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A few weeks ago, we started a blog series called “How to Find and Book your Wedding Vendors”. With Fall being the unofficial wedding booking season in Wilmington, we thought we’d help out a bit by passing on some tips for booking your wedding vendors. Last time, we shared wisdom about booking your planner, your venue, and your DJ, and how to shop for your wedding gown.

Join us this week as we talk to four more vendors about when you should book, what you should know, and what to avoid.

Caterers:

Our Expert: Claudia Costa, Bon Appetit Restaurant & Catering
When to book: A year to a year-and-a-half prior to your wedding. Sooner is better, especially if you are having a peak season wedding.
How to find your Caterer: Word of Mouth is key. Ask your friends and/or other wedding vendors for recommendations.
What to look for: Of course, the minimum requirements are that the caterer is licensed, has a permit to serve beverages, and that the food tastes good! Beyond that, your caterer should be flexible and offer you different options to fit your budget. I operate on the belief that our clients should get excellent service and product, no matter what their budget is. Everything on our invoices is itemized so that the couple understands exactly what they are paying for.
Things to know: Let your caterer know which vendors you are working with. Some venues have restrictions on the setup or whether or not meals can be plated. I like to do a site visit with the couple so that we can discuss the setup, so that they can clearly visualize where everything will be and how many tables they will need. This is especially helpful for buffet meals, as we want to make sure the lines for food never get too long. The venue may also require a tent area for food preparation, as we don’t work out of our trucks. All of these things can quickly add up, so it’s important to know that your catering budget will need to cover more than just the food; and to have that conversation with your caterer early on.

Bakeries:

Our Expert: Cindy Laverdiere, Imaginary Cakes
When to book: Six to eight months before your wedding. Sooner than that, the couple generally does not know enough about their theme or number of guests to truly plan their cake. Later than that, we may have reached our cap for their weekend.
How to find your Bakery: Word of mouth from vendors! They eat wedding cake every weekend. 🙂 Also, Wedding Wire is a good place to see reviews. We have over 50 five-star reviews and counting… This is a great comfort for destination couples that won’t be able to come in for a tasting before their wedding.
What to look for: Naturally, a cake needs to look good and taste good! It’s simply not true that wedding cakes can’t /don’t taste good.  Our couples often tell us they didn’t have a crumb left after their wedding! It’s also important for the couple to feel a connection with their cake designer. We include instructions in the top-tier box on how to preserve the tier for their first anniversary, so it tastes just as good as it did on the wedding day! We also help out the catering staff by including an Info Sheet with a diagram of the cake construction (so they know how to slice it), labeling the cake and icing flavors, and noting whether or not the couple intends to keep the top tier. This makes things go so much more smoothly!
Things to know: Make sure your bakery is licensed and certified, and that you know where your cake is being baked. You’ll want to know that your bakery has the staff to make and deliver your cake even if the owner has a family emergency. Also, your bakery should be able to provide you with a firm quote on the spot – there’s nothing worse than leaving and still not knowing what your cake will cost. This is often a sign that the baker is new and is struggling with his/her pricing. Be sure to get a contract, check those online reviews, and taste that cake!

Musicians:

Our Expert: Maura Kropke, wedding violinist
When to book: About a year out for Friday, Saturday, and Sunday weddings; about 6-8 months for off-peak days.
How to find your Musician:  Look on the internet, and ask your vendors.
What to look for:  First and foremost, listen to the samples on their website.  If they don’t have online samples, schedule a meeting.  You want to listen to be sure that the musician’s style matches your vision.  If you’re not sure you have a refined ear for music, pay attention to other aspects as well:  Do they look appropriate — well groomed, professionally dressed?  You don’t want someone shabby playing at your wedding.  Are they prepared?  Do they show up on time?  Do they have a contract?  This is especially important if your friend is the musician.  I get calls four to five times per year to play a wedding where the friend backed out.  It’s also important for musicians to be easy-going — they need to be able to keep playing and go with the flow when things happen that aren’t scripted.
Things to know:  Don’t stress on picking out music.  I’m happy to play suggestions for you to help discover what you like.  If you do have a song in mind, I can tell you whether or not the song will translate well to violin — not every song does!  But your musician should be able to help you.  It’s important to hire musicians that know the venue and the environment.  Every venue has unique acoustics, and standing a few feet in the wrong direction will completely alter the sound.  It helps if your musician knows where to stand to be out of the way.  It’s not about the musician, it’s about the music and the mood it creates.

Photographers:

You know our blog series wouldn’t be complete without a how-to guide for photographers!  So naturally, we want to dish on what savvy couples need to know.
Our Experts:  Jeff Poole and Lori Unruh, indigosilver studio
When to book:  A year or more in advance for Saturdays and Fall and Spring weddings; about 9 months out for Summer, Winter, and Fridays.
How to find your Photographer:  Ask your venue and/or wedding planner.  They see photographers come and go, and they see the good, the bad, and the ugly.
What to look for: Photographic style is HUGELY important!  Asking a photographer who shoots natural light to if they can get dramatic sunsets at your beach wedding would be like asking a renowned pasta chef to make you filet mignon.  It’s not what they do.
      In addition to photographic style, consider their business style.  To use a restaurant analogy, McDonald’s and Ruth’s Chris both sell beef.  McDonald’s is a high-volume business whose goal is to keep upping the number of “Billions Served”.  Ruth’s Chris, on the other hand, is a low-volume business that focuses on quality of the product and the customer service.  Neither is good nor bad; they each serve their purpose, depending on if their customer wants speed and low price, or great experience and great quality.  Photographers are the same way.  Before you begin meeting with photographers, assess your needs: What’s most important? Budget, customer service, image quality?  At indigosilver, we offer options to satisfy couples at both ends of the spectrum.  Couples who tend toward DIY projects to save money may choose one of associate photographers, which streamlines the photography process for quick turnaround and lower investment.  Couples who want the best service, who want to hire expert vendors to take care of the details for them, and who want the utmost customization and options will prefer our full-service signature coverage with Jeff and Lori.

Things to know:  Digital photography has completely changed the landscape.  Couples now insist on owning the files, but they often let that DVD sit in a drawer and collect dust.  Invest in a wedding album.  It will be around long after your hard drives crash, and your grandkids will get to look through it one day.  The other effect of the digital revolution is that it’s now easier than ever to own a camera and set up a website.  It’s crucial that your photographer has tons of experience with weddings.  Weddings are an entirely different beast than portraits or landscapes, and simply owning a camera does not give one the experience to capture the moment when it counts, under any circumstances.  Meet with the photographer and ask to see more than one wedding.  Ask to see a complete wedding in addition to select images.  When couples meet with us at our studio, we have several albums for them to look through, framed portraits on the wall, and a slideshow of years’ worth of work.

So there you have it! What do you think about the advice our experts had to say? Send us a comment below, or better yet, share this post with a couple who is planning their wedding!