Vancouver Wedding Planners Share Their Best Advice (and More!)

What every couple should think about before planning a wedding.

What every couple should think about before planning a wedding.

There’s a lot that goes into organizing a wedding—the venue, food, invitations, decor and so much more. Where do you even begin? We turned to the industry experts who’ve experienced it all (including a venue getting struck by lightning) to get their tips on what to focus on and where to invest your time and money. (Photo: Adam and Kev Photography.)

Erin Bishop, Filosophi

One piece of advice:Follow your gut. There is no “should do” or “shouldn’t do” when it comes to a wedding—and lots of people will throw advice at you from all sides. Just listen, smile and then do whatever your insides tell you to do. Every wedding is about one thing: celebrating your love with your community of family and friends, and there is no wrong way to do it.Something to think about that’s often overlooked:The costs often take people by surprise. They think about food, drinks and flowers, but not always the little bits like hair and makeup for the bridesmaids, marriage license, stamps for the invitations and all these little things can add up. I always recommend to go smaller on your guest list so it isn’t as much of a stretch to make your budget work.Most valuable investments:The guests having a great time equals the couple having the best night ever, so I try to qualify value in those terms. Food is number one (having great food and having lots of food throughout), drinks/open bar and music. While decor is one of my favourite things to get creative with, at the end of the day as long as it looks elegant and well thought out, the decor won’t affect the fun of the party as much as live music, food and drinks.Most stressful moment you’ve experienced:I once had a venue’s have dining hall hit by lightning and burn to the ground on the Thursday before a Sunday wedding. It was also a destination wedding, meaning all the guests were supposed to be staying the weekend at this property, which then could not take them. We ended up finding another venue, redoing the floor plan, hiring a new local officiant, begging a caterer to take us on at a moment’s notice, finding a hotel for the guests…to this day, it was one of my favourite weddings, probably because in the midst of that two day chaos, the bride said, “I don’t care if I have to have this wedding in an alley, I just care about marrying him.”Most creative thing you’ve seen:One of our own planners was not into the traditional concept of a ceremony and also didn’t love the way speeches often happen at dinner. Instead, after an initial welcome cocktail hour, which the bride and groom attended, we set guests up on comfy furniture all arranged in a big circle, with drinks in hand and bartenders topping them up. Different guests got up and told stories about the couple—one even sang a song—and at one point the couple got up and said their vows and had their kiss. The rest of the night was just mingling, dancing, food and drinks. It was the best party—and probably the most meaningful and heartfelt ceremony experiences I’ve seen. (Photo: Christine Pienaar.)

Briar Johnston, Epic Events

One piece of advice:Keep checking in with each other throughout the planning process. There are often tough conversations about budget, families and lots of compromises along the way. Make sure to schedule a non-wedding-talk date night every once in a while to make sure you are having fun and enjoying the process.Something to think about that’s often overlooked:I think many couples forget that the guests are coming to celebrate with you and won’t notice  you may have spent hours agonizing over. They are dressed up, have hired a babysitter and are looking for a good time to cheers to love! If you focus your details and dollars on things your guests will directly experience, the guests will notice that.Most valuable investments:

  1.  A photographer to capture your wedding day; make sure their artistic style compliments yours to ensure you will love each photo.
  2. Music that will compliment your guests’ style. Live band, amazing DJ, live jazz—whatever suits the vibe.
  3. I’ll be biased, but I believe hiring a wedding planner will enhance your planning experience and event day completely; it helps to take all of the logistics out of the planning for you.

Most stressful moment you’ve experienced:This summer we showed up for a 7 a.m. tent install on site. The entire timeline was based on tent set-up time (rental delivery, decor set up etc.), however, when we arrived there was a tent from an event the night before still there. The venue had not followed up to get if off the property in time. We were delayed three hours for our set up. We called in all hands on deck to get our set up done (in the pouring rain!). We finished 10 minutes before the ceremony was scheduled to begin, the skies literally cleared, and no one (bride, groom, or guests) was any the wiser!Most creative thing you’ve seen:We love helping craft a wedding to focus on the couple themselves, things they love, and how they celebrate. We have done a “Black-Tie-Rave” wedding which was so fun! This summer, we also led a team in creating a full West Coast forest in an underground garage.

Alicia Keats, Alicia Keats Weddings and Events

One piece of advice:I always encourage couples to identify what their priorities are for their celebration. If they are able to narrow down what is most important to them for their wedding day, it is much easier to stay true to their vision. It also helps with making decisions during the planning process and makes it a lot easier.Something to think about that’s often overlooked:I like to remind new couples that I meet with to really enjoy the engagement period. It is truly a wonderful time, filled with anticipation and excitement. But so often unwanted opinions and advice can cause a lot of stress on newly engaged couples. Gently brush off the unsolicited comments and focus on each other and the priorities for the celebration—making a budget and guest list early on can help with this.Most valuable investments:Investing in your food and guest experience will maximize enjoyment for both you and your guests—and that good energy is contagious! Taking time to look at the wedding day from your guests’ perspective goes a long way having a professional run your day is priceless. If your budget doesn’t allow for a full-service planner, I strongly advise having a day-of coordinator so that you can enjoy the day and not be caught up in the small details that a professional can take care of for you.Most stressful moment you’ve experienced:I had a groom a few years ago prank me on the morning of his wedding by calling and telling me he had cold feet and was calling the wedding off. My heart stopped for a full 10 seconds, but the giggling on the other end of the line eventually gave it away. In those 10 seconds I had already formulated a plan on what do with my bride who was on her way to the ceremony, the guests that were arriving, and the food. It was the longest 10 seconds of my wedding planning career, but I also loved that my clients felt comfortable enough with me to pull a prank like that.Most creative thing you’ve seen:To date, one of my favourites was a surprise masquerade wedding we did in 2010. My clients didn’t tell their guests that it was a masquerade, but did tell them to dress in black tie. When the guests arrived at the wedding, they were greeted by actors dressed in period costumes who helped them put on hand-painted Venetian masks from Italy. They were invited into the Venetian ball complete with opera singers, an Italian feast, contortionists, stilt walkers and jugglers. It was a very unique guest experience and one of my all time faves. (Photo: Tomasz Wagner.)

Margot Watt, Petite Pearl Events

One piece of advice:Keep it real! Stay true to who you are as a couple and what’s important to you. There are so many pressures coming from all angles while planning a wedding (family, friends, budgets), but at the end of the day your wedding is about you and celebrating your relationship. Surround yourself with people that understand your vision and don’t be afraid to stick to your guns.Something to think about that’s often overlooked:I often find that couples are reluctant to set a budget right at the start. Too many times I’ve met couples that are in a panic because they’ve gotten halfway through their planning without a firm budget in place and suddenly realize that the costs have gotten away from them. Digging right into the budget seems daunting at first but I promise it saves a lot of stress and heartache down the line!Most valuable investments:Always invest in whatever makes you happiest. Having said that, the venue will set the tone for the whole event (especially if it provides food and beverage services) and will also have a huge impact on your overall budget, so invest in a venue that checks as many boxes as possible.Most stressful moment you’ve experienced:The most stressful situations are ones I can’t anticipate and can’t fix myself: the DJ equipment failing in the middle of a ceremony, a professionally installed canopy of string lights coming loose an hour before guests arrive, the kitchen losing power just as the main course is being prepared (all situations I’ve seen over the past five years!).Most creative thing you’ve seen:I absolutely love it when my couples add creative, personal touches to their weddings. Some of the best I have seen have been guest book alternatives. Last year, it was the rotor of a helicopter (the groom was a helicopter mechanic) and this year, one of my ski-obsessed couples getting married in Whistler had custom vintage-style skis made with their names and wedding date.

Devon Dunn, Smitten Events

One piece of advice:Consider your budget first. Meet with your planner prior to booking your venue(s) and discuss what is most important to you for your big day. Your planner will help you maximize your budget.Something to think about that’s often overlooked:Your guests will always remember the way they felt during your wedding, so focus on looking after them. Whether it be with great food, exceptional venue staff or a killer band.Most valuable investments:

  1. Music: live cocktail music and either a band or great DJ.
  2. Service staff: it’s always important to feel well looked after on your day (keep this in mind while searching venues or catering services).
  3. Wedding planner: whether you require someone to take over in the final months or want someone more hands-on to bring your vision to life, you will never regret the decision to hire a planner.

Most stressful moment you’ve experienced:I had a prominent guest collapse during a welcome reception the evening before the wedding. It was all hands on deck for our staff, the venue, family members and paramedics. I immediately had to spring into action and in a matter of seconds I had a Plan B for the wedding up my sleeve. It was a terrifying experience, but luckily all was okay in the end.Most creative thing you’ve seen:One of my couples wanted to greet their guests as they arrived to their ceremony rather than taking a traditional walk down the aisle. They socialized with their friends and family over cocktail hour before the ceremony commenced which felt like an inclusive and special way to start their wedding celebration. (Photo: The Collective You.)

Soha Lavin, CountDown Events

One piece of advice:The actual wedding day goes by so fast. So whether you have a planner or not, plan and fuss over the details ahead of the wedding day. Once you wake up on your wedding day, let go of the reins, don’t sweat the small things and take a moment to connect with the most significant moments of the day.Something to think about that’s often overlooked:When you’re planning your wedding don’t start with the details. Put the core elements in place so you have the big picture of your wedding figured out, then add in the details. Sometimes couples get stuck on a detail and they are out of place when it comes to the actual wedding day.Most valuable investments:Hire a professional planner.  Unless you have a good handle over real estate and construction, would you not hire a real estate professional to buy or build a home? How is it is any different for the most important day of your life?Most stressful moment you’ve experienced:Having to step behind the podium last minute to emcee the wedding because our emcee was stuck in traffic on the bridge.Most creative thing you’ve seen:We have the pleasure of working with some of the most creative folks around, but the personal touches are always the best! We had a bride and groom greet all of their guests at the ceremony venue (at a private home) before they changed into their wedding attire. That received really lovely reviews from the guests.’

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