Saturday, November 6, 2010

The Guest List: Lessons Learned the Hard Way!

The Guest List -- A hot topic.  This is a big decision for all those involved in planning a wedding!  I actually did not realize at first how pivotal it was to the entire modern wedding experience.  I learned that nowadays, the guest lists of any pre-wedding parties or bridal showers depend on it.  I learned a big lesson about priorities and family communication through what transpired during the weeks of finalizing it.

Again, I think going back to my own wedding planning, the guest list seemed to be a no-brainer.  Wes and I had been on our own so long that we paid for the majority of the wedding ourselves; and our parents really had no interest in helping with planning it.  So, he and I settled on a do-able number that would include family and friends at the time, and divided that up equally.  I really had no reference point to our current situation: parents footing the bulk of the bill for the wedding of a 20-something couple who were just graduating from college and leaving the nest.

For my birthday last May, right after Amanda got engaged, she gave me an Emily Post Etiquette/Planner book for the Mother of the Bride or Groom. In it, (and in most every wedding magazine or website I looked at) I read that almost as soon as the engagement is announced, all the parties need to sit down and discuss the guest list. Did I heed this advice? Of course not...!! I figured it would all work itself out in the end...after all, the couple were looking at the wedding planning books and websites, too, right?!! So I assumed we were all on the same page of the standard ways of dividing the list up.

The etiquette advice had this to say-- usually, the division of guests goes like this:

Option 1 - 1/3 to the Bride's Family's Side, 1/3 to the Groom's Family's Side, and 1/3 friends of the couples' choice.

Option 2 - 50% to the couples' friends, and 25% each to each family. (This is more likely if the couple is older and they have lived on their own for a while, and the couple is paying for the wedding.)

But I soon learned that simple math is not the only factor in deciding on a wedding guest list...there are other angles to take into consideration, and even though it may be difficult to give up control when you are footing the bill, the wishes of the bride and groom must take precedence (after all, regardless of who is paying for the wedding, the day is to celebrate THEM.)  Lets just say that we were not on the same page with the couple in the beginning.  While we were leaning toward Option 1, they were leaning toward Option 2.  To them, the important thing was to share the day with friends, and some closer family members.

Amanda finally told me they had gotten up to 200 guests total on their latest version of the guest list, and the great majority on the list were were their friends, In other words, just the immediate family were all that we were going to be able to invite. No extra room for more distant relatives, or good family friends.

Our venue people were telling us that it only held 180 people comfortably with a dance floor, 200 bodies would actually be pushing it - so we couldn't just add on to the number of guests. (Not to mention the cost -- we had already gone from 150 guests to 200!) And there just aren't that many places in Waco, Texas that hold more than 200, at least not at an affordable price.

It was a tense few days.  We let a week or so go by so everyone could all calm down, and then I had to send Amanda a long email, apologizing for rocking the boat, but basically explaining where we were coming from.  We had come up with a number based upon the wedding planning literature's suggestions of percentages.  We explained that this is the biggest party her Dad and I will probably ever throw, and that in addition to the immediate family, there were also some other relatives and friends we would like to invite that had watched her grow up, and who we knew would want to be there if they could. We wanted the groom's parents to be able to do the same, if they wanted.  On the other hand, we acknowledged that this is their wedding, and we wanted to abide by their wishes as much as possible.

So the "compromise" came in -- they cut down their list so that we could invite a few more people. It turned out the groom's family were fairly satisfied with the number they had already.  Meanwhile, we visited the venue one day when they happened to be set up for a large wedding. It appeared that with a smaller dancefloor, and packing people closer than perhaps we would like, we theoretically could go with a few guests over the 200 limit. Considering you will usually not get 100% attendance of your invitees, it was do-able.

There was also the possibility of inviting a "second tier" of guests, depending on the RSVP's we got on the first round (although we figured out later this could get REALLY tricky so as not to offend anyone.)  Amanda also suggested that any extra leftover spots could be offered to the "dates" of some of the single people they were inviting..and that was actually what we ended up doing.

So yes -- we learned that the guest list, and most importantly the division of it, is about THE most crucial aspect of wedding planning, and needs to be decided upon right away. We actually got it backwards -- we should have settled on the count before settling on a venue. Of course in our case, we had already booked about the largest venue we could get in that vicinity, so we were kind of stuck anyway.

Once the guest list and how it will be divided is decided on, it clears the air, the couple and both families have a clearer picture of what the wedding will look like, and you can move on with the rest of the planning. And if you choose to send out Save the Dates (as we did), a timely decision on the guest list becomes even more important.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Vendor Selection Has Started (But Still Working on the Wedding Party!)

Things were now picking up pace a little:

1. We hired a wedding photographer. A nice older couple who did decent work but whose prices were reasonable. - Wendell and Mary Sanford.

2. I made the trek down to Waco for the first meeting with the wedding coordinator, Denise Harlan.  She was energetic and capable, and very talkative. I was sure she'd do a good job for us. I just hoped we continued to get along, and I still wasn't totally clear on how much she would do for us before the wedding weekend.  She was talking us about doing the flowers, too. I was temped because I felt she would "take ownership" of the floral and decor rather than just coordinate the wedding weekend for us. It sounded like there may be some financial perks for using her for flowers too.

3. At this point we were still looking at DJ's. Got a few referrals from the photographer and coordinator. Would much rather use someone that somebody recommends, rather than just doing blind web searches. (Although that's pretty much how we found the coordinator and the photographer!) Amanda's main concern with the DJ was that he/she doesn't cost too much. Personally, I think a good DJ makes a reception so much more enjoyable!

4. I was hinting that Amanda and Ian needed to set up their engagement photos. They had a photographer friend lined up for that, who unfortunately was not available for the wedding itself, but they just had not settled on a date to take the shots. Save the Date cards couldn't go out until the engagement shots were ready, so I hoped it would be soon.

5. She still had not named the final bridesmaids, nor had she settled on dresses. She and her sister were planning a little sister bonding time later that month to go shopping for them, though.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

The Blahs...

So I think we kind of hit a wall for a bit.  After the initial excitement, Amanda didn't seem to be too much into wedding planning during the Fall. (Of course she was just starting her senior year of college, moved to a new apartment, and still basking in the moment of being newly engaged, so there were some understandable distractions.)

I had done just about all I could from my perspective; spending many lunch hours at the Jack-in-the Box near my workplace crunching out the budget numbers for all the categories (which were still impossibly low in some cases.) I'm sure the restaurant staff wondered who this lady with the big white binder and calculator was, and what she was doing.  When I had them about finalized, my husband Wes punched the numbers into an Excel spreadsheet for me.

I had done some preliminary online browsing of vendors; but I realized Amanda would rather scout them out herself.  Except she just didn't have the time or energy to do that.  She had told me a couple of months prior that she was already getting burned out on wedding planning and was taking a break from it, and in her sweet way suggested I do the same. (In other words, "Back off, Mom!")

I was a bit disappointed that the wedding planner we hired still had not contacted my daughter for a meet-up. So I think even Denise had the blahs. I really wanted to attend that first meeting, but it would mean a 5 hour round trip drive, so didn't know if it would happen or not.

I just had to resign myself to backing off...Amanda knew her budget guidelines; and she needed to do the designing and choosing.  You know, the old trite saying is appropriate here. It was HER wedding, not MINE! But it was frustrating as the weeks rolled by, having to stay in stand-by mode... I was just scared it would come down to the wire and we would have to go into panic mode.

I guess the honeymoon glow of the wedding planning was over... I think it started fading when we hit a little bit of a snag a few months ago regarding the guest list.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

9 Months to Go..Some Big Decisions Made (...But Whats Up with the Wedding Party?)

Life brought some other priorities for me during these a trip to my hometown to see my elderly mom, and getting both my daughters settled in at college; the youngest as a Freshman just starting out! Dorm shopping replaced wedding planning for quite a while.

I tried to bend my sweet sister's ear about the wedding when I went back to my hometown, but she had 2 boys and no daughters, so bless her heart, although she is one of my biggest supporters in life generally, her eyes totally glazed over whenever I would start and said, "I'm so glad I had boys!" At that point I made a mental note to myself to remember that not everyone is all that interested to hear about the wedding plans, and that's OK too.  I did enjoy sharing ideas with those who WERE interested, like a good friend whose daughter got married a few months before my daughter did.

Here are some developments since the last entry:

I thought Amanda had picked out her bridesmaids dresses already, but she told me she hasn't gotten that totally nailed down yet. She had a few favorites bookmarked online, but had not seen any "in person" yet, and hadn't made any final selections.  Actually, she hadn't gotten the bridesmaids totally nailed down yet. Krista, my younger daughter, will be her maid of honor and she asked 3 of her hometown girlfriends to be in the wedding, but as far as her college buddies -- still up in air. And, the 3 friends she DID ask were had a boyfriend that the other 2 didn't approve of...OH the drama! Anyway...I was getting a bit nervous because we still didn't know for sure the size of the wedding party, and the bridesmaids dresses can take 6 months to order. Here we were, 9 months away from the wedding already. (Seems like yesterday I thought to myself, "Yes!...we have a whole year to plan.")

We officially booked the reception at The Hilton Hotel in Waco, and actually talked to the catering manager we would be working with, and saw the hotel dressed up for a wedding while in town visiting.  It looked about as I expected. Can't say I was blown away. The Hilton standard chairs are a gold/tan vinyl, and for this wedding, the family had not opted for chair covers or rented chiavari chairs. To save costs, we planned to do the same, unfortunately. Their table decorations were OK, not outstanding, and they used the standard ivory linens the hotel has. I sure had dreams of punching up the decor a bit more, but my hubby and my daughter didn't  want to spend that much money on it.

I guess the biggest update at this point is that we decided to bite the bullet and hire a Wedding Weekend Coordinator - Denise Harlan of Thee Designs.  We would be spending about twice what I had hoped to on that, but I believed it would be worth it in peace of mind in the long run. Not living in Waco nor knowing any of the vendors, and not knowing anyone who does, it made sense to me to have a Waco resident wedding "expert" working with us.  She was very personable, very capable, and she is a member of the church Amanda was getting married at, so she definitely had an "In" there! She and the Hilton Catering Manager seemed to have a mutual admiration society going on, too. At least I knew they work together well!

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

She Said Yes to the Dress Already!

As of this time, we did have the date set, for Saturday May 21st of 2011.  Amanda and Ian got the church and pastor lined up.  It was to be in the church they attended as college students in the Waco area.

The reception venue was still a bit up in the air.  There just aren't that many places in Waco, Texas that hold upwards of 200 people. As of this time, we favored the Hilton Hotel. We considered having the reception at the church, but it is a Baptist church, and my daughter wants a dance with a DJ, get the drift.

Amanda went ahead and purchased the dress from the bridal shop in Denton. We figured that way, it was closer for me to go with her for the fittings when the dress came in. It was to arrive months before the wedding, anyway, so there would be plenty of time to transport it to Waco before the wedding. And little sister Krista (who was asked to be the Maid of Honor) finally got to see the dress to put her seal of approval on it when we drove up to purchase it, so that made both sisters happy.

The dress Amanda  chose is the Maggie Sottero Monalisa Royale; a perfect princess ballgown if I ever saw one. She wanted strapless, a little bling on top, full ballgown skirt with pick ups, and a hem and train with some beading detail - and the Monalisa Royale delivers all of that. She chose ivory, because she feels white would wash her out too much. I was a little iffy about the ivory simply because of the old "virgin white" wedding tradition and wondering what some of the relatives will think. But evidently that idea is passe now; lots of brides are choosing to wear ivory and it has nothing to do with their purity status! Besides, we took a look at some photos of the Monalisa Royale online in white, and it is almost too glaring a white for our taste. The ivory looks a lot softer and more romantic. We put a chapel train on for effect, and it looked OK, but when we put the full-length veil on her, it really looked stunning! The dress just has enough drama to it that it needs the longer train.

Amanda seemed totally thrilled, although I must say, the bridal store people put a more form-fitting Maggie Sottero on her when they were trying to size her, and it looked awesome, too. I think her sister may have actually preferred that one, and I could tell even my bride was going, "Hmmmm.." But she's had her heart set on a ballgown forever, (both her prom dresses were ballgowns) so I knew there was no going back.  I loved it, too!

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

And Here We Go!

I have always loved weddings, and was so excited when my oldest daughter Amanda became formally engaged in the spring of 2010.  I loved planning my own wedding 25 years ago, and hoped to be of help to her, although from the start she was intent on doing a lot of the planning herself. My job was to be supportive and offer suggestions without forcing my wishes on her.

As I started this blog, the most fun/easy thing was done -- she had chosen the dress already. It concerned me that we only looked at two stores and she found it at the second one, but we both almost immediately fell in love with the dress. It took a while, though, to put down a deposit and order it, because of the logistical challenge her wedding presented us with.

We live in Flower Mound, Texas; the dress Amanda selected was in a bridal shop in Denton, Texas which is almost an hour north of Flower Mound. The wedding was planned to be in Waco, Texas -- about 2 hours drive-time south of home; and at the time, she was temporarily working in Austin, Texas which is even further south than Waco. Her fiance Ian was from New Braunfels, which is even further south from Austin!

For several months no one had seen the dress yet except me; Amanda was hoping to let some of her bridesmaids see the dress before actually buying it. And it took her a while to name the bridesmaids, too. But none of the shops she contacted in Austin had the dress in stock. They could order it for her (being a Maggie Sottero) but as far as having one for her to try on, no luck. So, we were at our first roadblock.

Second issue that came up was a slight delay in choosing the official date of the wedding! But more on that, later.