Scenario. You’re at a Bridal show with your bestie trying to get ideas for your wedding next year. You have on your cute new Bride sweatshirt, a pair of dark denim jeans, and some Toms. As you walk up and down the aisles viewing the over the top wedding florals lit up with LED’s and eating the little crab puffs being passed by a local caterer, you notice a disturbing trend. As you begin to share some of the details of your wedding there are two types of wedding vendors…the ones who genuinely want to help you and the ones that turn their noses up at the notion of your small private affair. They stand there, out in the aisle armed with pamphlets, business cards, and a fake smile. A team member from the Wedding Mafia. You don’t know any better and walk over when she motions for you to come closer to the booth. She smiles a fake plastic smile and offers you a brochure on some of their event planning services. Their booth is large and opulent and you can clearly tell that they mean business as the largest event planning service in your area. They have sample tables set up each with a different design and all with over the top florals. There are framed photos of some of their events on their front table. The girls working the booth looked polished and poised with perfect white teeth and excellent manicures. You start to feel a tad bit uncomfortable and underdressed but you try to go with the flow and loosen up when she starts asking you about your big day. She asks if you have any vendors booked yet and if not, they have a list of people that they work with exclusively (this is code meaning that they each get some sort of kick back usually). You begin telling her about your guest count of 50 people and how the wedding will take place on a small local farm in the area, complete with a petting zoo. You can literally see her face change as you tell her you envision a barefoot Boho wedding extravaganza. Then she passes off a fake grin when you ask about the starting cost of their planning services. The response is something like, “Let me get your contact information so that we can set up a time to get together to discuss your day in more detail”. Which there is nothing wrong with…this is an appropriate response considering that she doesn’t know the exact details of your event or what level of wedding planning you are needing. However she never even mentions a range of where the planning cost starts so at least you can have an idea of whether it would be a good fit. If you have a $10,000 budget and their event planning starts at $2000 then it is probably not a good fit since that is nearly a quarter of your entire budget. If you had a good understanding about the cost of the services they provide up front, you could keep it moving and not have your time wasted if the quote was over budget. But…you write down your info anyway on a contact slip that they have at the front table and give it back to her. She smiles, offers you a chocolate ganache mini cupcake, and says something like, “Thanks for stopping by! We’ll be in touch soon”. You begin to walk away but turn your head just in time to see her gushing to a bride that has just walked up with her mom, both in designer clothes and with designer handbags no less. The planner is clearly a lot more cheerful and engaged than she was a few minutes ago when you were talking to her. You suddenly begin to feel bad about your jeans and sweatshirt and your small Boho wedding. Don’t feel bad you gorgeous girl! There is nothing wrong with you OR your wedding. You have just been another innocent victim of the Wedding Mafia.
Oh yes….the Wedding Mafia. Most couples aren’t aware of this term but most of us in the wedding industry are. These are the local event planners, caterers, venues, and photographers that have a one track mind when it comes to weddings…money. The wedding industry here in NC alone makes over a billion a year and these people want to make sure that they capitalize on that. They usually band together and have a “Hire one, hire all” mentality, meaning that they only work with a list of preferred vendors that can benefit their business. Now, is it normal for people in the wedding industry to steer couple in the direction of someone they know that does fantastic work? Yes of course! I do it all the time without getting a single kick back (save a free cupcake here and there). I love giving couples referrals and letting them do the vendor choosing themselves. However, I find that these “Wedding Mafia members” in the wedding industry only want to deal with one type of bride…a rich one. Not every bride has thousands of dollars to spend on a single day. Maybe up until now she has been a single mom. Or maybe the couple is saving for their first house. Maybe the parents aren’t helping with the wedding costs and the couple is on their own. You never know what the situation may be. But I do know one thing…… it is never fair to assume that a couple having a small wedding is broke and that they don’t want nice things. Maybe they just want a small wedding or maybe this isn’t their first wedding and they just want something different this time around. I’ve had it happen to me….I’ve totally been judged. I have had vendors turn their noses up at me and I’m a freaking wedding planner! Of course I didn’t tell them that at the time. I just wanted to see what their reaction would be to our “unconventional wedding”. No church, no white dress, no reception. Hand fasting, homemade black dress, food trucks. Hell yes. That’s us. It fits perfectly and I don’t give a crap that it’s not traditional or the wedding norm. I love unique weddings. Those brides are truly movers and shakers. It takes a lot to be brave and step out of the traditional wedding spotlight. You get a lot of weird looks and head shakes. As wedding vendors however, it is our job and duty to provide the best level of service to every single couple that walks through our doors. Regardless of their budget, religion, color, or sexual orientation. Be the planner for all the people…not just a select some.
So how do you spot a potential member of the Wedding Mafia and how do you deal with them? If you are interested in a possible vendor then the first thing you need to do is to web stalk them. That’s right…. I said it. Check out their website, social media, blog, whatever they have going on out there in internet land. View pics of events they have done. See if their style might be a good match for what you wanting for your own wedding. If they pass the initial test then set up a time for you two to meet. Try not to do a phone call if possible (you can tell a lot about a person and their personality by meeting them in person). Write down a list of questions that you want to ask to make sure every detail is covered and you have all of the information you need to make the right choice. Watch for signs of hesitation. If you and your fiancé want to have a huge Halloween wedding with a midnight ceremony and a vampire as the officiant, make sure your wedding planner is on board. If they can’t share in your vision then it will make things exceedingly difficult. Ensure that your vendors (caterer, florist, photographer) are understanding of your needs and that they are able to easily bend from the traditional wedding norm. Most wedding vendors are in this business because they love it not because they want to get rich. Beware of those who put nothing in writing and keep increasing the costs each time you speak with them. That is why getting initial quotes are helpful…you both understand the bottom line and what is trying to be accomplished. Make sure you have a clear understanding of the services to be provided before signing on any contract. Below are a few tips I have put together to help you avoid the Wedding Mafia hive mind and help you make the right choices for your big day.
- Go Local. Local vendors are totally the way to go. I can’t say this enough. Not only are they usually cheaper, they know the area and they have better connections. Need a coffin for your head table? You caterer has a buddy that does wood working. So you can check that off your list. Want custom made cookies with your monogram on them? Your wedding planner knows the best bakery in town that specializes in custom wedding baked goods. Want a hand made wedding band? Your florist knows just the jeweler for that. Choosing local vendors means that you are also supporting a local business. And who doesn’t like supporting their community?!
- Communication. The standard in the wedding industry is a 24 hour turn around. Meaning if you email me a question about the cocktail hour linens, I should email you back within a 24 hour time frame. If you find it hard to get your vendors to reach out and answer your questions then maybe you need a different vendor. Now I’m not saying send 32 emails about whether or not your cat Mr. Meowsworth would make a good ring bearer. Be reasonable with your reach outs. Try to limit contact to two or three emails a day at most. Just like you, your vendors are busy. So if they don’t immediately respond, don’t panic. And if they never respond, let me know and I can steer you in the right direction.
- Stick to your guns. Be up front with your wishes. Let your vendors know what your non-negotiables are. If you just have to have real pineapples as candleholders lining the aisle then make it clear. Don’t let anyone influence your decisions about what is best for your wedding. Take advice of course but don’t let someone steer your completely away from an idea you love just because they don’t think they can accomplish it. It’s all about thinking creative. You have to learn how to think outside of the box a little. And just because you’re wedding is different doesn’t mean that it’s a bad thing. Variety is the spice of life.
- Know your budget and don’t waiver. Don’t let the glossy wedding pics bust your budget and please don’t let that caterer convince you of a cake too large and too overpriced for your simple event of 50 guests. There are a lot of people in the wedding industry keen on upcharging a couple to make extra pocket money. Be very clear about the budget you have to work with and remember spending less is always better! And as always…get it in writing!
Hopefully I have given you a few good wedding pointers to help you have the wedding you want and not what someone else wants. Just remember….when you go to a wedding expo and get glazed over by all the flash and frills….don’t fall for it. Stick to your plan. Do things the way you want to. Only increase the budget if you want to. Only change your wedding plans if you want to. Don’t be the victim of a Wedding Mafia hit. Stay true to you!