5 ways to get the best out of your vendors

Guest post by Luxy
Photo by Hey! Party Collective
Photo by Hey! Party Collective

Not only am I a recent bride, I am also a lighting technician and stage manager. I put up the lights and operate them for rock shows, theatre, and dance, design night club lighting rigs, and do all manner of corporate events and weddings. What corporate events and weddings have in common is they are generally a show put on by organizations who don't typically put on shows. Furthermore, no one thinks of these kinds of events as shows at all — but that's exactly what they are.

Weddings are typically organized by people who are not show business types. Most often they have never been in the thick of planning or running an event to the scale that their wedding will be. That is not to say every couple needs to hire someone to do it for them — I am all about a hands-on couple. It is to say, though, that there is a lot of uncharted territory.

This in mind, here are my tips and hints to help you get the best out of vendors…

1. Know your goals

  • Know what the overall feel of the event is. Is it fun, silly, dramatic, romantic?
  • Do you have a theme? How thoroughly themed? Is this only in the centerpieces, are you providing props to your guests, are you requiring full costume from your guests?
  • What are the few (no more than five) important elements of the event to you?

2. Know your budget

Nothing drives me up the wall more than a client who wants me to re-quote an event to them 16 times. It is understandable if you have no idea what flowers cost — I know I didn't before I was engaged. But asking for repeated quotes to try to chisel down a budget will only cause frustration and actually get you less bang for your buck.

My suggestions for working with vendors who don't have a posted price list:

  • If you know how much you have to spend on an area (e.g. flowers) tell your florist, “I have $X. Is it realistic to get three bouquets, 12 boutonnieres/corsages, and 20 centrepieces for that?” If you are worried that they will give you more than you need just to fill that budget, or that they will take advantage of that number there are ways to combat that.
  • Talk to them, get a sense of what their suggestions are — do you get good vibes from them or are they slimy feeling? I also suggest you have that conversation and give that same dollar figure to more than one cake baker/florist/lighting company. You will then be able to compare the bang for your buck factor between vendors. Framing the question this way will give the vendor the opportunity to either warn you that your budget will limit you to only Baby's Breath or that for that much money all the items you requested could be rare Japanese Lilies. This will help you make any budgetary adjustments, or choose to investigate alternatives (i.e. no boutonnieres, or doing the flowers out of your garden).
  • If you end up with quotes that are more than you can afford but the DIY options are not your thing, don't try cutting items from the list; this will frustrate your vendors. I allow my clients two quotes. The first one is for everything they want. I only do a second quote if they give me a dollar figure I am aiming for, and 90% of the time we come up with something everyone is happy with for that dollar figure.

3. Know that these people are the professionals; let them do what they do

I have a confession to make: I am not a professional chef, florist, DJ, cake baker, or photographer. So when my partner and I hired these people for our wedding, we hired those professionals whose style seemed compatible with our own, and who seemed to understand the goals and feel we were setting out for the wedding. And then we let them do their thing.

I'm not suggesting that you give vendors cart-blanche; I am suggesting that you don't micro-manage them. Our photographer had a great time at our wedding, partly because the week before he had shot a wedding where he dealt with a lot of micro-management. At that wedding one of the fathers kept telling him which shots to take, and from what angle, and in general how to do his job. All the father was doing was preventing the photographer from doing his best work.

I have experienced this from the other side as well, and oh boy does it suck. You get your best work from your vendors when you (with some direction about what you want) let them do what you hired them to do.

4. Share your information.

Make a master schedule, and send it to everyone. I know it seems silly to send a complete timeline for the day to the florist, but really it could prevent a disaster. Any vendor worth their salt will look over the timeline and look for anything that will impact them or their product.

Actual quote from my wedding: “Your Dad is picking up the flowers at 11 am, but the ceremony is at 5? Please make sure you don't hang the bouquets outside on the garden arch until just before the guests are to arrive — keep them in the air-conditioning until then so they don't wilt.” Problem avoided, with little-to-no effort.

Also make a script of the ceremony, send it a week ahead of time to anyone you can think it would affect. This includes the DJ, your officiant, that bridesmaid who always cries, anyone doing a reading, and maybe even the photographer. Maybe there is a line in the script that the photographer thinks the audience reaction would be worth seeing, or that a close or long shot would be especially fitting. Arming your vendors with information gives them the tools to do their best work.

Send all the vendors (or at least all who will be on-site) a contact list of everyone else involved, including expected delivery times of their products. Make sure you include the phone number and name (with stars and exclamation points) of the person they are supposed to call with questions on the big day, it is best if this is not you. You are busy enough. The caterer might be the first one to notice that the cake is an hour late, if they happen to know the baker they will probably call them, if not they will talk to your day-of questions person, who in turn will take care of it.

5. Treat your vendors like guests who have backstage passes.

You want the best work out of your vendors, you need them to be comfortable, confident, and have access to what they need.

I have had clients keep me at a venue for 22-hour days without feeding me or giving me time to run out for food (or sometimes even to run to the washroom!). How do you think their lights looked? Sloppy, that's how. Not my best work, but I don't feel guilty because I did everything I could with what I was given.

A note on feeding your vendors: At a seated dinner event they need a place to sit and eat (have a table for them). If they choose to eat at their workstation (e.g. sometimes the DJ, often the lighting tech) they will still need cutlery! Guests' cutlery is on their table… if the technicians are eating at their workstation make sure they get some. There was a period of time when hotels forgot to hand me a fork with my plate so often that I put one in my tool kit, right next to my wrench.

Also your vendors (DJ, photographer, etc.) need to not be the last ones to eat. I know this seems counter intuitive, but this is really important. If you feed your technicians before the bulk of your guests, then they are ready for action when it starts. Cold chicken and potatoes make for unhappy techs.

In conclusion:

Make sure you treat your vendors with respect, feed them, share all the info you can and let them know what is going on. Make sure to tell them when you see something you like. If you treat them well, you will be happy with the results.

We know there are some wedding vendors reading — what are your tips for couples?

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Comments on 5 ways to get the best out of your vendors

  1. This is fantastic! When I got married the first time, I had absolutely no idea how to talk to people, especially vendors, and ended up with everyone else’s vision of what we wanted instead of what we actually wanted. Now that I’m getting ready to do it a second time, this is good to know.

    And I never knew vendor prices were negotiable! I thought it was always take it or leave it, not “I have X, what can we do with that?”

    All in all, excellent post.

  2. Yes yes yes to all of this! Fantastic post.

    I’d like to reiterate your point about how important it is to have a place in the reception room to feed your vendors. Some venues have a separate room and will tell you that’s okay, but the likelihood of us missing a moment (or forgoing dinner altogether so we don’t) is much higher when we’re afraid to leave the room for fear of impromptu or off-schedule toasts, cake cutting, etc.

  3. I got this advice (stay hands-off, your vendors know what they’re doing) a lot while I planning, but now that I’m post-wedding, I wish I’d gone farther in the opposite direction (toward more micro-management). Granted, I may be an odd case. My husband and I had a very distinct vision for our wedding, and we tried hard to find vendors who found our vision interesting and challenging-in-a-good-way, rather than just alien and off-putting. We thought we did a good job of that, but on the day of our wedding, it felt like a couple vendors showed up without having looked over their notes from our previous conversations. Consequently, they reverted to a lot of the conventional wedding tropes we wanted to avoid. (Some of them sent us questionnaires the week of the wedding, but they were mostly about logistics, not details.) So, the lesson I learned was, you can never communicate ENOUGH. It’s impossible to know what others will or won’t remember, and I wish I’d spent a lot more time right before the wedding going over every detail with our vendors.

  4. What a great post!! Such great advice. Sadly, there are some caterers/planners who don’t agree with #5 and are starting to refuse to serve us food before guests have all been served. It makes it so difficult to do your job when you haven’t eaten all day and when you finally get the opportunity, you may only get 5 minutes or you miss an important moment due to poor timing. Buffets are so much easier!!

    • I think #5 is a wonderful idea too. Also, every reception I’ve been to had buffets, and where I’m from people are usually too impatient to wait until the newlyweds arrive to be served food so they are generally allowed to go ahead and dig in. And I totally agree that vendors should be allowed to eat like everyone else.

    • Last month we encountered such a caterer — who refused to serve us until every other person in the room was served, and had an attitude about it to boot. It was really unfortunate, because as photographers it becomes critical to finish FIRST if possible, particularly because toasts tend to happen during dinner. We were taken aback by the snappy tone the caterer took with us last month, and fortunately it has been our ONLY experience of that nature. Usually we’re either seated at a table, or taken care of right away by someone at the venue/catering company. Brides & grooms also tend to be pretty on top of this if you remind them. We require to be fed in our contract (for weddings of 8 hours or longer, which all of ours are), so that generally helps too 😉

      • Ugh!

        This is where I step in as the wedding coordinator–the other vendors don’t need to deal with attitude, and generally, no one *ever* gives me shit for grabbing plates of food ahead of the guests.

        I usually address the food issue in the day-of-schedule that all vendors receive–it helps to know who needs food when–gives the caterer a heads up, and gives my other vendors relief to know that they will be fed.

  5. I never would have thought of sharing the scripted portions ahead of time… or of sending the complete schedule to all vendors. But now that you’ve explained why, it makes a lot of sense. Thank you!

  6. This is one of the best vendor checklists I’ve ever seen. Very good information. Thank you so much for sharing this.

  7. Thank you for such a great article! I am a videographer, and I loved everything that you said. Couples that share their ceremony script with me and have a very detailed timeline make it so much easier to do a good job.

  8. Am i a horrible person for considering getting chinese takeout or a pizza for the vendors? We are having ours at a hotel where it’s 36 bucks a plate, and I really can’t afford to pay an extra 300 bucks to feed my vendors- we had to cut the wedding budget to the bare bones due to a family emergency, but had already put down the deposit here. How do you get around that? Is it rude to expect them to eat before they come?

    • Honestly, that is rude. It really is. Of course you can choose it but it’s not polite and they will talk smack about you. It’s like going out for dinner and then deciding you can’t afford to tip. You can, of course, have fewer vendors, not have your photographer stay after ceremony, etc., to reduce the cost. There are many, many ways to save $300.

      • Really? But you’re paying them AND tipping them and now they are entitled to eat whatever it is you’re serving your guests?

        • See, that’s kinda how I feel. Especially since when I say cut to the bone, I mean I only have 1500 for DJ, photographer (already signed contacts) cake, and have already eliminated flowers.

          • I would say do what you can afford. None of us have a money tree in our backyard and as long as you’re not expecting anyone to work for 8 hours straight on a completely empty stomach (hence pizza or chinese or what have you) it will be fine. Anyone who would take your money and then speak poorly about you later speaks volumes about the content of THEIR character and not yours.

          • Photographer here. While we definitely salivate at a nice dinner after such a grueling day, we wouldn’t shake a stick at some nice greasy pizza or chinese. The only caveat: tell them beforehand! The worst surprise of the day is finding out that you aren’t being fed (or aren’t being fed enough) and it’s too late to take off and eat what we want/need.

            We definitely don’t have a sense of entitlement when it comes to WHAT we eat, we just want to be fed or to be given an hour to leave and get food ourselves (which we’ve done at less remote locations). That, by the way, isn’t a terrible option, either. Just schedule accordingly.

        • Photographer (and officiant) here. I have it in my contract that I am to be fed along with the other guests, and if not then I am entitled to take an hour lunch during that time. If I happen to miss shots because of the bride and groom refusing to feed me (toasts, cake cutting, etc..) then I am not liable for them not being taken (even if they are on the shot list) since I have to go find my own food. Having an hour lunch on about a twelve hour day is not unreasonable. So far there has been absolutely zero problems with this, and the brides and grooms are more than willing to seat me and feed me. No one wants pictures of them stuffing their faces anyway.

          Also, I just want to note, it’s not a good idea to starve and/or upset your photographer. Your wedding photos and editing is in their hands. Although I wouldn’t ever let me affect my work, I do know some that purposely have when harassed and been treated badly by a bridezilla or groomzilla.

    • Not at all! As long as you are feeding them, most vendors will be fine. Lots of people don’t even feed their vendors so at least you are thinking about it!

    • Usually the venue will offer a cheaper food option for the vendors (turkey sandwich & potato chips rather than the filet & lobster the guests are having). Check in with your caterers or venue. As long as there is some type of food for the vendors, they shouldn’t have a problem. It’s when we’re forced to resort to the granola bars & cold coffee that’s been sitting in our cars all day when we get cranky.

    • A few helpful bits of information. First, check your vendor contracts. Mine states that when you hire me, we require a hot plated vendor meal for myself and my assistant. (sorry but I don’t like passing out from not eating).

      Secondly, some venues can make what’s called a vendor meal, which is sometimes just a ham sandwhich and chips. But trust me, your vendors will not love you for it, and isn’t that what this article is about? Getting better service by treating them nice?

  9. Bibliotreka,
    My caterer charged me less for vendor meals than they did for guests’ meals. Maybe ask yours if they offer a similar arrangement?

  10. thank you! (speakin as a photog) – i have to say all my clients have been so welcoming and fed me. I’ve been shoveling the food in my mouth quick to be sure to be ready for the events coming. 🙂 It is such a wonderful thing!!! THANK YOU.

  11. Wow….are you me? I also work as a lighting designer and production manger for events, and this article is written perfectly! It says everything I have always wanted to say to clients. I am getting married in two weeks, and am treating my vendors like they are good friends doing me a huge favor. I am glad you touched on the food issue as it is huge. I can’t tell you how many shows I do (especially weddings) where the client just forgets that you showed up hours before hand to set everything up, and will be there hours after to tear it down with no breaks and don’t event bother to feed you. I don’t really care what I am eating as long as it is food!

    And the thing with the quotes. I have clients who will nickel and dime me to death. “What if I lose 3 of the uplights, how much will it cost then?” Be straight up front with vendor, especial if you are shopping around, let them know! And don’t leave them hanging. If you decide to go with someone else, please please contact the other vendors and let them know, it is just combo courtesy.

    • It’s funny but most of my “vendors” actualy are good friends who are doing me a huge favor!!!! And I will make sure they get fed!!!! For some food IS their payment!!!! My photographer, videographer, make up/hair, and possibly catering/cake are all friends I have aquired from being a student in the film industry. It’s pretty cool.

  12. Not sure if anyone will see this since this is old, but I feel a little weird about #2. Are you never supposed to request changes to a contract because it might annoy a vendor? There’s no room for changing our minds, in the form of cutting items? If I decide that altar flowers aren’t important to us (and the $500 savings would be), I have to go with an entirely new vendor because it would be too much of a pain for a florist to change their quote? I feel like that’s a little inflexible and only favors the vendor, rather than the customer. But maybe I’m misunderstanding.

    • As a florist there are a few reasons why cutting things back doesn’t work. If you book with us 6 months in advance for a $5000 wedding, we will only take your wedding that day, and refuse other weddings. If you then cut back the order, we are missing out on revenue we could have made by taking another smaller event that same day. We order the flowers usually a month or 2 in advance (depending on what they are) and once we have ordered we can’t “un-order”, so we will eat the cost of them if we can’t re-sell them, which is unfair, particularly if you go with a florist who doesn’t have a retail store. Retailers are more likely to be able to resell preordered flowers, depending on what they are. This would only apply to weddings that have booked us with a retainer. Of course during the quoting process, things can be changed no problem! I have had weddings start at $5000 and cut back to $1000 and lost serious revenue opportunities during the wedding season when many of us depend on wedding business. I agree with the writer also that if you give us an idea of your budget we are able to give you a fair and accurate quote in the beginning! All the time spent changing and cutting and adding ends up involving hours of work that we don’t get paid for, and sometimes ends up leaving a sour taste…..I hope this helps clarify!

  13. also, the thing that truly touches me the most…are my clients that are thankful from the beginning….and they go out of their way to get me a thank you card….i cannot tell you how much that means to me….it makes me even MORE thankful to work with great people and give them my complete best!!! 🙂

    • That’s beautiful! Definitely want to write special thank you cards to my vendors and musicians! <3

  14. I’m already budgeting now to make sure I can seat my reception vendors and photographer and that they will be included in the lunch buffet with my regular guests. Music is a BIG deal to me, which is why I want to be sure everyone is comfortable and fed on the big day. One of my bridesmaids has been a musician-for-hire at weddings trying to make end’s meet and had the unfortunate experience of not being fed or not having a place to sit down during a long performance schedule. Since I can’t include all the musicians from the ceremony at my small reception venue, I’m arranging to have a catered brunch for them in my church’s undercroft, and I’m following up with the music director to see if I can assist with other needs they might have. This post really reinforces my tipping and feeding people priorities…does Offbeat Bride have a tipping guide or other posts on this subject? These posts have honestly been super super helpful!

  15. I love this “Treat your vendors like guests who have backstage passes”. It’s so true! As a planner if I can get the info and access that I need I can’t do my job to the max! This one is a really important one!

  16. but what if i AM a show business type and HAVE BEEN in the thick of things organizing and running an event SEVERAL TIMES, but i just hate that its “about me” this time?

    Also I lOVE the part of number 4 about making a script. I do that anyway with the videos I shoot and scripts are a HUGE DEAL to me. (i’ve had horrible times on other people’s shoots where there really wasn’t a script) They are the freamwork you have to work off of that makes everything come together. I am totaly scripting everything of my wedding. From the very beginning of my planning i knew i’d treat it like making a movie or stage show (all previous experiences), but slightly more stressful because this time it’s live!!!!

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