Want to learn how to choose wedding vendors? Before you begin your vendor search to put together the team that’s going to bring your wedding vision to life, you need to do two things. First, select a wedding date, or even better, be a bit flexible with a few dates. This will help you get exactly what you want.
And second, you need to make a wedding day timeline. It is rarely talked about, but having a proper wedding day timeline based on the experience you want for your wedding day will be invaluable to making sure your wedding vendor search and wedding planning goes smoothly and is stress-free. It will also be critical to helping you select the right vendors and saving you thousands of dollars. Click here for a free guide to help with this.
How to choose wedding vendors
Choosing the right vendor for your wedding can be challenging. It’s a big investment for one day that can’t be repeated. And this means placing a lot of trust that the people you hire.
And there are so many choices, from online guides to social media, it can be overwhelming and a bit stressful trying to wade through all the options and wanting to make sure you make the right choices when putting together your vendor dream team.
Like everything related to love, communication is #1. And it’s definitely #1 when it comes to vendors. And it will start with your first inquiry. I’ve heard a lot of stories about vendors taking weeks or even longer to reply to an inquiry. This is definitely not the norm.
An informal survey of vendors I know gave an average of about 24-48 hours to reply to an inquiry. Anything more than about 5-7 days should definitely give you pause and you will want to find out what took so long.
Keep in mind that wedding vendors work weekends. So if you inquired on a Thursday night and the vendor has a long Friday-Sunday wedding, and they take Monday off (not uncommon) it might not be until Tuesday or Wednesday that you hear from them.
Also some vendors do work outside of weddings (corporate events for example) and that can possibly delay their response.
Communication, Part 2
When you talk to your vendors during an interview, pay attention to how they communicate with you. The mannerisms they use, the jokes, the expressions. This is especially important for vendors who will be at your wedding and are engaging with guests (photographers, videographers, DJs, wedding planners, makeup artists).
Your vendors are a representative of you and your partner to your friends and family. You will spend a lot of time with your vendors, so if you hear things that are making you slightly cringe during the interview, don’t brush it off lightly. Talk about it with your partner and make sure you’re picking someone that you feel good about representing you on your big day.
Use word of mouth referrals
This should come as no surprise, but the direct experience of friends, or friends of friends, is very valuable. The one thing I would recommend is to not assume your friend’s experience. Talk to them, and find out if they would use that vendor again, or was there something weren’t happy with. Looking through real weddings and browsing wedding photos from friends along with their personal experiences is one of the best ways to look for your vendors.
Use vendor referrals
Once you select your first vendor, ask for their recommendations (known as preferred vendor lists). They’ll often have a list of other vendors they’ve worked with and enjoy working with. This list is always a great place to start to find your perfect vendor team and begin the planning process.
Delivery times and schedules
When talking to potential vendors, ask about product delivery times and/or schedules.
In the case of photography and videography, you’ll want to ask when you can expect the photos and video. Keep in mind, it’s going to be an estimate, and most photographers and videographers will not give a guarantee of when they can deliver.
When it comes to cake and flowers, you’ll want to ask about the schedule of interactions you can expect between now and the wedding date. The same will hold true for other vendors like your DJ, catering, and others.
How much is too much to spend on a vendor?
The hard part about weddings is that if this is your family’s first wedding, then you might not have a good idea of the price range for vendors. Which makes it hard to create a realistic wedding budget. And it’s challenging when someone (vendors) asks what your budget is for X. Another challenge is that a lot of vendors don’t always put pricing on their websites (although some do put full pricing and some do put starting at pricing).
Perhaps the best place to start is a site like Wedding Wire or The Knot. These directories can help you get a good middle ground estimate for different vendor categories in your area.
Which vendors to start with
You’ll want to start with vendors who can only do one (or two) weddings on a day first. Because once they’re booked, then they’re no longer available.
Wedding venues, photographers, videographers, planners, DJs, hair, and makeup, are a good place to start. While there are plenty of these vendors who have large enough companies that they can do more than one wedding per day, there are still quite a few that only do one wedding per day.
Vendors like florists and cake bakers, even if solo person businesses, can often do more than one wedding per day.
Do you have to meet in person?
Every vendor is different and for some vendors, it’s hard not to meet in person. After over two years of Covid and Zoom, the trend of shifting to phone calls or video chats instead of in-person meetings has only increased. So for some vendors, you probably don’t need to meet in person (Photographers, videographers, planners, DJs for example).
Other vendors you probably will need to meet in person at some point (Cake bakers, catering, florists, hair and make-up for trials).
Of course, everyone has their own process but this should help give you a start on what to expect.
Questions to ask vendors
It’s hard to interview vendors for a wedding because this is most likely the first time you’re doing this! So that means if you’re like most people, you don’t know what to ask (other than “how much?!”). So here are a few open-ended and specific questions to help you get a good feel for the person or company you’re considering:
- What is your philosophy about _________ for weddings? (photography, videography, DJing receptions)
- Will you be the person I’ll be working with or will it be someone else? Can I talk to that person?
- Who will be my point of contact?
- What happens if you get sick or are unable to make it to my wedding?
- What do you think of what I’m trying to plan?
When you ask that last question, about what they think of your plan, you’ll want to listen to what they have to say. Experienced vendors offer top-notch, expert wedding advice. They’ve seen it all. And if you let them, they can often recommend suggestions that will match your wedding style but also work in a way to avoid potential issues they’ve seen before.
You love a vendor but they’re out of your budget
If they’re not too far from your budget, you can always negotiate. But when you negotiate, you’re usually better off coming back at them with an offer.
For example, if you’re photographer is $3,495 and you wanted to stay under $3,000, you can come back with “I would love to work with you, but you’re just outside our budget. Can you do $2,995?”
If they say no, then try following up with “Ok, can you put a package together for us that is at $2,995”. Sometimes vendors can reduce what’s in the package to make it work. That might be fewer hours of coverage. Less wedding flowers or different flowers. Smaller presentation cake with a sheet cake in the back. But your goal is to be upfront and ask them if they can put together something that will work for your budget.
The contract – get it in writing
Don’t do anything without a contract. The contract should clearly spell out the expectations and deliverables as well as all the costs and payments as well as due dates for payments. You’ll want to look and/or ask for any unexpected fees or charges that might not have been brought up during the interview.
When it comes time to choose your wedding vendors, you’ll want to take the time to first plan your wedding day timeline. It is the one document that is going to be your North Star to make sure you plan the wedding you really want and are able to hire the vendors that will be able to make it happen.
Once you do that, search for options, ask open ended questions, and get everything in writing!