The first few months after a proposal feel like a whirlwind, quickly moving from a tearful “Yes, I’ll marry you!” to sharing your excitement with every family member, friend and stranger you can find, to daydreaming about walking down the aisle in a beautiful white dress. But then the music fades and you realize you have to find all the vendors to make your Pinterest board come to life. And while we wish that every couple would decide to get a full service wedding planner to help navigate all the vendor options, the reality is that some couples choose to dive into planning on their own. To make sure no vendor is forgotten, we’ve included a list of all the vendors you could need or want to make your day everything you could have hoped for.
Top Priority Vendors
Choosing your venue is the first and most important step toward planning your dream wedding, but it doesn’t have to be intimidating. Before you start scouring IG and websites for the most picturesque venues, setting up tours and panicking over price tags, sit down with your soon-to-be spouse and think about who you are as a couple. The venue influences so many other decisions and details about your wedding, and this day is the jumping off point for a long and happy marriage. Shouldn’t that day represent your life together?
Hotel ballrooms and barns are the most popular venue styles, and perhaps one of those perfectly encompasses the kind of wedding you should have! But perhaps you’re both book nerds and want to host a cozy and romantic wedding in a library. Maybe you want to rent out the bar or coffee shop where you met. What if your favorite hiking trail has the most breathtaking view and you want to share that with your family and friends?
Some venues provide catering in-house, or they may have a list of preferred vendors, and the venue will help you through this process. If you’re responsible for bringing in your own caterers, get ready for the fun to begin. First, decide what courses you want to offer – maybe you’re opting for the brunch wedding, or you want to go the route of the hors d’oeuvres plus a full meal. The amount and style of food you plan to serve will affect your budget, as well as the kind of caterers you need to speak with.
Again, put on your brainstorming hat, and get it out of your head that every wedding must serve a steak dinner. Keep the style of venue and theme of the wedding in mind, as well as the foods you and your spouse genuinely enjoy. Also, if many of your guests have a specific dietary restrictions (vegan, Kosher, etc), make sure the menu can appeal to everyone. If you’re hosting an elegant soiree, you may not want to opt for a food truck, and lobster tails in the mountains may not make the most sense. Mini cheeseburger sliders at your favorite bar or barbecue at the barn, however, are par for the course.
The most important vendor you can hire for your wedding is the officiant, since we’re celebrating your marriage! A great officiant will help guide you through building the ceremony, help you work any religious traditions into the day, and of course, make sure you’re legally married!
If you happen to have a personal relationship with an ordained leader of a house of worship, you’ll have an easy choice to make. If not, it’s important to remember that every state has different laws about who can perform a marriage. In North Carolina, someone who was ordained online (such as Universal Life Church) cannot legally marry two people, so if you’re not sure, play it safe and hire a professional officiant.
If you really splurge in one area of your budget, I suggest it be the photographer. Whether your wedding is an extravagant celebration or an intimate moment with your closest friends, you’re going to want it photographed, and you’ll cherish those photos for many years to come. That being said, reaching out to your best friend’s sister who has a camera and a good eye may not be your best bet for this vendor.
Make sure to speak with recently-married friends, consult vendor boards, and research like crazy before making your decision. Have an idea of the style of photos you admire before speaking with any pros, and make sure you look through his or her previous work. And of course, you want to get along with your photographer, because they’re going to be with you through so much of the day.
If you want your wedding day to run smoothly, a wedding coordinator is necessary. After you’ve spent months planning out your dream wedding, you want to ensure that everything goes perfectly! Your moms, aunts and sisters shouldn’t have to run around, and you shouldn’t have to answer a single question on your wedding day. A wedding coordinator, which is different than a venue coordinator, will run your rehearsal and wedding day, make sure the vendors are following your vision, and handle any surprises that pop up. You also shouldn’t have to lift a pretty, manicured finger to set up the morning of your wedding, and your coordinator will be able to set up and tear down your wedding decor and manage the timeline so you never have to know what time it is or what comes next.
Bands, DJs, and Sound Equipment
Music will always set the tone for the evening, but it’s up to you to decide if that’s going to be the focus. If there’s a band you and your fiance love, especially if they’re local, this adds a really special personal touch – you may even want to rock out at your wedding! A cover band or DJ can read the crowd and take requests, and the emcee will help guide your guests through the evening. If you and your family aren’t big dancers, renting sound equipment and setting up your own playlist for ambiance works well, as long as other entertainment is provided.
Before you start dreaming of your cake, you’ll need to figure out which bakers to consider. One of the best options for finding your potential baker is word of mouth – you want a cake that tastes as good as it looks, and online research only takes you so far with this. After you come up with short list of recommended bakers, you’ll want to ask them a few questions such as pricing, if they have your date available, and if they can customize the way you have in mind. Narrow that list down to two or three, and then comes the fun part – cake tasting.
In case no one has told you yet, flowers are kind of a big deal with weddings (if flowers really aren’t your thing, I’d love to work with you on some alternative decorating options). For most weddings ceremonies, personal flowers are a focal point, and the aisle and ceremony backdrop are often decorated with floral elements. And then there is the reception, with flowers on every table or hanging from the ceiling. So picking your floral option, real or fake, is a big deal.
Make sure you have an idea what flowers and styles go with the theme of your wedding before looking for florists, get recommendations before setting up consults, and provide many pictures to show what style and color you’re going for. After meeting with 2 or 3 florists, have them create a proposal, showing their idea of a perfect arrangement they can do for you, based on what you’ve asked for. May the best one win your business! This can be the case with real or silk flowers, and consider speaking with a vendor for either option to compare the price points and overall look.
Hairstylist and Makeup Artists
When possible, it’s best to find a team that can tackle hair & makeup, since these vendors dictate a lot of the time requirements before the wedding. If you have a friend or sister who is honestly really good at hair and makeup, we say go for it! But if you want to be 100% confident that your look will be stunning, you’ll want to go with a pro. Most hair and makeup artists should be willing to set up a free consult to check out your hair and skin type. Check out their look books and ask for references, because the trial run will normally cost something. Don’t forget to ask for quotes (for you and your ladies), make sure they’re available on your date, and decide if you want to go to them or have them travel to you.
Wedding planners can help with planning every detail of your wedding, up to and including coordinating your big day. If you’re not sure where to start, how to find the perfect vendors, what it takes to make a cohesive wedding design, or just know you’re a procrastinator at heart, a wedding planner can help guide you through any part of the wedding planning process. Make sure you get along with your potential wedding planner, since they’ll be spending a ton of time with you and should be working with you to create YOUR vision.
After all is said and done, many brides will say that their biggest regret was not hiring a videographer. There is so much going on during your wedding day that you simply can’t see it all, but your videographer will be able to catch really special moments that you may have missed. Plus, no matter how amazing your photographer is, they simply can’t put in the sound of your sister’s voice when she gives her toast or capture the full expression on your soon-to-be spouse’s face the second they see you. When it comes to hiring a videographer, decide first if you want a cinematic edit or a documentary style video, as this will determine what kind of videographers you’ll want to work with. And before hiring anyone, always be sure to view videos from their previous work so you can get a feel for their skill and editing styles.
Many couples will say that a bartender is an absolute must, and if you want your guests up and dancing, we’ll agree. With that being said, a bartender may not be necessary for a smaller beer & wine wedding, and a dry wedding is still totally acceptable. There are many factors to consider if you do opt for a bartender, including what kind of drinks you want to serve, if you want help creating specialty drinks, if the bar is open, limited or cash, and the overall atmosphere you want to create. People will typically expect to drink more on a Friday or Saturday night wedding than a Tuesday night or Sunday morning, so keep this in mind when you decide how much you want to spend.
This can be an important element to consider if your ceremony and reception aren’t in the same place. The three transportation times to consider are: how will you arrive to the ceremony (and will it be together or separate), how will you travel to the reception, and how will you leave the reception. If you want to travel in style with your wedding party, limos and trolley buses are great options, but for the couple who wants to have a private moment, a vintage car can be the way to go. Transportation can also be a great idea if many of your guests are staying at the same hotel, because a shuttle limits the chance of drinking and driving.
Stationer and Calligrapher
For the bride on a budget, this is an easy place to forgo an extra expense, but having a stationer create custom invitations and a calligrapher add stunning details can bring elegance and excitement to your invitations, menus and programs. Plus, it may be worth it if you’re writing addresses for 100+ envelopes. The right stationer will make sure your invitations truly reflect your style and wedding style, and it will set the tone for your guests’ expectations about the day.
Looking for a special touch as you walk down the aisle? You may opt for a classic pianist to play the bridal march or a local singer to perform your favorite song. If you have a friend with a lovely voice or is skilled with an instrument, don’t be afraid to ask. It’d bring in a special touch without the cost.
Lighting is super important for the wedding, since it brings attention to all the details you’ve spent months planning, but hiring a pro isn’t always necessary for this. When you tour your venue, ask about the lighting provided and decide if that’s enough. If not, consider talking to pros who will make the entire process better. They’ll be able to come up with solutions if you love candles but the venue doesn’t allow open flame, or if you wanted a million lights but don’t have enough outlets. Plus, if you’re going for the romantic, starry night look, you won’t need to buy enough twinkle lights to decorate your neighborhood.
One of the more popular trends that couples have been opting to add to their wedding day is some form of additional entertainment for their guests during cocktail hour or reception. This may include the classic photo booth, reception games or late night snack truck, or it may be as unexpected as a choreographed dance, fireworks display or roaming caricaturist. While these options aren’t necessary, they give guests the “wow” factor and ensures they have fun.
It’s likely that you will have some kind of rental at your wedding, whether it’s chairs for the ceremony, linens for the tablecloths, a tent for an outdoor reception, or so many other options. Have a list of all the rentals you expect to use before starting to work with companies; while some specialize in a single rental, others have multiple categories of items to rent, and going with one company can save you tons of cash. Be aware of hidden costs like delivery fees and damage waivers when you consider your options.