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VOL. 39 | NO. 50 | Friday, December 11, 2015

Planning the perfect wedding

From venues (rustic?) to cell phone policy (ban them!)

By Hollie Deese

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Weddings begin with the venue. “A venue holds everything,” says Kristin King, who is opening a new event facility, The Sloane, in Nashville’s Gulch area in 2016.

“It’s the vibe, the feeling. It’s the house for the event,’’ she adds. “It gives the whole feeling of what you’re trying to convey. Where you have an event, is to me, one of the most important things. You can dress it up however you want to, but it sends the message of what you want your guests to know about you as a couple.”

King, who has been in the bridal business for about a decade, says she envisions creating the ultimate event venue in the historic 1101 Grundy Street building. When complete, the 6,000-square-foot facility will house an office/bridal suite, glass tower showcasing the Nashville skyline, catering kitchen and double-sided elevator for vendors.

“A venue really dictates how many people they’re going to have at their wedding,” says Randi Lesnick of Nashville’s Randi Events. “If somebody picks a venue that’s great for 150 people, and they want to have 350, well that venue’s out.

“Pick the venue first, and then you can always worry about everything else.”

Book far in advance

With hearts set on the venue, plan for a date at least a year, but no less than six or nine months out from the desired date, before securing the location.

“It’s grown so fast, and I don’t think anybody knows how to deal with it,” Lesnick explains of the competition for wedding venues in Tennessee, particularly in Nashville and Gatlinburg.

“For 2016 we have almost every Saturday booked already. So if someone wants a specific date, we do recommend that they book at least a year out.”

Booking well in advance can have other benefits, says Lindsay Barrows of Custom Love Gifts and Events in Knoxville, who is also part of the Smoky Mountain Wedding Professionals Association.

Dulce Desserts owner Juanita Lane holds a cake in her newly renovated store.

-- Michelle Morrow | The Ledger

“I worked with a bride who ended up saving a lot of money on her venue and some of her vendors because she booked so far in advance that when they changed their prices the following year when her wedding actually was – she had already locked in prices from the previous year,” Barrows adds.

Lesnick notes a venue could run anywhere from $2,000 to $10,000, and the overall wedding could run $30,000 to $100,000. And, if it is an outdoor wedding there should always be a backup.

“Brides have a lot of dreams,” says Sarah Anne Miller, director of weddings at Randi’s. “They look at more of the décor and the prettiness of the wedding and not really the logistical part of it. They want an outdoor wedding for 200 people in September, you’ve got to think about weather.”

Five weeks after the Omni opened in 2013, it hosted its first wedding. It had about 20 last year and seven already on the books, and there are even three scheduled for 2017.

“The typical wedding is still booking about a year out,” says Shirley Langguth, assistant director of catering at Omni Hotels. The Omni has multiple wedding ceremony locations picked out onsite, and also hosts numerous day-after wedding brunches.

More details

Once the venue is nailed down, couples can move on to every other detail that needs addressing, from flowers and dress to catering and cake.

“I want to meet with somebody as soon as they know what their venue is because there are only so many in a weekend that we can deliver and create,” says Juanita Lane, owner of Dulce Desserts in Edgehill Village, about her torte-layered wedding cakes. “Once they’ve secured the venue, then I would suggest it’s time to start looking at your vendors.”

Average wedding budget breakdown

These averages, for 2014, are based on respondents who hired professional vendors for these services in the U.S.

  • Venue (reception hall): $14,006
  • Photographer: $2,556
  • Wedding/Event Planner: $1,973
  • Reception Band: $3,587
  • Reception DJ: $1,124
  • Florist/Décor: $2,141
  • Videographer: $1,794
  • Wedding Dress: $1,357
  • Groom’s Attire and Accessories: $254
  • Wedding Cake: $555
  • Ceremony Site: $1,901
  • Ceremony Musicians: $637
  • Invitations: $439
  • Transportation/Limousine: $767
  • Favors: $275
  • Rehearsal Dinner: $1,206
  • Engagement Ring: $5,855
  • Catering (price per person): $68
  • Officiant: $266
  • Overall Wedding (excluding honeymoon): $31,213

SOURCE: 2014 The Knot Wedding Survey

Lane hosts two tastings at Dulce, the first one just to see if the couple even likes them. The second is when they bring out the numerous cakes, curds and frostings to create the ultimate custom confection.

Couples can now get that full-on tasting experience at Dulce Dessert’s brand new cake tasting bar.

“People can basically come in and do slices of cake and enjoy the Dulce experience,” Lane adds. “The thing that used to be reserved for brides or people having large events, the general population can do now at their leisure.”

Invest in a planner

Every element takes time to coordinate, and each one can be a like a puzzle piece.

Bridesmaid dresses need nine months to order and fit properly because each one can be made in 50 colors; decisions need to be made about how much lighting is needed to properly give ambiance to the tent, who is ordering the floor and how much cake each guest will eat.

“There is something about planning a wedding, especially when it’s your own, that takes so much more time than you would ever expect” says Mackenzie Luttrell, who was married in September

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These are things planners and vendors who do this every day will know better than the average person navigating through it once. Lesnick says an initial meeting will focus on finding out exactly what the couple’s vision is, and as for the planner, it is her job to make that happen, from theme to furniture, transportation to food.

“We plan everything and anything for our brides and grooms to make the day seamless, but also so their family, and especially themselves, can show up as a guest,” Miller says.

Knoxville’s Barrows says many people underestimate the amount of time that goes into planning a wedding, from picking the venue to even the finishing details on the day of the wedding, including budgeting enough time for hair and makeup.

“It’s always good to have the guidance of a wedding planner and especially somebody the day of to help do things like set up,” she adds “That way they can enjoy the day and be the guest of honor instead of outside sweating in the heat of the summer in Tennessee while they’re trying to set up a beautiful wedding.”

Barrows knows from personal experience after taking on her own DIY wedding in 2011, before she got into the wedding planning business.

“We did almost everything ourselves to try to save on a budget, but the one thing that I regret is we didn’t hire a wedding planner the day of,” she says. “Between my cellphone ringing off the hook with 50 million people asking me 50 million questions, my hair and makeup ran late because I wasn’t done setting up everything.’’

After that, photographs ran late because the hair and makeup was late.

“Everything was behind and even though the wedding started on time, it just felt really rushed,” Barrows says. “I felt like I worked my own event and I was exhausted.”

Be flexible about flowers. Most everything is available all the time, but Caprice Palmer with Enchanted Florist in Nashville says Mother Nature doesn’t really consider people’s weddings so anything can happen.

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Even those who plan events in their real life can be taken aback by the energy needed to coordinate a wedding.

“When I started out I thought it would be a breeze because I plan events all the time in my work and this was only for 45 people,” says Mackenzie Luttrell, marketing and communications manager for the Nashville Public Library Foundation. Luttrell was married in September 2015.

“There is something about planning a wedding, especially when it’s your own, that takes so much more time than you would ever expect.”

And it’s not just couples who can feel the stress if there is no planner on site. Vendors who depend on key coordination in a fast time frame can feel the heat too.

“We need to deliver at least an hour before the wedding is going to start,” says Caprice Palmer with Enchanted Florist in Nashville. “That means the linens have to be down so when we come in, we’re ready to put things down. Are we doing the flowers for the cake? If we are, the cake has to be there when we deliver.”

All you need is love

Some bridal shop owners take an old fashioned approach to service, emphasizing the importance of what all of the preparations are all about – an amazing life change that will soon bond two individuals in love – in addition to nailing all the details in a timely fashion.

“This is a job that uses your emotions, your mind, and it’s very physical,” says Jacqui Wadsworth, owner of The Gilded Gown bridal shop in Sevierville.

Grace Alexander looks over dresses at the Guilded Gown in Knoxville.

-- Chase Malone | The Ledger

“It uses all of the senses if you’re doing it properly,’’ she adds. “You have to be willing to celebrate with people, but at the same time be very knowledgeable about fabrics, how things work together, what the bride is going for, and all of that is part of a good communication.”

Wadsworth explains brides who are willing to share their story and their dream will have much more success with one of the shop’s stylists. And if they share their budget, they won’t risk falling in love with a gown that is out of their price range.

“Our business is all about the love,” Wadsworth explains. “It’s mostly happy people doing wonderful things, lifetime occasion shopping.

“Bridal is really the last bastion of true service in clothing. Our whole world revolves around knowing what fits well, what looks good on your figure, what’s popular, all of those things. It’s our life’s work. It’s all we do, all day, 365 days a year. It’s our joy to help you find your dream dress. That is our whole purpose in life.”

Be flexible

The couple probably has a wedding vision, but experts, planners and stylists can elevate the conversation, bring creative idea to the table.

“Be open to opportunity,” Wadsworth says. “Show what you like, but give the stylist an opportunity to show you some things that she thinks would look good on you, and that fit your theme and your budget.”

Floral expert Palmer usually spends 90 minutes with clients on their first visit. If they really know what they want they can get through the initial planning session – usually nine months before the wedding - in less than an hour.

But for somebody not sure or if it’s a much larger wedding with many moving pieces it can take longer.

Be flexible about flowers too, and trust the designer to pull of the vision of the couple with the blooms that are available. Most everything is available all the time, but Palmer says Mother Nature doesn’t really consider people’s weddings so anything can happen.

“I think if you’re really honest and the bride is very honest, and everyone keeps that very open line of communication, you’ll have an amazing wedding every time,” Palmer adds.

Short timelines

Despite the need for more time, vendors are prepared to handle short-notice weddings.

“Lately, we’ve had a lot of brides who need it by January because their husband to be is going to be shipping out, or they’re going to be shipping out,” Wadsworth says of wedding dresses.

“Luckily, in our shop we always have off-the-rack options. Life is in a hurry these days, so people don’t want to wait two years to get married, or they don’t have nine months before the wedding. We make sure that we can cover both options.”

Wadsworth wishes every bride had the time to get properly fitted for a wedding dress since all formal wear is made for the 5-foot-9 woman wearing a two-inch heel.

“You have to do a lot of planning, and not just the wedding dress, but the flower girl’s dress, the bridesmaid gowns, mother-of-the-bride,” says Wadsworth. “All of those take five to six months to come in. They’re all special order and they’re all made off shore. You really need to have every dress for your wedding on order nine months before the event.”

She says it can be three to five sittings for a bridal gown fitting. Dresses have a minimum of two layers, most likely five layers including tulle, lace, satin or taffeta and boning.

“Wedding dresses are really works of art, and one in two hundred people won’t need alterations,” she says. “You might be that lucky person, but probably not.”

The 48-hour wedding

Barrows began planning weddings professionally in 2014, piggybacking on an accidental wedding coordination gig off of her growing wedding favor business. After dropping off some items at a wedding, she saw there was no one on site and nothing was set up.

“I decided I would start setting stuff up for them until somebody got there because everybody was running so late,” she says. “I stayed in wedding planner mode for the rest of the event and figured if I could do it on accident, I could probably do it on purpose pretty well also.”

She says the trend now is for engagements to last a bit longer, with a national average of 14 months. Sometimes all that time is needed to plan the perfect wedding, depending on the couple’s expectations. But, she has also pulled off planning an entire wedding in just 48 hours.

“The groom was put in charge of booking an all-inclusive venue and he called and got information and then never booked,” she recalls.

“The venue ended up being booked on the day the wedding was supposed to take place. They called us on a Wednesday, and we were able to pull everything together and they got married on Saturday.”

All about money

Luttrell and her husband were given a monetary gift from her parents for them to use however they wanted – wedding, house vacation, anything at all. So they had a budget when planning their big day, knowing whatever was left over was going to their house purchase.

“We saw that as kind of a better investment than spending it all on the wedding,” she says.

Then the reality of wedding prices kicked in. “As we moved along things got more and more expensive no matter how hard we tried. You say wedding and the prices just skyrocket. It was amazing how in the beginning you just have such sticker shock, then by the end of it, you whip out the credit card every five seconds.”

In order to get all of the things that were important to them like delicious food, good music and good wine, they kept the guest list small – another growing trend.

“We ended up spending a little bit more than we wanted to, but it was definitely worth it,” Luttrell says.

Sticking with a budget can be hard though, especially when the expectations can’t meet reality.

“You have people who come in with notebooks that have everything picked out, they know everything they want, and that’s great if it fits within their budget,” Miller points out.

But often it doesn’t, and decisions have to be made.

“I like to give my brides and grooms a utopia of their day, and talk to them about smart money,” Miller says. “It could be their food or beverages are the most important thing. Some people say their decor’s most important.”

Lesnick says if the food is good, the wine is flowing and the music is top notch, there will be no complaints.

“It doesn’t matter how beautiful your wedding is if the food’s lousy or the music’s lousy,” she says. “Those are the things that people remember.”

Flexibility in date can also save newlyweds some money, especially if the couple can give up the idea of getting married on a Saturday or holiday weekend when everything from venue to food goes for top dollar.

And the Omni even offers a free three-night honeymoon at any of their properties with a wedding that costs $20,000 or more booked at the hotel here in town.

“That’s just a bonus perk for booking with us,” Langguth says.

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