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In What Order Should I Book My Wedding Vendors?

by Jason Walsh, Owner - Bay Deejays

This may be the simplest answer to a tough question, but I think once you read it, you will agree.  I give this answer not only as a disc jockey, but as a groom, wedding coordinator, and someone who has seen more than 900 weddings over two decades in the business...

Book your most important wedding vendors first!

Okay, let's think of your wedding from the basics to the extreme...  You are inviting your family members and closest friends to join you on this fun-filled journey for five, six, maybe seven or more hours (depending on the location and timing of your ceremony).  You want them to be happy and entertained and always thinking about what a great time they are having.  You also want to not only have a great time yourself, but capture those memories for years to come.  Do you need a 30-minute firework display or a "flyover" from the Blue Angels?  Probably not.  Do you need food, drink, shelter, and something for your guests to do once they finish eating?  Yes you do.

Your friends and family first need to know when and where they need should be and what time to get there - so your venue and wedding date/times are primary - but if you need help from someone to plan your entire event, you may want to start with a wedding planner.  A good planner can help you immensely and will offer candid advice and professional counsel, a bad coordinator can ruin the spontaneous fun and activity of your day and frustrate other vendors to no end, while creating drama and hard feelings among your bridal party members and guests.  For this exercise, let's assume you are planning by yourself - otherwise your planner would have recommended us and you may have never even come across our website or this article to begin with.

#1.  In your wedding "hierarchy of needs", the first and most important place(s) to book is/are the wedding ceremony and reception venue(s).

You can't set a wedding date without a signed contract (or contracts) on your wedding ceremony and reception venue(s) and most vendors (Bay Deejays included) will not book you as clients until you have a firm date and contracted venue.  If your ceremony is at the same location as your reception, you have already saved yourself some work and a little bit of stress (and probably some money since you don't need to worry about separate transportation, multiple locations for flowers, or even multiple musicians).  Book your ceremony/reception as soon as you have an idea about what month you want to get married, and don't be surprised if your first choice of weekends is not available.  In Maryland, the most popular months for weddings are (in order of popularity):  May, September, June, and October, with November and April in a close race for fifth and sixth spots.
 

#2.  If not included with your ceremony venue (church/synagogue/temple, etc), book your Ceremony Officiant next.

You need someone to actually marry you and your partner.  If in doubt, you can always ask a friend or family member to become ordained to deliver your vows.  But you need to have someone who is reliable and available for your ceremony and your ceremony rehearsal as well.  If your priest, rabbi, minister, pastor, deacon, or other officiant is "on-call" for the sick or injured and there is even the slightest chance they would have to cancel on you, strongly consider if they will be the best option for your needs.  With religious men and women declining in numbers among some faiths, you should ask him/her what the back-up plan/policy would be if they are unable to officiate for any reason.
 

#3.  Your guests need to eat and drink or they will revolt.  Book your caterer next.

Now that you have a venue for your reception and someone to deliver the vows and sign your marriage license, your guests will expect some good food and drinks...  They will be okay for an hour or two if your ceremony and reception are at different venues, but you should consider how long of a gap there will be between these events, and not just expect your guests to "hang out" for several hours while you take photos with your bridal party for a few hours.  Your cocktail hour/reception should start as soon as your ceremony ends, or, as long as it takes the first guest to leave your ceremony to drive to the reception venue.  If your venue has a caterer, the choice is easy... otherwise, spend a few hours researching your options and do a "tasting" with 3-4 different caterers; paying close attention to the quality, customer service, and flexibility offered.
 

#4.  Entertainment vs. Photographer.... which came first?

You will need your entertainment (DJ and/or ceremony musicians) and your photographer from start to finish on your wedding day.  The photographer will also be with you to capture you getting dressed and "polished" for your big day (make sure you are comfortable around him/her so you don't get camera shy).  But, your DJ will get your guests dancing and give the photographer something to take photos of - so it is a toss-up for which to pick next. 

Obviously if you ask me, I'd say DJ - but for knowing what your remaining budget will be, you may want to book a photographer before your DJ (or ceremony musicians).  A high-quality photographer in this area may average $3,000-$5,000 (for 7-10 hours) and a good DJ will average around $2,000 for five to six hours.  If you are worried about budget foremost - book your venue, caterer, photographer, DJ in that order.  If you are looking to have live ceremony musicians, expect to pay $1,200-$3,000 for a good string or brass quartet or ensemble for up to two hours of music.  If you want to save money, here's a great place to do it, as a DJ can provide two wireless microphones (one for your officiant/minister and one for any readings during the ceremony), and music in the same style as the live musicians would play (strings, brass, solo guitar, piano, etc.) for usually less than $300-$400.

#5.  Videographer (for average people... for movie stars, change this to #2)

If you are doing a wedding video, it shouldn't be an after-thought when it comes to booking this important vendor.  Most markets (Baltimore included) only have a handful of professional videographers that create excellent videos for a living - and if you want it done right, expect to pay $2,000 - $5,000 for a video production that will always win awards with your family and will be a great piece of history for your children and grandchildren.  Never, never, never ask a family member or friend that happens to be good with a camera to be your videographer (or photographer or DJ for that matter) for the day.  Your friends and family are your guests, not your wedding vendors.  If a friend offers their services (unless you are 100% sure they are among the best in their industry), kindly decline the offer and advise that you rather see them enjoy themselves and not have to work.  A bad wedding video or horrible wedding cake may not completely ruin your relationship with the friend that offered it, but the results will be remembered for a lifetime.

#6.  Everything Else.

Really?   Really!

I'm not one to say your cake is more important to you than your dress or your flowers are less important than your invitations - but remember, the idea of this exercise...  You want to get married, entertain your guests, and capture your memories.  You should set your priorities for your remaining vendors - keeping in mind that the wedding market will typically set the price for quality, established, vendors and you get what you pay for.  Unfortunately when it comes to entertainment, too many brides consider it an afterthought because they have not realized how significant of a part their DJ plays in the ceremony and cocktail hour music and logistics, introductions, emcee capabilities throughout the event, dinner music, and reception dancing. 

A tip for those working off a tighter budget:  Many times brides will get their dress, order their cake and invitations, pick a limo service, spend hundreds or thousands on the perfect wedding favors, and then, book a DJ realizing that they have now gone over their initial estimated budget and need to get an entertainer for next to nothing.  Not to slight any of my friends in the wedding industry, but you usually can't have a wedding reception without food, drinks, and entertainment.  You can still have a fun reception with a $1,000 dress over a $5,000 dress - or even a standard $6.00/per person veggie and fruit display over a fancy $13.00/per person veggie, fruit, and cheese display (and, if you are having 200 guests, you just saved $1,764 after not paying for those extra hors d'oeuvres once you consider the typical 20% service fee and 6% sales tax - enough to pay for a quality DJ).

There will always be things you can add to make your big day even bigger, but in the end, keep sight of the services that matter the most - not only to you, but also to your guests that you have invited to share in your joy.  From myself and the Bay Deejays team, good luck with your wedding ceremony and reception planning; may it be smooth sailing for you and your partner.


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