The Not-So-Subtle Problem With Online Reviews

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I am, by no means, the first person to have this concern.  (I am a bit surprised at myself though, for not addressing it earlier.)  The issue here is the fact that, today, I learned that an otherwise completely reputable wedding vendor is providing incentives to their clients if they will write an online review for the business.  I will admit that it is a clever tactic.  You can’t be accused of actually paying for the review if you are simply adding to their wedding package.  That being said, to me, this flies in the face of what is my understanding to be everything an online review is supposed to be!  For example, Yelp’s slogan is “Real People. Real Reviews.”

Don’t get me wrong, I like positive reviews as much as the next person, but online reviews were created as a way for a client, consumer, or end-user of a product to be able to, without bias, give their honest opinion as to the product or service they have used or experienced.  I personally do not have a large number of online reviews.  It is not because I haven’t worked at over 1000 weddings, or because my clients don’t say the very same, positive things that are on those supposed ‘pay-for-review’ sites.  The difference is, I am proud to say that every review I have ever received was given to me by someone that was so excited about their wedding that they took it upon themselves to write a positive review of my performance, and I am completely thankful and humbled for each and every one.  In fact, I have gone so far as to tell people that have asked me if I want them to leave me a review that I would appreciate it, but that it is completely up to them.

Online reviews should be an “organic” means for someone that is so excited, so disappointed, or so interested in sharing their opinion with others to do so in a public forum with the hope that their opinion will be to someone else’s benefit, whether it is to use that product or service to share the same great experience, or to help keep someone from making the same mistake they did.

When I read the initial discussion, I kept an open mind.  I wanted to hear their justification.  I wanted to know how a company that seems to otherwise be a successful wedding vendor would think that incentivizing reviews is a good thing, other than to give a potential client a more positive impression of their company than someone else’s.  The responses seemed rational, but still were not convincing.  Their main point was that they did not tell people to write “positive” reviews, and that people were free to review them in any way they see fit.  The problem with this, though, as was alliterated in the conversation, and a point to which I strongly agree, is that when you give someone something that they see as a benefit to them, it is not too much of a stretch to assume that they will reciprocate in kind.  It is understood by nearly every party involved that positive reviews have a positive effect on a business, and negative reviews do the opposite.  I would argue that if someone is, directly or otherwise, “incentivized” to write a positive review, they might actually REFRAIN from leaving a bad review because they received something of benefit to them or their wedding or event, which I would argue COULD be construed as having been paid in a way, for helping to further that company’s success, whether is was with a positive review, or not being so forthcoming if the experience was not all that remarkable.

***Geoff Maddox has been a professional wedding and event DJ and Emcee in the Los Angeles and Orange County areas for over 15 years and has been featured on Fox News to discuss wedding planning and tips and tricks to hiring vendors.  He is the author of the book, Wedding Planning Explained: A Guy’s Take on Who to Hire, How to Save Money, and How to Simplify the Wedding Planning Process. For more information, media inquiries, and booking, please visit GMEdj.com.

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Thou Shalt NOT Decorate Your Own Wedding!

I’ve read the ‘Do-It-Yourself’ wedding blogs too.  They tell you to go to a party store, buy lots of decorations, and go to your wedding venue the day before or early the day of your wedding and decorate the room yourself to save money, and they’re RIGHT!  You can save a few dollars by imploring/guilting your family and friends into helping you decorate the Reception hall.  (Truth be told, some people might even enjoy it!)  My books and blogs, however, are as much about helping to take the STRESS out of a wedding as they are about saving money.

I have talked in the past about things you can do to save money when planning a wedding, so obviously, I thoroughly understand pinching pennies at every corner.  After all, weddings are usually very expensive occasions!  When it comes to decorating though, if you decide to “do-it-yourself” and not hire a florist, coordinator, and/or book a venue where the setup is included, you are asking for nightmare!  Usually, this is your first wedding, and though you may have helped set up for someone ELSE’S big day, the level of emotions and stress that will engulf you the weeks, days, then hours leading up to your event is something you have likely never even remotely experienced.  You, as the bride or groom, are going to be looking for everything to be absolutely perfect, as it should be for the biggest day of your life.  What that means, however, is that the entire time you are setting up, even if you have a detailed diagram, you have very little idea what it will actually look like, so while your friends and family are helping you, you’ll be second-guessing all of the decorations, as well as how long it truly takes to set up a fantastic wedding.  This will undoubtedly lead to anxiety, stress, and I have seen on numerous occasions, the bride and/or groom’s personality completely shift 180 degrees!  They go from the fun, excited, loving bride or groom, to bride/groomzilla, unable to enjoy all of the work that went into the setup, planning, etc., and I have even seen brides break down and cry the day before and the day of their wedding because they are so overwhelmed with stress getting it “just right!”  As a bride or groom, for you, the event should go off without a hitch, and you should be able to smile and enjoy each and every minute of your special day and the fact that all of those people came together to help you celebrate!

I realize that this is not free.  You will definitely have to pay someone to do this work, but at the same time, it will be one less massive headache to deal with right before you commit to spending the rest of your life with someone.  If you want to save money, get a couple less lights, hire a single photographer and videographer instead of one with an assistant that you have to pay for, or go with a meal that doesn’t cost so much.  You’ll be thanking me for it…I promise!

***Geoff Maddox has been a professional wedding and event DJ and Emcee in Los Angeles and Orange County for more than a dozen years, has appeared on television and has been in the newspaper to talk about wedding planning, avoiding wedding vendor scams, and navigating the vendor hiring process.

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Planning and Letting It Happen

A ton of work goes into planning a wedding or event.  You’ll spend hours, days, or months preparing for your big day. Once you’ve got it all down, you will relay all of it to you coordinator,  your florist, your DJ, and maybe even your photographer and videographer.

Once that happens, if you have professional vendors, each person to whom you gave all of that information will spend hours figuring out the best way to take what you gave them and implement it all accordingly, in the fashion that not only achieves all of your goals, but also makes it easy as possible to for them to do exactly what you want for your event, so the day of your wedding, all you will need to do is allow yourself to enjoy your day, the event, and your new spouse.  When you don’t let that happen, no matter how many hours were put into coordinating the proper execution of the specific requests you made for your event, it likely will not go the way you had hoped.

I always sit down with new clients with the understanding that everyone’s personality is different.  I try to gauge their personality and work with them in a manner that most appropriately coincides with what they are used to.  That being said, it is also upto the individual client to understand that I am doing the best job I can for them, and that they need to trust that the florist, the photographers, coordinator and I are all professionals and have years of experience creating perfect weddings.  With that in mind, the day of your wedding, the best thing for you to do is to let go of the reins and trust that we all know exactly what we are doing, have listened to exactly what you want, and have figured out a way to make it happen that will most likely exceed your expectations.  However, when a client allows him or herself to get so wrapped up in the details on the day of their wedding, they not only risk the fluidity of their wedding, but they typically ruin the experience for their spouse and their guests.
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It certainly is not normally intentional. Usually it’s a product of their upbringing and simply a personality trait that makes them very hands-on. When brides or grooms allow themselves to get wound up with the minutiae on the day that is supposed to be the biggest day of their life, no matter how good the vendor claims to be or how much planning went into the event, SOMETHING is bound to, at the very least, appear to go wrong because the client was unable to simply enjoy the event and got so busy thinking about what would happen next that they forgot to enjoy the event that was currently happening, and in some cases, miss the fact that they had already done something they were looking forward to!

The bottom line is that you have likely spent a lot of your hard earned money to hire vendors highly capable of giving you the wedding you want and deserve.  On your wedding day, even if you’re the type that always feels the need to be completely hands-on, for that one day, for yourself, your new spouse and your guests, trust in your vendors and let things happen the way you planned before the wedding!  Don’t worry if it looks for a minute like something is not happening exactly on time.  It will probably happen as soon as you start to wonder about it. After all, a good coordinator and emcee/DJ will be working together throughout the night to ensure that everything is going smoothly for everyone in attendance.

 

***Geoff Maddox has been a professional wedding and event emcee and DJ for over 15 years.  He has appeared on TV and has been interviewed by various news outlets about his books and how he helps couples avoid vendor scams and advises them on ways to have their dream wedding without breaking the bank.

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Venue- and Event-Appropriate Vendors

 

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Whether you are getting married, planning a product launch, or a large corporate event, it is important to get the right vendors.  Often a person charged with planning an event will have a general idea and feel like they should simply hire whomever they can find for their event.  Little thought tends to go into whether or not the person or entity they are hiring is truly the right person for the job.  This is like rolling the dice with your event.  You may get lucky, but like Vegas, the odds are highly stacked against you, and unfortunately, this tends to have unexpected, and sometimes disastrous consequences.

I’ve previously discussed how you will select the florist you will hire, but for the sake of this blog, I’ll revisit a couple of things.  First, ensuring that you are hiring someone that has experience with weddings is key.  Just because someone works at a flower shop does not mean they possess the skills and experience to create your perfect wedding.  As you probably wouldn’t go to the flower shop at a cemetery to hire a florist for your wedding, you probably should steer clear of the shop on the corner.  Someone who can wrap a few flowers in plastic with some greenery is well-suited for the flower shop you visited last ‘Mother’s Day’, but if you expect them to know how to create 25 matching centerpieces, aisle accents, wedding bouquets, and head table spreads, you may be expecting a little too much.  Instead, look into florists that are listed on the websites of hotels.  Those vendors, though perhaps slightly more expensive, will have far superior knowledge and experience when it comes to decorating.  Another source for a florist is a referral.  Ask people you know who they used and what they thought.  Websites like Yelp are useful tools, but don’t be deterred by a couple bad reviews that have posting dates within a few days or weeks.  People rarely post the “Good Stuff”, but are very quick to post the bad, and occasionally will get their friends to post as well, which can mean more negative results than positive, despite the fact that 99% of the vendor’s clients have nothing but great feedback to give…that unfortunately never seems find its way online.When planning a typical event, you will probably need a caterer, some sort of entertainment, and perhaps someone or something to add decor to the event.  Using a wedding as an example, you would most likely hire a caterer, a florist, a DJ or band, perhaps a make-up artist, a photographer to memorialize your event, and probably a coordinator.  Now, I’ll go over each one category by category and explain the differences.

Photographers are tricky.  There are a lot of great photographers out there with package prices all across the spectrum.  In hiring an event-appropriate photographer, make sure the photographer you are looking to hire has extensive experience with your type of event, and isn’t simply “moonlighting” as a wedding photographer to make extra money.  A friend that takes beautiful pictures of the beach will probably not have the expertise to take great photos of a company football game or a Prom.  At the same time, someone who specializes in portraits may not be the best photographer for a wedding, as they may not know when the “traditional photos” that need to be taken, and therefore may miss something you were hoping to capture in photos.  It is important to reiterate that photos are the memories of your event that will last a lifetime, and that will be shared with future generations!  Whether you are talking about a corporate team-building event or a wedding, you want to make sure you get exactly the right photos in the highest quality possible, and that friend, cousin, guy in the mall, and so on, just may not be the right person for the job.

Finally, and perhaps the most important part of your event is the entertainment.  The entertainer you hire will depend on the type of event you are planning.  As a DJ and emcee, I have worked at nearly every type of event imaginable because, for those events and their guests, I was the right person for the job.  Some events found me doing more than others, but overall, I did exactly as much or as little as was desired by each client, with the equipment necessary for each type of event.  One of the biggest mistakes that can be made by an individual entertainer is the utilization of improper equipment.  In the case of a DJ, it may mean that they bring and setup lights and lasers at an event that was supposed to be “classical”.  This could also mean that a ‘Classic Rock’ band is hired for an event whose attendees would prefer a quartet or ‘Top 40’ dance music.  It could also mean, as was the case at an event I happened upon recently, that a large band is hired for a small venue.  In that instance, it was obvious that this band did not possess equipment that would suit such a small venue.  With eight speakers that were approximately 5 feet tall , 3 feet wide, and 3 feet deep, it was evident that this band was not accustomed to playing indoors, nor did they have the proper equipment.  Truth be told, their instruments were loud enough that they didn’t really need amplification, but that is a testament to their inexperience improper placement at this type of an event.  There are plenty of bands that play that type of music, that would have been appropriate for that particular venue.  Unfortunately, a number of guests left the event because they were unable to hear each other from close proximity.

From the florist, to the photographer, to the entertainment, hiring the right vendors is key to hosting the perfect event.  Nothing can ruin an event quicker than realizing the day of your event that the vendors your hired, though they may have more easily fit into your budget, were not the right companies for the job.  It is always better to spend a little more time and money hiring the right vendor than to make your guests uncomfortable or to add stress to the already stressful situation that is planning an event, especially when the event is the most important day of your life, your wedding!

***Geoff Maddox has been a professional wedding and event emcee and DJ for over 12 years in Los Angeles and Orange Counties, as well as various weddings and event across the country.  For more information or for booking, please visit http://gmedj.com, or call (949) 342-5079.

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The Wedding that Almost WASN’T!

I do not typically write about individual events because I honestly don’t think it is fair to paint such a broad picture of an event, but for one wedding I happened to witness recently, almost everything went wrong!  On its face, you might think the venue was to blame, but the following unfortunate events COULD have been prevented, and after I go over all of the things that seemed to go wrong, I’ll tell you how!

_DSC0047As I am writing this blog, Valentine’s Day has just passed, and I was contracted to DJ a multi-night special Valentine’s Day event at The Hills Hotel in Laguna Hills.  It was a special package they put together that would include a 4-course gourmet meal, a dance area with a DJ…that was me…and a hotel room with a bottle of champagne to cap the night!  (They have these types of creative events on a regular basis and I have DJed them before, so for me to be there on a night where I WASN’T there for a wedding isn’t too out of the ordinary.)

That same night, they had a wedding scheduled.  The wedding Ceremony was to start at 4:30 p.m. in the Garnet Gallery, the Cocktail Hour would take place in the bar area next to the Crystal Ballroom immediately following the hour-long Ceremony.  At the conclusion of the Cocktail Hour, and after the traditional wedding photos had been taken, the Crystal Ballroom would be opened to the guests for the remainder of the night.  On paper, it appeared as if it everything was well-planned out and that the event would go smoothly.

The couple hired a make-up artist, a florist, a band, and a DJ, in addition to booking the venue.  The hair and make-up artist was scheduled to arrive at 10:00 a.m. to begin to prepare the Bride for her wedding.  Next, the florist was to arrive at noon to begin to decorate the venue, deliver bouquets to the Bridal Party, and to put center pieces on the dining tables in the ballroom.  Finally, DJ was to arrive in time to play music for the Ceremony, as well as play during the band’s breaks, and the band was to arrive and be completely set up by 5:45 p.m. so that they would not have to be loading equipment in to the ballroom as guests were coming upstairs.  Had each of the vendors followed this timeline, the event would have gone off without issue.  Unfortunately, that is perhaps as far from what actually happened as things could possibly get!

At 11:00 a.m., since the make-up artist was already an hour late, the Bride decided to call and find out what time he would arrive.  It wasn’t until that time that she was told that he was busy and was not available that day!  Being that this was to be the biggest day of her life and that she simply could not go without a make-up artist, a scramble was on!  Friends called friends, people called cousins, and eventually someone knew of someone that was a make-up artist and could drive out the same day, for a much higher rate, and take care of the bride.  At around 1:00 p.m., the fill-in make-up artist arrived and with regard to hair and make-up, at last, the bride was on her way to being ready for her wedding.

While they were scrambling to find someone to replace the hair and make-up person, noon came and went without flowers.  The florist was called and promised that they would be there soon, but at the hours ticked by, the florist was still nowhere to be seen, which meant there were still no flowers in the room where the Ceremony was to be held, the ballroom had not yet begun to be decorated, and neither the Bride nor her Bridesmaids had bouquets to carry as they walked down the aisle.

The wedding was scheduled to start at 4:30 p.m., but at 5:00, the flowers still had yet to arrive.  It was at this point that the Bride and hotel staff decided that they would wait just a little but longer, at which point, the bride would have to go without.  At around 5:20 p.m., with the flowers still missing, Audrey Mangan, one of the Catering Managers at The Hills Hotel went to the Bride and discussed the fact that at that point, they were already 50 minutes behind starting the Ceremony, and in order to ensure that the food that had been cooking since early in the afternoon to be served at a specific time was still the quality promised to the couple, and so that they would have time for all of the events that were planned for the evening, they should probably get started, florist or no florist.  There was something missing, however…a Bride cannot walk down the aisle without a bouquet!  Now as I mentioned earlier, this event was right after Valentine’s Day.  For Valentine’s Day, Audrey had been given a bouquet of pink tulips, and at that very moment, they were still sitting on her desk.  To ensure that the Bride would not walk down the aisle empty-handed, she went to her office, grabbed some ribbon, and wrapped them around her flowers, ran back to the Bride and voila…instant wedding bouquet!  So at 5:30 p.m., the wedding finally began!

Remember the band and DJ?  I was not supposed to start playing until 6:00 p.m. which, since I only had a single speaker and a sound mixer to set up and plug into my computer, meant I did not need to show up until around 5:00 p.m.  As I was pulling into the parking lot and driving up to the loading zone at the hotel, I saw what looked like another DJ getting out of his van.  At this point, I didn’t know there was another event going on that day, so I said hello, asked him if he was DJing a wedding that evening, which he confirmed, and went on about my business.  Around 5:15, a large box van arrived and began to unload what appeared to be band equipment and speakers.

Despite the obvious lack of decor, fact that it was delayed to provide the florist an opportunity to arrive, though they still hadn’t, and as a result, the Bridesmaids did not have bouquets, the Ceremony itself seemed to go well.  Once it finished, the guests began to make their way upstairs to the Cocktail Area next to the Crystal ballroom, but there were still a couple of issues.  First, because the florist wasn’t there, the dining tables still lacked centerpieces, and the band that was supposed to be set up and ready to go by 5:30 still wasn’t ready!  As the Cocktail Hour progressed, it became clear that, even though the Ceremony began an hour later, which led to pushing the Reception back an hour, the florist was not going to get there in time for guests to take their assigned seats in the ballroom.  It was at this point that, once again, Audrey had to come up with something to make sure that, despite the delay, the wedding guests did not notice any problems with the event, so once again, she went to work.  If you have never visited The Hills Hotel, the main entrance opens up to a decent-sized, 2-story open lobby, with iron rails running around the second story walkways around the perimeter of the lobby.  Between each pillar, and next to the iron rails of the second floor are high top tables with a crystal-studded centerpiece on each.  When you walk up to the second floor, there is a bar with a centerpiece, and a number of tables scattered throughout the bar, each containing a centerpiece.

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As the time to open to doors to the Crystal Ballroom was steadily approaching, Audrey began to round up the wait staff, and they all began to take the centerpieces off of the tables in the bar and around the perimeter of the walkway and began placing them on the dinner tables so that the room would have SOME sort of decor upon guest arrival.  It was only then, around 6:45 p.m., that the DJ and band were finishing their setup, just 5 minutes before the guests were to walk in the door an hour later than scheduled.

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The Ceremony was over.  Thanks to Audrey, the centerpiece dilemma had been dealt with, and now the guests were sitting at their tables waiting for the Grand Entrance by the wedding party and the Bride and Groom…only, there was a problem.

The DJ/Emcee apparently had not gone over or simply did not know how to conduct a Grand Entrance, so someone had to do it.  The only other person at the event capable of such a chore…and as a DJ and Emcee myself I can tell you with absolute certainty that it is the only part of a wedding that still occasionally makes me a bit nervous to get right…was the band, so they went ahead and introduced the wedding party.  Unfortunately, however, they were not bilingual and spoke a language that was not understood by about 40% of the guests at the wedding…including a large part of the wedding party!

Around 8:30 p.m., the florist finally showed up with the flowers, but by this time, dinner was in the process of being served, so for them to enter the room and replace the centerpieces would have been an immense distraction for the guests, and they would have inhibited the hotel staff from finishing dinner service, so the decision was made to allow them to place the large bouquets on either side of the ‘Sweetheart Table’, and to deliver the Bride’s bouquet to be thrown during the Bouquet Toss later in the evening.  Thanks to the staff at The Hills Hotel, the guests knew nothing of the florist, nor did they learn about the make-up artist that never arrived.

Throughout the evening, I was downstairs in the lounge playing music appropriate to a Valentine’s Day event.  After dinner, however, it became hard to hear the music I was playing.  It seems that the band, apparently used to only playing outdoors, did not own equipment suited for an indoor ballroom.

_DSC0040 Their speakers were approximately 5 feet tall, around 3 feet wide, and about 3 feet deep, and on each side of the stage, they had those speakers stacked 2 by 2.  The sound that came out of them was appropriate for a large outdoor concert, but in a venue that seated around 200 people, it seemed as though it would be a little tough to have a conversation, as the bar below the ballroom was vibrating loudly with each low note.  They would eventually turn the music down considerably, but not before a large number of guests had either left or come down to the lounge where I was, where they would confirm that they were unable to have a shouting match from three inches away due to the sheer volume of the music.  Later that evening, the event would eventually end with the Bride and Groom agreeing to a couple of hours of overtime to compensate for the delays.

Per their protocol, the Bride and Groom were given a list of “Preferred Vendors” by the venue.  These are vendors that are familiar to the venue, possess insurance, and have been vetted.  As I have mentioned in previous blogs, and as I always suggest, though they highly recommend that a client uses the vendors on their “Preferred Vendor” list, they do not require their clients to hire any one person in particular, nor do they require their clients to go to the expense of hiring a Wedding Coordinator.

In these terms, though they are MUCH more, for this blog, I would consider the hotel itself, or any hotel for that matter, nothing more than a space to have a wedding, not unlike a park, a multi-purpose room at a school, or simply the backyard of a friend or family member.  The only thing that distinguishes them from the other type of open venue is the fact that they offer catering, which, should the client so choose, does not have to necessarily be purchased from the hotel.  Some hotels provide a coordinator for the event, but that is something that is established and booked months prior to the event so that the coordinator has an opportunity to make contact with the vendors, assist the Bride and Groom with the organization and fluidity of their event, etc.  If the client chooses NOT to hire a professional, experienced coordinator, it becomes their responsibility to ensure that they are hiring reputable vendors, to follow up with all of their vendors to ensure that all of their arrival times are correct, to make sure that everyone is paid on-time, that their toasters know when to toast, to coordinate the timing of the meal service with the hotel, and so on.

For this particular event, the Bride and Groom chose to hire outside vendors.  It should be said that hiring a vendor that is not on a particular vendor’s “Preferred Vendor List” isn’t all bad…after all, there are a lot of good vendors out there, and some venues make it extremely difficult, despite their experience and expertise, to make their way on to such a list to be given to a client.  If you choose to do so, however, it is important not only to look into the particular vendor’s history, testimonials, etc., but to make sure that they are insured as well, as an injury to a guest or damage due to their negligence has the potential to fall back on to the client if they are not adequately insured.

After it was all said and done, a couple of minor things could have prevented the issues at this event from arising.  First, hiring a professional coordinator goes a long way toward making sure you don’t have any last-minute panic moments!  Second, though you should not be forced to use them, thinking seriously about hiring a vendor that is on multiple “Preferred Vendor Lists”, even they are not on the list at the venue where you are planning to have your event is a very good idea!  Third, be sure to ask your venue if an event coordinator is included.  Many people assume that the sales person that sold them the package is also a coordinator, or that a coordinator will be provided.  In most cases, though they can and will help in a limited capacity if they happen to be at the venue on the date of the event, coordinating an event is not their specialty and there are going to be things that come up for which they are simply not prepared.

***Geoff Maddox has been a professional wedding and event emcee and DJ for over 15 years.  He has appeared on TV and has been interviewed by various news outlets about his books and how he helps couples avoid vendor scams and advises them on ways to have their dream wedding without breaking the bank.  For more information, he can be reached at http://gmedj.com.

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The Importance of the Layout

When planning a wedding, one of the things you don’t really worry about until the last weeks leading up to the event is the layout.  Where will the tables go?  Who will sit with who?  Where will you put the DJ?  ‘Sweetheart Table’ or ‘Head Table’?  How big of a dance floor will you have?  In this blog, I’ll cover some of the more important items relating to the layout of your venue.

Perhaps the first and most important decision you’ll have to make is how many guests you will have at your wedding.  The more guests you have, the larger the venue you’ll need to rent.  Also, the more guests you have, the more expensive the venue will be, as many venues will charge you based on the size of your party so that they can adequately staff the event, as well as provide food for each person, should you choose a venue that has that as an option.

Once you’ve created your guest list, or at the very least determined the maximum amount of people you intend to invite, the next step is to find the venue.  As I’ve mentioned in previous blogs, the venue you choose will be a direct reflection of both your ideal wedding, as well as your budget.  Restaurants have back rooms that can be rented for special events, country clubs typically have venues that they like to rent out for events, hotels have banquet halls, and sometimes family members have large backyards that can be utilized for your special day.  In addition, there are specialty venues that are a bit more expensive that cater specifically to special events that may be rented for the day, weekend, etc.

Once you have found your venue and received all of your R.S.V.P.s, it is time to start creating your layout.  In most cases the venue will have a representative that is an expert in their space and can help guide you in the process of deciding what will go where.  It is important to note, however, that some venues simply are not conducive to certain layouts, and if you have something specific in mind, it would be wise to discuss those ideas with the catering manager prior to signing a contract for a particular venue.  In relation to a venue, there is nothing worse than to lock yourself into one particular place, only to learn after-the-fact that the picture of the layout you had in your mind is either too big, or simply not realistic for the venue you chose.

Are you looking to have a long ‘Head Table’ where your wedding party will join you for dinner?  Are you going to have a ‘Sweetheart Table’, where just you and your new spouse will sit, typically in a central part of the room?  Or will you and your new spouse simply sit at a regular table, perhaps in the relative center of the room at the edge of the dance floor?

Having a ‘Head Table’ is perhaps one of the oldest traditions for wedding receptions.  The bride and good sit in the middle facing the dance floor and the crowd, while the groomsmen sit on the side of the groom, and the bridesmaids sit on the side of the bride, typically in order from the Best Man and Maid/Matron of Honor sitting immediately on either side of the bride and groom, to the last couple in the wedding party sitting furthest apart.  The ‘Sweetheart Table’ is a newer, yet very popular tradition, where the bride and groom are given a small table just to themselves where they can be seen by a majority of, if not all of their guests. (Sometimes this table is put on a small stage so they are more easily visible to their guests.)  The third option, simply having the bride and groom sit at a regular table on the edge of the dance floor, is not something I have seen more than perhaps a handful of times, but it is certainly an option.

Now that you have decided who will sit where, it is time to start thinking about the “extras” that will be in the room.  At most weddings, there is a bar, a gift table, a DJ table, a cake table, and a dance floor.  Additional items include photo booths, projector screens, projectors themselves, guestbooks, etc.  The location of each of these is strategic and can effect the energy of your event as well as traffic patterns of your guests.  (It probably sounds a little strange and perhaps a bit overwhelming to be thinking about “traffic patterns” at your wedding, but bear with me and I promise I’ll explain in detail.)

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The dance floor is relatively easy to place.  In most venues, the best place for the dance floor is roughly in the middle of the room, closer to one wall, with guest tables on at least two sides, and the DJ’s table between the wall and the dance floor. (I’ll discuss the importance of the location of the DJ in a bit.) There are a few things to remember when placing things like bars, the DJ, the cake table and the like.  First, remember that, if you are like most weddings and you have a bar, it will likely be an extremely popular destination at your wedding reception.  People will be visiting it multiple times throughout the night, so you want to make sure that it is situated in such a place that it does not detract from the rest of the event.  As a rule, I suggest to all of my clients, and I reiterate it as I am lining up their wedding parties for the Grand Entrance, that they do their best to stay on the dance floor as much as possible once the dancing has started.  Not only does this encourage their guests to join them on the dance floor.  Because it is their wedding, it is natural that nearly all of their guests will want to have a conversation at some point in the night.  If they are on the dance floor, it is highly likely that their guests will make their way to the

dance floor to have an opportunity to say hello, and if the bride and groom are dancing, the energy becomes contagious and organically begins to populate the dance floor.  As well, if your bar is located outside of your main banquet room, people will be forced to leave the room to get themselves another drink, which means they will be taking all of their positive “party” energy with them.  Not only does this detract from the dance floor, but it also means that, should the bride and groom decide that they themselves want to visit the bar, though, as I said, this is something I try to discourage to all of my clients, they too will be forced to leave the room.  When they do, those same people that would join them on the dance floor will follow them out to the bar, making it that much harder for them to get back in to the room and that much more likely that the dance floor will begin to empty out.  The best way to attempt to mediate this is to keep the bars inside the main banquet hall.

Though not quite as importance, the placement of the cake table is something that should be addressed as well.  At some point in the night, you and your new

spouse will make your way to the cake table and ceremoniously cut your wedding cake for the cameras.  A good DJ will have pre-selected music to allow you to make your way to the cake table where your photographer, videographer, and friends and family are probably already waiting.  In relation to the dance floor, you probably want your cake table to be either at an opposite wall than the Sweetheart or Head table, in a corner, or against a side wall, with enough room surrounding your cake table, typically a small round or square table, for your photographer and videographer to have space between your cake table and your guest tables to come take pictures and video.

The gift table is most likely going to be six feet long and covered with some sort of table cloth or skirt.  The most common place for the gift table is against a wall near the entrance to the room where you will be holding your reception.

The placement of the DJ table is probably as important as the placement of the dance floor.  Because your DJ/Emcee brings some specific skills to your event and will have specific duties, it is important to ensure that it is not too difficult for them to what

you are paying so much for.  First, in most circumstances, your DJ will also act as your Emcee, which means that he or she will be making announcements, introducing the new couple, as well as playing music and working with your coordinator to ensur

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ut the night that event is going as smoothly as possible.  As you see in the photo above, the DJ booth is on the edge of the dance floor, facing the Sweetheart table.  Personally, this is my favorite place to be for a few specific reasons.  First, as I will be making a few trips to the dance floor and around the room throughout the evening, being in that location makes is a short distance from the dance floor to the DJ equipment so key songs may be played quickly without lag time between my leaving the dance floor and getting back to the DJ table.  Second, people are going to be looking at the couple all evening.  If I were placed to their side, as a habit, people would turn to look at me as I was making announcements.  However, if I am directly opposite the couple, and since a majority of the people will be seated facing the couple, they will be forced to naturally look away from me.  Since the bride and groom should be the main focus of the event anyway and not the DJ, band, etc., visual and otherwise, it forces the spotlight on them and away from me.  The last reason has to do with the dance sets.  Once most of the special events have concluded, i.e. first dance, bouquet and garter toss, etc., I turn to DJ mode.  Now, for most of the night, my job is to keep the dance floor as full as possible!  This is achieved by playing music that will keep people dancing, as well as allowing my enthusiasm and energy to permeate the dance floor.  Though it happens on occasion, it is very difficult to do this from back corner of the room with multiple guest tables separating me from the area where people are dancing.

As for additional items like photo booths, dessert tables, guestbooks and the like, the more things you keep in the room, the more you’ll encourage your guests to dance…and after all, people don’t typically remember the cake, the food, or e

ven the ice sculpture!  What they remember is how much fun they had at your wedding, which is typically a reflection of how much dancing they and everyone around them were doing at your wedding!

As with everything related to planning a wedding, the layout is a bit more than one might expect, but if you use those suggestions as a guideline, you will maximize the ease of keeping your room full and the energy thriving!

***Geoff Maddox has been a professional wedding and event emcee and DJ for over 15 years.  He has appeared on TV and has been interviewed by various news outlets about his books and how he helps couples avoid vendor scams and advises them on ways to have their dream wedding without breaking the bank.  more information and booking, please visit http://gmedj.com.

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What Should You Pay and When?

This is a question I have been hearing a lot lately, so I thought I’d ask around and get some opinions and due dates from other vendors.  This was the first time I inqured of other vendors their payment policies and due dates, and as such I learned a few things myself.  First, I learned dates vary based on the type of service being provided.  I also learned, that these dates and timeframes seem to be relatively consistent among each type of service being provided.  The following are vendors I specifically asked and received permission to quote them in this blog, though the policies and opinions they shared with me were expressed by other vendors of each type. One common thread with EVERY vendor I spoke with, despite the type of work they do, was that their deposits are all non-refundable.

The first service I contacted was Jen K Floral Design.  When you hire Jen as your florist, she requires 30% down, and balance is due one month prior to the event.  A florist’s expenses include the actual flowers that will be arranged, the labor costs of the employees that will be hired to help build centerpieces, bouquets, and other arrangements, as well as the time it takes to arrange all of the elements on the day of the event.  As well, you are also paying them for their time and expertise in the creativity and design of your arrangements.

My next call was to Molly Ann from Luminaire Images.  When you hire Luminaire as your photographer, they require 30% down when signing their contract, with the balance due one month prior to the wedding.  Additionally, any type of additional prints, books, or additional items order after the wedding must be completely paid for at the time the order is placed.  With a photographer, you are not only hiring them for their time and expertise while photographing your event. You are also paying for the included prints in your package.  Additionally, you are paying for the time it will take them to sort through your photos and complete any touch-ups, if necessary, after the event.  For photographers, this is a type of material “insurance” that they will be compensated should things go sour after the event has completed.

I wanted to get a coordinator’s perspective, so one of the coordinators I spoke with was Susan MacDonald with SuMac Productions.  When you hire Susan, she requires approximately 1/3 down, depending on the size of the contract.  Her final payment is due no less than 2 weeks prior to the event depending on the amount of work she put into it and the type of service she is providing.  The job of a coordinator varies based on the amount of work for which they are being hired. Some coordinators only work as what is referred to as a “day-of coordinator”.  These coordinators do not do as much work prior to the event, but instead are hired to show up the day of the event and insure that the event runs smoothly according the the agenda created with the client.

As for for myself and other DJs I have worked for, when the contract is signed a 50%, non-refundable down payment is due.  The final payment is due 60 days prior to the event, which is prior to my final 2-hour design meeting with my clients, where we sit down and go over the specifics of the event, from what song plays when, who will toast and when, the genres of music they want played during their dance sets, and more.  To ensure that I am compensated for my time and effort doing the necessary music preparation, creating the necessary agends, if requested, and the time I spend sitting down with my clients.  A DJ’s job is done the moment the last announcement is made and the last song stops playing.  There are no flowers and no photos to be held as collateral, should the wedding cancel or the client decide that they do not wish to pay the amount originally set forth in the initial contract.  As a sole proprietor/owner operator, unless a wedding is very early in the morning is at a venue nearby, I can only DJ one event per day.  Also, with all of the meetings and preparation prior to the event, by the time the wedding happens, I am more than 50% finished with the work necessary for me to help execute the perfect event my clients expect and deserve!

Many florists have multiple crews that can potentially design and setup multiple weddings on a single day.  Jen K is an exception, as she only works on a single event each day.  That being said, she has flowers that may be reused and/or resold should the wedding cancel prior to the event.

This next issue is something event professionals hate to talk about, but it is necessary because it does, in fact, occur on a rare occasion.  That is the unfortunate circumstance when a wedding cancels.  This only happens about, at most, once in every 20 or so weddings for which I am hired, so it is certainly is not common and is certainly NEVER something we, as vendors, expect or something for which we can extensively plan.  Unfortunately, in my personal experience, weddings that end up cancelling do so 100% of the time between my final meeting with the client and the time of the wedding, and most often, they cancel within a couple of weeks of the event.  In my position, if I had a different policy and I did not require payment full so early, I would lose out on at least 50% of the day’s pay because weddings very rarely book less than 4-5 months out, leaving me with no way to make up for the lost income, and a lack of compensation for the time and work that has already been put into ensuring that a client’s wedding will be as great or better an event as they imagine!  In addition, the LAST thing a vendor wants to have to do on the most important day of their clients’ lives is talk business and act as a bill collector, especially when they are trying to create a fantastic event.

**Geoff Maddox has been a professional wedding and event emcee and DJ for over 15 years.  He has appeared on TV and has been interviewed by various news outlets about his books and how he helps couples avoid vendor scams and advises them on ways to have their dream wedding without breaking the bank.  For booking and other information, please visit http://GMEdj.com, or call (949) 342-5079!

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