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THE RITE STUFF

Nuptial know-how from A to Z
By Marilyn Ingram |

WHEN THE TIME comes for you to begin planning your wedding, you may know exactly what you want and where to begin. Or you may not have given it much thought. Whichever category you fit into, our bridal planning guide is for you. We’ve come up with a variety of options for all aspects of planning the wedding.



KEEPING TO A BUDGET

A wedding can be a very expensive event. If you choose to do all your own planning, expect to spend many hours calling and visiting a variety of sources to determine who can give you the most for your money. Be able to give the people an idea of your budget; as one hotel manager said, “I assume if there’s no idea of a budget, there is no budget.” Keep a written record of your research so you won’t have to rely solely on your memory to recall prices and quality.

But this could be that time when a little extra fee at the beginning could save you much in the end. A professional wedding planner is accustomed to working with brides on a budget, and the cost of hiring one could more than pay for itself. The planner has resources and ideas based on years of experience to produce your wedding well within a budget.



STATIONERY

Rarely will you purchase so many postage stamps or address so many envelopes as during the weeks before, and after, your wedding. Invitations or announcements (and in some cases, both) must be addressed, stamped and mailed, and writing thank-you notes seem to be a never-ending job.

Timing is an important consideration when sending all of these items. Etiquette and successful planning dictate that invitations should be mailed six weeks prior to the ceremony to out-of-town guests and four weeks in advance to locals. Announcements should be mailed the day of the wedding so that friends won’t hear the news via a newspaper story. And although some etiquette books say you have up to 6 months to write thank-you notes, you and the giver will be happier if you do them within two to three weeks after receiving the gift.

“Formal” may be a more fitting by-word in wedding invitations than “traditional” these days. There seems to be an anything-goes attitude when selecting design, paper color, type style and wording, yet most brides still seem to prefer a formal look for their invitations. One of your best sources for ideas are paper and stationery stores, which usually have a wide variety of samples from which to choose, or create your own.

As in most areas, your budget will help you make some decisions. Costs can vary from 30 cents to $3 (or more) per invitation, depending on what you select. Steel-engraved invitations on Crane’s kid-finish paper is considered the Cadillac of invitations, but there are other techniques available that look and feel like steel-engraved but aren’t as expensive.

Timing is an important factor in ordering invitations. Engraved invitations should be ordered six weeks in advance. (That’s in addition to the mailing date of four to six weeks prior to the ceremony for a total of 12 weeks, or three months, before the wedding date.) Printed invitations should be ordered four to six weeks ahead.

Thank-you notes sent before the wedding generally reflect the bride’s personality and may be formal or casual. There are an infinite number of notecards from simple to monogrammed to frilly and flowered. After the wedding, informals are traditionally used.



MUSIC

Church organists and friends of the couple make most of the wedding music, but in the continuing search for something individual and different, many couples are hiring professional musicians, often for the ceremony and especially for the reception. Reception music may vary from quiet background tunes to foot-stomping country/ western or lively Spanish mariachis.

If your friends’ talents stop at show tunes and hymns on the piano, you may want to contact a music agency. Agencies can arrange for almost any kind of music and any number of musicians you want. A trio or quartet consisting of piano, drums and either a guitar (for dancing) or bass (for listening only) is their most frequent request.

Expect to pay a minimum of $350 to $425 for a trio for three hours. Single musicians are in the $125 to $150 range, except for a harpist, which is about $50 to $75 higher. A four-piece group is in the $450 to $600 range. Remember, too, that if you’ve requested a pianist to play at a location with no piano, you will be charged for the piano rental. Call several agencies to determine the prices and quality offered by each one before committing.

The telephone directory may prove to be one of your best resources for finding a musician. Music agencies are listed there, and organizations such as the Dallas Chamber Music Society could lead you to specific kinds of musical groups.



RECORDING THE WEDDING

Photography is seeing one of the most dramatic revisions for the Eighties. The traditional bridal portrait and still photographs are just as popular and probably always will be, but couples now have the opportunity to make audio and video recordings of the entire event.

Generally, videotapes are meant to enhance a professional photographer’s work, not replace it. Many of the traditional photographers are expanding their services to include video as well as stills, and this may be a consideration in which one you select. There are also smaller businesses that specialize only in video; they are generally less expensive for the same service than specialized “wedding photographers.” For example, one professional wedding photographer quoted a fee of $350 an hour for two handheld cameras, with the fee increasing according to the time involved and the specifics of the assignment. A local video service, on the other hand, charges $120 for a one-hour minimum and $60 per additional hour. Its representative estimated two hours for a wedding with an average reception (prices at the service were the same for one or two cameras).

Filming the ceremony can be done very discreetly. It is quiet and requires no extra lights. Most photographers will call the church or synagogue for permission and usually have no problems other than sometimes being restricted to the balcony.

Be sure to inquire if the video also includes sound. A small microphone can easily be attached to the minister to record the vows, but not all photographers offer this service; some merely dub in background music. The sound is especially nice to have during the reception to capture some of the well-wishing.

The price range for bridal portraits and still photographs is incredibly wide. One studio quoted a price of $325 for a very basic package (20 color photos of the ceremony and reception) to as high as $2,000 for a package that includes a bridal portrait and albums for parents.

One glance in the telephone directory will give you an idea of how many photographers you have to choose from. When you’re selecting a photographer, remember that this is a memorable event that you’ll want recorded by someone who knows both photography and wedding photography. But also realize that many companies charge for their name, so be selective. One of the best ways to choose a photographer is to get referrals from friends, then compare prices and go to the studios to see some of their work.

A portrait photographer needs to be booked as soon as possible after the date has been set, especially for traditionally busy times. Video photographers prefer three to four weeks’ notice, but they may be more easily booked at the last minute.

Another option for recording your vows is on tape. This is quite easy to do and costs only the price of a tape. Someone at the church can do it for you through the sound system, or a friend might even do it by positioning the microphone in a good location.



LIMOUSINE SERVICES

Getting to the church in style has become almost as important as getting there on time. Limo services offer many amenities to wedding parties that will make the event the ultimate in pampering. Generally, limos are arranged and paid for by the bride’s family and transport them to the ceremony. After the ceremony, the couple uses the limo to ride to the reception, then on to the hotel or airport. Of course, others may have the honor of a ride. All of the bridal attendants are sometimes brought to the church by a chauffeur, either from one location or from their respective homes.

The going rate is about $30 to $60 per hour, varying with the car. Some Rolls-Royces can go as high as $125 per hour, depending on the model year. You will be asked to estimate the number of hours you’ll want the car and driver. Some companies have a three-hour minimum, which they say is much below what is usually needed. Others charge a flat $75 fee to go only from the church to the reception.

Reservations should be made at least two weeks ahead to ensure that you’ll get the car you want. Most limo companies operate on a cash-only basis, with payment due when you arrive at the first destination.



RECEPTIONS

If you choose to have the reception at the church, check with the wedding planner for any restrictions and rules that you’ll have to abide by. Usually, you and your consultant will be in charge of food and decorations, but some larger churches may have food service available. Check to see about plates, punch bowl and such, too. Different churches have different policies on alcohol and dancing, but most probably prohibit it.

Many caterers and consultants specialize in church receptions. They will take care of decorations, food, service and cleaning up.

If you choose a private club, country club or hotel, you will be required to use its catering facilities for food and beverages. It will provide you with a menu of its offerings, and you select what you want. It will also provide any alcohol that you request.

When you call a hotel to arrange a reception, you will need to know the hours of the reception, the number of people attending, whether a bar is desired and an idea of the kind or amount of food you want. In addition to the food, the catering department will usually arrange for flowers, napkins, matches, music and will provide a serving staff. Some hotels have bakery facilities and will make the cake as well; other hotels don’t provide the cake but can often make the arrangements for it. If a cake is brought in from somewhere other than the hotel’s kitchen, there may be an additional fee of about $50.

The catering departments of hotels and clubs can work with you on food selection and make suggestions for keeping costs down. An afternoon reception requires less food than a noon or evening one, and less is served in the summer than in the winter. There isn’t much difference in price to serve champagne only or to have an open bar. A ballpark figure for a medium-priced hotel is about $20 per person for hors d ’oeuvres, a champagne toast and an open bar; in other, higher-priced hotels, that amount could go up to $30 to $35 per person.



CATERER

The cost of a catered reception is determined by the number of people attending and the foods you select. If you plan carefully, there are several things you can do to keep the costs down. For example, time the wedding and reception at a time when people don’t expect much food, such as the afternoon. If you want a late-morning ceremony, which would put the reception at noon, consider having the plates served in the kitchen and handed to each guest to cut down on the amount of food needed. One veteran caterer always puts both the bride’s and groom’s cakes on the same table. She has observed that guests will make a choice between the two when served that way, whereas they’re more likely to take a piece of each if the cakes are on separate tables.

To give you an idea of what costs to expect, figure about $6 per person for basic cake, punch, mints and nuts. Unless your facility has dishes and silver, you will have to add a rental fee for those. Just the cake will usually run $1.50 to $2.00 per serving. Increase that basic $6 per person to $15 if you want to serve hot or cold hors d ’oeuvres, a non-alcoholic punch and bride’s cake (groom’s cake is extra with this price). For a complete open bar, count on about $4 per person extra or $3 per person for champagne only.

What can you expect the caterer to do besides the food? Each caterer is different, but generally they will also arrange for the flowers, music and tables, will find a room, and will hire valet parking and even a photographer if needed-in other words, the caterer can provide a total package reception.

Caterers get very busy, so, once again, make these arrangements as soon as possible-at least a month before the event, but the farther ahead, the better.

If you have hired a wedding consultant, the catering comes under her responsibilities. And, as we mentioned in another section, most private clubs and hotels do their own catering.



FLOWERS

Some churches lend themselves well to many flowers and vivid colors; others need only one simple white arrangement to create the most beautiful look. Be sure you know if your church has any restrictions on flowers, because many do.

Fresh flowers are enjoying such popularity now that they are seen in many places other than the altar; they can mark the pews, surround veils and headpieces and cascade down the side of an elaborate cake, as well as be in corsages and boutonnieres. One of the more innovative florists in town says he is continually amazed at how many brides want to stay with the traditional floral arrangements, but he also sees a trend toward more colorful and exotic blooms. An abundance of attractive greenery is ideal in certain settings and is a great way to go if you’re on a tight budget.

Who’s in charge of the flowers? If you’re working with a consultant, she generally will handle floral arrangements for the church and reception. If your reception is somewhere other than the church, the consultant, someone at the reception location, a florist of your choosing or even yourself or a talented friend may be in charge. Working with one florist for all of the wedding flowers greatly simplifies things.

If you’re going to work directly with a florist, book it as soon as possible after setting the date. One company says they need at least a month to be able to order specialized or some exotic flowers.

Again, cost is determined by what you select. Bridal bouquets may cost $75 and up, with a bouquet of roses priced at about $100 to $150. An average altar arrangement may cost $75 to $150, more if exotic blooms are used. Putting flowers on your cake could run from $50 for a small, two-tier cake, on up, depending on the number of tiers and flowers. If you’re designing something original, don’t hesitate to ask the florist to make up a sample for you to see.



REHEARSAL DINNERS

One time for the bride and her family to sit back and for the groom and his family to come to the forefront is during the rehearsal dinner. All of the planning and paying is done by the groom’s family. The dinner is traditionally held after the rehearsal, but if timing makes that impossible, then it’s held the night before the wedding.

This is a time when formality may be put aside if that’s more your style. The rehearsal dinner should be a festive, happy time of toasting and well-wishing. How you go about throwing an enjoyable dinner is open to your imagination. Mexican fiestas have become quite popular, as have barbecues. If the weather permits, a casual picnic or an elegant alfresco dinner are good choices. Depending on the number of people invited, a cocktail buffet might be a good alternative.

There are also no hard-and-fast rules about who to invite. Traditionally, parents (and perhaps grandparents) and the bridal party are invited. But if the bride and groom are doing all of the planning themselves, you might choose to limit the dinner only to the bridal party. You may include special relatives or close friends coming in from out of town if you like.

GIFTS FOR BRIDESMAIDS AND GROOMSMEN

One of the most personal decisions to be made is what to give the attendants. Although some couples turn this job over to their consultant, most brides and grooms prefer to make these selections themselves.

These are your friends, and you know better than anyone what they would appreciate and enjoy. Be as traditional or offbeat as you and they would like. Jewelry is a favorite gift, especially necklaces or such that can be worn during the wedding. Personalized stationery or calling cards is a good selection for both men and women attendants. In fact, almost any personalized item would make a nice gift.

No matter what gift you select, it should be presented to all of the attendants at the rehearsal dinner.



MARRIAGE LICENSES

One of the simplest but most necessary tasks for your wedding is to get a marriage license. This license may be obtained at any county courthouse in Texas in the county clerk’s office. Get it ahead of time to avoid a last-minute rush; however, a license can be purchased on the day of the wedding.

If both of you are over 18, all you need are valid driver’s licenses, your social security numbers and $7.50. If one of you is under 18, you also must be accompanied by one of your parents to sign for you and bring a certified copy of your birth certificate.



PROFESSIONAL PLANNERS

If all the details involved in planning a wedding boggles your mind, a professional wedding planner may be just what you need. These people may be individuals who make a career of planning weddings or retail businesses who offer this as part of their services.

A consultant can serve as a surrogate mother. She is someone to whom you can pour out all of your wishes and dreams, tell her your budget, then sit back and let her try to put the two together. Since these people are pros, they have resources based on years of experience that you might never find yourself-and they can do it with much less time and hassle. As veteran wedding planner Kathleen Freeman says, “A wedding should be what the bride wants and the parents can afford.”

Most consultants’ fees are on a percentage basis of the total cost of the wedding. Twenty percent would be normal, although some can easily run much higher.

Here is a general rundown of what you can expect a professional planner to do for you-which is almost everything.



A PLANNER WILL:

-guide you on colors and dress selection

-decorate the church for the ceremony

-drape tables for gift display at the bride’s home

-plan a tea for friends to view the gifts

-decorate the tables for the reception

-arrange for all the flowers (ceremony, bridal party, reception)

-be present at the rehearsal and ceremony

-arrange for the bride’s and groom’s cakes and any other food desired for the reception

-have napkins, matchbooks, etc. imprinted

-take charge of the rehearsal dinner (plan, order the food, decorate)

-consult on menus for receptions in private clubs

-drape tables and send flowers to private club receptions

-arrange for limousine service

-arrange to have invitations addressed

-purchase bridesmaids’/groomsmen’s gifts if requested

-work within your budget



A PLANNER WILL NOT:

-buy or order bridesmaids’ or bride’s dresses

-handle stationery orders (will refer or recommend, though)

-be in charge of food in private clubs or hotels