be sure your reception site allows smoking or has a convenient outdoor smoking area if you anticipate those guests will want to light up.  Many DC-area venues won't allow that indoors.

I highly recommend doing everything you can to keep your DJ on board. So many iPod weddings go awry when the cousin you place in charge decides that he'd rather be on the dance floor or hanging out with his family.  Having a professional choose the music selections and make appropriate announcements is something that an iPod really can't replace.  Opt to make other budget cuts like a limited bar, no favors, or stationery instead of butlered hors d'oeuvres.

Arlington, VA
How did you make the jump from liking to plan parties to becoming a party planner??
This is a great question.  So often I'm asked by aspiring planners how I made the switch.  For me, it was the scariest decision I've made to date.  Choosing to be self-employed and pursuing a hobby as a career is not for the faint of heart!  I knew I wanted to be involved in the special events industry in some capacity but was not sure where to begin.  My very first clients were free, the first paid clients offered me $50 for an entire day of work, and over the years I've been lucky enough to start supporting myself on the small salary weddings bring.  Looking back it was the best decision I've made and I wouldn't have it any other way.
Wash, DC
What was the most unique wedding menu you've ever planned? I'm a big foodie and am looking for ideas that haven't been done to death. Thanks!

My favorite wedding menu was a Caribbean-themed event.  The bride and groom met while serving as crew aboard a Windjammer-type cruise in the Cook islands!  They chose to carry the tropical/Polynesian idea through to their wedding.  Gillian at Caribbean Caterers hooked them up with some fantastic authentic dishes and the guests just went nuts over it.  From my perspective, it was nice to see something other than filet and crabcake with mashed potatoes and haricot verts.

For more creative ideas, I recommend you have a heart-to-heart with your catering sales person and their chef.  The chef might be dying to try something new but they haven't included it on their regular menu offerings yet.  By letting them know you're interested in something outside the box they'll be able to work with you on a customized menu that fits.

Washington, DC
I've heard that when you hire a good event planner, the money that your planner can save you on various vendors (based on relationships, volume of business…) can almost pay for the cost of the planning. Is this true for your business? Can you get brides lower prices on vendors than they would get on their own?

This question is such an important one when considering hiring an event planner.  So many wedding planning books and articles tell brides that a good planner will save you enough money to cover their fees.  While this might be true in some instances, you have to be careful about the way you're saving that money.

If Wedding Planner Cindy recommends DJ Cheesy, who is offering a $250 discount, be sure you like DJ Cheesy before you sign.  The two vendors may have a shady relationship that offers another kickback to Wedding Planner Cindy (hence her recommendation).  My company never accepts kickbacks (or more politely known as "referral fees") but it is a very common practice in the DC wedding industry.

Another example would be if Bride Jane really loves letterpress invitations and Wedding Planner Debbie offers a cheaper embossed alternative with a similar style.  If Bride Jane still picks the letterpress, that potential cost savings is lost.  While any planner can certainly come up with way to cut corners without sacrificing quality, the decisions you make will ultimately determine whether your planning fees are subsidized by savings.

Arlington, VA
How do I know that my planner is actually recommending a quality vendor and not just someone they are friends with? It seems like everyone knows everyone in your business.

It's true that DC-area vendors are a very tight-knit community. We see each other at networking events, talk a lot about your upcoming weddings on a daily basis, and spend every Saturday night working together.

If you have confidence in your planner, they will always recommend quality vendors that fit with your budget, style, and personality.  The primary job of a wedding planner is to help you make smart decisions for your big day.  So often these are the same vendors that they work with on a regular basis, hence the recommendations of their 'friends.'  They know what to expect from that vendor during the planning process and on the wedding day.  If you trust your planner, trust their recommendations.

On the flip side, be careful of a planner who is consistently recommending vendors who are out of your price range or you don't really "click" with personality-wise.  If you're interviewing DJ Cheesy after DJ Cheesy and none of them are what you're looking for, have an honest chat with your planner to determine why these vendors are their favorites.  If there's no great excuse to back up the recommendations, you may be uncovering some shady business practices. 

Washington, DC
How do you stay fresh on your ideas? Any tips for staying up-to-date with trends?

Yes, absolutely! Part of a wedding planner's job is to keep up with the latest styles, colors, and event themes.  Bridal magazines offer a peek into the future and help steer the industry.  Pink and Brown has been a popular color scheme for the past two years and we can all thank our gal Martha for that.

Our team tends to catch cutting-edge trends on wedding blogs.  Some of our favorites are Snippet and Ink, Elizabeth Anne Designs, and Style Me Pretty.  These daily blogs feature some of the prettiest real wedding photos and inspiration boards which influence the wedding industry as a whole.

The latest color trends are oranges and yellows.  Brides are incorporating these with hot pinks and fuschias, black and white, or even chocolate brown.  Orange isn't just for fall anymore!  If you're up to date on your trends you'll probably also notice that chocolate fountains are dead, candy bars are on their way out, signature drinks are still hot, photo booths are taking over, and ice cream sundae or s'mores stations are up and coming.  In the future we'll see more mixed bridal parties (best women and bridesmen), bird themes, and hopefully an emphasis on green and eco-friendly events.

Washington, DC
Is it realistic to think I can plan a wedding on my own? I'm not extremely knowledgeable in the industry, but I am organized!

Yes, you can absolutely plan a wedding on your own!  You're off to a great start on the Washingtonian website since the vendors they include on their annual listings are at the top of their game in this area.  So many websites like offer free planning tools that get you organized with your budget, timeline, and guest list.

If you're planning on your own, I still highly recommend budgeting for a wedding day coordinator. Many of the brides we work with arrange all their own vendors, send out their own invitations, and schedule all the events of the weekend.  Our role is to confirm those vendors, catch any pitfalls, and ensure the rehearsal and wedding day go off without a hitch.  Having someone to tell you when to begin the ceremony, set up your place cards, answer the DJ's questions, and remind your dad before his toast is a smart investment for any bride.  Being able to enjoy the wedding day without worrying about the details is what we're all about!

Arlington, Va
A few friends are getting married in upcoming months. How crucial is it to stick to the registry? Or if I have another idea of a good present based on the couple, is that ok? Thanks!

As a girl who got married two years ago, I can say that the non-registry gifts we received haven't been used in our household more than once or twice.  We got a small pottery bowl (from a crafts fair, no doubt), a wooden cheese board (neither of us are into cheese), an electric griddle that collects dust, and a set of towels that don't match our bathroom.  When in doubt, stick to the registry.

That being said, if you really know the couple well and are 110% sure that they'll use your gift, there's no problem with deviating from the registry. Gifts like concert or show tickets, gift cards, or restaurant certificates are sure to be used (and are great for re-gifting, just in case).

Baltimore, MD
How can I cut down on costs for flowers?

Fresh flowers are expensive and rightly so.  Many times they make their way from a climate-controlled greenhouse in Holland or Ecuador and must pass through several hands to make it to your wedding in tip-top shape.

To cut costs, first chat with your florist.  Be honest with your budget and they can help you work around the "must-haves" and the "want-to-haves." They can also recommend alternatives.  For example, peonies and large garden roses have a similar look but a large cost difference.  Another idea is to choose non-floral centerpieces.  Candles, river rocks, and glassware all look romantic in a dim room.  You won't want to scrimp on your bridal bouquet but consider ways to cut back everywhere else.

Arlington, VA
I don't want to do assigned seating, but my fiance really wants to do it. What are the pros and cons of assigned seating?

Do assigned seating!

Without a designated place to sit, guests will be confused.  The "movie theater syndrome" sets in and guests will leave a seat between them and another couple they do not know.  That leaves holes and all of a sudden you're out of seats for 30 of your guests.  By telling which table they should be seated at, there's no room for error, misinterpretation, or families who get split up at dinner.  While I don't condone assigning each seat at the table to a specific person, at least do organize your guests by table.

Arlington, VA
Hi Laura – September 2009 wedding so I have about a year to get it all done. I've booked my venue for the wedding ceremony and reception but my question to you is…what is the best way to organize what vendors I book next? I don't want to miss out on booking a fantastic vendor because I waited too long.
Once you have your guest list, ceremony, and reception venue, aim for a great caterer then a photographer.  Your florist, cake baker, wedding dress, and all the other details can wait until the start of next year.  Work from the costliest to the cheapest.  Then you'll have a better idea of your budget for the details after the big pieces are settled.
Worcester, MA
My FI and I met through online dating 5 years ago – have you seen or have any suggestions how I can incorporate an 'ode' to this somewhere in the wedding. I've searched for ideas and inspiration and haven't found anything.
So many of our couples met online.  It's a great way to find love! To incorporate this into your wedding day, we've seen couples who thank as part of their toast, use the logo of the website as the groom's cake, or even have the commercial's theme song play as they are introduced to the reception (you know the one: "this will be…an everlasting love"). I think it would also be cute as incorporated into your wedding vows but only for a lighthearted non-traditional ceremony, never as part of a Catholic Mass or the like.
washington, dc
I just got engaged on Thursday and we want to get planning out of the way as soon as possible, so we can relax. Our wedding date is seven months away. What should we prioritize? What are some major ways we can cut costs?

Congratulations!  You're not wasting any time, are you?

First I recommend taking a week or so to enjoy being engaged and talking with your new fiance about the type of wedding you want.  Casual or formal?  Springtime or Winter?  DC or destination?

Once you have a clear picture in your mind, create a guest list and talk about the budget.  With those two pieces you can find your reception venue and nail down your date.  Only then can you begin the rest of your planning.  The order I recommend is catering, photographer, officiant, videographer, gown, florist, cake, rings, invitations/programs, transportation, and lodging.  Then you can finish it off with lighting, favors, and all the accessories like a cake knife, guest book, and toasting flutes.

Your best cost-cutting move is to limit the guest list.  If you haven't seen that college friend since graduation day in 2003, they don't need to come to the wedding.  If your great aunt's next door neighbor comes to all the family weddings, she doesn't need to come to yours.  Consider a more intimate event to save on the cost of the meal (and subsequently the invitations, the tables, the chairs, the floral centerpiece, the wedding cake, the shuttle bus, and all the other things that guest count influences). Of course a professional planner can help you get organized and started on the right foot with a few planning sessions.



That's all the time we have for today!  Thank you for submitting all your great questions and for stopping in today.  If we missed you, feel free to email me directly at so I can answer your question.  We also write a daily blog with regular advice, wedding photos, and information on DC-area venues and vendors.  Go to and click "Blog"!