Catering ‘Service Charge’ Explained

It is the most commonly asked question – what DOES the service charge include?  It doesn’t always mean servers, which we know can be confusing.  Most catering companies (and venues) have a lot of odds and ends that cost them money to make your event happen, and in turn, will apply a percentage to your event in order to cover those costs.   In lieu of sending you a 4-page breakdown of every single item they are charging you for, the end result is the service charge line on your invoice.  Typically this percentage ranges between 18–20% for offsite catering, and 21–23% for exclusive catering at a venue.

Your service charge includes the following:

  • Serving Items
    This includes things like chafers to keep the food hot, large salad platters, bowls for dressings, large serving spoons and other items at the buffet line.  Some caterers will also bring stands to elevate displayed food – not only does it look cool, but it is actually practical in making the most of the table’s space.  Passed hors d’oeuvres need something to be set on when they are moving around, such as platters and trays.  All of these extra items can really add up, so instead of listing every single spoon, tray, and pan, they are included under the umbrella of the service charge.
  • Large Equipment & Delivery Vehicles
    When your food is prepped at the catering kitchen it still has to travel to you and most times your event isn’t around the corner. Large warmers/ovens and refrigerated trucks keep your food at the appropriate temperature so it tastes just as fresh as it did the second it came out of the oven. This equipment requires purchasing and maintenance, just like your daily driver, our trucks need gas and routine oil changes/maintenance.  The service charge contributes to these costs, ensuring your caterer is able to afford to properly execute your event.  No one wants to eat a wilted salad or ice cold chicken parmesan!
  • Behind the Scenes Staff
    Before your event, operations staff prep and load the trucks with all the rentals and equipment needed to execute your event.  They are loading dishes that were cleaned by dishwashers and food prepped by prep cooks.  It takes 6–8 hours of pre-production before your caterer even arrives at your event. Before you, your family or your wedding planner see the caterer set foot at your venue, there have been at least 10 people already involved in the making of your event that day.  Once the event is over, staff unloads the equipment, sends the dishes, silverware, and glassware to the dishwasher area and it starts all over again the next day.  These staff members receive a wage just like any other job and the service charge contributes towards these pre and post event production costs.
  • Event Staff – MAYBE
    This one depends on the caterer and venue.  Most offsite caterers will have a separate line item for labor, and this is partly due to the fluctuation in venue layout, dinner style etc. The floor plan/number of floors at the venue, number of event hours, travel time, style of dinner, rentals, and other extras like wine service influence the off-site labor calculation. In this scenario, they charge on the lower end for service charge.  When a venue has an in-house caterer, they may only charge for EXTRA staff, such as security guards, or additional chefs, bartenders or servers if the event’s menu or special services require it.  A lot of venues include a certain time frame for your event time with your rental (ie: 4 hours of the event included in rental, $250 per additional hour). This helps them balance the costs of staff with the service charge alone and they don’t need to charge anything more than the 21- 23% service charge. When they are the exclusive caterer, they are able to store things at the venue as well, which eliminates the back and forth transport of many items that your offsite caterer has to bring every time.

So there you have it, the mysterious service charge line in your quote or invoice explained.  Every caterer may do things slightly different so it never hurts to ask them about all they include in their catering quote.  No matter what the case, there is A LOT that goes on behind the scenes of your event.  We understand you don’t do this every day, and we expect questions so don’t be afraid to ask!

Fun and Clever Ways to Keep Your Wedding Buffet Moving

If you are considering having a buffet style dinner service at your reception, one of the concerns you may have is how to manage your guests to ensure there won’t be a long line of hungry people!  There are a few ways to handle this task while keeping things interesting and a bit more interactive for your guests rather than just calling them up by a table number. Here are some fun ways to keep your buffet running smoothly and get your guests fed in a timely manner.

1. Play Your Favorite Tunes
On each table, instead of a number, put one of your favorite tunes. Have the DJ announce to the guests to listen for the song on their table to be played and when they hear it to “dance” over to the buffet line. This keeps your guests engaged, plus who doesn’t like music while they wait.

2. Centerpiece Specifics 
Instead of having the same floral centerpiece at each table, try mixing it up by featuring a different flower at each table. Have your DJ call out the names of the different flowers and whichever table has those on it gets to go. If you go this route, remember to keep it limited to flowers that most people will recognize; some good ones would be: roses, daisies, carnations, sunflowers, lilies, and tulips.  If you really doubt your guest’s ability to recognize flowers, you could always go by color, maybe different colored roses, or whichever flower is your favorite, on each table.
Keep in mind, you can make this idea work with any type of centerpieces you choose to have, straying away from the traditional florals is never a bad thing either!

3. Sing For Your Supper
Have your DJ pick a secret song with “Love” in the title then go from table to table and ask your guests to sing a few bars of a song that they think it might be. Whichever table has the guest that guesses the correct song gets to hit the buffet line first!

4. Relationship Trivia
This idea has a similar set-up to the previous but this time, instead of singing, the DJ will ask a question about you and your significant other. The first person to get the question correct earns their table the right to head to the buffet!

These are just a few ideas that will keep your guests engaged and entertained. Don’t be afraid to think outside of the box and have fun with it.  Make your wedding so much fun that your guests will even enjoy waiting for their food (now that’s impressive).  Happy wedding planning!

Creative and Imaginative Wedding Centerpiece Ideas

When you start tossing around decorating ideas for your big day, you will come to find that centerpieces are a must for your reception. Even if you are not into over-the-top décor, centerpieces are almost required for added ambiance on your tables. The most common, and often stunning, centerpiece is the classic floral arrangement. Today, however, I would like to offer up some alternative ideas that I have seen in the past in case flowers aren’t your thing or you are looking for a unique and creative replacement for your tabletop!

  • Edible Centerpieces – This one is my new favorite trend. It offers not only an inviting and original look for the table, but also an hors d’oeuvres option for your guests. This could be something like an antipasto platter, which if done correctly by a great caterer, can be both artistic and a great pre-dinner snack. Another option is fresh sliced fruit to provide great color for the table as well as an appealing spring and summer treat. Desserts can also be created as centerpieces, think a cupcake tower for a neat display done in your wedding colors.  Also, a great rustic or holiday tabletop idea can be cookie jars, pies or tarts.
  • Potted Herbs– This option is great for the spring and summer months when you and your guests are feeling the fresh summer vibe. This centerpiece idea comes off very sweet and shabby chic or rustic. Not to mention, this is a budget friendly option as well. These can be in pots, rustic jars, crates, the list goes on. Often they give off a pleasant aroma and you can even opt for herbs that compliment the dinner if you really want to take things to the next level.
  • Vintage Lanterns and Candles– Lanterns are a great base to work with. You can fill them up with candles from large to small, flowers, or succulents. These can save you on flowers and aren’t too difficult to play with if making your own DIY centerpieces. Floating candles or twinkle lights also give off the same cozy atmosphere.
  • Special Touches– Don’t forget you can also jazz up your table with all kinds of odds and ends. Think branches, pinecones, pumpkins, cinnamon sticks, cranberries, feathers and baby’s breath.

So while floral centerpieces are always timeless, there are also chic ways to change it up. The above are just a few ideas to get your creative mind thinking of ways to make your day even more distinguishable and memorable for you by adding your own touch and style.  Happy wedding planning!

Workouts and Recipes to get you Wedding Day Ready

There is a lot to plan and prepare for your wedding, and I’m not just talking about linens, DJs and flowers. It is common to hear about people wanting to get in shape for their big day. It’s the one day even the most anti-gym people express they want to look and feel great. There’s only one problem – gyms can be expensive!  And diets have a bad reputation for consisting of bland and meager “meals”.  But wait, I have good news for you!  You don’t have to starve or run yourself into the ground to look and feel great on your wedding day – the secret is taking care of yourself and staying active on your own time. It might be hard to get started, but I am here to help make it a little easier. Here are three of my favorite fitness blogs, as well as some of their featured recipes to help you get wedding ready. Did I mention you don’t have to pay a membership fee to gain access to all these great things? Finally, something for your wedding that DOESN’T cost you anything!

1. Breakfast with Blogilates
This social media sweetheart will get your body moving and heart pumping in no time! Known for encouraging healthy lifestyles and fun workouts, Cassey Ho has created multiple types of workouts for all interests. She has a lot of great recipes and resources to help you feel great for your big day. Here is one of my favorite breakfast recipes:

Berry Crunch Oatmeal
Ingredients:
1 cup quick cook dry oats
2 tbsp dried cranberries
Few raspberries
2 cups hot water
2 tbsp honey Greek yogurt
1 tbsp pistachios
Honey or agave (for extra sweetness)
Directions:
1. Combine oats and dried cranberries in a bowl with hot water. Stir together. They will cook in the bowl.
2. Put a dollop of Greek yogurt on top.
3. Top with pistachios, raspberries, and honey.

Pair it with a workout to wake up your abs:
http://www.blogilates.com/blog/video/extreme-abs-3-intense-at-home-ab-workout-for-flat-abs/

2. Lunch with Tone It Up
Fitness duo Karena and Katrina have mastered the art of hybrid workouts. They even have their own line of protein shakes! Whether you want to get results fast with HIIT, or stretch it out with some yoga, they have the perfect workout for you. Try this delicious lunch recipe:

Strawberry Fields BIKINI Wrap
Ingredients:
1-2 collard greens
4-6 oz grilled chicken
1 Tbs red onion, chopped
3 strawberries
2 Tbs fresh mint, chopped
Drizzle agave
Directions:
Lay all ingredients in your collard green. Wrap up and enjoy!

 Pair it with a great kettle ball workout:
https://www.toneitup.com/workouts/new-workout-bikini-kettle-band/

3. Dinner with Fit Blender
Daniel and Kelli describe themselves as “a husband and wife team of personal trainers on a shoe string budget.” They are strong advocates for living a healthy, active lifestyle, no matter your budget. They know first-hand what it is like to try and fit a workout into your schedule – they both juggled full time jobs while growing their fitness brand.  Try this delicious stir fry recipe for dinner:

Garlic Basil Chicken Vegetable Stir Fry
Ingredients:
1 onion
1.5 cups carrots
10 mushrooms
2 celery stalks
1.5 cup corn
1 zucchini
1 head of broccoli
1 lb mung bean sprouts
2 chicken breasts, diced (or vegan/vegetarian options; see below)
3 Tbsp cooking oil
4-6 garlic cloves
4 Tbsp soy sauce
1 Tbsp basil
Rice: white, black, brown, wild, etc
*Cook enough rice to make at least 3 cups; no harm in making extra as it makes for quick and easy leftover dishes for meals that follow.
Directions:
1. Start cooking the rice of your choice so that it will be ready when you are. Chop up the chicken & all of the vegetables into desired bite sized pieces.
2. Add the oil and chicken to a cooking pan on medium heat and allow it to start cooking.
3. Add the basil, garlic, onions, and carrots; sauté for extra flavor. Once the onions are transparent, add in the rest of the vegetables (which take less time to cook) and soy sauce. Stir well. Once the vegetables are cooked to your liking (also making sure the chicken is cooked all the way through), serve over rice or rice noodles and enjoy.
Try not to add any additional salt, instead focusing on increasing the basil or garlic if you want more flavor. 

Made as described, this recipe will feed four hungry people (possibly more if you add more rice to each dish). Save leftovers in the fridge for an easy meal option later on.

Pair it with this workout:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zsaGmHsIGy8

As you can see, getting fit for your big day doesn’t have to be bland and unenjoyable.  There are tons of healthy and delicious recipes all over the internet, be sure to mix it up and try new things in order to avoid getting sick of the same basic meals.  Also, remember, working out only requires a tiny part of your day.  Feel free to start out small with a few at-home exercises or maybe a walk around the neighborhood after work.  Your wedding is by-far one of the most memorable days of your life, be sure you are at your happiest and feeling great about yourself in every way!  Enjoy your new recipes and workouts.  Happy wedding planning!

Refreshing Spring Wedding Ideas

Spring is upon us and with the change in weather, we are seeing couples opt for some less formal options, as well as, lighter menu selections to add to the big day.  Below are some fresh and cool ideas for the warmer months of 2016:

Grown up Popsicles:
“Poptails”, or frozen cocktails are a playful idea for the spring or summer and the options are endless. These can go with your wedding theme or be a take on your favorite cocktail. Great with champagne or prosecco, examples include champagne and raspberry, margarita, wine soaked, bourbon peach and many more. Also, feel free to leave out the alcohol in some for a kid-friendly version!

Mix and Matched Décor:
From stemware to plates to chairs not everything has to match anymore. If you are going for a slightly more casual and lively look, this is a new trend in the wedding world. You can also apply the same concept to bridesmaid dresses and color palates. Don’t be afraid to get eclectic!

Fruit and Veggie Bar:
This is a great cocktail hour idea for a lighter fare. For the veggies, this is all about the dips, be sure to have a few different dip options! To change up the traditional veggie and fruit display idea, you could offer individual veggie cups with dip or yogurt and fruit parfaits.

Dessert Shooters:
For a late night snack or appealing display, these are a standout dessert option. Wedding cake is often left untouched, but mini desserts seem to fly off the tray! Some ideas include Strawberry Shortcake, Key Lime, Lemon Meringue, Boston  Crème Pie, Banana Cream, and Lemon Cheesecake

Low-Key Ceremonies:
If you are a more private couple, you can choose to keep your wedding ceremony simple. I am seeing this more and more with couples who want to get to the celebrating while still having a meaningful intimate moment with one another. Another way to keep things relaxed is by offering pre-ceremony cocktails because, well, it’s never a bad time for a cocktail!

Spring weddings are great and super enjoyable.  Not only is the weather beautiful, but this time of year allows for a lot of fun food and drink options.  Whether you want a low-key wedding or to go above and beyond, these ideas can help make your special day complete.  Happy wedding planning!

4 Must Have Spring Wedding Cocktails

Who doesn’t love a spring wedding? Everyone will be looking forward to the great weather and beautiful blooms on your special day, but there’s no reason to stop there!  There are so many ways to tie a spring theme to your wedding beyond just your bouquet.  I compiled a few of my favorite floral inspired drink recipes for you to try. Looks like this spring will be a gin-lovers dream!

Lemon and Lavender Collins
2oz gin
1oz lavender simple syrup
1oz lemon juice
Seltzer Water
Sprig of lavender or lemon wheel for garnish

Lavender Simple Syrup Recipe
1 cup of water
1 cup of sugar
1 Tbsp Lavender Extract

Part 1 – Making the Lavender Simple Syrup
– In a saucepan over medium-high heat, add the water and sugar
– Stir to combine, then bring to a boil
– When all of the sugar has dissolved, reduce the heat and simmer for 2 to 3 minutes
– Turn the heat off, add in the Lavender Extract, stir
– Allow to cool completely before using
Part 2 – Mixology
– In a cocktail glass, add in a good handful of ice followed by the gin, lavender simple syrup, and lemon juice.
– Stir, then top off with seltzer water.
– Garnish with a sprig of lavender or thinly sliced lemon wheel and enjoy!

Cardamom Rose Cocktail
1.5oz of Hendrick’s gin (this is a rose & cucumber infused gin)
.75oz of Rose syrup
.25oz of Fresh lemon juice
.75oz of Fresh ruby red grapefruit juice
2 dashes of Peychauds bitters
1 Cardamom Pod

Rose Syrup Recipe
2.5 cups water
4 cups sugar
.25 cup fresh lime juice
.5 cup rose water

Part 1 – Making the Rose Syrup
– Bring water and sugar to a boil in a saucepan
– Simmer for 10 minutes
– Add the lime juice and rose water and cook 10 minutes longer, stirring occasionally
– Remove the pan from heat and allow to cool
– Pour the syrup into a clean, dry bottle
Part 2 – Mixology
– Lightly muddle 1 cardamom pod at the bottom of shaker
(not too much muddling or it will overpower the drink)
– Add the rest of the ingredients and ice; Shake for 20 seconds
– Strain over fresh ice to remove the cardamom pod
– Add a splash of seltzer water
– Garnish with rose petals or fresh lemon wedge

Jasmine Cocktail
1.5oz gin
.75oz fresh lemon juice
.25oz Campari
.25oz Cointreau

Mixology
– Combine ingredients in a shaker with ice and shake to chill.
– Strain into a chilled martini glass and garnish with a lemon twist

Chamomile Honey and Whiskey Cocktail
6 chamomile tea bags
4 cups water
4 tbsp honey
3oz whiskey or bourbon
2 orange slices
3 lemon slices
Fresh chamomile flowers (optional)

Mixology
– Heat water to a boil, pour hot water over tea bags in a large, heat-safe pitcher/container
– Add honey and bourbon and let steep for 5 – 10 minutes
– Pour mixture into a shaker, add ice and shake for 15 seconds.
– Pour over ice cubes into a rocks glass, and garnish with chamomile flowersI’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, having a signature cocktail at your wedding is a great idea!

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, having a signature cocktail at your wedding is a great idea!  Leave your guests with the memory of something they had only exclusively at your wedding and will talk about for long after the day is over.  Give one or two, or maybe even all, of these cocktails a try and you will be glad you did!  Enjoy! And as always, happy wedding planning.

3 Things Your Wedding Caterer Wants You to Stop Doing

I know you are new to wedding planning, and for most couples, this is the first time they have ever had to plan something so big and detailed. But don’t worry!  That is why I am here to help you build your dream day! With that said, there will come times when you will need to momentarily step back and to let the wedding professionals guide you. Your wedding is your vision and I want to help you get there. Just keep in mind that sometimes you may need to briefly get out of the driver’s seat – just long enough for your wedding vendors to map things out for you.  Below are three things that you should stop doing when planning your wedding in order to make the process easier and more enjoyable for everyone!

1. Not Revealing Your Budget
While it may seem like being completely upfront and honest with your vendors could make you too vulnerable, it’s actually the opposite. This is your first time, but wedding professionals do this every day. It is very common for couples to hide their desired catering budget and us wedding professionals don’t understand why! When you go to buy a car, you know before you leave the house whether you’ll be shopping for a Honda or Lamborghini, and you should follow that same mindset while planning your wedding. Give your caterer a starting budget that you know you are comfortable with, even just a range is fine! Providing a dollar amount as a strong starting point is so much more helpful than saying, “low budget”, “affordable” or “high-end budget” – your definition of “affordable” could mean a far different number than another couple.
The worst thing you can do is ignore the budget topic altogether.  Your caterer will want to provide you the best services within your budget. No caterer wants to scare you away with a giant sticker price and also doesn’t want to disappoint you with something more basic than what you had in mind. Trust that your wedding caterer isn’t out for every dime of your budget! Holding out on your budget only slows things down and makes it take longer to get you the information you need. If you truly don’t have a budget in mind, be upfront about it, but also be realistic that you may not get the type of catering proposal you had in mind right off the bat.

2. Bringing an Entourage to Your Tasting (Especially Without Notice)
This one can easily be avoided. For most caterers, they plan ahead to serve two people and prepare accordingly. Your tasting is basically a private dinner consisting of one on one time with the chef. Unlike restaurants, not all caterers have endless amounts of food on hand. Caterers order food fresh for each event and order the quantity based on attendance. Your caterer will understand that there may be a parent, bridal party member, or sibling who wants to come as well, and that is fine, but you should be sure to share that information beforehand.  Not only does your caterer not want to look ill prepared, but they also like to know your proposed headcount ahead of time to make things easier on you. If you have six people that want to join your tasting, most caterers will kindly guide you toward a more intimate number. While it is understandable that some people may be helping you pay for the wedding, or your best friends are foodies and you value their opinions, there really can be too many cooks in the kitchen. Once you surpass four people, the opinions can be overwhelming, and you may walk away feeling more stressed than needed. The value of bringing others into the wedding planning process is understandable and appreciated, but ultimately this day is about you and your partner. This is your day to be yourselves, and have things the way the two of you like them! If you bring too many strong opinions to the table, you might lose your wedding day identity.

3. Asking Too Many Questions without Answering Any of Theirs
We know this is an exciting time, and definitely an unknown domain. You have nothing but questions, and that is very normal, but remember how often your caterer has done this. Let them guide you. It’s just like in school – if you wait long enough, your questions will probably be answered before you have to ask them. You’ll get your answers faster by providing some first. It’s very hard to tell you how many servers you will need to have on staff for your event if you don’t state how many people you’re expecting or what type of dinner you want. Event hours, guest count, type of dinner service, and type of bar are just a few of the factors in calculating event costs. The only question you really SHOULD ask upfront is to see a menu, because after all, if you don’t love what your potential caterer is cooking up, it’s time to keep looking.

While this post focused on things to avoid while working with your wedding caterer, these 3 tips can be applied with almost all of your other wedding vendors as well.  Not everyone is out to get you when planning a wedding.  Wedding professionals understand what a great expense a wedding is and want to make your event as amazing as possible.  This is why it is important to be honest about your budget so that they can plan accordingly and do their absolute best to fulfill all of your requests.  Also, remember, whether it be about food, color scheme, decorations or anything else, don’t let anyone’s opinion take over your day, you and your future spouse should make all the final decisions and always remember to please yourselves before anyone else!  While your mind will most likely be filled with questions the whole time you are planning your wedding, stay calm!  If you are working with the right wedding vendors they will ease your mind and provide you with the knowledge you need to plan your dream day.  I hope this helps and as always, happy wedding planning!

12 Month Wedding Planning Timeline

When you first get engaged, it seems to be proper for you to immediately start planning the wedding.  But in my opinion, you’re missing out on an amazing part of your life together if you do that.  Why not enjoy your engagement a little bit before you go bonkers and start stressing out?  Why not celebrate the fact that you’re going to spend the rest of your lives together, instead of spending all of your time worrying about one day?  Not to say that your wedding day isn’t a big day, it’s a huge day!  But don’t let it get to you.

I’ve looked at a lot of timelines people suggest for when you get engaged, for when to start looking for a venue, when to order your cake, your invitations, etc.  But they all seem to have items on their to-do lists that I just don’t think are necessary, or maybe just in the wrong place.  Now, I will agree that a year is a good amount of time to be planning the wedding, not including your blissful, “We just got engaged!” phase together.  The more time you give yourself, the less stressed you’ll be, and the more time you’ll have to save up some money.

So with that, here is my version of a To-Do List:
Oh but first here one more tip! Get your engagement photos taken during your blissful stage, before all the planning.  This will produce some of the cutest pictures and you will have plenty of time to get them printed and back to you before you send save-the-dates and invites.  Don’t have this feel like just another item on your checklist to get done.  This is a sweet and wonderful time full of happiness, so take advantage of that!

12 Months Out:
*Get a wedding binder
This is for you to be able to keep track of everything you’ll be needing and going over; contracts, quotes, pictures, etc.  Have this include a calendar of some sort so you can keep track of all your appointments.  This is something you should be doing whether or not you have a coordinator.
*Work on your budget
This is very serious and very important.  If you do not sit down with your significant other and decide on a budget, it could open up a whole new door of complications.  Together, decide what you can afford and what some absolutely necessary items would be and what some things you can live without are.  Without a budget, you’ll never know when to stop.
*Write down a preliminary guest list
You will, at least, need to have an idea of how many people you will be inviting because this has a lot to do with your budget.  If you know how many people you’ll need to feed, you’ll know how much money that will cost; the more people, the more food cost.
*Choose a wedding date
This one may be a little obvious but sometimes you’ll need a couple of different dates.  So sit down together and discuss at least 2 or 3 dates in case you find the perfect venue, and they don’t have your first choice.  Sometimes even just a month and day of the week would be enough to give you the freedom for whatever venue you fall in love with.
*Start looking for ideas
Now you should have your budget, so you will know if you’re going to be making your decorations yourself or having someone else do them.  Start browsing around the internet and see all the different ideas that are out there.  Pinterest is a great place to start and we both know, a helpful wedding blog is always great!
*Start looking for your dress
At this point, we don’t expect you to find THE dress, but you should, at least, start to look at places that are affordable for you.  There are hundreds of places to get a wedding dress and you don’t want to miss out on anything because you don’t have time to try all the places you’d like to.
*Pick your bridal party
If you want to do something cute to invite your friends to be in your bridal party, now is the time to do it.  I’m sure a select few would know it’s coming, but it shows your appreciation if you go out of your way to ask.  It is not a small commitment for your maid-of-honor and bridesmaids to say yes.  The same goes for your sweetheart, make sure you both know how many you want in the party and that he asks as well!
*Pick your venue
You will need at least a month to shop around for venues, so start now and you’ll have a better chance of finding your date.  Once you find the place you want to get married, DO NOT HESITATE!  If you hesitate to book it, someone else will take it right out from under you.

9 Months Out:
*Save the Dates 

Pick and send out your save the dates.  I love the idea of a picture of the couple for save the dates but keep in mind the extra cost on the photos.
*Gift Registry
Go ahead and start registering.  Sometimes this can take quite a while, so give yourself plenty of time and don’t feel rushed, but don’t overwhelm your guests either.  Find a happy medium.
*Pick and order your dress 
You may have already found the one by now, but in case you haven’t, it’s time to get crackin’!  Every bride wants to look their best on their wedding day, but don’t go crazy.  Make sure that once you have your fitting, you’re at a size you plan on being at, and maintain that.  Be comfortable with yourself and don’t work out too much, but also, don’t go overboard at those cake tastings.  Don’t try to make your body fit the dress; make the dress fit your body.  You will look much more beautiful if your dress fits you perfectly!
*Block out rooms at a hotel
If you’re going to have a bunch of out of town guests, you’ll need to have a block of rooms at a hotel that is decently close to your venue.  Hotels do not charge you for this and will give you a lower rate for the block.  Try and find something that won’t be too expensive either, they are already spending money to fly or drive to your wedding destination.  Also make sure your guests get the information for the hotel you have rooms at.
*Shop for bridesmaids dresses
This is something that can get very stressful, if you let it.  Decide if you want matching dresses, just matching colors or just a matching color scheme.  It is good to have your bridesmaids go with you, so you can see what style dress looks good on them.  But if you’re doing all one dress style and color, don’t let them sway your decision completely and stress you out.  Try to keep the cost down on these dresses as well.  If you do the dress shopping far out enough in advance, your friends may have more time to save up for the dress, but it is still something they will probably only wear to your wedding.  In the end, you probably won’t be able to make everyone happy, but try your best.
*Book your honeymoon 
Take some time and look into different airfares and hotels.  Be sure to make this fun and exciting!  Don’t stress out over it.  Go somewhere that you’ll both enjoy and can afford.  Also, don’t forget about a hotel the night of your wedding if you are leaving in the morning.
*Shop for and purchase your wedding rings
 If your engagement ring was bought as a set, it will probably be easiest to go back to the same place, but you don’t necessarily have to, and you don’t need to get his there either.  Look around at what other places have to offer.  Make sure it’s something you love, because you’ll be wearing it for the rest of your life!
*Book your DJ, Photographer, Florist, Cake, etc.
This is probably the part that will take the biggest hit to your pocket.  Now is the time you’ll need to start putting down deposits to book your musicians, photographers and videographers, day of coordinator, etc.  Make sure you have done plenty of research on someone before you give them your money.  Look into their past events, make sure it’s something you want and make sure you have good chemistry with your vendors.  Don’t book someone that you don’t really get along with.  If you are doing your decorations yourself, start buying all of your products to make them, and start working on them.  Give yourself enough time just in case an idea doesn’t work, or you end up needing more of something.  Making the decorations can be extremely stressful, so don’t procrastinate it and feel free to recruit some free help.  When it comes to your cake, please, please, please try many different bakeries and their cakes, check into many different prices, and look at past cakes they’ve done.  It is a horrible experience to have your cake be dropped off hours before your wedding and it be wrong (Yes, I have witnessed this happen.  It was able to be fixed up a bit, but the couple was still unhappy with the situation and it really stressed them out, that’s not something you need).

6 Months Out:
*Book the rehearsal dinner
Make sure you get your guest list for the dinner and everyone gets an invite.  Don’t forget to invite them to the ceremony rehearsal as well.
*Look for and rent Groom and Groomsmen’s tuxes
This is not nearly as painful of a process as finding the bridesmaids dresses, but it is just as important.  Make sure to give yourself enough time for it.
*Order the rest of your bridal accessories
Now is when you should be getting your cute extras.  Order your veil, gloves if needed, undergarments for the dress and don’t forget your shoes (or to break in your shoes if you already have them).
*Finalize your guest list
Sit down with your honey and make some more cuts, if necessary, or add a few more people you hadn’t thought of.  Try to get a good idea of how many invitations you’ll need before you order them.
*Select and order your invitations
Invitations are very important, so make sure you order plenty of them and with enough time to get them sent out and get your RSVP’s back.  Sending out the invitations can be very time consuming because you’ll probably have to address every one of them.  And again, some free help is always appreciated here if you can find it!

2 Months Out:
This is the time for you to start to finalize everything.  You’re now in the home stretch!  So make sure everyone is on the same page and everything is being paid for!
*Order your cake
This is something you are allowed to be picky about.  Don’t be afraid to express exactly what you want and make sure there is no confusion and no questions when you leave.
*Check in with your wedding party
 Give them a little nudge and make sure they have everything that they need, just don’t forget to be nice!
*Get your marriage license
 Find out what requirements there are for obtaining your marriage license and make sure you get it done, and don’t forget to pick it up once it’s ready.
*Send out thank you cards for the engagement party
You should have already ordered your invitation set, and hopefully your thank you cards as well.  Make sure you order a few extra to send for the gifts you received at your engagement party/bridal party/etc.
*Finalize day of transportation and jobs
You can easily get caught up in all of the fun details like decorations, dresses, makeup, and invitations, but it would be quite embarrassing if you had forgotten about how you’ll get to your ceremony or how you’ll be sent off as the newlyweds.  Some venues have rooms for you to get ready in the day of, so it takes a little stress off of you.  You won’t have to worry about getting in the car with your dress or having your makeup sweat off, but what about the send-off?  Do you want to drive off into the night in an old classic car that says just married?  Don’t forget about the transportation!  Also, finalize what everyone will be responsible for.  Whether someone is in charge of making sure you don’t forget a shoe, or that all of the party favors get to the venue. Make sure someone has a job for the clean-up.  A lot of places won’t clean your decorations for you, so delegate someone to take them home, or make sure your decorator knows when to pick them up.
*Start to pay off your vendors
The sooner you can start to get some things paid off, the more it takes off your mind and the less you have to do closer to the big day.
*Pick your hair and make-up stylists
 Don’t go into this blindly.  Look around at different stylists, or maybe you have a friend that can do it.  Either way, make sure you have a trial run!  This way, you can discuss everything in much more detail when it’s actually being done.  If something doesn’t work out, you know not to do it again.
*Mail out your invites 
You could do this earlier, just be sure and give your guests plenty of time to clear their schedules and ask that the RSVP’s are back 3-4 weeks prior to the wedding.

1 Month Out: 
*Finalize vendors and pay them
Some vendors don’t require final payment until a couple of weeks out, but the sooner you get it done, the more stress it removes from you.
*Pick up your rings
Make sure they are correct, whether there is an engraving, or the size is right, etc.
*Write your speeches and vows
Make sure anything you want to say at the rehearsal or the wedding, is down on paper somewhere.  It helps to write it down and get it out, that way you can tweak it if you want.  And if you lose it, it will probably be easier to remake.  Have someone read it too, or read it to them, and see if they have any suggestions.  The vows are very important and should be taken seriously.  You are making one of the biggest commitments you will ever make in your life.  Don’t go into it lightly.
*Something old, new, borrowed, and blue
If you’re going the traditional route, make sure that you have your something old, something new, something borrowed, and something blue, and be sure and keep track of them!
*Purchase guest book, cake cutting set, champagne flutes, etc.
Go ahead and get your small items like this.  This gives you enough time to look around for the cutest sign-in book and cake cutter.
*Check in with those that haven’t RSVP’d
This is not going to be fun, but you need to start hunting down those, hopefully only a few, people that still haven’t RSVP’d.  You have to know a final guest count for your caterer and so that your venue knows how many to seat for.
*Schedule a final dress fitting
It’s crunch time!  Make sure it fits!
*Put together a timeline for the night
Your vendors will need a timeline so they know when to set up and be ready and when to come back and pick everything up.  If you have a coordinator, she may do this, but do it with her and make sure you’re both on the same page.

1 Week Out: 
*Finalize any due balances
Make sure everything is paid for and there are no loose ends!
*Pick up your dress
Yay! It’s time to go get your dress!  This should be a simple enough exchange, just make sure you keep the dress clean!
*Confirm any last minute details
If you have a limo, make sure it is confirmed.  Confirm drop off and pick up times for your vendors.  Confirm reservations.  Any small detail that could go wrong, make sure it’s going to go right!
*Emergency kit
Put together an emergency kit for yourself and your bridal party.  Extra bobby pins, safety pins, sewing kit (if you’ve got someone who can sew), hair bands, tissues, band-aids, anything you can possibly think of that you might need.  If you think about it and decide against it, you know you’ll need it, so just put it in the kit anyway!
*Go get pampered
Treat yourself to a mani/pedi, or a facial, or go full out and have a spa day.  After how stressed you’ve been, it’ll be nice to just relax right before your big day.

1 Day Before:
*Pack all necessary day of items
Make sure you don’t forget anything.  If you need to make a list to help you remember everything, do it.  Especially don’t forget the rings, license, or the cake cutting set!
*Attend rehearsal dinner
Now would be a good time to test out your new waterproof makeup.  If you plan on giving out any gifts, now is also the time to do it.  But most importantly, have fun!  Enjoy some good food and good company before the big day.
*Go to bed early
You may not be able to fall asleep for a while, so make sure you get in bed early.  If you can manage to fall asleep right away, even better, then you’ll just be extra rested for your wedding.

The Day Of: 
*Eat a healthy breakfast
Eat something that will give you energy without making you shaky; something that has lots of fiber and antioxidants.  Get your day started right, and the rest of day will go smoothly!
*Double check
Double check everything you’ve packed up, including your honeymoon luggage and necessary items (passport, tickets, etc.).  Double check that everyone knows what they’re responsibilities for the day are.  Double check and make sure you grabbed that amazing waterproof mascara.  Double check anything and everything that could possibly cause you more stress if it went wrong.  Take the time to do it in advance, and you’ll be glad you did.
*GET MARRIED!
And have fun doing it!  It’s a celebration of a huge step forward in your life with the one person you love the most.

So there it is, that’s all I’ve got for you.  Just remember, keep your stress as low as possible, it’s not healthy to be stressed.  Don’t procrastinate because you think you have all the time in the world, it’ll be here before you know it!  And love, love so unconditionally it hurts.  If you do this, you and your special somebody will have an amazing life together.  Happy Wedding Planning!

Beginner’s Guide to Wedding Venue Hunting

When starting to wedding plan, one of the first things to do is find a venue. Everything centers around the venue so this is one of the most important parts of getting the wedding planning process started. When starting your hunt, you want to get as much information as possible from the potential venues so there are no surprises down the road and to ensure the venue you end up with is your perfect fit. Below is a list of questions to help you make the best decision for your special day.

  • How many weddings do you have in one day?
    Many venues have more than one wedding in a day, which is fine, you just want to ensure you have enough setup and breakdown time, as well as, enough time for your event. You will want at least 2 hours for setting up, 1 hour for breaking down, and 4 hours for your actual event. Another great question when discussing the time frame is the cost of adding an additional hour.  An extra hour can eliminate some stress and erase any feelings of needing to rush any portion of your event, so if the price is right, it is definitely worth it!
  • What is included in the venue rental?
    Venues range from providing only the venue space to providing tables and chairs, utensils and plates, linens, napkins and more. If no additional items are included, another great question is if you must rent them through the venue or if they can be provided by the caterer or a vendor.  The fewer vendors you have to deal with, the less stress you will have.  A venue that provides you with more than just an empty space will save you from the headache of making sure everything arrives at the right place at the right time and allow you to pay attention to other important details of your day.
  • When are the final details due?
    You want to know up front what your commitment is when signing the contract and the flexibility of final head count and any possible changes you may need to make down the road when you are further into planning.
  • Are you required to use the venue’s preferred vendors?
    Some venues will have a list of vendors you must use such as caterers, decorators, florists, and so forth.  If this is the case, you will want to look up these vendors before deciding on the venue in order to make sure they are also a great fit for you and to get an idea of their pricing.
  • What are you, as the client, responsible for as far as breakdown after the event?
    Some venues only require that you or your vendors take out any décor or items you brought in the venue with you. Others require you to go so far as to sweep and mop the venue when your event concludes. This is good to know so you can prepare accordingly.
  • Are there any restrictions?
    Can you hang decorations from the ceiling or on the walls? Are candles allowed? Is confetti allowed? These are all good questions to ask so that you have all the facts and are aware of all the venue regulations.  You don’t want to find out that you can’t have certain decor after you already had the perfect vision of how you planned to decorate the venue in your head.

While the above are basic functional questions you need to know, don’t be afraid to ask a ton more. A great wedding venue will be happy to answer your questions and there is no such thing as getting too much information. Feel free to walk around the venue and take pictures if you like. Keeping organized and bringing a list of questions in a wedding folder can prove to be very helpful.  Happy wedding planning!

How to Plan Your Wedding Catering Menu

Picking out your wedding menu should be one of the less stressful parts of planning a wedding.  It’s a huge part of the wedding, yes, but if you have the right caterer, they’ll make it easy for you.  Often times the hardest part about planning is knowing where to start, which is why I broke down how to plan your wedding catering menu into 3 simple steps to get you started on creating the menu of your dreams for the most memorable day of your life.

1. Choose Your Menu Style
The first thing you need to decide is what style you’d like the dinner to be.  There are benefits to all of them, so figure out what kind of a feel you want to have at your wedding.  Plated meals are wonderful because they seem more elegant and make everyone feel extra special being served a course by course dinner, but they can be more costly and take longer to get through.  Buffets can be very cost effective and quick, and give you a lot for a little, but can be a little tricky with it being self-serve.  Maybe the idea of a self-serve buffet just isn’t in your vision for the day at all.  In that case, stations are always cute and fun and a great way to get your guests interacting and mingling, but then you have to think about extra service fees that come with having served stations.  And of course, there’s always family-style which has a very comfortable feel and makes sure anyone sitting in close proximity gets to know each other.  There are positives and negatives that can be found with almost any serving style option so decide what fits best with your vision of the evening and run with it!

2. Be Accommodating, But Only When Necessary 
Once you’ve figured out the style you want, then you have to actually pick what you want to serve and that opens up a whole other can of worms, doesn’t it?  Well, it shouldn’t.  Your guests are going to enjoy whatever food you provide and hopefully they are there more for the celebration of the union as opposed to the free food.  Making sure your food items are something the guests will be comfortable eating is definitely something to keep in mind when choosing your menu, but to a certain degree, you shouldn’t base every choice on a handful of guests, one in particular, or making sure everyone will love everything you pick.  Everyone has different tastes, opinions, diet restrictions, etc. so there is bound to be someone that doesn’t like something, and that’s okay!  It’s important to be accommodating to anyone that needs accommodation, but to simply attempt that for your entire wedding by going off of everyone else’s tastes and opinions, is almost impossible to accomplish.  Of course, you want everyone to be happy and feel like they’ve been thought of.  I mean, no one should be left out!  Everyone should get to eat and enjoy what they’re having, so there’s one, very easy solution to this predicament; find a caterer that can accommodate any diet restrictions you need.  Vegetarian, vegan, gluten-free, halal, does everyone involved in making and preparing the food need to use powderless or non-latex gloves to avoid setting off Aunt Petunia’s allergy?   Anyone who is making your wedding meal should have no problem accommodating any guests’ needs you ask.  Certain requests or requirements could come with additional costs, so keep that in mind, but if it’s important to you, make sure you do your research and ask questions before you choose your caterer.

3. Choose Your Type of Cuisine 
What about if you don’t necessarily have anyone with specific diet restrictions you’re trying to accommodate but you wanted all of your food to be a certain cuisine, or multiple cuisines?  Maybe you’re from Ethiopia and want to have all Ethiopian food but you don’t want to make grandma cook at your wedding?  Maybe you’re from China and want all traditional Chinese, wedding catering?  Maybe you and your honey love to travel and want to have all different types of cuisines in mini bites?  Foods from Africa, Mexico, India, Spain, Nigeria, Ireland, etc., the list can go on.  Finding a caterer that can accommodate a specific cuisine can be very difficult and ultimately, pricey.  Instead, look for a caterer that can build all kinds of styles, flavors, and menus, not necessarily just what you specifically want to have served.  Any caterer that has great reviews, especially if they’ve been reviewed for specialized menus, is definitely a caterer to consider.  Flexibility is crucial at this point because it’ll get you exactly what you want and hopefully for the price you’d like to spend.

An experienced caterer can create, duplicate, and specialize almost any menu for you.  Specific cuisines, diet restrictions, allergies, specialized menus, personalized hors d’oeuvres, mini bites, desserts, you name it.  It’s your day and therefore, anyone you hire should want you to have everything exactly as you’ve always hoped!  Of course, you should always make sure your caterer offers a tasting, paid or free with booking, so you can be comfortable with their cooking style and most, if not all, should.  As always, a good caterer will make it easy for you, and they are definitely out there, so do a little research and find a caterer capable of creating your perfect menu!