Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Guest Counts

How do you keep your guest list from climbing out of control? The number of guests at your wedding is the biggest driver of the total cost. Each guest you add makes your food and beverage higher, but it also comes with other more subtle expenses. There are the additional invitations and favors, wedding programs, centerpieces, possibly rental dishes or flatware, linens and/or chair covers and sashes, and sometimes the cost of a larger space for the ceremony and reception. More guests also mean more attendants, additional ushers, etc. That means more attendant gifts, more boutonnieres and bouquets, more people at the rehearsal dinner. Additional guests means more expense.
Generally the food and beverage alone are about 60 percent of your total wedding costs. So what can you do to keep those numbers from going crazy? First, realize that your guests fall into groups that make ever enlarging circles around you. The first and smallest circle which is the one closest to you, is your immediate family, moving out from there, you have your extended family, your very close friends, your not so close friends, your work associates, your acquaintances, etc. Sometimes it's easier to have a very small wedding than it is to have a medium sized wedding, because of the way that these groups get larger and larger. What makes it difficult is that if you invite just a couple guests from one of these groups, you sometimes need to invite the entire group in order to not hurt any feelings.
So what can you do to limit the size (and therefore cost) of your wedding? Here are some ideas:
1. Don't invite anyone you haven't talked to in the last 5 years. (If you haven't talked to your second cousin once removed in 5 years, they probably are not going to notice that they aren't invited, they probably don't even know you are getting married!)
2. Don't invite anyone you wouldn't invite to your home for dinner. (In a sense, that's what you are doing, you are just having it at a bigger place that can hold more people at one time, but you are inviting them for dinner. So if it isn't someone you would want to have come to your home for dinner, then why would you invite them to your reception?)
3. Don't feel obligated to invite people just because THEY think they should be invited. It seems like as soon as you get engaged, there are folks who all of a sudden think you are their best friend, and they start talking about attending your wedding like they have already received their invitation; and you had no intention of inviting them! Don't be guilted into inviting them. Make up a list shortly after you become engaged, and only add the guests you may have honestly forgotten. Work associates are notorious for this ploy. If you feel that an explanation is necessary, (which it isn't, because they are being very rude to assume this) just say something like "We would have loved to invite all of our friends, but we both have large families, and our venue just wasn't big enough to invite everyone we would have liked to invite."
4. Work associates can be a huge group, how do you limit them? Try this. Only invite the people that you have done things socially with. Many people work in large departments with lots of people. Obviously they want to invite the few people they are really close with, but not the whole department. This makes it much easier, and you can always tell those others in the department that this was your criteria to limit the numbers. They really shouldn't ask, but if they do, they should understand that you can't invite all of them. Obviously, if you only have 4 people in your office, you might want to invite all or none of them, just to keep peace. You have to use your best judgment.
5. Don't feel that you have to invite all of your single friends to bring a guest. If they are in a committed, long term relationship, you can send an invitation to the partner. But to invite a single, unattached friend to scare up a date for the evening really isn't necessary. It's really a pretty awkward "date" anyway.
6. Don't invite children. It's certainly your option to have your flower girl and ringbearer at the reception, but you don't have to invite all the children of all the guests you are inviting. Children add significantly to the cost. Even if they are having children's meals, they still are generally counted in the open bar charges. Obviously you may lose guests you would have liked to have attend over this one, but if it is someone you really want there, you can always offer to help them find a competent sitter (if they are from out of town and don't know anyone for example).
The biggest problem I see with this one is guests who decide that you must have forgotten to mention their darling children on the invitation and they decide to bring them anyway. It takes a lot of tact, diplomacy, and guts to call up a guest and tell them that their children weren't invited. Unfortunately people just don't realize any more that if their child's name isn't on the invitation, that they are not invited. So the decision you have to make is whether you are going to stick to your guns and not have children, or are you going to let them get away with their rudeness? Personally, I think you can call them and just say something like"We would love to have your dear little Susie and Johnny at our wedding, but we are limited on the number of guests we could invite, and unfortunately it didn't allow us room to invite everyone's children. It would be very awkward to explain to all the guests who are not bringing their children " If they say well then they just aren't going to be coming then you need to reply "I'm SO sorry to hear that, we would have really loved to have you and your wife/husband attend. Please let us know if anything changes. We'll miss you being there." Stick to your guns!
I hope that this has helped with this tough area. If anyone has any additional ideas of ways to do this, please, jump right in!

Friday, February 8, 2008

Let it Snow!!!!

I luuuuuuuuuv winter weddings!!! They are SO cozy and warm. My parents were married December 18th, as was my brother. My sister's anniversary is November 17th, Jim and I were married December 14th. So I guess we practice what we preach! It just seems like the perfect time of year for a wedding. At Aberdeen Manor, we make winter weddings particularly special. We light the fireplace, we turn down the lights, the candles are burning, and when we have the wedding in the chapel, we frequently will place luminaries between the chapel and the ballroom creating a pathway for the guests to walk over to the reception. It's really fun, we put them out during the ceremony, after everyone has gone into the chapel, so it's a little surprise when people come out of the chapel. They all sigh and go "Oh that's SO pretty!" It isn't something we can do in the summer because it's still light out till 8 or 9 o'clock.
We had a wonderful little wedding on New Year's Eve. The couple were SO great, and their parents were a delight as well. It was small, maybe 85 or 90 guests. But when it ended at 2 A.M. there were still about 50 people there dancing up a storm! It had started to snow about 6 o'clock, right after the ceremony had started, and it was really coming down. I was afraid people would panic over the weather and leave right after dinner, but no! The majority stayed till the end! And the snowplows had been through by then and cleared the roads. Our snow plow people had been through our parking lot at least three times, and had put down enough salt to rejuvenate the Dead Sea, so it was no big deal. We had about 8 inches of snow that evening! Big fat "Ivory Snow" flakes. It was one of the most beautiful snowfalls I can ever remember. The garden looked like fairyland with the landscape lighting shining on the trees and bushes. It was an amazing night. I dragged my sorry butt into bed about 3:15 a.m. but it was so worth it. What a wonderful wedding. And the bride and groom? They were headed to Cancun! What better time of year to go where it's warm and sunny!

Thursday, February 7, 2008

I’ve been a member of the Association of Bridal Consultants for over thirteen years. I attended my first Annual Conference in San Antonio in 1995. I had been “doing weddings” as we sometimes say, for over 30 years as a volunteer. After our daughter, Saundra, was married in 1993 (gosh, I think that’s right, eeks!) I told Jim that I wanted to start a consulting business and make weddings my profession. He was still working full time at Bethlehem, and was worried that we would never see each other since weddings require so much weekend work. So I shelved the idea and continued to hang wallpaper for another two years (for a total of 16 years! I know where a bunch of extra house keys are hidden all over Northwest Indiana!) Then in September of 1995, Jim’s brother and his long time fiance moved to our area from Pennsylvania, and decided to get married. They knew nothing about the area, what was available, or where to go, so they asked me to help them put their wedding together. I had SO much fun! I was so excited about seeing all my hard work come together! I think I was as charged up about the wedding as they were! After it was over, and we were driving home, I told Jim again that this was what my passion was, this was what I REALLY wanted to do, and he finally said, “If that’s what you really want to do, then do it”.
This brings me back to ABC (the Association of Bridal Consultants). I started doing research on where to find out about how to be a good bridal consultant, how to start a business, all the nuts and bolts stuff. This was before the days of Google, and it involved a lot of hours at the library chasing down a lot of dead ends. Somehow, and I don’t even remember how, I fell upon the name of Teddy Lenderman, a consultant in Terre Haute and the State Coordinator for ABC at the time, and I called her. (Teddy is also the author of a wonderful book on wedding planning, The Complete Idiot’s Guide to the Perfect Wedding” available from ) She talked with me about the association and mentioned that their annual conference was coming up in mid-November (this was the end of September!) and that if I was really serious about it, I should try to attend. She didn’t have to tell me twice! I was on the phone to the travel agent booking my flight that same day.

So off I went to San Antonio, all by myself. I think it was the first time in my life that I went anywhere by myself like that! I really splurged and payed for a half hour "session with the experts" to meet with Renee Grannis. Renee helped me with some major business decisions:company name, logo, stationery, business cards, just general thoughts on how I would do things. I think of anyone I have met through the Association, Renee has been my biggest supporter and dearest friend. We have had many wonderful dinners together over the years and great talks.

So, you ask, how did you go from being an independent wedding consultant to Aberdeen Manor? Well, it really wasn't a very big jump actually. Between 1995 and 1998 I had a number of weddings at locations all over the area, from South Chicago to Southeastern Michigan. It just seemed like nobody was very interested in being "wedding friendly". Cakes were stuck off at the side of the room where the guests never saw them, the walls and decor were busy and didn't work well as backgrounds for wedding photos, or there was NO decor and it required thousands of dollars worth of decorating to make it look like anything, but most of all, the staffs seemed to have little or no interest in doing anything to insure that this "once in a lifetime day" was as perfect as possible. They were inflexible, and unwilling to change the way they did anything. It just didn't seem like they really cared very much. Even at the places that had a "banquet manager", she usually left after the dinner was served. There was nobody to help the couple or the parents with anything later on or at the end of the evening! It just seemed wrong. There had to be a better way to do it.

We could also see that there was a need for more banquet space in Valparaiso, and particularly "wedding friendly" banquet space. So we started talking to builders and architects and bankers, and we made it happen. We opened Aberdeen Manor in January of 1999. Before the building was even finished we had booked 45 weddings and a prom. Jim and I would go out and clean up every weekend from July to December, sweeping, throwing away garbage, straightening up for the next week. It seemed like every weekend one of our couples would stop and visit. Their excitement and anticipation were what kept us going over those long months of construction.
After we opened in January of 1999 we found out that the hard work was just beginning. Jim and I both put in 80 to 90 hours a week for the first couple of years. For the first several months we set all the tables, cleaned the bathrooms, and everything in between. It was, to put it mildly, a tough couple of years. We had to send Ozzie to doggie daycare because he was home alone so much! We had two employees, Jim and Denna. For events we had bartenders but that was pretty much it. I don't think I have worked that hard since my kids were babies! But it was SO much fun. We finally hired a bookkeeper in the fall of 1999, and as we have moved along we have added others. It's been a wonderful nine years, and as we go into our tenth year of business, it astounds both of us how far we have come and how much we have changed over the years. One thing that has never changed though, is our love of weddings, our deep commitment to making every event the best that it can be, and the incredible sense of satisfaction that we all have knowing that we have made that "once in a lifetime day" special, memorable, and the most perfect that it can be.

Expressing Your "Personal Style"

Last November I attended a two day conference of bridal consultants from all over the world in Orlando. I've been a member of this organization since 1995. It's been fun to watch it grow from a tiny little organization of around 400 members when I first joined, to a couple thousand worldwide.
Our last session was a talk by David Tutera (you might know him as the guy who put together Starr Jones’ wedding as well as those of many celebs and also non-celebs with bucks! :) ) He was amazing! So interesting, so open, so FUNNY! He had some video and slides of some of the most amazing weddings I have ever seen. These weddings had budgets in the HUNDREDS of thousands of dollars! Incredible! But what really struck me, was that what he was saying was so applicable to ANY wedding, regardless of the budget.
Here is some of what he said. First, that having “style” is taking care of your guests, giving them an “experience” that is different from anything they have ever seen. Style is being conscious of your guests’ comfort, needs, and happiness. He said that the wedding and reception should reflect the lives of the bride and groom. It should make statements about their interests, what is important to them, what they love. Most important, he said that every thirty minutes, something should change, whether it is the music, the food, the place; something! It keeps the guests interested in what is happening and curious about what will happen next.
Now I hear what you are saying. “But Denna, WE don’t have that kind of budget!” But let’s think about this. Why do these goals require money? They don’t! What they require is imagination. We just need to think “outside the box”.
One of the things David talked about was that he hates wedding favors that are on the tables just for the guests to take home. He feels that what you give your guests should be something that they will use, value, enjoy, and that will reflect something about you, the couple. The example he gave was of a wedding where the bride expressed how much she wished that her grandmother could attend her wedding, but her grandmother had passed away a couple years before. As they talked about her grandmother, she told David about the wonderful apple pies that her grandmother had made and how she could still recall the smell of those pies baking when they would visit her. So what did David suggest? Each guest went home from this couple’s reception with a burlap bag (that had the couple’s monogram on it by the way) that contained enough apples for a pie, a little cellophane bag of spices, sugar, etc. according to the grandma’s recipe, and the recipe itself so that the guest could duplicate grandma’s apple pie themselves. Now how cute is that? And how sweet, and touching, and totally so appropriate to this couple’s celebration?
I recall a wedding we did at Aberdeen a number of years ago, that was for a darling couple who had met working at a lemonade stand for the summer. As we talked about them and their relationship and how they had met, the wheels started to turn. Their wedding ended up centered around the theme of lemons and limes. The centerpieces were footed bowls of lemons and limes with a few blossoms stuck in between. Their favors were boxes of lemonhead candies with a yellow bow. It wasn’t a zillion dollar idea, but it reflected who they were, and was significant to their lives as a couple. Years later I still have people come in and mention that wedding and how much they enjoyed the touches that this couple incorporated into their day.
This is why we love having our clients come by our shop, talk with us, share with us, and let us get to know them. If we know what you are all about, we can help you to bring things into your celebration that will make your day special, personal, and memorable.
It is what really makes our job fun. I hope that you will take
advantage of all that we have to offer, particularly in the idea department! Our ideas are free, you just have to stop in and pick them up! :)
So, what are YOU doing to make your day a personal reflection of you as a couple?

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Fifteen Minutes of Fame--Youtube Style

Well if you haven't figured this out yet, I am trying all the little blogger bells and whistles like uploading photos, uploading videos and such. This is really pretty easy!

At any rate, about those 15 minutes of fame. Have you seen the following YouTube video?

Well, as Paul Harvey would say (and I know that most of you have no idea who Paul Harvey is but that's another subject for another day) here's "the rest of the story":

Michelle who is our bookkeeper and "shop person extraordinare? and her husband went to San Diego to this wedding, and THEY filmed this video! Michelle put it on YouTube so that their friends could see it, never having any idea that it would go viral the way it has! She was excited when the hits went over 100,000! To date this video has had 8.5 million hits! Go figure. It has been really fun when people have told me about this video or sent me a link for it to say "Oh yeah, I know all about it, Michelle put it on YouTube."

The couple in the video, who are also named John and Michelle, just like our Michelle and her husband John (is that too funny?) appeared on Ellen Degeneres Show, The Today Show, Entertainment Tonight (or one of those video People Magazine Shows anyway) and apparently a couple other more local shows in California.

They really did a fab job with this dance, it was terrific! I'll bet they are getting kinda sick of doing it by now though. :)

Thoughts about Photos and Photographers

This is me with one of my favorite photographers, Ed. He has done lots of weddings at Aberdeen. We always have fun when Ed is around. He was showing me how to take a picture of yourself. I had tried it, and ended up with a photo of the top of my head! He says the key is to have a bigger lens. Isn't that just typical! So now I am shopping for lenses for my NikonD70. I do need something that goes to a lower f-stop, so that I can get more depth of field in my photos where the light is less than bright.

I take lots of photos, particularly of our weddings, and consequently I ask a lot of questions when we have a good photographer around. I've learned a lot that way, just asking questions. It's actually getting to the point where I almost understand what I am doing! I actually comprehend the relationship between aperture and shutter speed, f-stops, and film speed. But it's still pretty much dumb luck that anything I take turns out well. :) There's a whole shelf full of pictures I have taken in the shop, some of them are really nice, cool lighting, great expressions, cute kids, etc.

Which brings me to my point. When you interview a photographer, you want to see a couple of individual weddings from beginning to end. If you came in and looked at my shelf full of pictures, you would say, wow, she's really a great photographer! But there are maybe 25 pictures up there, and I have probably taken, literally, over 20,000 pictures! That means that 1 in a thousand of my photos are brag shelf quality! If you looked at one wedding from beginning to end, you would probably see that some of my photos are way too dark, some are overexposed, and I use a lot of cropping in Photoshop to fix things. There are three things that are important when you look for a photographer, that he shoots consistently high quality images, (they don't have to all be fabulous, but the majority should be focused, well lit, etc.) he/she should be someone that you like, that you won't mind having in your immediate presence for 12 plus hours, and the price should fit your budgeted amount for photography.

Another factor that couples sometimes don't consider is the amount of time devoted to the pictures. Do you really want to spend your whole day smiling for a camera? When you look at those sample weddings, try to determine which shots were actually candid and which were posed or more importantly posed to look candid? Keep in mind that you can probably figure 3 to 5 minutes for each of those posed or posed to look candid shots. How much of your day do you want to devote to those shots?

My personal belief is that 12 posed shots can cover every possibility you will ever care to have, and the rest should be candid shots that you aren't even aware that the photographer is taking them. The shot of the two of you smiling at the camera while you are dancing your first dance doesn't mean nearly as much in the long run as the shot of the two of you smiling at each other during your first dance. Emotion and feeling are what most people want in their photos. They want a picture to transport them back to that moment. That's what candid photos do.

Trying to compare packages and pricing among photographers is a mindbending experience. They all offer different packages, different components, different prices. You'll drive yourself crazy trying to compare them to each other. Find one who fits the above criteria and go for it. You'll save yourself a lot of needless confusion.

So that's my 2 cents on photographers. Sometime soon we'll talk about videographers! I have lots of opinions about that too! (Just a hint, I LOVE videos!)

My virgin voyage into Blogland!

Well, being as this is my first post as an official blogger, maybe I should give some history of myself and talk about what has led me to this new business of blogging.
Let me start out by saying that I sent my first email in 1995. My daughter was at IU in her Sophomore year, and all through her first year I heard everything about what was going on with her second hand through my relatives who already had email. I thought, if I am going to have any communication at all with her, I better figure out this email thing!
We signed on to a dial up internet service, and printed out emails on a dot matrix printer that was slower than molasses in January!! But, my goal was accomplished, I finally started hearing from my daughter directly instead of through all the relatives! It was wonderful! I had instant (well, at least pretty fast!) communication with her. We talked about all kinds of things that we probably never would have discussed in person. I learned so much about her and what made her tick that year.
My brother Stu is a certified geek. I have always said that his brain works in bits and bites. In the early 80’s he designed a program for me that would print out a weaving pattern (again, on the dot matrix printer, a line at a time, it took FOREVER!!!) I still remember watching that printer spit out a little coverlet pattern that took about an hour and a half to print. We thought it was absolutely wonderful. I might add here that this was also done on a TRS-80 Radio Shack (aka Trash-80) computer that was about 8 megabytes of memory. Woooooooow!
Stu has never been one to let the new toys cool before he owned them, so I have had the pleasure of being in on a lot of new technology, through him and his business, as it unfolded. Because of his interests I really feel like I have learned more than most of my contemporaries about computers, how to use them, and what their potential can be. My business was one of the first in the wedding consulting industry to have an official website (oh, it was a dandy! no graphics, no pictures, simple blue lined pages of text, BORING!!) It was primitive compared to today’s standards, but it was there.
Over the years I have worked hard to stay on the front edge of technology and have tried to incorporate it into our business as soon as it was feasible. We have had live webcams in our ballroom and garden for over four years. We recently installed live webcams in our new chapel that have pan, zoom, sound, focus etc. They are AWESOME!! We have never been shy about adopting new technology—embracing it, and using it however we could to improve our business.
So here I am today, and I am BLOGGING!! I am still kind of shaking my head and wondering if I am biting off more than I can keep up with, given the number of hours I already put into our business, both at work and at home. But I have always wanted to do an e-newsletter of sorts, and I think this may be the way to go about it. I am excited about the possibilities of this new technology. I am overwhelmed at the number of topics, photos, links, videos and the like that are possible to include in this blog. I welcome feedback from anyone who wants to read this, and promise that I will answer any questions I receive in as timely a manner as possible.
If you have any suggestions of topics that you would like to see discussed, photos you would like to see, or just general ideas of things you would like for me to write about, I am open!
This is an amazing medium. I hope that together we can use it to its full advantage!
Join me! Let’s blog! :)