We have entered very unprecedented times when it comes to wedding planning, which we can all agree is the understatement of the year for engaged couples everywhere. You and your partner may even envy family and friends that married pre-pandemic, and we certainly don't blame you! But, unfortunately, what was once expected to be a somewhat stressful process has reached new heights, and it can be even more frustrating if you're attempting to plan for the second (or even third) time.
Fortunately (and unfortunately), you're not alone – there are many couples just like you that are racing to the altar. And with this wedding boom comes the question: what's the best order to book your vendors in, given that everything is so scarce right now?
We rounded up some of the industry's top experts to clear the air and give their top tips.
Why is it important to be mindful of the booking order?
JoAnn Gregoli of Elegant Occasions by JoAnn Gregoli starts us off with the hard-hitting facts about your planning timeline: "When you are booking your vendors, the order of selection is important. When you bring on a wedding planner, you want to benefit from their wisdom, knowledge, and negotiating power in helping with the venue selection. When you book your venue, that date is key in then selecting your other vendors. You cannot select vendors without the venue and date in place first."
It should be noted that not everything will be secured in one go. In fact, Amber Anderson of Refine for Wedding Planners says, "Wedding planning happens in layers. If I had a dollar for every time I've used that sentence, I'd be rich. It's so true! Wedding planners understand that certain bookings have financial and design implications that others don't. I can't tell you how many times a couple has come to me as a planner, having booked their venue first, only to realize their headcount or vision doesn't actually work in the space. Those mistakes are very costly and incredibly stressful and emotional!"
Of equal importance, Janice Carnevale of Bellwether Events adds: "Some vendor categories (photo/video, entertainment, officiant, beauty) can only book one event per day, so once they are gone, they are gone. It will be disappointing to you not to be able to book your top choice. And finding a good replacement for your top choice might end up costing more than you had planned. Whereas other wedding pros can handle more than one event in a day (catering, cakes, floral designers, most rental and decor companies), so you can wait on making those decisions until just a little later, knowing that they will still be available to accommodate your wedding."
The first three vendors you should hire, according to experts
While there hasn't necessarily been a huge change in the booking priority of vendors, COVID has certainly disrupted the industry in a major way with the pause in weddings. Because of this, there's been a scramble in securing dates for everyone that had to put their dream day on hold.
Shannon Tarrant of WeddingVenueMap.com notes, "The first vendor that engaged couples should always hire is the venue. The venue you choose will dictate your budget, wedding style, and so many other factors. Second, couples should work from the venue's preferred list to hire a wedding planner. A wedding planner can help guide all of your other choices and maximize the budget that you have to work with. The third vendor you should hire is for the dress. Depending upon how much time you have until your wedding day, dresses sometimes have a lead time of 4-8 months for special orders."
Laura Maddox of Magnolia Celebrates has similar advice, adding: "If you would like a full-service planner, they should be your first hire. After this, you would want to book your venue as all other vendors will hinge on your wedding date that is only confirmed once you have a venue in place. Then book your photographer and your band. These two vendors can only book one event in a night, so they should be on your top priority list. However, if you do not book the planner first, I would add them to the list with the photographer and band for the same reasons."
Additionally, Jamie Chang of Mango Muse Events says, "Once you have your wedding planner and your venue, what comes next is the vendor you care most about. And this is personal and specific to each couple. For some couples, food is what they care most about, so focusing on catering is important. For others, it's photography or videography or the officiant or music or flowers or cake or hair and makeup, etc. Whatever is most important to the couple is what should get focused on next, especially if you want a very specific person/company."
How the wedding boom has impacted the booking timeline
Combine the shortage in dates with the deficit in products and labor, and you can probably guess why the booking timeline for many couples might be a little out of whack.
"Many couples are not getting the vendors they want due to such high demand for them. There is a massive labor shortage which is contributing to not having the cream of the crop, so to speak, in vendor decision," suggests Meredith Reed of Ace Party and Tent Rental.
Andrea Smith of The Band Method adds, "The typical year-out timeline is now a year and a half and two years out. For example, clients are still contacting us for June 2022 availability, and June 2022 has been booked since December of 2020; we have no availability."
Not to mention, recently engaged couples are also eager to begin the planning process. Kimberly Sisti of Sisti & Co. notes how that affects the general schedule. "Couples are so excited to begin planning (and for many for the second or third time) that they get whisked up in the sheer excitement of booking anyone and everyone to feel like they are accomplishing their tasks. However, many times appointments are completely unnecessary and even a waste of time. Suppose the couple does their foundational homework first to figure out these questions (what, where, when, how, and why), then fewer appointments or introductory phone calls must be made."
Vendors that shouldn't wait until the last minute
Now, let's get to down the vendors that are often overlooked due to assumed open availability. Admittedly, these are the ones that typically make or break your wedding day expectations.
"Speaking from the perspective of an officiant, this is absolutely something to be considered sooner than later. Many times, it's seen as something that's not a priority, but our dates fill up too. Also, if you would like to have a customized ceremony, these things take time," advises Loren Petrowski of Marry You in Hawaii.
Don't forget about immortalizing your wedding! Nora Sheils of Bridal Bliss and Rock Paper Coin says, "Many couples wait to hire their cinematographer until closer to their wedding date, as at times it is budget-dependent. However, in my opinion, this vendor is such a key member of the team and one that many couples regret not hiring after the wedding. So, book the cinematographer early, just as you would your photographer. I can promise you; you absolutely will not regret it!"
Kelley Nudo of Momental Designs also recommends: "If you DIY-ed your invites but want to hire a professional to create your day-of stationery, keep in mind day-of pieces are often custom printed, so plan on finalizing these details well in advance. Finding a hairstylist and/or makeup artist is also not a detail to be left to the last minute, especially if you expect your entire bridal party to be included in these services. These stylists will often want to do a trial run before diving in on the big day, so allow plenty of time for their process."
Preparing yourself is key
Yes, your wedding planning process may look slightly different from that of previously engaged couples, but that doesn't mean that your big day will look less spectacular. Preparing yourself is key, and know that your patience and collaboration with your selected vendors will make everything go much more smoothly!
Meghan Ely is the owner of wedding PR and wedding marketing firm OFD Consulting. Ely is a sought-after speaker, adjunct professor in the field of public relations, and a self-professed royal wedding enthusiast.