Monday, June 29, 2009

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).

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