Wedding Vendors

A Mad Libs-like Process for Choosing Wedding Vendors

Sometimes, we have a choice in our vendors, and we do our best to get the highest quality for a realistic price. At other moments in the wedding planning process, we are forced into a corner and our choices become limited, expensive, unwanted – or all the above.

This is my story.

*queue the Law & Order intro*

DUN DUN!

 

We had a smaller list of wedding vendors to work with because my now husband is allergic to all the flowers (read about our paper flowers here), we’re not big cake fans, so scratch that off the list, and while I live by video chat at work, in addition to being musicians, neither of us had any interest in watching ourselves on tape, which means no videographer, please and thanks.

So what’s left? Our wedding required the following: A photographer, a DJ, a ceremony and reception venue, catering, and an officiant. Additionally, our venue choice resulted in a surprise requirement of a day-of planner (we did not like this vendor necessity and I’ll share why).

Using what I like to call a “Identity Statement”, which includes a mad lib of “I want” or “We don’t want” phrases, helps to bring laser-like focus on the desired results or qualities from the vendors we seek. “Self” refers to either just you (I) or the two of you as a couple (We). Here’s the format I’ll use to walk through each of our experiences below.

We are a adjective bride & groom,

and we need to find a adjective  wedding to-do/vendor

that will make us feel adjective, desired outcome

and won’t unwanted result, feeling or unwanted outcome.

Photographer

Wedding photography may be your most important vendor. Everything else can go wrong, the rain may come, the food could be terrible, but at the end of the day, we pay for tangible memories of this momentous occasion. It’s about capturing the love and support brewing within our friends and family, and the adoration we hold for each other. This is why my number 1 piece of advice to couples is: SPEND ALL YOUR MONEY HERE. Don’t cheap out  or ask your friend to do it, unless they’re a professional. If you’re also removing that videographer from your list, THIS IS IT. We’ll have our photos and our mental memories. Therefore be smart, be picky, and don’t discount your 8×10 love.

Here is our Identity Statement to help define what we were truly looking for in a photographer:

We are a funny but classy bride & groom,

and we need to find a talented, organized  wedding photographer

that will make us feel appreciated, creative, like this is easy

and won’t catch Stacey with a frozen awkward face or stress us out.

 

Wedding Photographer Sandra Costello

Our Vendor Choice: Sandra Costello Photography

Website: SandraLovesYou.com
Rating: 5 stars
Cost: $$$

Why We Chose Sandra: I had met Sandra way back when I was the co-owner of a wedding cake bakery about 6 years ago. Sandra has this incredible knack for catching the candid attitude of the moment and making everyone’s individuality shine with gusto. This is the part that I couldn’t really articulate in that “We” statement, but when you look through her portfolio, it’s clear that she gets creative, there’s never the same shot twice, and her professionalism is paramount.

On the candid photos topic, this was clearly a concern on mine. Every time my husband goes to take a photo of me, I freeze up. We learned from the engagement shoot that this really just something that happens with him (sorry!). Anyone else behind the camera – especially Sandra – and I’m operating at 100%!

Bottom line: Sandra is located in Massachusetts and she’s worth the extra cash it takes to fly down to your destination wedding (along with an assistant shooter). I mentioned this in another post about our experience when reviewing wedding venues, where we sat in their wedding showroom and saw the same photos over and over. There was nothing original in those local photographers down in the Keys. Sandra is different. She made every single guest at our wedding feel excited, welcome, and just as creative as she was in that split second before the shutter closed.

 

Wedding DJ

My husband is a scratch turn-tablist by trade, a full time DJ and producer in life, and is now in his 23rd year of this career. He knows his shit when it comes to DJs and thus I set him on course for finding the perfect vendor for us. Here’s our “Identity Statement” for this vendor search:

We are an old school hip-hop, dance music lovin’ bride & groom,

and we need to find an experienced, professional  wedding DJ

that will make us feel like the guests are enjoying themselves as much as we are

and won’t sound like a fake Casey Kasem on the mic or cost too much.

 

Wedding Vendor DJOur Vendor Choice: SoundWave & DJ Top Jimmy

Website: SoundWaveKeyWest.com
Rating: 5 stars
Cost: $$

Why We Chose SoundWave: Jimmy is one of the owners and was so helpful over the phone and thus from afar. He was super down to earth, listened to our hopes and dreams of building our own setlist and then when we realized our guest list included a large population of 60+ year-olds, we realized beyond the special dances, the reception music wasn’t really for us. These people flew down to party with us – the least we could do was let Jimmy do his job and play the hits to please the crowd and get them moving.

Bottom line: Jimmy and his team were very professional and their pricing was on point. They had their song choice forms sent within a few hours of signing the contract, and when I was unsure about how to change up the special dance schedule (to change from ceremony dress to party dress), he provided great insight and advice.

 

Ceremony & Reception Venue + Catering

We’re heading to a wedding next weekend where the ceremony and reception are held separately and about 45 minutes apart. Yours may be like this, too, and thus you may need to do separate searches with different qualities associated for each. Our wedding however was held at an all inclusive resort (which was exactly what we were searching for as the a la carte options were too costly), thus the trifecta of venue and catering vendor all rolled into one.

Our Identity Statement for said all-in-one venue:

We are an adventurous, tiki-loving bride & groom,

and we need to find a tropical venue with catering included

that will make us feel like this is an exotic, but relaxed wedding

and won’t make things too complicated when planning from afar or stress us out.

 

Destination Wedding

Our Vendor Choice: Hawks Cay Resort

Website: HawksCay.com
Rating: 3 stars
Cost: $$

Why We Chose Hawks Cay: In the early stages of planning, the staff, the location options, and the array of activities for adults and families was incredible. As I mentioned in an earlier post, it was within budget, they had great food, and an approachable vibe framed in striking island beauty. However, our Northeastern minds operate at a level that differs from “Island Time.” There were a handful of moments as people arrived, on the big day, and after the wedding that left a lingering sourness. I attribute most of this to the high amount of turnover in the staff. The woman we met with originally left shortly after we signed our contract, and then our point person changed three more times. We stuck it out, but for all the crap we dealt with the week of our wedding, I wonder if we would have been better off changing venues. Speaking with other brides, Murphy’s Law is true. Things will inevitably go wrong. We just have high expectations when dropping thousands of dollars on one day and would like to think that the basics of organization and management are met with flying colors.

Bottom line: We made it work. We fought for adjustments to balance out the pricing mishaps and took matters into our own hands where necessary. We joined forces with our bridal party members to make sure the guests had a great time, and by all accounts, this goal was achieved and then some. Finally, when I look at our wedding photos, I don’t see the stress we held those few days, I see beautiful scenery and people enjoying themselves. This is what truly matters.

 

Day-Of Planner

As I mentioned in the beginning of this post, we were required by Hawks Cay to have a Day Of Planner who you literally hire to coordinate the details a month out, get things set up, and shuffle guests from one location to the next. I was not a fan of this requirement; the first staff person we spoke to at Hawks Cay said they usually run around $700 for the day. Considering the excellent pricing on the rest of the fees, I could accept this fate. Here’s the Identity Statement that helped me conduct this vendor research:

I am a get it done ahead of time with backup plans bride,

and I need to find an inexpensive, organized  day of planner

that will make me feel like the expense is worth it

and won’t turn me into a baby sitter of my own wedding or cost a ton.

Wedding Vendor Planner

Our Vendor Choice: Destination Wedding Studio (Peggy)

Website: DestinationWeddingStudio.com
Rating: 1 star
Cost: $$

Why We Chose Destination Wedding Studio: We actually met Peggy when reviewing Hawks Cay as a venue. She was onsite for another wedding, noted that she heads up to Boston often, and was an architect prior to moving down to the Keys. I reached out to her for a quote immediately, but also requested estimates from four other vendors. The price tags were insane. $3200 for 6 hours of time? Clearly I’m in the wrong business. I had an excellent chat over the phone with one of the more expensive planners, noted my previous industry experience, and our current state of extreme organization, but that price of hers would not budge. I called my Matron of Honor to get a second opinion. “Peggy is the cheapest, but her emails worry me. As in, she’s on island time for sure, and there are crazy spelling errors, like when you fat finger a quick text on a bad night at a bar. The other chick is amazing, matches every ounce of my expectations but she’s twice as much… I don’t think I can just throw another $1500 at this wedding.” My MoH was great, noted that if we have our shit together (which we most certainly did), and she’s really just there to help set up the decor, maybe going with the cheaper option is fine. I concurred.

Bottom line: I wish I was never required to have such a thing. We paid double what our Hawks Cay contact noted even at the smallest price, and our experience was less than meh. Peggy is a delightfully sweet woman, but technological basics like email, sending editable Microsoft Word docs, and printing the right seating chart for the day of left me sending bridal party members to double check that things were actually getting done.  I suppose the lesson here is that your sanity may be worth the extra cost, even if you are a crazy planner and can roll with the punches.

 

Officiant

Choosing the person who will officiate your ceremony is an odd thing to think about, especially if you don’t have a religious affiliation – it feels like you have as many choices as there are stars. What really matters here? To us? To our family? Our guests? My husband is an excellent read on people as well as emotions (far better than I), and thus a I threw this task at him.

We are a romantic, non-denominational bride & groom,

and we need to find a creative, well spoken officiant

that will make us feel like he/she knows us and the love we have for one another

and won’t be preachy or have any bad reviews.

 

Wedding Vendor Officiant

Our Vendor Choice: Reverend Eddie Rodriguez

Website: EddieRodriguez.com
Rating: 5 stars
Cost: $$

Why We Chose Eddie: He was honestly one of the very few that had a website and the reviews for Eddie on Wedding Wire and The Knot were absolutely stellar. In responding to our initial email, he was professional and came with his very own process for getting to know couples from afar. We did a conference call with him to get a better sense of each other and then filled out an intense (in the best, most meaningful sense) questionnaire. After that, we just emailed a bit back and forth to nail down the time of our rehearsal and the ceremony, and that was pretty much that.

But there’s a funny story here. Since we were having a welcome reception the night before and the ceremony wouldn’t start until 5pm, we decided to have our rehearsal the morning of the Big Day. Around 9:45am I look down at my ringing iPhone and see that it’s Eddie. “I shouldn’t be the one to call you, but I won’t be able to make it to the rehearsal. I hit some bad rain on the way down and just totaled my car.” “WHAT?! Eddie, are you okay?” “I’m fine, and the good news is that I have everything I need for your wedding, so don’t worry there… I may just need a margarita when I get there.” He and Peggy are actually good friends; he was also calling to see if I could ring her as well and see if she could come pick him up. In the end, that’s exactly what happened! So while she may not be the best of Day Of Planners, she is a fabulous friend.

Bottom line: Eddie made it to Hawks Cay without a scratch on him, dapper as ever, and proceeded to give the most beautiful ceremony we could have ever wished for. It was so good, that I, the least emotional of the two of us, lost my shit. I cried so hard during the vows it was difficult to get through the rest of the ceremony! Guests came up to us afterwards noting how well he knew us, and that his words were so thoughtful and memorable. A few friends also wanted to punch me for making them cry, which, apparently, rarely happens for them as well. Surprises for everyone! Car crashes, love, and tears included!

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