I got married almost two years ago in Cape Town. It was honestly the most amazing day of my life, and I’d do it again in a heartbeat (with the same man, obvs). But the run up to the big day? Far less enjoyable. My hubby and I fought off tricky suppliers, an eff up with our venue and a spiralling budget.
So before you plan your wedding, here’s nine things I learnt so that you can avoid making the same mistakes I made.
1 You can never plan too much in advance
I started planning my wedding over a year before our date. We had friends and family flying in from overseas, so our date was non-negotiable and I figured a year ahead was plenty of prep time.
Except it wasn’t. Seriously. I know – what is this madness?! The photographer we wanted (and could afford) had been booked 18 months in advance. Quite a few of the venues we enquired about were also already jam-packed with bookings. It was pretty mind-blowing, and it meant that we had less choice when it came to a venue and suppliers. Typically, the more affordable things were the ones that had booked up quickly, so we had to spend more to ensure we could still celebrate on the date we’d chosen. Bummer.
No, I’m not suggesting you start booking your wedding before he’s proposed – but the earlier you get onto things, the more choice and affordable options you’ll have. (As insane as 18 months plus in advance may sound.)
2 Always ask about corkage
Once we’d chosen a venue, I didn’t think about checking the corkage rules. Until the venue decided to up their wine prices by well over the 10% annual increase average, and made it almost impossible for us to afford booze for our guests. (FYI: most venue contracts have a clause that allow venues to do this at their discretion, although it’s a totally d*ck move.)
I pushed back by asking about corkage options instead, and used their steep price hike to negotiate zero corkage on MCC, and reduced corkage on wine. We ended up bringing in all of our own wine and bubbles, and what we spent ended up being waaay less than if we’d bought direct from the venue’s drinks menu.
Here in SA we’re so privileged to have delish wine at affordable prices, and if you go to a wine farm and buy in bulk (which we did), the pricing becomes even more of a bargain. Bonus: you can keep all the un-drunk wine. Just be sure to request a bottle count with your venue, so you can check that the right amount of unopened bottles is returned to you, and that you’re billed accurately for corkage.
3 Ensure your venue and catering contract is watertight
As I mentioned before, we kinda got screwed by our venue. Just months before our big day (bear in mind, we’d booked well over a year in advance!), our venue decided to ‘redecorate’. Except by ‘redecorate’ they meant totally re-brand, renovate and alter the entire venue.
We’d specifically chosen somewhere that needed little decor (great money-saving tip!) and that offered one, big open space for us to work with as we wished. Our venue’s ‘redecoration’ changed a lot of that, and I was heartbroken. Even worse, they weren’t especially forgiving of the effect their renovation had on our wedding.
In hindsight, I wish I’d insisted on a more thorough contract, which included some kind of guarantee that they wouldn’t significantly alter the venue layout and decor without our prior consent. And that if they wanted to redecorate, they’d be committed to footing the bill for extra decor required to ‘hide’ any changes made to the interior.
Same thing goes for your catering contract (which is often part of your venue contract). Try and lock down a maximum price increase on food (10% per year is normal), and a guarantee that they will be able to provide the food you originally tasted and/or agreed to at the time of booking. The bottom line: no caterer or venue should be able to switch its menu from traditional SA cuisine to authentic Thai and force you to adopt the change in your wedding menu, too.
4 There’s a reason why so many brides opt for cupcakes over a cake…
There’s a lot about wedding planning that will blow your mind. But one of the things that totally flawed me: most venues charge you a ‘plating’ fee for cutting and plating your wedding cake to serve to guests. Yes, a plating fee. It’s like a surprise restaurant tax for trying to save money on dessert by dishing up your cake to guests instead.
It’s one of the main reasons I opted for cupcakes instead – guests could help themselves, no chef or any other restaurant help required!
5 What’s the bad-weather plan?
Because not even high summer in SA guarantees perfect outdoor weather. I got married in January and it rained. And I’m so grateful we had an indoor ceremony venue and a plan B for cocktails on the lawns – the last thing I needed to stress about on the day was the weather.
I’ve been a bridesmaid to brides who haven’t had a plan B, and I promise you now: there’s nothing like gale-force wind or pouring rain without anywhere inside to go to ruin a bride’s day. (And the guests’ day, by the way.)
It doesn’t mean you can’t plan to get married outside – it just means always ask your venue if they have a plan B venue available, if it automatically gets reserved for you just in case, and if there’s any extra cost to use it on the day.
6 Have you briefed your photographer?
My mom still hasn’t forgiven me for not getting a picture with her and my sister on my wedding day. Honestly? It completely slipped my mind, and my photographer (who was amazing, BTW) was so busy racing around getting snaps that she didn’t have capacity to ask on the day.
Most photographers will request a list of key people to snap beforehand. If they don’t, insist on providing one. Take time to list who should get photographed, and with who: bride and her family, groom and his family, bride and bridesmaids… you get the gist. And if you’re worried about making someone happy? Run the list past them before sending to the photographer.
This isn’t about listing every single guest at your wedding, but more about listing key family members and bridal party members who might get forgotten.
7 WTF is up with feeding suppliers?
Another thing to blow your mind: lots of suppliers will insist on you giving them a full meal on the day. I find this hilarious because if I went and asked my boss to feed me lunch every day, she’d tell me to go home and YouTube ‘How to make my own sandwich’. But hey, apparently this is a thing in the wedding industry.
But here’s the issue: firstly, venue food is already pricey, and your suppliers will quickly add another five to 10 mouths to feed. And then, some of them will insist on being seated in your venue – which can equal a whole other table to hire and decorate for your reception area.
I put my foot down by
asking telling each of my suppliers the deal: they could have a main course only, but would not get a seat at a table. Instead, we had a couch area where suppliers could sit and quickly eat, before waiters cleared their plates away. I also made it clear that they were only allowed to order soft drinks (I pointed out our suppliers to our barmen beforehand), and that the wedding cupcakes were a no-go (I’d ordered just enough for guests). Most were perfectly happy to oblige.
8 A sit-down meal is totally optional
As much as a three-course dinner is amazing, there just doesn’t need to be that expectation for a reception any more. I’ve been to cocktail receptions that start at 8pm (so much fun!), and beautiful buffet brunches that also mean you can limit the amount of booze you have to pay for.
As long as guests know what to expect (should they eat before they arrive? Must they bring cash for the bar?), it’s really no big deal. One of my favourite weddings had a cash bar and ended with a mass trip to KFC. The focus was on the couple and having one hell of a party, which we did. And if avoiding a full-on meal means you can invite more people you love, it’s a no-brainer.
9 How Uber-friendly is your venue?
This is a biggie, especially in SA. Drunk driving is a complete no-go, yet it amazes (and irritates) me how many couples don’t give thought to how on earth their friends will get home safely. When you visit your venue, ask about Uber availability late at night, and perhaps go there one evening to test it out.
Also, don’t book a far-away wedding in a tiny town that has zero affordable accommodation. It’s not fun sleeping in your car or facing a two-hour drive home at 2am. If you really must chose a remote venue, set aside budget to arrange a bus to ferry your guests from somewhere central (and Uber-friendly) to and from your venue.