How To Pick a DJ

Photo from The Wedding Lens!

So let’s say that you’ve read my blog on “all about wedding music” and decided that you really do want a DJ at your wedding reception. That’s great! A DJ can provide a variety of music and usually is a bit less expensive than hiring a band. Remember, whoever you hire, you need to tip ’em, so more band members = more tips. (That said, bands are more eco-friendly… so I’m not pushing one or the other!)

When selecting a DJ, you should still follow all the guidelines on hiring any vendor: talk to people, check out reviews, find out price, ask them questions, and check references. (Incidentally, if ANY vendor does not answer the phone or return your call or email within 24 hours, ditch ’em. It demonstrates how unprofessional they may be — not to mention irresponsible… which is something you shouldn’t have to worry about among everything else!)

 That said, DJs are a special breed because sometimes you might not realize all the questions you should be asking! Here are some questions to ask:

  • Will you personally be the DJ at the wedding reception? Or do you have someone else who you will send?
  • How many weddings have you DJ’d?
  • Have you DJ’d at the venue before? What did you like or not like about it?
  • Will you also act as an Emcee for the reception? (In other words, introduce the couple, the speeches, & make any other announcements)
  • Do you have a wireless microphone (or any microphone) that can be used for the speeches?
  • Do you also provide dinner music?
  • What kind of music do you play? (Be sure to ask about specific bands, types of music, songs, etc to make sure the DJ has it! It might be helpful to ask to see a song list, if he/she has one)
  • How many songs are in your library? Are you open to purchasing/obtaining any additional songs or music?
  • What format is your music in? (ie records or mp3s)
  • How much time before the reception do you need to arrive to set up your equipment? Do you need any specific equipment to be at the venue already? (A tablecloth for a DJ table? A DJ table itself?)
  • Do you have backup equipment?
  • Do you use special lighting effects? Can you?
  • What do you usually wear as a wedding DJ? (You want to be sure that the DJ doesn’t show up in jeans and a t-shirt if you don’t want him or her to!)
  • What is the fee? Does it include tax and gratuity? Do you require a deposit? Are there any additional charges?
  • Will you need a meal during the time you’ll be DJing? How many breaks will you need?
  • Ask to see the terms of the contract to make sure everything is as you agreed!

Obviously some of these questions are more detailed — but they should all be asked before you sign the final agreement. There’s nothing worse than committing to a vendor who isn’t the one that’s right for you!

Got other tips?

~ Natasha

How to Plan Your Wedding: When To Do What! (Part I)

So you’re engaged… now what? That’s the beginning of the wedding planning process! A friend of The Wedding Lens recently got engaged and was asking questions about time frames. So here we go!

Because engagements take place for different lengths of time, I’m not going to specify how long before the wedding date you should do each action. But this is generally the ORDER of things. Where possible, I’ve linked to other related blog posts on the topic! (And here’s just a list of things to do for wedding planning, if you just want that) Also, be sure to check out our Cheap Wedding Tips and our Green Wedding Tips, both of which have great ideas to help you out during different stages of the planning process!

First Steps

  1. Create a budget! This means taking a list of everything that you know you’ll have to spend money on and deciding how much you can dedicate to each portion. Check out our Guide to Creating a Wedding Budget — which specifies which costs are fixed and which depend on the number of guests.
  2. Pick the wedding party. This seems early in the process right? True! But the wedding party can help you with the tasks that you’ll have to do. Pick early, they’ll help early!
  3. Divide tasks! After reading the rest of this blog post, you’ll get a full picture of everything there is to do: from marriage license to centerpieces.  Once you have that list, divide up the tasks however you see fit.

Things That Shouldn’t Wait

  1. Marriage license.  Every state has different rules on the time frame needed to apply for a license and to get married. Make sure you know what you need to do before you get too close to your wedding date!
  2. Find a venue, date, and officiant. This is sort of circular because you need the venue and the officiant to be available on the same date. But keep in mind that you may have to pick two venues — one for the ceremony and one for the reception. Just be sure they’re both available on the same date! Here’s how to pick a wedding date. Also, make sure you look at how to find a venue AND the questions you need to ask each venue. With officiants, think about whether you will have a religious officiant or a friend. Find out any state requirements if you want a friend or family member to officiate.
  3. Create the guest list. Sometimes it’s hard to limit the guest list, so consider having A lists, B lists, and C lists. Here are our tips for the guest list. Also, be sure to decide whether you want kids to attend or not.
  4. Themes/Styles/Colors. The earlier you select any themes, styles, or colors, the earlier you can get started with some of the other aspects of planning. After all those three aspects will impact the dress selections, the flowers selections, etc. Here’s some help on how to pick your color scheme.
  5. Wedding dress. The wedding dress should be purchased earlier in the planning process because it might need to be fitted several times. Depending on how long your engagement lasts, this should be done ASAP. Plus the bride will want her dress before the bridesmaids get theirs! Here’s how to choose  the right wedding dress and some ideas for colorful wedding dresses.
  6. Save the Date.  The save-the-date (or STD) should tell guests when & where you’re getting married. When should you send the save-the-dates? It depends on when you’re getting married, but generally, send them as soon as possible. If you are ordering save-the-dates that you want to look similar to your invitations, there are companies that give you package deals. Here is a timeline of when to send save-the-dates and when to send invitations. Here are some creative save the date ideas and how to address the save-the-dates.
  7. Order your online photo album from The Wedding Lens. By ordering your online photo album from The Wedding Lens early, you can start telling your guests where to upload photos AND you can include your engagement photos in the album or any other older photos to share your memories with your guests.
  8. Wedding website. Obviously put as much information on here as you can, but here’s what to include on your wedding website.
  9. Find vendors. This means finding vendors for everything you might want. Here is how to find the right vendors for you (and each category that follows links to a blog post that will help you narrow down what will be best for you in that area). Photographer (engagement photos and day of), videographer, florist (selecting flowers), caterer, DJ/band/music, bakery, wedding planner or day-of coordinator. Any other kind of vendors you might want (eg if you want to have wedding entertainment such as a photo booth, cigar bar, or silhouette artist) can usually wait a bit longer in the planning process.

Stuff That Can Wait a Little Bit

  1. Invitations! What goes inside, when to send, how to tell your guests that no kids can come, RSVP cards. Remember, there are specific rules on how to address invitations, so make sure you check those out (yes, there will be a blog post coming!)
  2. Attire: Groom, bridesmaids, groomsmen. Here’s everything related to helping you select wedding attire!
  3. Hair & makeup for the bride and bridesmaids, if you would like.
  4. Rings! Dont forget you both need to exchange rings on the day of the wedding. Here are some green tips on picking the rings.
  5. Decorating: flower arrangement (or alternatives to flower bouquets), centerpieces, plates/napkins/glassware, guestbook, favors, place cards, menu cards, cake toppers, chair rentals/chair covers, other entertainment)
  6. Guest-related: Accomodations, transportation, and out of town bags!
  7. Get your online wedding photo album from The Wedding Lens. If you haven’t done it yet, now is the perfect time in the planning process to get your online wedding photo album from The Wedding Lens! When you share the information on accomodations & transporation with your guests, you can also share the link to the album and remind people to bring their digital cameras to your wedding. Plus people can start uploading old and new memories of you & your fiance(e)!
  8. Menu planning: buffet vs sit-down meal; alcohol – open bar, soft bar, signature drinks. Here are all things food & drink related to help guide you through this!

Final Steps

  1. RSVPs
  2. Ceremony planning: walking down the aisle, vows, readings — and whatever else you want to take place.
  3. Seating chart: who will sit where during the reception? Here’s how to create a seating chart!
  4. Music (song) selections for band or DJ, both during the ceremony and reception.
  5. Remind your guests to bring their cameras to your wedding day so they can capture memories for your online photo album.
  6. Planning the timeline: This means planning the timeline of who arrives where at what time, what order things occur, and who transports what where. It’s meant to be distributed so that everyone is on the same page about what’s going on.
  7. Programs: This lets your guests know what is going to happen & when! Here’s the information on writing your programs.

So that’s everything you have to do…. Next blog post will cover what comes up on the day of and any other last minute things and miscellaneous things you should be aware of! (Like gift registry, thank you cards, wedding insurance, things people forget, staying calm…. all coming up!) 

Good luck! Remember, if you have questions – email me! natasha@theweddinglens.com.

~ Natasha

Questions to Ask Before Selecting a Wedding Venue

I recently wrote a blog post on how to find your wedding venue. I discussed a number of questions about the costs of the venue — which I think are important enough to reiterate! I also am adding questions to this list that you should keep in mind before actually signing any contract with a venue. If you’re looking to double check questions that you should ask, be sure and check out the Here Comes the Guide questions to ask when evaluating a wedding location.

Photo from The Wedding Lens

General questions on costs/facilities to ask

  • Seating/guests
    • How many people can they seat/fit?
    • How much is the deposit/down payment? Is it refundable?
    • Does the venue provide chairs? Do you need to rent chairs?
    • Do they charge for the chairs/setting up chairs?
  • Facilities
    • Is there a dressing area for the bride & groom?
    • Are there bathrooms accessible to guests?
    • Is it wheelchair accessible?
  • Food, drinks, & catering
    • Does the venue provide food, drinks, or other catering? Do they have preferred vendors?
    • If they have food & drinks for weddings, then find out a price range, you will select your final food/drink options later. Most venues give a per person rate. (Be sure to check whether each price option includes a buffet, a seated dinner, an open bar, limited drinks, etc.)
    • Can vendors use the kitchen facilities? (Are there kitchen facilities on site?)
    • Is there a per-person cake charge?
    • Is there an additional charge for linens and utensils?
    • Is there a service charge for serving the meals?
  • Music, Dancing, Flowers & Decorations
    • Does the venue have a dance floor? Does it cost extra?
    • Does the venue permit amplified music?
    • Is there a sound system? Can an outside DJ or band use it? Is there a cost
    • Do they permit decorations/flowers? Can you bring in decorations from outside or does it have to be done through the venue? What is the charge?
  • Miscellaneous
    • Do they charge for clean up
    • Does the venue require wedding insurance? (Check out the blog post on wedding insurance if you have no idea what this is!)
    • Are there restrictions on the site? (no confetti, etc)
    • Do they have any other costs and fees? (service charges, etc)

Specific Questions to ask yourself to make sure the venue is right — at the right time

  • Go to the venue at the time of day you want to get married to make sure the lighting is right and sufficient.
  • Is there sufficient lighting? Ask the venue if there is additional lighting available.
  • If it is outdoors, are there coverings or tents that can go up if it rains? Can you bring in umbrellas? (Are there charges for tents? What is the charge?
  • Do you like the people at the venue? Can you work with them?
  • If they require a certain vendor, is that okay with you? Do you like the vendors?

Questions to ask about the contract before you sign

  • What happens if one side or the other has to cancel? Do you still have to pay fees? Can you get reimbursed if it’s their fault?
  • Is there a contingency plan if it’s outdoors and it rains?
  • Are they requiring you to do something you do not want to do or incur costs that you dont want to incur?
  • READ it thoroughly! Make sure you understand it. Take your time, don’t feel strong-armed into signing it. If you can, have someone else who isn’t involved in the process read it too. They might see something you didn’t.

~ Natasha

How to Find a Wedding Venue or Location

If you’re trying to plan your own wedding, one of the first things you will think about is the venue! One thing to keep in mind is that you should try to be flexible in selecting your dates. Your ideal venue might not be available on the particular date you want, but maybe it will be free the following week. You never know!

Wedgewood Banquet Center at Crystal Springs Golf Course in Northern California, Photo from The Wedding Lens!

Though there are a lot of things to keep in mind when you’re choosing your venue, the top three concerns are: 1) cost, 2) comfort, and 3) date.

Finding the venue

The first step in finding locations for your wedding is thinking about what you want and checking your budget. Do you want a beach wedding? A wedding in the mountains? A wedding in a restaurant? Or in a hotel? Think about what you want.

Get an idea of what’s out there. Start searching the web! If you’re in California, Chicago, or Washington DC, I highly recommend checking out Here Comes the Guide which lets you search by type of location (site views, site types) and by region or locale. You’ll note that the prices aren’t included — because, as The Guide explains, there are way too many variables to give you a specific number. If you’re not in those areas, just search for your location + wedding venue. once you start looking around, you’ll gather what you like, what each venue includes, and what is out there.

Questions to ask the venue

You should keep in mind your budget and what you want from your venue – but you might not know what it is you want. Here are some questions to ask and things that venues may (or may not) include. Getting answers to these questions may prove that the location is perfect (or absolutely NOT) for you! And, of course, Here Comes the Guide has another great list of questions to ask when looking at a venue!

When reviewing this, keep in mind whether the venue is for both your ceremony and your reception. Some of these questions apply only if you’re looking for a venue for both. Other questions (like about chairs & set up) apply regardless.

  • Seating/guests
    • How many people can they seat/fit?
    • How much is the deposit/down payment? Is it refundable?
    • Does the venue provide chairs? Do you need to rent chairs?
    • Do they charge for the chairs/setting up chairs?
  • Facilities
    • Is there a dressing area for the bride & groom?
    • Are there bathrooms accessible to guests?
    • Is it wheelchair accessible?
  • Food, drinks, & catering
    • Does the venue provide food, drinks, or other catering? Do they have preferred vendors?
    • If they have food & drinks for weddings, then find out a price range, you will select your final food/drink options later. Most venues give a per person rate. (Be sure to check whether each price option includes a buffet, a seated dinner, an open bar, limited drinks, etc.)
    • Can vendors use the kitchen facilities? (Are there kitchen facilities on site?)
    • Is there a per-person cake charge?
    • Is there an additional charge for linens and utensils?
    • Is there a service charge for serving the meals?
  • Music, Dancing, Flowers & Decorations
    • Does the venue have a dance floor? Does it cost extra?
    • Does the venue permit amplified music?
    • Is there a sound system? Can an outside DJ or band use it? Is there a cost
    • Do they permit decorations/flowers? Can you bring in decorations from outside or does it have to be done through the venue? What is the charge?
  • Miscellaneous
    • Do they charge for clean up
    • Does the venue require wedding insurance? (Check out the blog post on wedding insurance if you have no idea what this is!)
    • Are there restrictions on the site? (no confetti, etc)
    • Do they have any other costs and fees? (service charges, etc)

 Remember, before you accept anything, make sure that you check out the venue in person — and see if you can look at it during the time of day you want to get married. That way you can see if there is sufficient lighting or anything else you should know.

And, before you sign ANYTHING, make sure you read the contract thoroughly! What happens if one side or the other needs to cancel at the last minute? Do you have to pay all the fees anyway?

Good luck!

~ Natasha

Wedding Question: Is it common for venues to charge additional catering fees?

Photo from The Wedding Lens

Photo from The Wedding Lens

I just received another question via email: “The wedding venue that I’m looking at does not provide food, but they have a list of approved caterers we can choose from.  The problem is that the venue is charging an extra 28% over what the caterer charges.  Is this common practice?”

This is an interesting question! Many times venues have preferred vendors or caterers – that part is very common. The additional charges are, however, different with each venue.

Some venues charge you a certain percentage or amount if you do NOT use their preferred vendors. And if the venue offers catering, but you choose to use another caterer, they usually have high fees (like a corkage fee) to discourage that.

Some venues DO have a charge for vendors also, though they call it a “service fee.” The service fee can include a plethora of things, such as a cake cutting fee or, perhaps, a fee if your caterer needs to use their kitchen and facilities. BUT 28% seems really high for that kind of a fee — though it really depends on what services they are providing. Will they be providing the plates & utensils? Will they be serving the food? Pouring drinks? Even then, from my understanding, 10-20% is more standard for pricing. But find out what this includes before you sign (or don’t sign) anything!

Check out other venues in the area and see if they have similar practices & fees. That will give you a better idea of what to expect. Also, consider having the reception at a restaurant so you eliminate those kinds of additional fees that don’t get you much!

Hope this helps! Good luck!

Do you have a wedding question? Email me! natasha@theweddinglens.com!

~ Natasha

Share the photos of your venue and your catered food with a FREE online wedding album!

Time of the Wedding: Day verses Night

While you may not have control over what time your perfect venue is available, it is a good idea to have a time in mind — at least whether you want a day or a night wedding or reception. (Obviously, there are lots of things to keep in mind when selecting a day!)

daytime-wedding

During a day-time wedding people may feel uncomfortable drinking or dancing during the daylight or people may have to leave early (or wish to leave early).  These could be reasons not to have a daytime wedding, BUT if you are on a tight budget, this might be the perfect arrangement.  And, your close friends and family will, presumably, stay around to drink and dance. Photos will come out better during the day (assuming you are outdoors!)

A night wedding doesn’t risk the drinking, dancing,  leaving early issues (as much) BUT there are drawbacks to the night wedding too. Because of all that drinking and dancing, it may be more important to consider transportation options for your friends and family.

What some friends have done is hold the ceremony during the day (in daylight for better photos and sunshine and all that) and have a reception that follows a little later (either in a different location OR at the same location with a cocktail hour in between and dinner as it gets darker). It is a way to have the best of both worlds!

What do you think? Do you have a preference?

~ Natasha

Picking a Venue

There are a million different places and types of weddings that you can have these days. With that in mind, how do you pick your venue?

First, you have to create your budget.  Without a budget, there is no venue.

Think about what’s most important to you about your venue.  For example, if you want an outdoor wedding, there’s no sense in wasting time looking at indoor venues. Right? Right.

Check out a few different places before you make your decision. See what feels right! (And keep in mind what fits the price range!) Does it fit any theme you might have?

Ask questions about the venue. Is it a venue that is usually used for weddings? Do they have a wedding contact who will work with you through the planning? If the venue is for both the ceremony and the reception, do they provide catering, linens, etc? Can you bring in your own catering?

What did you consider when you picked your venue?

~ Natasha