53 Wedding Planning Tips From Our Top DC-Area Pros

Let these wedding planning tips serve as your ultimate cheat sheet.

Did you recently just get engaged and hoping to find expert wedding planning tips? To help our newly engaged readers who’re feeling a bit overwhelmed when it comes to planning their special day, we asked a number of local planners to share their expert advice. From creating a wedding-day timeline to transportation hacks to even ways you can stay organized, these wedding planning tips cover everything! Keep reading to learn how you can remain stress-free throughout the planning process and also ensure your celebration goes off without a hitch.  

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Photography by Lisa Boggs Photography

What to Know Before You Begin

1. DC hosts numerous conventions, rallies, walks, and festivals each year. If your wedding is the same weekend, it could be affected by road closures, local traffic, and limited flight and/or hotel-room availability. Before you finalize a wedding date, run it by a representative with the DC tourism bureau to see what’s on the city’s schedule.—Kawania Wooten, Howerton & Wooten Events

2. Create (and actually use and track!) a monthly to-do list with everything that needs to happen between your engagement and your wedding day. Generally, in the first few months couples can expect to choose a date and a venue, set a budget, compile their guest list, and hire the vendors. The middle is about fine-tuning the design elements and creating stationery items. And in the final months couples purchase day-of items like favors, track their guest count, make sure all the vendors and wedding-party members have timeline details, and secure their marriage license.—Margo Fischer, Bright Occasions

3. Look at your year. Are you in school with exams coming up? Are you planning to buy a house and spend weekends house hunting? Take those life events into consideration as you game plan your planning schedule. If you’re super-busy in May or June, stack up your tasks in earlier or later months or delegate to your planner, family, or friends.—Kelley Cannon, Kelley Cannon Events

Consider These Logistics

4. There’s a misconception that you will save money by planning a wedding at a personal property. The extra logistics add up—such as a generator, ample restrooms, extra parking, lighting to the parking area at night, and a plan B in case of rain. It’s personal and exciting to get married at home, but there are a few things to consider first. —Pamela Barefoot, Pamela Barefoot Events & Design

Photography by Jodi & Kurt Photography

Wedding Planning Tips to Keep You Organized

5. Set up a new e-mail address that you and your partner can access, just for the wedding. There will be so many e-mails that it’s worth keeping it separate from your everyday account.—Vicky Choy, Event Accomplished

6. In the end, put all information in one document, and make sure someone in your party (other than you) has this document—especially if you don’t have a wedding planner! —Katie Martin, Elegance & Simplicity

7. Label contracts with the date they were updated; that way you know you have the most recent copies. —Ashley Amtmann, Lemon & Lime Event Design

8. As soon as you sign a contract, make calendar reminders of due dates for payments, head counts, etc. —Laura Ritchie, Grit & Grace

Wedding Planning Tips For Choosing Vendors

9. Once you have your date and venue(s) secured, prioritize booking the vendors who can take only one wedding per day: your photographer, band or DJ, officiant, etc. From there, tackle vendors who can typically take multiple events in a day, such as your florist, baker, transportation company, and so on.—Kelley Cannon

10, All vendors are professionals and can work together. But—and this is where a planner comes in handy—having a team of vendors who regularly work together can make for a more seamless experience.—Lauryn Prattes, Lauryn Prattes Styling and Events

Guest-List Wedding Planning Tips

11. Don’t over-invite assuming guests will decline. People are often excited about a wedding destination such as DC, so the acceptance rate can be higher.—Tabitha Roberts, Roberts & Co. Events

Photography by K. Thompson Photography

Must-Read Wedding Planning Tips

12. Bump your RSVP due date up by two weeks to give yourself more breathing room for inviting B-list guests.—Laura Ritchie

13. In the budget: Don’t forget the little costs—things like vendor parking, vendor meals, gratuities, etc. Put them in the budget from the beginning—they add up!—Katey Clark, Lemon & Lime Event Design

14. Permits: If you take photos on the Mall, you need one. If you need to reserve parking spaces, you need one. In some locations, if you tent, you need one.—Aimee Dominick, A. Dominick Events

15. Make sure you identify who is responsible for the rings and marriage certificate before and after the ceremony.—Megan Pollard, Etc. Coordinators

16. It’s not glamorous or fun, but knowing where every vendor needs power is super important. Especially for those outdoor or tented weddings, plan ahead with diagrams and know where to have generator techs or electricians drop power for your band, restroom trailer, catering, etc. When possible, we have an electrician install outlets at the base of trees or hidden in the ground, running wires under the grass for a seamless look with no unsightly cords for guests to trip on.—Lauryn Prattes

17. Don’t forget to include yourselves in the head count/catering order/seating chart. —Janice Carnevale, Bellwether Events

Vendor Coordination Advice

18. If you have rentals coming from various places, or you are providing them, tell your venue, caterer, and florist. Outline these things in a spreadsheet and explain what they are for. Review this information with your vendor team ahead of time. You don’t want to have heirloom family wedding photos not make it to the escort-card table because no one knew the plan. —Rebecca O’Donnell, Bella Notte Events

19. Create a bite-size PDF of your overall vision with a paragraph description of your vibe, colors, and look that all vendors can put in their file. Pinterest is too much and up for interpretation, so being concise is helpful! Schedule a final site visit with all important vendors six weeks before the wedding so everyone can be filled in on logistics.—Laura Ritchie

Tricks of the Trade

20. Use a double-sided-tape gun for your invites and save-the-date envelopes (if yours do not come with adhesive). It is more efficient, less messy, and holds better than glue or water.—Danielle Couick, Magnolia Bluebird Design & Events

Photography by Lauren Nievod Photography

Picture-Perfect Wedding Planning Tips

21. Communicate to all family members where they need to be for photos and at what time. If family members have to be plucked out of cocktail hour to complete your shot list, this will take extra time and potentially delay you joining in the fun.—Kelley Cannon

22. Create a shot list and go through it with your planner and photographer!—Katey Clark

23. Allow time to get from point A to point B—even walking from your hotel room down to the lobby for the first look. It might only take five minutes, but that’s five minutes your photographer doesn’t have to spend photographing. If you’re going from your hotel to the Mall and Google Maps says it takes 20 minutes, budget 30—you need a buffer, plus a few minutes to get out of the car and reach the spot. And if you’re doing group photos before the ceremony, tell everyone to meet you at the location 15 minutes earlier than you need them. It’s better for them to wait for you than the other way around.—Vicky Choy

24. Assign someone (bridesmaid, friend, mom) to learn all the details about how to fasten your bustle; videos at the final fitting are fabulous. Some bustles are very easy, others are much more complicated.—Ashley Amtmann

25. Be specific about when Champagne will be poured at the table. It should always be timed to a speech or a moment—not pre-poured, so it doesn’t go flat! And for an outdoor wedding, ask the catering team to wait till the very last second to fill water glasses so they don’t sweat and ruin the linens and the beautiful look!—Jeannette Tavares, Evoke Design & Creative

How to Make the Most of It

26. Prioritize being in the moment. Delegate to your team (vendors, wedding party, family) so that you are not responsible for anything other than enjoying the day.—Elizabeth Duncan, Elizabeth Duncan Events

Photography by Abby Jiu Photography

How to Build Your Wedding-Day Timeline

27. Don’t schedule your first dance for right when the reception starts. Moving 100 guests from the cocktail-hour space into dinner, and allowing them enough time to find their seats, easily takes 15 minutes or more. If cocktails are on a different floor, or you’re moving indoors from an outdoor location, it’s often even longer.—Sara Bauleke, Bella Notte Events

28. You might need a very specific timeline for your photographer or band, but instead of making separate timelines for each vendor, stay organized by tracking everyone on one master plan. —Cristina Calvert, Cristina Calvert Signature Weddings & Celebrations

29. Ensure that everyone is where you need them, when you need them! Many people specify one time, such as 4:00, for loved ones to meet for photos or transportation. You’re more likely to run on schedule if you pinpoint several times in the process: family meets in the hotel lobby at 3:40, family boards the bus at 3:50, bus departs at 4:00. This allows time to track down anyone who’s gone rogue without getting behind.—Sara Bauleke

30. Schedule a private moment for you and your spouse. Right after the ceremony, take 10 or 15 minutes to enjoy each other, stuff your face with your delicious appetizers and specialty cocktails, and take a moment of peace before going into the next activity. —Alison Golt, Cherry Blossom Weddings & Events

31. Bustle hustle: Account for the 15 minutes or so needed to bustle your wedding dress right before the reception.—Kawania Wooten

32. Consider adding an extra 30 minutes to the end of the event. If you have a crowd that will hang out longer, extending the celebration is worth the additional staffing charges.—Margo Fischer

Plan To Eat!

33. Pre-order room service or assign someone in the bridal party to bring snacks for breakfast and lunch so everyone can graze while getting ready. —Laura Ritchie

Wedding Planning Advice for Your Reception

34. Hold hands with your partner as much as possible so that you don’t let 45 minutes go by and wonder, “Hey—where is my new husband?”—Katey Clark

35. You will never hit every table during dinner service. Strategically visit the tables you need to before dinner is over, specifically friends and family who you won’t see on the dance floor.—Alison Golt

Photography by Lauren Nievod Photography

Getting Ready Advice

36. Keep hydrated! As you are enjoying the mimosa bar while you get your hair and makeup done, it’s important to also have water bottles on site. If your transportation company allows it, include a case of water bottles in the wedding-party bus.—Cristina Calvert

37. As soon as you check in, put all accessories, paper items, veil, and wedding-day attire together in one place. Easy grab and go for the photographer for detail photos, and you’re not looking around the room for lost items.—Tabitha Roberts

38. Designate the order of who is going when for hair and makeup. You can lose a lot of time playing the “Uh, I guess I can go next” game.—Megan Pollard

39. Have housekeeping clean the suite when you finish getting ready. It will look like a bomb went off.—Aimee Dominick

40. Have on hand straws—you don’t want to mess up your lipstick or risk a spill—and at least one person who knows how to tie a bow tie.—Danielle Couick

41. Make sure all dresses/suits are steamed and wrinkle-free the day before (this means reminding your attendants!), then hang them in an area of the hotel/getting-ready location where no one will touch them. Pack a steamer for touching up.—Margo Fischer

42. If you are changing to a second dress, think about who will take your gown home for you. And what is happening with the bridesmaid bags? Will they be moved to the reception? Don’t forget undergarments and a comfortable, cute pair of shoes for your second look.—Aimee Dominick

43. Keep a crochet hook in your hotel suite. It’s a great tool to use for buttoning the back of wedding dresses, suit jackets, and bustles (without ruining a manicure!).—Kawania Wooten

44. Don’t forget to have a playlist for the getting-ready portion of the wedding morning. Better yet—delegate this task!—Janice Carnevale

Photography by Lisa Boggs Photography

Transportation Advice and Getting Around

45. Hire a car for the end of the night. Ride-sharing apps might be cheaper, but they’re far less reliable. A dedicated car will have a professional driver, be clean, timely, and can help transport gifts, details, personal items, etc., to the hotel.—Danielle Couick

46. Talk to your transportation company about the route they’ll take before committing to a bus size: 55-passenger buses do not fit down all DC streets. Note: parking permits are needed throughout the city, and take time to get approved. Your coordinator should get the bus driver’s phone number in order to check on their status throughout the day. Most drivers’ schedules are not finalized until the day before, so this is typically a Friday-afternoon task.—Megan Pollard

47. Make it accessible! How will grandparents get to the venue—can they do the stairs on the bus?—Jeannette Tavares

48. Your bus and valet contracts shouldn’t end with your reception. Allow at least 30 extra minutes for guests to gather their personal items and depart the venue, and for travel time back to their hotels.—Janice Carnevale

Wedding Planning Tips for Weekend Plans

49. Don’t plan an early morning brunch the next day. You will want to sleep in and take it easy!—Tabitha Roberts

50. Ask your florist to bring the wedding flowers to brunch. There is usually a small delivery fee, but totally worth it! Extra cake is also fun at brunch.—Aimee Dominick

51. If can’t take a day or two off before heading to your honeymoon, pack ahead. Make sure passports and everything you’ll need is organized, and if you have pets, drop them off to whomever is watching them before the wedding weekend. Also, assign a loved one to help bring personal belongings back to your house after the wedding.—Margo Fischer

Don’t Forget

52. When you order your invitations, get matching thank-yous so you can send notes as your wedding gifts come in.—Kawania Wooten

53. No one will know what you didn’t do. Don’t agonize over the things you cannot have; be joyful for the ones you can. At the end of the day, the focus should be celebrating your marriage, not producing a wedding.—Danielle Couick

Assistant Editor, Washingtonian Weddings

Jacqueline comes to Washingtonian with close to five years of digital content experience and SEO best practices. She previously was a senior editorial associate at WeddingWire, specializing in wedding fashion, and before that, an assistant at Vow Bride. Originally from Norfolk, Virginia, she now lives in Columbia Heights.

Amy Moeller
Editor, Washingtonian Weddings

Amy leads Washingtonian Weddings and writes Style Setters for Washingtonian. Prior to joining Washingtonian in March 2016, she was the editor of Capitol File magazine in DC and before that, editor of What’s Up? Weddings in Annapolis.