1. We'll do it our way.
You've been planning your wedding for months -- if not years -- and even the tiniest detail is taken into account. Too bad that all too often, the people you hire to help carry out the plans are oblivious to what you want.
When Mary Jane Shroyer of Decatur, Ga., arrived at the church on her wedding day, she found that the L-shaped white bouquets she had requested had somehow become Christmas tree-shaped arrangements of large pink lilies and red flowers. The bride had also ordered a single rose for placement at the altar in remembrance of her recently deceased grandmother and a corsage for her husband's stepmother, wanting her to feel included as one of the family. The florist brought the wrong flower to recognize the grandmother and omitted the corsage altogether. The florist's response? "He said, 'You got better flowers than what you paid for, so you should be thanking me,'" Shroyer says.
"So many people think they can be whatever they want to be in an unregulated industry," notes Jean Picard, a Ventura, Calif., wedding consultant who conducts seminars on professionalism in the wedding industry. "They think, 'I can be a wedding consultant, I can be a photographer, I can be a florist.' They have no training and decide to print up some business cards and get paid a lot of money to go to parties every weekend." Picard suggests checking affiliations with groups such as the Association of Bridal Consultants -- whose members include wedding planners, videographers and caterers -- the Leading Caterers of America and the American Disc Jockey Association. "Anyone in the wedding industry should be in the trade association for that business," she says.
2. The groom may kiss the bride -- and pay the kickback.
Need help choosing a florist, caterer, photographer or entertainer? Wedding planners and others will be all too happy to provide a list of recommended vendors. But don't think they're doing you a favor. More often than not, insiders admit, those businesses that pay the highest price are the ones who get the referrals.
That's right: kickbacks. They're endemic to the industry, from the biggest cities to the most modest suburbs. How does it work? David Danielson, executive chef of catering at Rockefeller Center in New York, says most locations have a "preferred" list of caterers. In many cities, he adds, if a person wants to bring in a caterer not on the list, the caterer has to buy a license to serve in that facility, at the expense of the client.
In order to get on such a list, a business must pay an annual fee "in the range of $300 to $500," says Alan Fields, co-author of the bestselling wedding guide Bridal Bargains (Windsor Peak Press) -- or pay a 5 to 10 percent commission. Vendors can always refuse to play the game, of course, but most feel they must. "People who don't want to pay money aren't on the list," says Fields. "You never know if they have picked the six best ones or if they have picked the ones that have paid to be on the list."
Some caterers go even further, according to Danielson, and volunteer to organize the vendors for the client. "You're paying a 17 to 20 percent service charge on something they would have to do anyway," he says. "People are paying thousands of dollars more than they need to."
3. We'll nickel and dime you to death.
Allison Gouin reserved her reception site in the Detroit suburbs well before her wedding -- 17 months before, to be exact -- in the hopes of avoiding surprises. After all, a friend had supplied her own cake and champagne at her wedding, and was later charged $1.25 per person for each item as a serving fee. But when Gouin ordered chair covers at $2 each from a rental company, she found out only after the fact that if she wanted them ironed and tied onto the chairs, it would cost her $2 extra per chair. She also discovered that there were extra per-person charges for napkins and tablecloths. It's common sense to go through your wedding contract with a fine-tooth comb, but it's even wiser to look for anything not in the contract. Package contracts may not include every dish or piece of flatware, or the waiters to pour the champagne you bought. The items and services not included are rarely free.
Vernon Jacobs, a caterer with Event of the Season in San Francisco, said to expect stiff price hikes on booze. "At a discount liquor store, a bottle of Chandon will cost $10.99," he says. "It will cost $20 to $25 at the site." Author Alan Fields cited one example of a reception site charging $35 for a gallon of Hi-C. Chris Adlesh of Truly Yours catering in Shadow Hills, Calif., says it's common to find markups on just about everything. "Why does it cost $45 to serve a $19 chicken dinner?" he asks. "We never used to go to a hotel and ask, 'Does a fork come with that?'"
Dolores Hanley says that when she checked out various reception sites in San Francisco, she was told she had to pay a "corkage" fee ranging from $10 to $20 -- per bottle. Some sites charge up to $30, according to one caterer. The fee is meant to cover the labor cost of pouring wine or champagne -- particularly if it was purchased from a different vendor.
4. Believe it or not, I expect a tip.
Beware the words "plus-plus." When it comes to your wallet, it winds up meaning "minus-minus." The prices couples are quoted for reception packages, even so-called inclusive quotes, are usually a lot less than what they actually pay. When you add tax and tip -- "plus-plus" -- to a package price, it can often tack thousands of dollars onto a bill.
Taxes are one thing, gratuities another. Gone are the days when a tip was an acknowledgment of superior service. More often than not, vendors involved in the wedding will be looking for some kind of handout. "It's like an episode of The Sopranos," says Alan Fields.
Andrea Osmun tipped pretty much everyone at her wedding last year, from the person who did her makeup to the chef to her waiter. "I tipped a percentage for the party manager, and then I made everything else up," she says. "I have no idea if I was wrong."
According to TheKnot.com, a wedding-planning Web site, anyone from the civil ceremony official to the chef to the wedding planner could be looking for a donation. "While tipping is for good service," says Knot co-founder Carley Roney, "people also expect it unless service is extremely poor." Some vendors include gratuities in the contract, while others don't, so it pays to remember who fits into which category. For a wedding of $25,000, Roney recommends setting aside $1,500 for gratuities to be put in envelopes on the wedding day. In any case, she says, $20 per person is appropriate.
5. If it's for a wedding, it'll cost you 30 percent more.
You might have suspected that a wedding costs more than any other kind of similarly scaled event. You would be right. Diane Warner, author of How to Have a Big Wedding on a Small Budget (Writer's Digest Books), tells of a bride-to-be who wanted to test this theory for herself. "She called a service in San Francisco, asked for just what she wanted, and they gave her a bid," Warner explains. "The next day, she had her fiancé call and bid on the same items for a party. He got a lower price."
When we checked for ourselves, we found that prices for a wedding package at one top New York hotel -- the Four Seasons -- start around $275 per person in 2001. A five-hour anniversary party at the same hotel for the same number of people, with the same meal, cocktail reception and extras, costs about $230 per person.
"People's expectation levels are higher for a wedding reception," explains Brian Honan, the Four Seasons' director of marketing. "When we quote prices, they're meant to be a guideline for people." Be that as it may, a few have taken the matter into their own hands. "Some brides have even gone so far as to say they're not even planning a wedding when they go in and plan it," says Alan Fields. "They'll say they're having a family reunion, and then it turns into a 'surprise' wedding."
In researching Bridal Bargains, Fields and his wife spoke to several florists who told them that if they get the sense a bride has big bucks, they'll suggest exotic or out-of-season flowers. "If you're wearing a big diamond ring or your fiancé is a doctor, it seems you suddenly have to fly in orchids from Hawaii," he says.
6. We can't keep our weddings straight.
"A bride wants to think she's the only bride in the world," says Gerard Monaghan, president of the Association of Bridal Consultants. "What she doesn't need to see is another bride in the bathroom at her wedding reception."
But wedding pileups happen, especially at hotels and catering halls that hold several receptions in one day. Take Doris Wickiser of New Haven, Conn., who once latched on to a conga line from one wedding reception at a hotel, followed it into the reception she was attending, and then followed it back into the original wedding reception. She and several friends stayed for two hours. "There was an open bar, so the bride and groom must have paid for our drinks," Wickiser says.
Multiple weddings can also cause a location to spread its staff too thin. Chris Cady of All Star Entertainment in Reno, Nev., arrived to emcee a reception a few years ago and found that the hotel had set aside only one waitress to serve 150 people. "The one girl showed up and cried," Cady says. So in addition to supplying the music for the evening, Cady poured champagne, served dinner and cake, and bused tables for 75 people.
"When a location does two functions per day per weekend, it's a wedding factory," says Lynn Broadwell, co-author of the resource book Here Comes the Guide (Hopscotch Press). "Mistakes will be made." She says a wedding reception may be bounced in favor of a larger function, gifts can get mixed up, guests can end up at the wrong party, or the wine meant for one reception can end up at the one down the hall. "You need to ask, 'Am I going to see the people from the other function? Are we going to be rubbing elbows? Are we using the same bathroom facilities?' And you need to have it in writing."
7. We own your wedding pictures -- in perpetuity.
It costs thousands of dollars to hire a wedding photographer, and it doesn't stop there. Want a simple 8x10 reprint? You could well pay up to $40, since many photography packages don't include negatives. Some photographers refuse to turn over their negatives until 10 years or more have passed -- to prevent their clients from reproducing pictures on their own. Others will sell them only at a high price.
That's only a problem, of course, if you're lucky enough to have pictures of your wedding in the first place. Sometimes photographers are no-shows; sometimes negatives are damaged or lost. Jaimi Gordon's photographer lost most of her negatives, leaving only a handful of shots, including one of Gordon with her eyes shut. The photographer offered to have her get dressed in her gown weeks later and come to his studio for some formal shots. "It just wouldn't have been the same at all," she says. "I was so disappointed."
How often does such a disaster happen? Often enough to have inspired an insurance product called Weddingsurance, underwritten by the Fireman's Fund. The policy supposedly will cover the reassemblage of the wedding party -- including travel, meal and hotel expenses, as well as costs for the cake, flowers and reception hall -- in the event of a photo mishap.
8. This is the first time I've ever used a video camera.
Kellie Biggins was aghast when she watched her friend's wedding video. "There were parts that should have been edited out," says Biggins, a freelance writer from Weymouth, Mass. "There were a few minutes when all he videoed was the floor. And that was the finished product that he gave to the bride and groom!"
How do you know if it's the next George Lucas you've hired to shoot your wedding -- or Ed Wood? "If someone was charging $800 for a wedding on a Saturday, I'd be suspicious," says Jack O'Brien of Video Life Productions in Middletown, N.Y. The high-end digital equipment that a professional videographer should use costs tens of thousands of dollars -- too much to justify package prices under $1,000. It's also important to hire someone who will let you have the digital master tape, in addition to the VHS copy. "Anyone who holds a VHS tape in their hands thinking they're going to show it to their grandchildren is mistaken," says O'Brien. He recommends transferring the tape from the digital master to a DVD.
Then there's the question of who owns the footage. On many contracts, it is written that any and all footage becomes the copyrighted property of the videographer's business. So what can a couple do if an unscrupulous or unknowing videographer tries to sell a hideously embarrassing moment on their tape to, say, a TV blooper show? "They would have a right-of-privacy claim, so it would certainly be a mistake," says Lisa Alter, a New York entertainment and copyright lawyer. "But technically, if you own it, you can do what you want with it."
9. No matter how you slice it, this cake is overpriced.
Wedding cakes used to be easy. Three tiers, white icing, a couple hundred bucks. Nowadays, you can order a cake "sculpture" with individually crafted garlands of sugar flowers. Prices, too, have gotten more complicated, ranging anywhere from 75 cents to more than $20 a slice. "When people come in and spend $600 or $700 on a cake, I just kind of grimace," says Priscilla Penkert, a San Diego cake baker. Not New York cake designer Sylvia Weinstock. "People feel it's not important enough" to spend a lot of money on, she says. "But dessert in a restaurant can run $15, and it could be just chocolate mousse."
The problem is, no one can agree on how big a "slice" is. What if that $10 piece of cake is paper thin? Janice Ollenburger of Frosted Art in Dallas says a three-tiered cake with 7-inch, 9-inch and 12-inch tiers serves 50 people. "Some people might say it serves 75. Unfortunately, it's not standardized across the industry." And since slice size differs from baker to baker, a person serving a $15-a-slice cake might cut $30-a-slice pieces, making the price a bit harder to justify.
Besides, dessert at Los Angeles's tony L'Ermitage will cost you only $7.50.
10. While you give the toast, we're getting toasted.
When Michael Sullivan and his wife, Suna, got married in Kenwood, Calif., two years ago, they were in the mood to celebrate. Unfortunately, so was their DJ. He arrived several hours before the reception with a friend and began drinking. "When it finally came time for him to play the music, he was totally blasted and seemingly on drugs," says Lesley Stein, one of two photographers at the event. Sullivan says the music was lousy, the DJ missed his cues for the father-daughter dance and the cake cutting, and guests left early. "It was really obvious that it was not fun for a lot of people," Sullivan says. "He really ruined the day."
This kind of thing happens more often than you might think. Noe Spaemme, an etiquette consultant from Dallas, recently attended a wedding at which the DJ was so plastered that it affected his selection of music. "After the fifth time doing the Funky Chicken, we were ready to leave," she says -- as were many other guests. Spaemme says it doesn't stop with drinking. Once, when she was working as a wedding coordinator, a couple had to replace their photographer at the last minute. "An hour before the wedding, and he is stoned out of his mind," she says.
"I teach some people who got into the business because they thought they could make a lot of money fast by having quote-unquote fun," says Shelby Tuck-Horton of Exquisite Expressions & Events in Mitchellville, Md. "Those people tend to take the job less seriously, and they don't follow the same rules."