Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Long Distance Wedding: On-Site Visits

This post is a good example why readers think wedding advice authors should be occasionally-rounded up like a pack of lame mules and flogged in public view. See, folks like us spend all this time researching the best way to do something (like plan a long-distance or destination wedding) and come up with a perfectly rational strategy: go visit the site before the wedding to line up all the details.

Then some of you will respond, 'Are you nuts?" "Why is that so difficult?" we ask. "Have you checked the price of air fares lately? A wedding is expensive enough without adding several hundred more dollars in travel costs. And what about vacation time—I was planning to use that for the honeymoon, not for wedding planning, as romantic as that can be."

If your long-distance wedding is back in your hometown, however, you can combine this trip with a holiday vacation. And many destination wedding sites may have already been scoped out on a previous vacation.

So, realizing the obvious roadblocks to our scientifically researched wedding planning strategy, we'd like to present several possibilities. First, you can make just one, brief visit to the wedding location. Second, the lucky few may be able to make multiple visits; we will show you how to make the most of this option. Finally, we know some of you may not be able to make any visits at all; we hope this post also provides some advice for those of you in that pickle.

When you are only able to visit the wedding location once, it goes without saying that you must use your time wisely. First, try to come in for at least two to three days. The optimum time would be Thursday, Friday, and Saturday. If you time the visit so that you leave on Sunday (staying over a Saturday night), you will save money on airfare, hotels, and rental cars.

The Commando-style Visit

The week prior to your visit, set up appointments with the following businesses: reception sites, caterers, photographers, videographers, florists, bakers, and entertainers (ask if you can see them play at another reception or party). Fly in Wednesday evening and try to get plenty of sleep..

These should include visiting your preferred choices for reception sites and/or caterers, photographers, and videographers. These merchants book up farther in advance than others, so if you want to hire the best, visit them early. You'll also want, to visit these businesses first in case your top choices don't work out. This gives you Friday (or day two) to visit with other sources lower on your preference list.

FRIDAY. MEET WITH YOUR TOP CHOICES for florists and bakers as well as any remaining merchants from the day before.

SATURDAY YOU MAY BE ABLE TO SET UP SOME APPOINTMENTS with bakeries that aren't too busy on Saturday. Florists, however, are probably out—they're often busy delivering and setting up other weddings. Try to set up visits to the reception site and/or caterer to see actual receptions. This will help you decide which reception sites and caterers you will want to hire.

FINALLY, CHECK OUT BANDS AND DJS on Saturday night. Remember to visit receptions later in the evening after the meal has been served. This allows you to see the band or DJ in action, instead of playing background dinner music.

You will probably find yourself having to make other, minor arrangements over the phone since you only have one short visit to the wedding location. Businesses like limo companies are often hired by phone. However, use that fax machine and the mail to make sure you get all agreements in writing. Also use your surrogate planner to help with these details if you have any doubts about relying solely on the telephone.

If you have the luxury of making several trips to the wedding location, you can modify the above plan. Assuming you will make two trips:

THE FIRST TRIP WOULD CONSIST OF VISITS TO THE "HIGH PRIORITY" MERCHANTS: reception site, caterer, photographer, videographer, and musicians, band, or DJ. Instead of the top one or two choices in each category, you may be able to visit three or four.

ON THE SECOND OR SUBSEQUENT VISITS, YOU CAN MEET WITH THE BUSINESSES THAT REQUIRE LESS ADVANCED NOTICE to book, namely florists and bakers. For example, while photographers may book up six to nine months in advance (some as much as a year for prime June dates), florists work with less notice—perhaps three months or less in smaller towns to six months or more in large cities. In your screening process, ask them how soon you should book. This will give you a guide as to when to time your visit and decision.

IF TIME PERMITS, CONSIDER HANDLING SOME OF THOSE "MINOR" DETAILS for your wedding as well. A prime example is transportation—if you want to book a limo, you may now have time to visit a few companies to look at cars.

What if you can't visit the wedding location at all? You will obviously have to rely on your surrogate planner or a bridal consultant. Hiring a professional wedding planner may be well worth the cost, especially for anything but the smallest, most informal weddings.

While videos and photos of different options will help, it is imperative to get everything in wiring. You should have the final say, but the lack of personal visits will require you to surrender some control over the event. You must trust your surrogate planner at the wedding location to be your eyes, ears, and better judgment.

Take a hard look at your schedule. If you can fit in one of the short, "commando" style visits that we describe above, do it. Even just one or two days at the wedding location will be worth the effort.


CONFIRM ALL APPOINTMENTS. A day or so before the appointment, call the merchant to confirm the time, address/location, directions, and the name of the person you are meeting with. Ask about parking (location and cost, if applicable). Confirming appointments is crucial to heading off merchant "no-shows" and other delays that will waste your time.

CLUSTER APPOINTMENTS IN THE SAME LOCATION. When scheduling, try to visit businesses in the same part of town in sequence to minimize travel time. Eliminating long trips back and forth between downtown and the suburbs will maximize the use of your time.

SCHEDULE ABOUT THIRTY TO FORTY-FIVE MINUTES TO MEET WITH EACH PROSPECT. That's really all you need. (Caterers and reception sites might take more time, while bakers need the least.)

LEAVE PLENTY OF TRAVEL TIME. Most oi your appointments will be between morning and evening rush hours, but beware of the surprise traffic jam. Leaving a good fifteen minutes to find parking, the right suite number, and so on is prudent. For evening appointments, watch out for evening rush-hour traffic.

START EARLY AND GO LATE! Some merchants will do early morning appointments (8 am) and others offer special evening appointments (6, 7, or 8 pm)! Ask if they will make a special effort to meet when you have an opening. We are always impressed by merchants who go the extra mile to make evening appointments.

KEEP TO THE SCHEDULE. Wear a watch and warn long-winded merchants that you have another appointment to go to. Be polite, but avoid long speeches on your background, and so on. Get down to business!

MIX IT UP TO AVOID BURN-OUT. Don't schedule three photographer appointments all in a row—you'll go nuts with "photo overload." Follow up a photographer visit with a caterer, then a reception site, and so on.

BUY OR BORROW A GOOD MAP. Even if you think you know the city, you don't have any time to get lost. Use colored sticker dots or markers to pinpoint locations of appointments.

TRY TO AVOID HOLIDAY TIMES OF THE YEAR. There's a double whammy that may stymie your best efforts to research your wedding during a Christmas vacation. First, some merchants are doing the same thing you are: taking a vacation. Others, such as caterers and entertainers, are darn busy with, all those holiday parties. Another troublesome time of the year is August (beware the summer vacations). Valentines' Day (and the week before) is a crazy time for florists. If you must do your trip during a holiday period, call ahead to see who will be there and who's off on vacation. Be patient and well organized.

Long Distance Wedding: Surrogate Planners

Surrogate Planners

It was a dark and stormy night. You know, we've always wanted to start a post like that. But the truth is, planning a long-distance or destination wedding without some help can be a stormy affair. The good news is you don't have to plan this whole she-bang alone.

That's where surrogate planners come in. For a long-distance wedding, a friend or relative at the wed-ding location may offer to help you tie the knot. Or you can turn your wedding over to a professional bridal consultant. Destination weddings add a different twist: you need one person who's both a bridal consultant and an experienced travel agent. Fortunately, we found several companies that fit both bills. Well tell you about these later, but first lets talk about the one unpredictable (but lovable) element that most weddings have: Mom.



Did you realize that there are four types of Moms? At least there are four types as far as wedding planning goes. See which one of these categories fits your Mom:

MOMS WHO WORK OUTSIDE THE HOME. She probably doesn't have any more time to plan than you do. Find out Mom's schedule and how much time she can realistically devote to helping you plan. You may have to rely on other friends and relatives to some degree if Mom is very busy with her job.

MOMS WHO DON'T WORK OUTSIDE OF HOME. Don't be fooled—she works for a living too, she just doesn't punch a time clock. Commitments to various projects could limit her time. Often, however, this Mom will have more holes in her schedule throughout the day and may be more flexible with her time. Be realistic with her about how much planning your wedding will take. The average wedding takes about one hundred hours to plan—that's a major commitment for any Mom.

PROCRASTINATING MOMS. Perhaps the trickiest Mom to deal with, the procrastinator puts off decisions, fails to make timely deposits with bridal merchants, and creates other minor disasters. If your mom is like this and you don't like bugging her, you may want to make any arrangements and deposits directly with the businesses. Give this Mom a detailed schedule to help her stay on track with your plans.

OVER-ACHIEVING MOMS. Occasionally we run into Moms who end up running the whole show without deferring to your (and your fiance's) desires. If you fear your Mom is like this, consider keeping up constant communication. Send magazine pictures, photos, and detailed letters at every step to make sure your tastes are accommodated. You may need to sit this Mom down for a long talk before conflicts occur. One tip: make sure that all contracts are in the bride's name and that any changes must be made with your approval, saving you from any unauthorized changes by well-meaning parents.


Are they reliable? Remember when Sue promised to style your hair for senior prom but never showed up, leaving you in the lurch (you had to call the neighbor who curled your hair in an imitation of Shirley Temple)? Before you choose a friend to be your surrogate, consider how reliable he or she has been in the past.

Do they have the time?
Planning a wedding is time-consuming. Crucial to successful planning is being honest with, them about-how much work this will involve and what-your expectations are.


How do you help mom or your friend accomplish all the tasks you need to have done to plan your wedding? Consider developing an 'Action Plan" that specifically outlines not only the goals, but also steps and deadlines to be met to achieve these goals.

For example, our sample action plan details hiring a photographer. Having your mother or friend visit with one photographer may require travel time, actual meeting time, and follow up visits or phone calls. In other words, each prospective visit could require one to two hours of your surrogate's time. If your surrogate only has a couple of hours a week to devote to your wedding, don't expect them to visit four photographers in one week.

The secret to good goal setting is to consult extensively with the person who is actually doing the work. Nothing kills a good action plan faster than unrealistic completion dates. On the other hand, time is of the essence if you want to hire the best services. Create an action plan for every major project (the florist, the photographer, the baker, and so on.)

GOAL Hire a Photographer
STRATEGY Visit three photographers from the "hot prospect list".
* Make appointments with each prospect (the actual photographer who is available for the wedding date—not a "marketing representative")
—Target Completion Date: April 15
* Confirm with bride regarding key questions to ask photographer (package sizes, shooting schedule, etc.)
* Visit photographers A, B, and C
—Target Completion Date: April 30
* After each visit, fax or mail materials to bride
—Decision Date: May 10
* Contact photographer chosen, mail deposit check
—Completion Date: May 11
Action plans to book other merchants might include visits to other weddings to preview entertainers, see floral set-ups, etc. Taste testings with bakers and caterers should be arranged in advance, by phone.


Hidden Agendas

Most hidden agendas are benign conflicts of priorities. These occur, for example, when the surrogate planner wants you to choose a live band rather than a DJ because of their personal preference. Hence you tend to only get information on several great live bands and nothing about DJs.

Another kind of interference is blatantly instructing the vendors to change the wedding to what the surrogate planner prefers. One bride's mother didn't like the color scheme the bride picked, so she contacted the florist and tried to have the flowers changed to her tastes without the bride's knowledge. Avoid these conflicts by making sure that all the contracts detail that the bride and groom will make all final decisions. No changes can be made without your written approval.


Weddings are often used as a battleground for divorced parents who want to "get back" at each other by using your wedding.

Regional "Traditions"

These traditions may also be a source of potential conflict with the surrogate planner. One Florida bride called us about a conflict she had with her surrogate planner (her future mother-in-law). The wedding was planned for Pennsylvania, the groom's home state. Apparently, at every wedding the surrogate planner had attended in this locale, a keyboardist played standards during the sit-down dinner. The bride, however, preferred to have a string quartet rather than "Frank Sinatra with a drum machine," as she put it. This disagreement erupted into a major argument with the mother-in-law, who claimed that this was just the way things were done there and the bride shouldn't rock the boat.

This story points up an important lesson: in every town, "experts" will tell you the wedding and reception must be done this way or else. No exceptions. In the South, nearly every reception has a groom's cake. In the East, receptions must be sit-down dinners or else you have no class. In the West, cocktail receptions with hors d'oeuvres (or a buffet) are the only civilized thing to do. In rural parts of the United States, small weddings with an equally small "cake and punch" reception held in the church hall are common. No dancing. No fancy dinner.

Sometimes brides planning a wedding in another part of the country feel like an alien who has landed on Mars. The point is: don't sweat it. Recognize that every part of this country has different ideas about throwing a party—which is what a wedding is anyway.

Listen to the local "etiquette experts." Nod your head in agreement. And then do exactly what you want to do anyway. Go ahead—have a groom's cake for your New Hampshire wedding. Go for an Italian buffet in New Orleans. This is your day, and your money—so it's your call.

What if the wedding is being planned in the city the bride lives in, and the mother is the out-of-towner? In this case, there seems to be a big emotional tug for the mother to try to help out with the wedding. A lot of the planning is going to have to be approximated by mail or by fax. For example, magazine pages of different gowns or invitation samples can be mailed back and forth.
If the mother can make a pre-wedding trip, see our next posts about on-site visits for tips on the best use of her time. If Mom can't visit the wedding location, consider having the bride and groom rent a video camera to shoot the reception site or the florist setting up a wedding. Many bands and DJs are now offering either tapes or videos of their music which could be exchanged as well.

Borrowing a photograph of the wedding cake design or a caterer s spread is another possibility. If this is an option, be sure to return these photos to the baker or caterer m a timely fashion.
In one extreme case, a mom m North Carolina was planning to go to her daughter's Ohio wedding site an entire month in advance of the wedding date to help with the plans. Not everyone can manage this (she was a teacher with the summer oft), but perhaps some moms would be able to make it in a week or two prior to the event.

We urge moms to try to be a calming influence on these visits and over the phone. Constantly boost the bride's confidence during this extremely stressful time. The goal is to try to help, not hinder the proceedings.

Bridal "consultants" are the darlings of bridal magazines—but are they really necessary? When Modern Bride magazine published an article on "50 Ways to Stretch Your Wedding Dollars," in October 1991, we couldn't stop laughing after reading their number one tip: "hire a professional wedding planner."

Based on our research, the last thing a bridal consultant does is save you money. That's because they generally aren't free. True, there are some shrewd negotiators out there who can dicker with vendors to slightly lower your wedding bills. However, in our research, we found the extra fee for a wedding planner tends to negate any savings.

So why hire one? Consultants can be valuable in helping plan two types of weddings: exceedingly large weddings (two hundred guests or more) and long-distance events.

For the long-distance bride who cannot visit the wedding location or whose mother or friends can't spare the time, a bridal consultant may be a wise investment. The key is finding an experienced planner who will listen to your ideas and desires and follow your directions. This sounds easier than it is in reality.

Finding an experienced bridal consultant

Ask for referrals from recent brides and bridal, merchants. An established consultant will have a track record and a word-of-mouth following. A good rule of thumb is to look for a consultant who has at least fifty weddings under her belt.

Contact professional organizations for local members. The Association of Bridal Consultants (ABC) is a nationwide group. One caution: The ABC does not screen members for experience level, so you'll have to do this on your own. Another group is the Association of Certified Professional Wedding Planners. Last, but not least, check the yellow pages under Wedding Consultants.

Screening bridal consultants
Have a face-to-face meeting with the consultant if possible. Even if you can't meet in person, prepare a list of your expectations and goals for your wedding. Ask them who are their recommended vendors. How did they select these businesses? How did they evaluate the merchant's work? Why does the consultant trust them?

Ask the consultant for a list of references. Make sure these are the last three or four weddings the consultant has planned. Inexperienced planners will not be able to give you many references. See if the consultant listens to what you say. Your wedding planner should be an excellent communicator, especially since most of your contact will be via the telephone. Ask if the consultant has a fax machine for immediate communication.

The number one problem that afflicts bridal consultants is "controlitis," a strange disease in which the planner molds the wedding in her tastes, instead of the bride's. Telltale signs of this problem are usually apparent at the initial meeting. For example, one Georgia bride told us she was shocked when her consultant ignored her desire for an hors d'oeuvre reception, instead suggesting that a sit-down dinner was the only "proper" way to go. In other cases, the consultant may suggest superfluous add-ons (like a cake-knife corsage) that indicate that they're not really understanding what you want this party to be.

What do professional planners really do for you?

If you plan to hire a bridal planner, be explicit about the services you want him or her to perform. Here are examples of the levels of service available from professional bridal consultants:

REHEARSAL AND CEREMONY COORDINATION. These consultants only show up for the rehearsal and ceremony to help see you through the initial steps. Since this requires the least amount of work for the planner, the fee should be commensurate (perhaps $50
to $200)

COMPLETE WEDDING DAY COORDINATION. These consultants run the whole day, from rehearsal the night before through the end of the reception. Their job is to coordinate all the vendors at your wedding and reception, making sure they show up and perform their jobs correctly. This level of service is more expensive than just ceremony-only coordination but is often less than the full-sendee option described next. Possible fees can run $100 to $500.

FULL-SERVICE. Here, consultants do all the research for your wedding from the day you walk into their office. While the other consultants mentioned above may offer suggestions of businesses to use, the full-service coordinator basically does all the shopping for you.
In other words, she finds businesses that are right for your wedding and hires them on your behalf (hopefully with your written approval). As a result, this bridal consultant has the most control over the outcome of your wedding. She should be at the rehearsal, the ceremony, and the reception, overseeing every last detail.

Fees for "full-service" wedding planning vary widely from planner to planner. Some charge a percentage of the wedding costs (say, 10 to 15 fifteen of your wedding budget). Others work on an hourly basis (perhaps $25 to $100 per hour). Therefore, the consultant's tab for an average $15,000 wedding could run $1500 to $2500.

Many professional planners claim to be able to save the bride money when planning a wedding. The pitch is "we have negotiating power since we represent repeat business for the vendor." If the merchant expects to get future referrals, they better do a good job for the planner. While a few very good consultants may save you money, in reality, their fee negates any savings they may accomplish.

Nonetheless, consultants may be a godsend for couples who don't have time and/or can't visit the wedding location themselves. The key is to carefully screen the planner to make sure this all-powerful player in your wedding is on the right team.
Did you know that many other merchants offer free or low-cost wedding coordination services?

Here are some examples.

CHURCH COORDINATORS. These are folks (usually volunteers) who will coordinate just the rehearsal and ceremony for you. Their services are usually free and may even include pinning on corsages and boutonnières the day of the wedding.

FLORISTS. Occasionally we run across florists who are willing to hang out at the wedding to pin on corsages and boutonnières and fluff the bride's train before she heads down the aisle. Not all florists offer this and those who do may charge a fee. Be sure to ask if there is an extra fee—get it in writing !

CATERERS. Caterers, on the other hand, usually only offer to coordinate the reception. Many caterers will guide you through all the necessary events of the evening: opening the buffet (or serving the food), calling for the cake cutting, arranging with the band for the first dance, timing the toast and scheduling the bouquet and garter toss. If you are on a tight budget, caterers can be very helpful in this regard and often do the cooroonating for free. Again, get any promises in writing.

The country's economy may be going to hell in a handbasket, but there is one bright spot: savvy entrepreneurs who find untapped consumer demand and, against all the odds, create a business to fill it. Take the destination wedding. It may sound like fun to run away and marry on a secluded tropical beach, but how does one actually do this? In steps the destination wedding planner, a relatively recent genetic mutation from the standard wedding consultant. Combining the sawy of a travel agent and the moxie of a bridal consultant, the destination wedding planner slashes though red tape, finds the romantic ceremony sites, and puts together the whole she-bang. Of course, there are not many of these folks. In fact, we found just a handful. Here's a run-down of the best of the bunch.

Another helpful surrogate planner is the concierge at a hotel or resort. What would a concierge know about weddings? A lot, as it turns out. When we visited Maui to research this book, our concierge at the Kaanapali Alii condo complex was an experienced wedding planner—they do at least a dozen weddings a year. It turns out that many resorts now offer wedding packages and have specially trained concierges or wedding planners to handle all the details.
Of course, there are a few pros and cons to going with a concierge to help plan your wedding. Here's a run-down:

LOW-COST. Many concierges offer wedding planning as a free or low-cost service—as long as you book a stay at that resort or hotel. Furthermore, there is no mark-up of the services (photographer, florist) that you might book.

HANDLING THE HASSLES. Of course, a concierge should be able to walk you through the marriage license process. He or she may have "special contacts" at the marriage license bureau to speed the process along.

WEDDING EXPERIENCE CAN VARY. Turnover of these positions at resorts may mean you get an inexperienced concierge. We'd ask how long the concierge has planned weddings at the location, as well as questions about tire marriage license process. If you get the feeling this person is too new to the job, you might as well go with a professional planner instead.

LIMITED CHOICES OF CEREMONY SITES. Typically, concierges will only help set a wedding "on-site" of the property. This is fine if the resort or hotel has a dramatic vista, gazebo, or some other amenity to hold a wedding by. However, if you want a secluded beach, the concierge may not be able to help.

Long Distance Wedding: Screening Merchants (Part II)

Catering/Reception Sites

It's funny how even the best laid plans can go awry. That perfect menu you planned for months is suddenly out the window when you notice, to your shock and horror, that waiters are rolling out the wrong dish. You ordered prime rib but they're serving Chicken Cordon Bleu!
Sound far fetched? Happens more often than you think. How you prevent this from happening to you is by asking if the catering manager will be present at your reception (at least through the meal). And get it in writing. All those promises the catering manager makes to you aren't worth a dime if there is no on-site damage control in case things go awry.

Destination Wedding Planners

You're in Hawaii and all ready for your wedding . . . but wait! The minister is a no-show. Or the hotel lost your reservations. What can you do now?

A good destination wedding planner will have a coordinator there on-site to help you with such last minute problems. If there's no one on-site, you'd have to call back to the States and hope to catch the planner at their office—with time differences that might be a challenge. Another plus to planners who have on-site coordinators: you're more likely to get higher-quality services.
If you are booking your destination wedding through a travel tour company, ask if they have a local office or contact to help with any problems.

There are several telltale signs that you are dealing with a reputable, customer-focused company. First, you'll note that your calls are returned quickly (within the next business day). Materials should also be mailed promptly—check the postmark date to see when that price list was really mailed.

Of course, another sign of professionalism is that the company mails the right materials! When you request a contract, do you merely get a marketing brochure? As far fetched as it sounds, many disorganized businesses routinely mail the wrong stuff to brides.

Finally, check out how professional the materials are. While fancy stationery does not insure you're going to get high quality products or services, it does indicate the company has invested in their image. Easy-to-read materials with clear type and professional layout are a positive sign.

Any reputable company should be willing to give you references of past clients. But what value are these anyway? And why should you take the time to check them?
It's true that reference-checking is somewhat time-consuming. Calling a few past customers will take a good fifteen to thirty minutes of your time (and your long-distance money).
Why should you make this investment? For the most important elements of your wedding (the photography, for example), it may be the only way to feel comfortable with spending large sums of your wedding budget. In a sense, this is a technique to lower "buyer remorse," the sinking feeling that you made the wrong decision after you sign the deal.

What about that old line that "the merchant will only give me references from happy clients. You never hear from the unhappy ones." This is true and here's how you get around this: ask the company for the names (and phone numbers) of their three most recent brides! Obviously, if they pick three customers from way back in 1989, you are getting a distorted picture. This will also reveal how busy they have been lately— a company who can't give you a client reference from last month must not be too busy. A bad sign, for sure.

Once you have the recent customer on the phone, how can truly get the best information from him or her? Will people be honest, even if they were unhappy? To understand how to deal with this situation, put yourself in the shoes of the reference. The phone is ringing at dinner time . . . it's been a long hard day . . and now there's some yahoo on the phone who you've never met, asking about that darn wedding.

The point is: be smooth. Identify yourself as a future bride and tell them you were given their name by (fill-in-the-blank company). Ask a few general questions about their wedding to break the ice.

The key to getting the feedback you want is not to ask "yes or no" questions. Don't ask "Are you happy with the pictures?" The obvious cop-out will be a quick "yes." Instead, probe gently for any areas of possible problems.
Here are some of our time-tested questions for reference checks:
"Was there anything you would have changed with the (photography, etc.)?"
"How did the merchant handle any special requests you made?"
"Were there any promises that the merchant failed to keep?" "If you had to do it over, would you hire this business again?"
Listen carefully for any hesitation in the person's voice. Ask follow-up questions if you don't understand their answers.

If we had to pick one thing that most surprised us about researching the "bridal market," it would have to be the Price Quote Run-Around. No doubt you'll encounter this phenomenon at least once along your planning journey. What is it? Basically, it's the inexplicable and incredibly stupid practice of some merchants who don't want to give out prices by phone.
Now this seems counter intuitive, to say the least. Using the warped thinking of these businesses, consumers are supposed to part with large sums of money entirely on faith. Yea, sure.

There are several possible (albeit weak) excuses for this behavior. First, we've discovered some merchants who are paranoid that their competition is spying on them. As if their pricing is some proprietary secret formula! To avoid this, try not to bring up price in your first questions. Ask them about their background and wedding experience. Then hit them with the money questions.
Perhaps the most common cause of Price Quote Run-Around is that some bridal merchants are afraid of scaring you away. If you knew their prices, then you might run off, screaming. Hence, their goal is to try to get you into their office/studio for an "in-person" sales consultation. In this controlled environment, they can dazzle you with their wares, temporarily numbing your brain. At that point, they whip out the price list. If you don't sign immediately, a little emotional arm-
twisting might be employed: "Oh, now you want the very best for your wedding day, don't you? You only get married once! This is your special day!"

The sales technique is to wear you down. And it is generally effective. Except if you are planning long distance. This tends to throw a wrench in the well-oiled sales machinery . . . "you mean, you want prices over the phone? Geez, I don't know if can give you a quote for your wedding over the phone.''''

Perhaps the biggest lie is "we can't give you a price since we customize all our weddings." Give us a break—nearly all businesses have price lists (even though they may not be for public consumption). An exception may be florists, but even these guys can give ball-park figures for certain items (bride's bouquet, altar arrangement, etc.). By specifying a few flowers you are looking for, you can often get some figures to give you an idea of how much money you'll be parting with.

The best strategy: tell them from the start that you are calling (and planning) long-distance. You want to give them your business, but you need to know some pricing information first. If they say they must meet you in person, tell them you'll be glad to—if they pay the airfare to fly you in. That'll give them the hint.

Beware of "low-ball" price quotes. Here a business uses an enticingly low price to bait you in, like a $499 package for a wedding video. Then, you notice in the fme print that lots of littie extras cost lots of big extra bucks. In one case, we heard about a video company that advertised the above price. But, wouldn't you know it, litde things like microphones to capture the ceremony audio were an extra $50. Each. And, the videographer suggests lots of microphones for the best sound. Requesting materials in writing to lay out details like these is a way around this rip-off.
The bottom line is: use a little of that consumer assertiveness. The best cure for the Price Quote Run-Around is to take the wedding merchant by the nose and tell them what you want. Remember, you're paying them that hard-earned money—not the other way around.

Most cities and town have a Better Business Bureau, a free service that's professed goal is to help foster happy consumers (and better businesses, as the name implies).
In screening businesses, you can call the local BBB to see if they have any complaints on file. This way can spot merchants who have a bad track record before you plunk down your deposit.
Sounds simple. So, what's the catch, you say? Well, the catch is that the BBB is funded by merchants and subsequendy bends over backwards to make sure it gives businesses a "fair shot" at fixing their record. To understand how this can protect bad merchants, let's look at the complaint process.

If you believe you've been duped by a company, you write the BBB and file a complaint. The bureau forwards this complaint to the merchant and gives them ten days to respond. What happens next is most interesting.

Most of the time, the merchant will respond and attempt to defend themselves. If the merchant offers just about any excuse, the BBB will usually decide on behalf of—guess who—the merchant. As a result, if you call the BBB and ask about that merchant, you'll hear that there are no unresolved complaints in the merchant's file. There may have been twenty-seven com- plaints in the past year, but if the company offers any lame excuse, they can have a clean record. As a result, it is fairly rare to find any merchant who has a "bad record" at the BBB. They certainly have to be very stupid—ignoring the bureau's letters and so on. This probably explains why we discovered several disreputable bridal merchants who have absolutely clean BBB files.
Furthermore, there is another loophole that merchants can drive a truck through at the BBB. Even if the merchant has a complaint, they can join the BBB and have their record sponged clean! Typically, the report you will get on this company says they have been a member since (a certain date—as in last Tuesday) and since that time, there have been no com- plaints. Never mind that there could have been several nasty problems before this. Since the BBB exists on merchant-funded membership fees, you can see the conflict here.

Does this mean the BBB is worthless? Of course not. We do recommend checking out each wedding merchant's track record with the BBB. Any unresolved complaints are obvious red flags. However, a "clean" bill of health does not mean your screening job is over.

Long Distance Wedding: Screening Merchants (Part I)

Okay, admittedly, that last post was the easy stuff. Sure, coming up with a list of "hot prospects" takes some legwork, a little homework, and perhaps some time at the local library. But this is where the rubber really meets the road—when you screen through your list to find the "right" site, photographer, caterer, and so on for your wedding.

But how do you do this long distance? Well, we believe it can be done, with some careful screening. By asking the right questions, you can often separate the cream from the rest of the crop.

At this point, we are going to assume that you are in one of two categories—those couples who are:
  • ABLE TO VISIT YOUR WEDDING LOCATION AT LEAST ONCE. Hence you will use this post to screen your list of prospects. This will narrow down your choices to one to three merchants per category that you later personally visit
  • STUCK AT "HOME BASE." Without being able to visit your wedding location, you have two choices: choosing merchants by phone or using a "surrogate" planner to do the on-site visits for you.

Either way you must narrow down that list of "hot prospects" to a final list of "real possibilities."

Here's how you do it:

The phone is certainly an imperfect machine. While you can hear the voice of that photographer, you can't see the facial expressions when he rolls his eyes at the mention of your ceremony site. Sometimes you can't even speak to the owner and are sidetracked by a pesky "gatekeeper" disguised as a "marketing representative" or merely a receptionist instructed to intercept all calls.

As a long-distance bride and groom, you have no choice but to use the phone. Despite the drawbacks, phone screening can still provide clues as to whether this merchant is worthy of your business. Here are our steps to screening merchants by phone:

The First Call

IMMEDIATELY TELL THEM YOU'RE PLANNING A LONG-DISTANCE OR DESTINATION WEDDING. This way you probably won't be put on hold. It also signals the merchant that you can't just "drop in" for more information.

TELL THEM HOW YOU HEARD ABOUT THEM. Doing this puts the merchant at ease. If they know you were referred by a past client, this provides a common frame of reference. If you saw a big promotion or ad they did, this makes them happy that their marketing dollars are working.
Either way, they'll hopefully drop their guard and give you the information you need.

ASK IF THEY HAVE YOUR WEDDING DATE OPEN. Don't waste lots of time (and money) finding out all about a merchant who may already be booked for your date. While some businesses can only do one wedding a weekend (photographers, for example),. others can do multiple events (florists and bakeries). As a side note, don't get discouraged if a few merchants are already booked—just move along to the other names on the list.

REQUEST THEY MAIL A PRICE LIST, BROCHURES, CONTRACT and any other promotional materials. Most professional business- es will have these materials on hand. Tell them to send it as soon as possible. If you have a fax, have them fax it to you (and mail a hard copy), Unfortunately, getting prices is not as easy as it sounds (see the "price quote run-around" section later in this post.)

ASK TO SPEAK TO THE OWNER or manager if you get the run-around. Sometimes you don't get tire top banana when you first call and may be "screened" by a well-meaning assis- tant. However, if they balk at sending you information or are difficult to deal with, just go to the top.

Second Call

CLARIFY ANY QUESTIONS ABOUT THE PRICE LIST OR CONTRACT. Most agree-ments and price lists have at least one or two ambiguous points. What type of album comes with that photo package? Is there a delivery or set-up fee? Asking point-blank if there are any other fees that are not listed is a good way to ferret out any hidden charges.

ASK SOME OF OUR KILLER SCREENING QUESTIONS. Below is our list of "Killer Screening Questions," so named because we believe they cut through the clutter.

GIVE THEM AN IDEA OF YOUR BUDGET AND GAUGE THEIR REACTION. Listen carefully! There may be silence if your budget is below their "standard fees." Other times, the merchant can't restrain their enthusiasm. If they say they don't have anything for that price, ask them if they can design a "custom package" for your wedding. This is a subtle way of saying "work with me and I'll give you my business."

IF YOU PLAN TO VISIT THE WEDDING LOCATION, INFORM THEM OF YOUR IMPENDING VISIT and ask if you can set up an appointment. Read later on on-site visits for tips on the timing of appointments.

ASK IF THEY WILL HOLD YOUR DATE UNTIL YOU SEE THEM (or make a decision to hire them by phone). Suggest they call you if some other bride is interested in the date—this is a common courtesy professionals will extend to potential clients.

WHAT IS THE SMALLEST DEPOSIT I CAN PUT DOWN? Most merchants will only hold a date if you give them a deposit. This may be only $25 or as much as several hundred dollars. Our best advice: always pay by credit card. This will enable you to get a possible refund (or credit on your bill) if the merchant disappears or fails to deliver what is promised.

ASK FOR A FEW REFERENCES FROM RECENT BRIDES. Get the phone numbers of recent past customers. Later in this post we will tell you how to check these references.

IF THINGS ARE GOING WELL, ASK FOR SOME REFERRALS of other wedding professionals. This enables you to get some of those "domino referrals" mentioned in the previous post.

If you read our book Bridal Bargains or any bridal magazine, you are probably familiar with the many questions to ask various merchants. In most cases, we assume you are going to ask many of those questions in a lengthy face-to-face meeting. When you plan long distance, however, your first "meeting" with the business will be over the phone. In order to save you money on long-distance phone bills, here are some of our "killer questions" to cut to the chase, so to speak. By honing in on these questions, you'll be able to weed out the inappropriate merchants.

Photographer/ Video

The biggest scam with photography studios are those that promise expert photography and then only deliver amateur prints. How. is this done? After baiting you into a contract with the studio, your wedding is assigned to a "stringer" or no-name associate who just graduated from photography school last week. -The resulting pictures are, to say the least, a major disappointment.

Protect yourself by asking the above question at the outset. If the photographer refuses to identify who is available for your wedding date, move along to the next studio. If he or she says they are available for your wedding, getting that commitment in writing will be crucial.


This question gauges the extent of service that the florist offers. What does it mean for you if the florist just "drops off" the flowers? Well, what if your cousin decides he wants a boutonnière, leaving a groomsman flower-less? What if the altar flowers aren't what you ordered? If the florist just drops off the flowers, then your ability to fix problems is limited.

An indication of their commitment to weddings is whether they stay until the start of the ceremony. We often find that florists who offer this "full-service" also just happen to offer the best wedding flowers overall. Not only do they pin on corsages and boutonnières, but they also do last minute fixes—making sure everything is as desired. Florists who just drop off flowers may be stretching themselves too thin, rushing to do too many weddings on a Saturday.

Does it cost extra for this "full service"? Surprisingly, many florists who do stay until the ceremony starts don't charge any more than the "dropoff" guys. Even if they do charge an extra fee ($25 to $50), it may be well worth the additional cost.


You might be surprised to learn that many commercial bakeries use "shortcuts" for their wedding cakes. The most notice- able shortcut is making the cake from a mix. Instead of using fresh ingredients, bakeries just add water and eggs to pre-made mixes—the results are cakes that lack texture and flavor. We've always been shocked at how many big, "famous" bakeries who use mixes. Obviously, mixes enable a bakery to do big volume, cranking out a dozen or more cakes a week.

Are they frozen? Another shortcut bakers may use is to bake a large number of cakes several weeks in advance of the delivery date. Then, the cakes are frozen until a few days before the event, when they are thawed and decorated. As you can imagine, any cake that is frozen almost always loses moisture in the transition. Once again, bakeries who do this are trying to build volume. Even if the cakes are from scratch, freezing can destroy that advantage. We recommend you choose a bakery that bakes its cakes from scratch a day or two before the event.


The latest scam making the rounds in the wedding music world is what we call the "Milli Vanilli" demo tape. Just like the infamous duo that faked their album, these wedding entertainers are faking their demo tapes! A Boston musician tipped us off to this scam, charging that several area bands were using different "studio" musicians (not actual band members) to record fantastic soundtracks for those audio and video demo tapes.

Even if the actual band is playing the music, audio tapes can be altered with studio wizardry. Reverb can be added to give a sax solo more presence and machines can actually improve the background harmonies. The bottom line about all these tricks: see the band live to see if they are really worth their asking price. If you can't see them during one of your on-site visits, have a surrogate planner attend a reception or party where they are playing.

Some dishonest band leaders or agents use "pickup" bands to dupe consumers. By putting together bands together at the last moment (picking up a drummer here, a keyboardist there), they are able play more events. The problem: unrehearsed musicians thrown together at the last moment tend to sound a step or two below your neighborhood teenage garage band. Asking who will be playing your wedding (and getting background experience information on those players) will prevent problems. The most honest band leaders will put in writing the musicians who will be at your wedding.

Similarly, disc jockeys run a version of this rip-off by using several "crews" to do multiple receptions. If you are the unlucky bride and groom, you might get a second-string DJ who is just learning the ropes. As with any entertainer, confirm who will be the actual DJ at your reception. Seeing potential DJs play before booking is prudent, since the quality may vary greatly from one crew to another. Sometimes the DJ equipment may vary, too: the company has a good system they send out to some, weddings, while other clients get the "back-up" system—which sounds like a back-up system.

Monday, June 29, 2009

Long Distance Wedding: Tracking Down the Best Bridal Prospects (Part III)

Pseudo-wedding planners
This is an interesting category—a hybrid of magazines and wedding planners. Resembling a large paperback book, these fill-in-the-blank planners have spaces to record guest lists, wedding arrangements and so on. Interspersed in the checklists are ads for local bridal merchants. The biggest player in this market is the "Wedding Pages," which has planners for over 80 different cities. To order, call 1-800-843-4983. The Wedding Pages is free but there is a catch: your name goes on a mailing list to merchants in your wedding location. Soon, your mailbox may be filled with unsolicited pitches for bridal shops, photographers, and the like.

BEST FOR: Everything, especially photographers and caterers or reception sites. Who makes the best-tasting wedding cakes? Why not ask someone who attends hundreds of weddings and tastes just as many cakes?

Who is this person, you ask? How about a wedding photographer! That's right, most wedding photographers sneak a taste at receptions. Any photographer who's been around the block should be able to give you at least two to three names of good bakers whose cakes taste as good as they look.

What about a good florist? Asking ceremony site coordinators or caterers will probably turn up a few good prospects. That's because they've seen the florist's work up close and personal. They know who's been late and who's been on time.

You get the picture. "Domino referrals" involve networking with wedding professionals to find other prospects. One couple we spoke to in Los Angeles was planning a wedding in Rhode Island and used this method to find nearly everyone they needed. A band leader recommended several wonderful reception sites, a photographer turned them on to a great videographer, and so on.
The drawbacks to domino referrals: As you can imagine, this method does have a few problems. First, you must find one good merchant to start with. Then, you can use "domino referrals" to help find others.

Political infighting in the wedding business is intense. Competitors jostle for position by aligning themselves with cliques of other merchants—hence you may only get referrals of a certain "type" of business. High-end photographers may only direct you to the most expensive cake baker in town, for example. To avoid this, tell them exactly what you are looking for in terms of quality and price range.

Finally, the major pitfall of domino referrals is the kickback problem. In the Northeast and in some parts of California, catering managers at reception sites receive kickbacks for referring couples to local merchants. For example, one harpist in the San Francisco Bay Area told us that a popular reception site charged musicians a $500 fee to be included on their "recommended list." Of course, this list didn't dis-close to brides that the recom-mended bands and DJs had really paid for the privilege of being on the list. The kickback problem also occasionally crops up with wed-ding planners and some bridal shops. Some unscrupulous mer-chants collect thousands of dollars in "finder's" fees. Wedding busi nesses who are willing to pay these commissions are probably desper ate for work-—not a good sign. If you suspect something's up, ask the merchant if they are receiving a "commission" for every bride they refer.

Nonetheless, we find that the "domino referral" method can result in some very high quality leads. But who do you ask to refer whom? Here's a table with some suggestions:

Ask this merchant

To refer you to these businesses!


Videographers, bakers, bands,

DJs, reception sites, caterers


Photographers, reception sites,

caterers, Bands/DJ's


Florists, bakers, bands,

DJs, reception sites

Bridal Shops

Photographers, invitation stores


Reception sites, bakers, caterers


Florists, reception sites


Bakeries, reception sites

Bridal Shows.

BEST FOR: A few creative ideas, but not much else. Bridal shows and fairs are an interesting experience, but unfortunately, not very helpful for long-distance brides.

What is a bridal show? For the uninitiated, these events are essentially a combination trade fair and fashion show. Bridal merchants set up booths and hawk their wares—from photography to catering, flowers to cakes. A fashion show with the latest gowns is usually the bait the promoters use to get brides into the trade fair.

Typically held on a Sunday afternoon, these shows can range from a small gathering at a local hotel to a massive event that rivals a political convention in size and scope. In fact, in Houston, a local bridal show sets up in the city's huge convention center and draws 15,000 attendants. The aisles at that show were mobbed and made the event something more to be endured than enjoyed.

When are bridal shows held? Most are in January (which just coincidentally corresponds to the peak engagement times of Christmas and Valentine's Day). A few bridal fairs are held in the late summer and early fall.

How can I find out about shows? Shows are typically advertised in local newspapers—check your Sunday paper near the wedding announcements. One national company that does shows in several major cities is the Bridal Expo. Call 1-800-544-3970 for their latest schedule.
Should I attend a show in the wedding location? Or at my : home base? That's a tricky question. First, if you happen to be visiting the wedding location when a show is going on, you may be tempted to go. However, your precious time may be more productively spent checking out reception sites, photographers, and other merchants. Using the above sources may yield higher-quality leads than the merchants you'd meet at bridal shows (see pluses and minuses of bridal shows listed below).

Of course, if you're in town on a Sunday and have nothing else to do, attending a show can't hurt. If you are at your "home base," attending a show is more for gathering ideas than for identifying specific merchants.


The Upside: \
  • ONE-STOP SHOPPING LETS YOU SEE MANY MERCHANTS IN A SHORT TIME. Instead of wasting your time driving all over town only to find merchants who don't fit your needs, a show enables you to do a quick "screen" of what's out there.
  • FASHION SHOWS ARE FUN. Frankly, this is why many brides and grooms go to these shows anyway, to see those fancy $5000 gowns. Seeing what those dresses look like live and in person provides good entertainment.
The Downside:
  • CROWDS! Unfortunately, most bridal shows are mobbed.
  • A FANCY BOOTH DOES NOT GUARANTEE A COMPETENT BUSINESS. Merchants spend hundreds, if not thousands of dollars to make their booth stand-out. Unfortunately, this effort does not always extend to making their customers satisfied. For example, at one show, we met a photographer who we thought was very professional—smartly dressed, pretty booth, attractive photo display albums. Then we visited her studio a cluttered mess in a low-rent part of town. The lesson? Always go to visit the merchant after the show at their shop, office, or studio to find out if they are really worth the asking price. Never book a merchant during a bridal show.
  • SHOWS TEND TO ATTRACT LOW-QUALITY OR UNTESTED MERCHANTS. If you're looking for the best wedding merchants in town, a bridal show isn't always where to find them. That's because the best tend to work by word-of-mouth. So who's at these shows? Often, it's young companies trying to establish a reputation. While this is OK, you don't want someone learning the ropes at your wedding. Also in attendance may be "low-quality" merchants who are desperate for work.
  • DISCOUNTERS AREN'T INVITED. Looking for a shop that discounts gowns? A deal on invitations? Don't expect to find them at most bridal shows, since most show promoters ban these companies to appease full-price competitors. For example, we found most bridal shows have banned Discount Bridal Service from exhibiting for the sole reason that they offer discounts to brides! Full-price shops would rather resort to these dirty tricks than to compete with the discounters head-to-head.

  • WEAR COMFORTABLE SHOES. Convention centers often have concrete floors—murder on feet if you're in heels. Sneakers are the best bet.
  • TAKE A CAMERA AND SNAP PICTURES of interesting stuff like floral arrangements and wedding cakes. If you have a small video camera, bring this too.
  • THE DOOR PRIZE TRAP. Be aware that when a merchant asks you to sign up for a door prize that you are also signing up for a mailing list. If you want to protect your privacy, pass by that chance at winning fifty pink, personalized napkins.
  • PRESS FOR PRICES. Some businesses will pass out price lists, others are more coy. These companies (which just so happen to be more expensive) feel they may scare you off if they tell you what they really cost. Instead, they want to lure you into their studio, office, or shop for a one-on-one sales presentation. Before you set up any appointment, get the company to be specific on prices. Don't let them get away with stuff like "our prices start at $1000." What does that buy you? Tell them you're planning a longdistance wedding and don't have any time for such games.
In the past few years, several "referral" services have sprung up for brides. Some are legitimate, while others are thinly veiled scams. How can you tell the difference?

Here's an example of a good referral service:
The Wedding Library in Orange, GA TJI (714/997-1579) is a free service to brides. Merchants pay a fee to be listed, but the referral company owner told us they check references and screen out the less reputable firms. On the other hand is a DJ company in Dallas that claims to be a "referral company." Instead of providing brides with the names of reputable companies, the DJ comes to your home for a heavy-sales pressure pitch to let them do your entire wedding—they contract with a cake baker, photographer, and so on. Another twist on this scam are advertising publications that offer "free referral" phone lines. When you call, you get "referred" to companies that just so happen to be their advertisers. Is there any screening of merchants or checking of references? Probably not.

What's the lesson? Check out the "referral" company by asking a few questions. Key among these is how they get paid and how they screen any businesses. So what's the best source for merchants to help you plan your long-distance wedding? We believe the highest-quality leads come from "domino referrals" by recently married couples or other wedding professionals. The yellow pages can help you if you get stuck and tourism or visitor's bureaus can lead you to an off-the-beaten-path reception site.

Less helpful but somewhat useful are wedding ad publications and books. Local newspapers can clue you into sales and special bridal editions provide a good overview of who's hot. Finally, bridal shows and fairs can expose you to a wide variety of merchants (and ideas) in one afternoon.
The goal here is to come up with two to three top candidates for each bridal category: ceremony/reception site, caterer, florist, photographer, band, DJ, videographer, and more. But what do you do after you have that list?

Long Distance Wedding: Tracking Down the Best Bridal Prospects (Part II)

Where Do I Look?
Now that you have a copy of the yellow pages (or have located a Phonefiche), where do you begin? First, let us start by saying that each directory publisher has their own idea of indexing. As a result, in one phone book, you can find tuxedo rental places under "Tuxedos" while another lists them under "Formalwear Rentals-Men."

Here's a tip: look at the index in the back. Most topics are referenced and this will save you much time. There are three general sections you want to find:
  • WEDDINGS SUPPLIES AND SERVICES: Perhaps the most important category to locate, this section will be a potpourri of different merchants who are targeting the bridal market. You'll find florists, photographers, entertainers, bridal shops, and more. While there are many bakeries in most cities, the bakeries listed here will be more apt to specialize in wedding cakes, for example. Nearby this section could be another category, "Wedding Arrangement Services," a big catch-all for some all-in-one companies and wedding planners (although these businesses may also be under "Wedding Consultants.") In one yellow pages, we found more useful leads under "wedding arrangements" than the "wedding supplies and services" heading. Nonetheless, copy all of these sections.
  • BRIDAL SHOPS. You'll note that we recommend you buy your bridal gown in your hometown and not in the wedding location. So why should you copy this section? That's because bridal shops are great sources for other service referrals. Later, we'll talk about how your surrogate planner can canvas these stores for business cards and local advertising publications. Also, bridal shops tend to sponsor (dominate is anodier word that comes to mind) local bridal fairs, as we'll explore later.
  • PHOTOGRAPHERS-PORTRAIT. Directories tend to divide photographers into two categories: commercial and portrait. Wedding photographers tend to be classified into die latter section.
  • OTHER STUFF. While you're more likely to find merchants who specialize in weddings listed in "Weddings Supplies and Services," other sections may have bigger ads (and more information) about some of the same companies. Key categories may include "Bakers-Retail," "Caterers," "Florists," "Entertainers" (or "Disc Jockeys" or "Orchestras & Bands"), and "Video Production Services." (Category headings will vary, of course.)
How Do I Narrow This Down?
The number of listings in the Yellow Pages can be daunting. For example, in the Dallas, Texas, directory under "Photographers-Portrait," there are a whopping 253 listings! How do you narrow this down?

  • KEY ON "WEDDING SPECIALISTS." For example, with photographers, note how many studios list weddings first in their ad. Some list "families" and "children" before weddings—wonder what their priority is?
  • Remember this isn't the "end all." You're going to use the yellow pages as a cross-reference—for example, to find an address or more info about a company you find through another of our sources. Don't get discouraged by the large number of prospects—we'll narrow them down shortly.

WHERE'S THE ADDRESS? You'll notice that some listings omit address information, giving just a phone number. Typically this flags an "out-of-home" company. Is this bad? Not necessarily. Some very talented merchants work from home. In some cases, however, it may be illegal—bakers and caterers are forbidden to operate out of their homes by some municipalities.

A BIG AD DOES NOT MEAN "HIGH QUALITY." It probably means "high volume." That's because those large ads are very expensive. To pay off those ad bills, the business may have to do big volume.

EVERY BUSINESS THAT HAS A BUSINESS PHONE TYPICALLY GETS A FREE LISTING IN THE YELLOW PAGES. You'll notice that some companies just have a plain vanilla listing— no ad or even bold print. That's because it's free. Some businesses put their money into other marketing outlets while others don't advertise at all and work by word-of-mouth referrals.

INFORMATION CAN BE OUT-OF-DATE. Yellow pages typically stay "on the market" for a year. In that time, listings can become out of date. Businesses disappear, locations change and more. Always call ahead to verify information before making a trip.

THE PERSONAL "NAME." Look for companies that list the owner's name in the business name. Why? Because the best services exist on the owner's personal reputation. When we encounter a "generic name" business we wonder what they're hiding? Inexperience? A faceless corporation? For example, "McCoy's Photography" or "Wedding Cakes by Carol" are better prospects than "City Photographers" or "The Wedding Cake Bakery."

AD CLAIMS ARE NOT CLOSELY MONITORED FOR TRUTHFULNESS. As you might have guessed, claims made in directory advertising are rarely verified by the publisher. "Free estimates" may really mean "free if you spend $1000." "Wedding Experts" may turn out to be "brand new in the business."

Local Newspapers.

BEST FOR: trendy and top quality bridal stores and services. The newspaper in your wedding location may be a surprising source for merchant leads. Here are three examples:

Special Wedding Sections
Mainly filled with ads (and sometimes with mind-numbing "advertorial" stories), these sections usually appear in January or early spring. If the section is not purely ads, note who the editors and reporters talk to as sources—these businesses are probably considered at the top of their field. Be aware that fashion editors typically stress exclusive (read: expensive) bridal shops and services.

How do you get your hands on one of these? It may be as simple as calling the newspaper—try the advertising department, since they typically keep extra copies as sales tools. If that fails, call the editorial department and speak to the feature section. If they won't send you a copy, ask for the issue date and have a friend hunt it down in the local library (or see if your library carries that paper).

Sunday Bridal Advertising
For some reason, bridal businesses tend to advertise on Sundays. Some papers even have boxed "wedding directories" with local ads—these usually appear in the feature or lifestyle section. Most of the ads appear after Christmas and run into the spring; this is the prime "wedding planning season."

Wedding Announcements
Want a sneaky way to find the best bands for receptions? Check out the wedding announcements of other brides and grooms. Typically running on Sundays, some of these announcements are quite lengthy, listing the bride, groom, families, what the bride wore and (you guessed it) which musician(s) played at the ceremony and reception! Since these lengthy descriptions . (which are actually paid ads) are often taken out by society-type families, the bands may be pricey, but what the heck. At least you know who is considered "hot." Note: here's a way to find the names of some of the photographers who do those "high society" weddings. Some of these announcements have large pictures of the bride. If you look in the corner, the photographer may have signed his or her name.


BEST FOR: just about everything, but screen the referrals carefully. If you have any friends or relatives at the wedding location, ask them if they have any suggestions. Okay, we realize that your grandmother may not know who the hot wedding photographers are in town, but she may have a friend whose granddaughter got married recently. Investing time in tracking down these leads may pay off big time down the line.

One limitation of this approach is, of course, the "clashing tastes" problem. While you might have found a recent bride who can give you referrals, her wedding may have been substantially different than yours will be. Hence, some of her choices may not fit your needs. If you don't know the person real well, ask a couple of innocuous questions:

Was your wedding large? While you don't need an exact guest count, this clues you into whether the event was similar in size and scope to what you are planning.

Where did you hold it? Whether a posh hotel or simple park site, this will give you the idea what type of price range the other bride shopped in.

Obviously, you need to do this not to be snobby, but to tell if the types of services you are looking for are similar to the ones the friend or relative used. A florist referral who did small bouquets for a garden wedding may not be able handle a large hotel wedding with elaborate table centerpieces.

As consumer advocates, we're not big fans of the national bridal magazines. The advice is often so out-of-touch, it's quite sad. During the height of the last recession, the magazines ran pictorials featuring gowns that averaged $2000 in price! Most of the articles are slanted toward weddings in the northeast, heavily recommending sit-down dinners, for example. According to a recent article in the Wall Street Journal, the magazines (including industry leader Bride's) also admitted to blocking ads from discounters and gown renters. While these rags do take ads from men's tux rental firms, women looking for rentals are out of luck!

So why have we even mentioned them here? Despite their flaws, most of the magazines do have regional advertising sections, with ads from "local merchants." Most brides are unaware that the magazines have several regional editions. If you're in California, you get the "western edition" with a special ad section from local merchants. You'll note many of the gown ads list stores in that part of the country. According to our research, the biggest regional sections are in the Northeast versions, followed by the West. The South and Midwest regional ad sections are much smaller.

Of course, getting the "northeast edition" of a bridal magazine isn't easy if you live in say, Florida. You may have to have a friend send you a copy via the mail or pick one up when you visit the wedding location.

How can you use the magazines without lining their coffers? Visit your local library—most carry a bridal magazine or two. That way you can glean the information you need without giving your money to these publishers.

This category hits close to home—that's how we got into this crazy wedding business to begin with. We wrote a series of regional wedding guides to cities in Texas, Colorado, and California.
Now there are dozens of local bridal publications out there to help you plan your wedding. Here's an overview of what is available:

At last count, we found about fifteen paperback books that are local "wedding guides." Most offer information about local bridal merchants and wedding sites. Some are true consumer guides (with no advertising) while others are filled with glossy ads. Beware of those books that are disguised as unbiased editorial, but are really paid-for ads by the merchants. For example, we found one bridal guide for Portland, Oregon that said it contained "factual and descriptive information on area (bridal) businesses." What the publisher forgot to say was that not only did each business pay up to $1000 per page to be in the book, but the merchants also wrote their own copy. Hence, most of the information turns out to be puff pieces about how great every merchant is.

Nevertheless, if you take these books with a grain of salt, they may be helpful in identifying a few potential sources. Most books are for major cities—if you're planning for a smaller metro area, you may be out of luck. How can you find them? Most books are available from local bookstores or from bridal shops. For a listing of the most current regional books, seek out "Books in Print" at your local library. Look under "Weddings" in the subject guide for a complete list. You may be able to find the publisher's phone number to order a book by phone.

In the past few years, a whole crop of local bridal magazines has sprung up like weeds. Usually found in big metro areas, these glossy magazines are filled with ads from local bridal merchants. New England Bride is a prime example in the Northeast. Unlike books, most of these magazines have no pretense about providing consumer information—they are simply a vehicle for merchants to flout their wares. Most articles provide generic etiquette advice or vapid observations about the local wedding scene. On the upside, local bridal magazines at least provide a starting place to find good merchants.

Some articles are "advertorials" for merchants— ads disguised as editorial articles. For example, one recent issue of a regional bridal magazine touted the advantages of shopping for a band or DJ via videotape. Surprisingly, next to the article was an ad for a music agency whose major selling point is a large library of videos of local bands!

Regional bridal magazines are a little tricky to find. Try local bridal shops or perhaps a newsstand with a large collection of regional periodicals.

Long Distance Wedding: Tracking Down the Best Bridal Prospects (Part I)

Perhaps the greatest anxiety in planning a long-distance or destination wedding is finding all the stores and services you need. If you are hundreds (if not thousands) of miles away, how can you find a good ceremony or reception site, photographer, caterer, florist, band, or DJ? What about the wedding cake— which bakery bakes the best? For destination weddings, which resort offers the best package and location to tie the knot? How can you find a good photographer in another country?

Now, if you actually lived in the place where the wedding would be, how would you find these guys? Well, you probably would have attended a few weddings or at least have a friend or two that could give a referral. Perhaps a colleague at the office could recommend a great caterer. Maybe a local bridal fair would provide more leads. Since you have the luxury of living right there, you could spend time visiting many prospects. Even if such leads turned out to be duds, you could chalk up the time spent as a learning experience.

For a long-distance wedding, you must shop smarter—you probably won't have lots of extra time to visit merchants who don't fit your needs. This planning process needs to be executed with exact precision: you need to quickly identify the right services for your wedding and book them as soon as possible.

For destination weddings, there is an even even greater challenge: planning an entire wedding (and perhaps reception) without meeting one of the service providers. The entire proceedings must be planned on faith. As a result, if you want to plan a wedding in Hawaii or some other destination location, we strongly advise you consider the services of a professional wedding travel planner. Also, the last section of this book lists several popular destinations with costs and other helpful information.

On the other hand, long-distance brides can go one of two paths: you can turn the planning over to a bridal consultant or you can plan it yourself with the help of friends and family. The rest of this series focuses on how you can plan a long-distance wedding on your own.

The first step in the "do-it-yourself" planning process is coming up with a list of sources. The goal is to develop a list of the highest-quality services that offer prices within your budget. Specifically, this post focuses on finding a ceremony and/or reception site, photographer, videographer, entertainer(s) for the ceremony and reception, florist, caterer, and cake baker.

Why this process can be challenging:
The "wedding industry" is fragmented into many small mom-and-pop stores and services. If they advertise at all, it may be a small ad in the Yellow Pages or a wedding-related publication. Referrals from past customers are a prime source of new business. Many of the best photographers, for example, exist on word-of-mouth only. Small marketing budgets lead many quality companies to do bridal fairs and other promotional events.

What this Means For You:
As a result, you must know where to look to find the best services. Here are our best sources:

Local Organizations

BEST FOR: Ceremony and Reception Sites. Without being there, how can you find the best places for reception sites? If you are not getting married in a church, what other ceremony sites are available?

VISITOR'S AND TOURISM BUREAUS may have lists of facilities available for weddings. In one city, we found a visitor's bureau that had a $2 list of fifty sites— complete with capacities and rental fees! Caution: these lists are also for businesses looking for meeting places. While some sites may make for great meetings, they may not have the appropriate ambience for weddings. Be sure to ask whether the sites paid to be part of the listing. To see if your wedding location has a visitor's or tourism bureau, look at the "government" listings in the telephone book. Or call city hall.

HISTORICAL SOCIETIES can help you in a couple of ways. First of all, many of these nonprofit organizations operate sites as a fund raiser. Some are spectacular restored mansions in prime locations. These groups may also have lists of other historical buildings available for receptions. Caution: while these sites are beautiful, they may also be quite pricey. And quite busy—many may be booked up several months in advance. Most societies are listed in the white pages in the phone book.

PARKS & RECREATION DEPARTMENTS: For listings of city-owned park facilities, contact city or county Parks and Recreation Departments. Many have brochures that list the various sites, rental fees, capacities and more. Since most cities and towns have several park sites, ask them what are the top three sites in terms of popularity for weddings or receptions. This may narrow down the list. Caution: the quality can range widely here. Be sure you inquire about "climate control": some sites may not have air conditioning or heating. Popular spots will probably be very affordable but also in high demand (book as soon as possible).

CHAMBERS OF COMMERCE MAY BE ABLE TO PROVIDE REFERRALS FOR LOCAL WEDDING MERCHANTS. Our experience shows the quality of chambers varies widely from town to town. Some may have directories of local merchants available for a low cost; others may know nothing. Caution: treat any advertising-sponsored publication with a healthy dose of skepticism. Sometimes, these publications are PR puff pieces that provide little real information—-just a starting point for more investigation.


BEST FOR: Just about everything. Without a doubt, the yellow pages directory for your wedding location will be a valuable resource. This comprehensive source will give you a broad overview of what's out there. You've probably already realized this, but did you know that the complete yellow pages for nearly every city in the United States are as close as- your public library? Once you've got your hands on one, what are the tricks to using it effectively?

Types of Yellow Pages
Believe it or not, the words "yellow pages" are. not copyrighted. Anyone can put together a directory of businesses and call it a "yellow pages." The best (and most complete) yellow pages are published by the "Baby Bells" (typically your local phone company) such as NYNEX, Southwestern Bell, US West, and so on. Also, be aware that most yellow pages come in both "consumer" and "business-to-business" versions. You want the "consumer" version—the other won't be of much help.

Finding the Yellow Pages
Actually, this isn't as difficult as it sounds. Most local phone companies that publish directories will send you a copy at a nominal fee. Here's an interesting note: US West (one of the seven "Baby Bells") will ship you any phone is book from any city in the United States. For US West's own directories (from Rocky Mountain states), prices run $7 to $22. Other cities are more expensive—for example, we priced the Chicago Yellow Pages at $40, and Los Angeles at $38. As you might expect, the big-ger the town, the more expensive the book. To order, call US West Direct at 1-800-422-8793. Delivery from Denver takes about ten days and they'll send you a bill (so you don't need a credit card to order—nice touch).

Long Distance Wedding: Home City

Three major areas of your wedding may be planned in your home city. These include the wedding apparel (bridal and bridesmaids dresses), the invitations, and the personal wedding flowers.


The Wedding Gown

When you're a long-distance or destination bride, searching for a gown requires a few adjustments. First, you must be careful about the "wedding date" that you give to the dress shop. Second, long lead times may make finding a dress in the right "season" somewhat vexing. Finally, what about Mom? How can you get her input when she's not in town? And how are you going to get the gown from your home base to the wedding location? Here are some tips for making this process go as smoothly as possible.
When buying a wedding gown, consider lying about your wedding date.

Why would you do this? First, let's look at how long it takes to order and receive a wedding gown from a traditional bridal shop. It takes as much as two to four months (with some manufacturers up to six) to get in a special-order gown. Then you'll need to leave about a month for alterations and fittings. We recommend allow-ring still another month for screw-ups on the part of the shop. Finally, add in time if you plan to ship the dress to the wedding location.

Total time needed: for shopping, start a year in advance. Order the dress at least six months before the wedding, if not earlier. (For those of you without this much time, we suggest thinking about buying a dress off the rack.)

But why lie about your date? Well, we have spoken to many a bride who has tried to order a gown from a shop early (say July for a wedding the following summer) and was told, "Honey, come back in January and we can help you then."

That's right, many shops lull brides into believing they don't need to plan that far in advance. And as often as not, the dress arrives weeks late (say, two days before the wedding) and the alterations must be rushed. Considering the time needed to travel to the wedding location, you can't afford to have this happen. So, lie about your date (saying that it is four to six weeks earlier than it actually is) and give yourself extra breathing room to save your sanity during this stressful process.

One common bridal industry tactic that compounds this problem: shops that intentionally delay placing your dress order with the manufacturer. Why do they do this? Who knows. Perhaps they are using your dress deposit to pay their utility bills. Whatever the reason, they know your wedding is not for a few months, so why not put off ordering your dress until you "really need it."

That's exactly what one Texas bride told us about her recent order of a $1,200 gown. The bridal shop owner promised her dress by July for her October wedding. When it didn't come in, the shop owner said, "What's the rush? Your wedding isn't for three months." Of course, the bride had told the owner about a bridal portrait sitting she was planning for August when she placed the order—the dress needed to be altered in time for the sitting. Only after harassing the owner for days did the bride finally get her gown—in early August.

One more point: if you don't feel comfortable about lying, consider giving your real date and requiring the shop to give you a delivery date in writing (a smart tip for any dress order). This is not a common practice and they may refuse to do so. However, if they . do agree, you have some legal protection if they fail to deliver the dress on time.


We know what you're thinking now: how can I choose a dress nine months to a year in advance and get a dress that will reflect the season of my actual wedding date?
Of course, if you're shopping a year in advance, you will be shopping during the same season as your future wedding. However, you may find only winter-style dresses with long sleeves, for example—nice, except for the fact that you are getting married in the summer. Similarly, dress shopping in the spring may only turn up short-sleeve styles.

Fortunately, there are ways around this problem. Many designers realize that it pays to keep some styles in their repertoire throughout the year. The number of short-sleeve or long-sleeve options may be smaller when shopping "out of season" but many are still available. Look through older bridal magazines to find styles, then see if they can be ordered.

Also, when looking for a short sleeve dress during long-sleeve season, consider asking what the extra charge would be to have the sleeves shortened. Or order the dress as is and take it to an experienced seamstress to have it altered. Stay away from fabrics that are going to be obviously hotter in summer as well. For example, you won't want to wear a heavy, slipper satin in August. Fabric finishes can also be changed by special request— there may be an extra charge, however.
If you're planning a destination wedding, keep in mind the climate of the wedding location. Check with your travel agent or wedding planner for tips on the best gown for the time of year that you'll tie the knot.

You want input from Mom, but she's so far away.

We have several ideas for involving Mom in this special gown purchase. For example, although many shops prohibit taking pictures of gowns, you could sneak a camera into the dressing room, get rid of the salesperson (you may need a friend to help here) and take a picture.

Also, use the bridal magazines as a resource. You can either send pages back and forth, or have Mom buy the same issue and talk about designs over the phone.
If you can't rely on these methods, simply bring one close friend (whose judgment you trust) to the bridal shop. This will certainly help protect you from overzealous salespeople whose idea of sophistication is an explosion of pink ruffles.
Transporting the gown.

This is one of the most oft-asked questions we get from brides planning a long distance wedding. After all, they say, how do you get that huge twenty-foot train on a plane?

  • FIRST, CONSIDER DOUBLE-BAGGING THE DRESS. Usually when you buy a dress from a full-service shop, they give you one of those heavy plastic bags made especially for bridal gowns. Consider buying a second bag (they cost from $10 to $20 each) to protect against any rips, tears, or splits in the first bag.
  • IF YOU'RE TAKING THE DRESS ON A PLANE: DON'T CHECK YOUR DRESS. In fact, see if you can hang it in one of the garment compartments. If not, lay it as flat as possible in the overhead compartment (you'll have to have the wrinkles steamed out anyway at the wedding location, so don't be too concerned).
  • CONSIDER UPS. If you can't take the dress on a plane or don't want to be bothered with the hassle, ship it via United Parcel Service. UPS offers reliable shipping service to any domestic address in the United States. (While UPS also ships internationally, you may want to play it safe and bring your dress on the plane if you're planning an overseas wedding).

Here's how you do it:
  • LEAVE YOURSELF AT LEAST SEVEN WORKING DAYS (twice that in December) for shipping time.
  • ASK UPS WHAT NORMAL DELIVERY TIME IS to your friend's/relative's house. Tell the person on the receiving end when the dress will arrive.
  • PACKING: NEVER USE NEWSPAPER. Stuff bodice and sleeves with tissue paper; wrap in acid-free tissue paper (available at most craft stores); fill the box with plastic peanuts.
  • IF YOU CAN AFFORD IT, GO "SECOND DAY AIR." UPS handles air packages more gently than "ground" shipments, plus you'll know exactly when it will arrive (the cost is two to four times' more than regular ground service).

When it gets there.

Find a competent cleaner or bridal shop in your wedding city that can steam your wedding dress for you. (Note we didn't say press—don't let anyone touch your gown with an iron! The delicate fabric and lace of most gowns rules out ironing. Besides, scorch marks aren't very becoming). Often friends and family can come up with suggestions or look in the Yellow Pages.

Hanger hazards.

If you ship your dress several weeks before your wedding, lay it flat in a spare room. DON'T hang the dress for longer than a day or two. The weight of the dress and train can cause it to stretch out in the shoulders.


How much advanced planning for bridesmaids?

Keep in mind that ordering a bridesmaids dress is very similar to buying a bridal gown. If you order a dress from a traditional shop, most designs will require anywhere from two to three months to get in (some manufacturers require up to six months, believe it or not).
Thankfully, a few designers are now offering faster service. For example, Alfred Angelo stocks four styles of bridesmaids gowns available for immediate delivery in sizes 4 to 44. Jordan also offers "jet service" for fast delivery in sizes up to 42. Even so, "jet service" may still mean a two-week wait. Check a bridal magazine for the name of a bridal shop near you that carries these designers.

Add in time for alterations and fittings (one month). Hence, you may still need to plan two months out to order from these "speedy" manufacturers and four months from the standard designers.

Where are the bridesmaids?
  • If they live at your home base, you can shop for the bridesmaids dresses locally.
  • If the bridesmaids live either at the wedding location or are scattered across the country, we recommend using Discount Bridal Service (DBS). This nationwide mail-order discounter has done for bridesmaids dresses what Land's End did for casual clothes.

The best strategy is to shop bridal shops and look through bridal magazines to fine the style you like. Get all the bridesmaids' sizes (typically bust, waist, and hips) and order the dresses from your local DBS rep.

If you have any questions about sizing, your local rep should be able to answer them. When you order a dress through Discount Bridal Service, the company does require a 100 percent deposit. This often requires a leap of faith on your part, but after researching the company thoroughly, we've found them to be reputable.
What are the advantage of using DBS for bridesmaids? They offer 20 to 25 percent discounts on the gowns (since the average bridesmaids dress is $150, your attendants could save $30 to $38 or more each). There is a charge for shipping and insurance starting at $14 per dress. Each dress is shipped directly to each bridesmaid.
Typically, dresses ordered through Discount Bridal Service take anywhere from twelve to sixteen weeks to arrive (up to six months for Bianchi, Jim Hjelm, and Eve of Milady). Each bridesmaid will then need to have the dress altered where she lives. To find a good seamstress, have each bridesmaid contact her local Discount Bridal Service representative for suggestions.

Recently we've been hearing reports from brides (and bridal shop employees) across the country about a new scam: bait-and-switch sample gowns.
  • INSTEAD OF ORDERING A NEW DRESS AS PROMISED, some shops are trying to pawn off used, sample gowns on unsuspecting brides. One ex-bridal shop employee in Chicago claimed the practice is widespread there. Here are our suggestions for foiling this scam.
  • TAKE A NEEDLE AND A PIECE OF COLORED THREAD WITH YOU TO THE BRIDAL SHOP. After the salesperson leaves the dressing room, sew the thread into an inconspicuous part of the sample gown. Check for the thread when you receive your gown to be sure it isn't the old sample you tried on months ago.
  • SNEAK A CAMERA INTO THE DRESSING ROOM with you, then have a friend distract the sales person. Snap pictures of the gown, then compare this to the dress when it comes in. Most shops prohibit any pictures, so you'll have to be discreet about this.
  • A VARIATION ON THIS SCAM OCCURS WHEN SHOPS DELIVER YOU A COMPLETELY DIFFERENT DRESS than the one you ordered and, surprise surprise, the original sample has disappeared so you can't compare the two. Bridal shops are counting on the fact that your memory may not be so good after several months between ordering and receiving the gown. Again, snap a picture of the dress. If this isn't possible, try to find a magazine picture of the gown you ordered and compare it to the dress when it comes in.

While invitations may seem like a minor detail, the average invitation bill can run $300 or more. Fortunately this is another task that you can do at your home base. There are several points to consider, however, for "far and away" weddings.


Generally, it takes ten days to two months to order invitations; most designs require four to six weeks. Unfortunately, one out of three orders comes in from the printer with mistakes made by the printer and will have to be reprinted. Our advice: check your order carefully when it arrives before paying the balance.

Leaving at least a one-month buffer zone, plus mailing time, will ensure your invitations will arrive in good time. Hence, we recommend ordering the invitations four to five months before the wedding date for long-distance events. Destination weddings that have guests will have similar requirements. If you're planning a couple-only wedding at a faraway location,, no invitations are necessary, but you'll probably want to order announcements to let your friends and family know the news. Announcements and invitations look similar, but an invitation's wording invites guests to the wedding, while an announcement just announces that you've already tied the knot. Hence, announcements do not have response cards, maps, or reception cards—saving you about 20 to 30 percent off the total printing bill.

Be prepared.

Have the correct spellings of streets and locations in the wedding city when you go to place the order. Also, make sure you know how to spell everyone's names correctly (one bride we interviewed misspelled her fiance's middle name and the invitation needed to be reprinted at substantial extra cost).

Consider having the order written up but not placed until a copy can be sent (or faxed) to the rest of your family, for proofreading. This way you can eliminate the possibility of spelling errors. If j you're planning a destination wedding and want the location of the ceremony on the announcement, check with your travel agent or wedding planner to confirm the exact spelling.

There's nothing like a good map to help direct guests to a hard to find ceremony or reception location. One tip to save money: see if the sites have pre-made maps (or a template) so you don't have to have them designed and printed. If not, go to the American Automobile Association (AAA) and get a recent map of the area. This way, you can avoid any map errors as well.


A close encounter with the U.S. Post Office is never a fun experience. Here are some guidelines to smooth the process.
Invitations for long-distance weddings. Since almost all the invitations you will be mailing will be to people who don't live at your home base, send them out at least six to eight weeks in advance. (For holiday weekends, consider mailing eight to ten weeks before the wedding). If many guests will be flying in for the wedding, consider mailing out a pre-invitation "newsletter" several months in advance. Include basic information about the date, place, time, hotel information, and so on. A postcard will also do the trick and only costs 19c to mail.
Announcements for destination weddings. Announcements can be mailed any time after you come back from your wedding.


If you consider flowers a high-priority item for your wedding, but you don't want to deal long-distance with a florist you've never met, here's an interesting option: Have the bouquets made in your "home base" town and then carry (or ship) them to the wedding location. How does that work, you ask? If you use silk or dried arrangements, these can be made up in advance and easily transported.

Advantages of silk or dried flowers.

Basically, you oversee the colors and style of your bouquet from start to finish. If you don't like the design, you can change it, substituting different flowers or colors as you like.

You also have the advantage of knowing what the flowers will look like weeks before the wedding— removing one item from your list of many worries and concerns.
Finally, often silk and dried arrangements will save you some money. This is especially true if you find a discounter or make the arrangements yourself. For example, many local crafts stores have full-service floral arranging services that are a fraction of retail prices. We've priced an elaborate bridal bouquet of high-quality silk roses at just $50—at a retail florist, this could run $150 for fresh flowers. Also, the bouquets will last forever—they don't have to be dried or pressed to preserve your memories. Dried flowers offer a Victorian look at an affordable price—most are 10 to 20 percent less than fresh flowers.

Have the major arrangements designed with fresh flowers.

Examples include the altar or ceremony site flowers and reception site arrangements for the buffet table, guest tables, cake decorations, and so on. Be sure to coordinate carefully with the wedding location florist if you choose this option. Consider sending that florist samples of flowers and colors your local florist will be using to make the silk or dried flower bouquets. The result will be a smooth, coordinated look for all the flowers.

Key on local customs.

Flowers for the destination wedding are usually limited to the bride's bouquet and perhaps a boutonnière with the groom. Typically, the setting (on a bluff overlooking the Caribbean, for example) provides all the other ambiance.

Remember that the selection of fresh flowers available in other countries and locations may vary widely from that in the United States. And we suggest going with the flow—have a bridal bouquet that reflects the local flora of your destination wedding site. For example, bridal bouquets in Mexico are more likely to be sprays of tropical blooms like Bird of Paradise. You'll be hard pressed to find, for example, lilies of the valley (a delicate bloom that thrives in the cool and wet climates of North America), so we say why fight it? Ask a destination wedding planner for tips on local floral customs.

As you have learned, you can buy the invitations, dress and even flowers at home. But there are some items that must be done at the wedding location. But how can you find a good photographer, for example, long distance? Read on