Your date is secured, and you’re ready to start meeting with potential vendors! You want to make sure you’re prepared for these meetings and know the right questions to ask. Each type of vendor should be asked more specific questions (Photographer: how long after the wedding will our photos be done? Caterer: what’s your policy on incorporating family recipes? Florist: are you able to deliver the personal flowers to the hotel where we’re getting ready, or do we need to arrange for someone to get them from you?), there are still things you should bring to and ask at every vendor meeting.
Things to ask each vendor:
1. Are you available on my wedding day? This may seem like a silly question, but you’ll want to verify this at the beginning of the meeting.
2. Will you be on site at the wedding, or will you send an assistant/coworker in your place? If they’re sending someone else, try to meet them before you sign the contract.
3. How much do you require to reserve the date, and is it a deposit or a retainer? There is a difference! A deposit is a down payment, and in most states it is fully refundable—even if a contract states it isn’t. A retainer, on the other hand, cannot legally be refunded to you upon cancellation of your event. Vendors aren’t trying to play hardball by asking for a retainer; it’s just their way of protecting themselves from cancellations.
4. When is the full balance due, and what forms of payment do you accept? Sometimes putting everything on a credit card that earns points or miles (and paying card’s balance in full as you go along, if possible) is a great way to earn free tickets for your honeymoon, or at least a 1st class upgrade!
5. What is your cancellation policy? Remember, it’s not unheard of for them to cancel on you either, so ask about that too.
6. What happens if you’re sick and can’t make it? This one doesn’t really apply to caterers, but you’ll want to ask all other vendors.
Things to bring:
1. Pictures that inspire you! It doesn’t need to be the exact image of what you want, but this is a good chance for them to get an idea of the vision in your head. One image may have the color scheme you want; another may show a layout or theme you love. They can look and ask questions, and figure out if they’re good match for what you want. The one exception to bringing photos is when you’re meeting with a photographer—unless your bringing photos of their work that you’ve fallen in love with!
2. Your venue location. Sometimes vendors will charge travel fees if the location is a bit far for them, and this is information you’ll want to find out up front. If it’s a venue they’ve worked before that’s a bonus, but don’t dismiss them as an option if it’s a new location for them.
3. Know walking into a meeting what your budget is for that particular vendor, and STICK TO IT! It’s easy to get caught up in their presentation and fall in love with their work, but remember that you set a budget for a reason, and you’ll be better off in the long run if you follow it.
4. An idea of your timeline, if you know it. This can give you a good idea of how long you’ll need to hire some vendors for, and while many don’t require you to decide on your exact hours when you’re signing the contract, you’ll want to know if you need to book them for extra hours, and whether that will put you over budget.
5. Support! Ideally it would be your fiancé if you can convince him to join you. Otherwise bring your sister, your mom, your maid of honor, your future mother-in-law…a second perspective can prove invaluable.
Things you DON’T want to bring:
1. Your checkbook! Most vendors don’t expect you to sign on the spot, and honestly, we don’t think you should. Take a copy of their contract home along with the proposal they give you. Compare them side by side with other contracts you’ve received, then sleep on it! Vendors are more than willing to wait a day or two to let you think it over; if they aren’t, chances are they’re either using a sales tactic on you, or they’re more interested in getting your check than working with you.
2. Contracts or proposals from other vendors. You can compare these at home, but they don’t need to know whom else you’ve met with and what others have quoted you. Weddings are about finding the best vendor for you, not trying to pit two of them against each other in a bidding war for your business so you get the cheapest deal.
3. If you’re meeting with a vendor because your matron of honor hired them for her wedding, don’t bring her. You want the conversation to be about what that vendor can do for you and your wedding, not a re-hashing of her wedding and what they did for hers.
A lot of other people will also tell you to ask for references. If this makes you feel better to do, go for it, but know that you’ll never hear anything but a glowing recommendation from the references that they give. Would you ever list a coworker as a reference on a resume if you and she had a strained relationship? Go home and do your research online; our vendor directory is a fantastic place to do this, as we post real reviews from real brides, both good and bad! Yelp is another great reference for this. Also, make sure that you’re also researching more specific questions to ask each type of vendor. And always remember to have fun!!!