I've actually been wanting to do a post on this topic for a while now, but to be honest, even the thought of writing it was daunting to me! Which only proves my point that the entire process of building your wedding event and dealing with the necessary rentals is a HUGE, often complicated task for a bride trying to plan her own wedding. I can also guess that it's the biggest reason that brides hire wedding planners...because just the thought of working out what you have, what you need, what you should buy, rent, etc. for your wedding can be incredibly overwhelming to the non-professional.
My mission is to break down the process the best that I can, with hopes that we can all have a better understanding of what one needs to construct the wedding of her dreams. So with all that being said, let's get to work!
Congrats! You've selected finally decided on your wedding venue! Your next step is to schedule a walk-through of the venue to determine what the venue provides and allows, and what you need to consider renting or purchasing yourself. Be prepared to do a full walk-through of every moment of the event. Here are some questions to keep in mind during your walk-through, adapted from The Wedding Book by Mindy Weiss with Lisbeth Levine.
- How will guests be arriving? If they're driving, where will they park? Do you need a valet or shuttle service?
- Think about lighting. Are all of the congregation areas and pathways to and from properly lit?
- Ceremony location. Altar setup, aisle, arrangement of the chairs, musicians' area, and any power needed for microphones, music or lighting.
- Where will guests go after the ceremony? If it's directly to cocktail hour, is there a proper walk way set up?
- Cocktail hour set-up. Placement of any musicians, bars, food, etc.
- Wedding reception. Are you having a seated, plated meal, a buffet, and/or various food stations? Where will you put the dance floor, the DJ/band, the bars, cake and guest book tables?
- Catering. Does your venue have a connected kitchen, or will you need to set up a separate, private area for them? What do they need in terms of power, water and equipment?
- When do you get access to your venue and how much setup time will you need?
- What day/time do you have to have everything cleaned up and gone by after the wedding?
- Are restrooms readily available?
- If your ceremony or reception is outdoors, should you provide shade, fans, pashminas, insect repellent, heaters, etc.?
- Does the venue need any cosmetic fixes? Does the landscaping need any work?
- Does any of the space need special attention? Playing with lighting in a dark corner of the room, covering up old wallpaper or laying carpeting over any of the flooring?
- How much power will you need for the caterers, band, lighting, heat or A/C? Will you need a generator?
- What's your plan B for any of your outdoor wedding events/activities?
Once you've completed your walk-through, a rental company consultant, wedding planner or a hotel catering manager will devise your floor plan. Here are some elements that many weddings will require:
- An off-site or at-home wedding is often one that will require at least one tent. We all love the look of a tent wedding, but it's important to keep in mind that they are often more work than a typical venue, where many of the facilities you need are already built-in. A tent wedding will require more vendors, more planning and more set-up time, so it's usually a good idea to hire a wedding planner to handle events on this scale.
- You'll probably need more than one tent, to account for any cooking facilities and walkways for guests to get from point A to point B.
- Tents often require permits from the city or town.
- When determining the size of the tent, count on 15 to 20 square feet per guest.
Subfloors refer to any flooring you'll need to have installed beneath the tent. If you're planning on setting up a tent on a grass lawn, for instance, you may want to consider installing flooring on top of the grass to protect your guests' feet from any soggy terrain and level out the ground for your tables and seating setup.
Dance Floor. An essential part of any wedding reception, in my opinion! Plan on positioning the dance floor in front of the musical entertainment, and try to arrange your guests' tables around the other three sides of the dance floor. Dance floors can be rented in different types, but most often come in wood and laminate. Your rentals consultant should be able to determine how large of a dance floor you'll need based on your expected guest count.
Portable Restrooms. Consider them, even if you're having your wedding at a private residence, in order to limit the traffic inside the house and prevent any bathroom lines. Plan on at least one toilet per fifty guests, and be sure to consider any handicapped guests you are expecting to attend. Remember to plan out the walkway and lighting to and from the restrooms, as well. Don't place them too close to the reception area, but make sure they're close enough for guests to get to within a couple of minutes.
- Long, square tables for the reception often come in 4, 6 and 8-foot lengths. Figure at least one foot per seated guest to determine the length. You can always align several tables together to get the length you want that best suits the venue. If you want some more width to allow for centerpieces and diningware, you can also push two tables together lenght-wise (I actually did this for my reception, and I was SO glad that I did).
- Seating isn't required for the cocktail hour, but if you're serving hefty appetizers, you should provide seating for at least half the guests there. Try mixing high-tops and regular tables in your cocktail hour area.
- Will you have a head or "sweethearts" table? I chose not to have one, because I was having such a small wedding and I wanted to be close to all of my guests. However, for larger weddings, it can often be a good option to ensure no one's feelings are hurt if you don't seat them at your table, and it can provide you with a little bit more private time with your new hubby.
- Consider having separate tables to hold the guest book and/or programs, any items you plan to use during the ceremony, gifts, sweets & the wedding cake, seating cards and for a reception lounge area.
Lighting. When assessing what your lighting needs, be sure to visit your venue at the time of your event. Will the setting sun be in yours or your guests' eyes? Is it too dark to see the ceremony altar? Will the entryways need any lighting?
- Underlighting is often used to light a glass table or floral arrangements from below.
- Landscape Lighting is exactly what it sounds like - lighting for outdoor areas and along pathways.
- Twinkle Lights are typically strung from trees, columns or beams around the ceremony and/or reception venues.
- Pin Spotting is a narrow light that is often used to draw attention to a particular item, such as a centerpiece or wedding cake. They can also be used as aisle markers.
- Automated Lighting is a computerized lighting system that one would often see shining over a late night dance floor. They can move and change colors at the touch of a button.
- Gobos are one of the most popular lighting techniques for weddings. It's a die-cut stencil that slides into a projection unit and casts an image on the wall or the ground. Many couples have their monogram light onto the dance floor. Gobos using stock images are inexpensive, but custom made gobos can be pricey.
- Uplighting is soft lighting aimed, you guessed it, upward. These are used a lot along the venue walls and ceiling.
Seating. If you're renting your chairs, make sure you select a style that will work for both the ceremony and the reception. Folding and Chiavari chairs are great options for this purpose. If you're having high top tables at your cocktail hour, you'll also want to decide whether or not you want to have high top chairs for guests (although these aren't totally necessary).
- Wooden Folding Chairs
- Chiavari Chairs
- Ghost (or Lucite) Chairs
- Lounge Furniture
- Chair Covers
Once you have all of the basic rentals taken care of, you may want to consider some extra pretty items to dress up your venue. Here are some suggestions:
- Ice Sculptures and Carvings
- Garden Greenery