so you've decided on a location, now what?

Here is a master list of the questions I wanted to know when I was planning my wedding that I thought may be helpful to other brides. Some are standard for a wedding, but if going international, there are small things to remember that can make a HUGE difference in your budget (i.e. currency exchanges, paying for translators, cultural perspectives on gratuity). These things aren't as difficult as they are just detailed, so don't get overwhelmed. Hopefully you've left yourself some time, so grab your two new best friends (in this case, a glass of wine and a Google spreadsheet) and get to work.

I suggest making a Google shared spreadsheet with each question in a row, have each vendor in a column, and write their response where relevant (to download my template, click here). If your planner is willing to share the spreadsheet with you, you'll avoid many wires getting crossed because people forget what they tell you in passing (and seem to change their minds often), so this method encourages consistency and transparency. If they aren't as tech-savvy, or seem to think the level of detail and paper trail you'd prefer is out of scope, write every important takeaway from calls in a follow-up email with action items, assigned persons, and deadlines. I know this may seem like overkill; but my BIGGEST takeaway from wedding planning (even with a wedding planner) is that MY organization was paramount. You can't rely on the planner, venues, or vendors to have your function top of mind; you're somewhat of a a blip on their radar until the day arrives. If you take control and you own the process, you'll avoid a lot of disappointment. I couldn't even get people to read my emails, much less my mind. 

Depending on how responsive the vendor is, prioritize your questions by need to know and nice to know, so the important ones don't get lost in the clutter. Writing all of this in an email to a vendor would be way too overwhelming, so use this as food for thought:

General questions:

  • What will travel costs be?
  • Will a passport and/or visa be required?
  • What is the weather like at different times of the year?
  • How do we handle the language barrier - do the church, hotel and reception staff and most vendors speak English?
  • How difficult is it to travel to the site? 
  • What are travel options once in country - train, car, taxi?
  • Can me and my guests use our cell phones? If everyone may not be able to, how to best communicate?
  • Are there things/activities to do for wedding guests that they could tack onto their trip?
  • How difficult is it for the bride and parents to visit the site and speak with wedding planner, church, reception site, hotel etc.to begin wedding planning - strongly recommended
  • Will I need an international drivers license (generally no, but if stopped by police they may require it)

Church/Ceremony:

  • Do you do both Civil and Symbolic ceremonies? 
  • Depending on which type you're doing, in their words, how would they explain the documentation process? (hearing different people explain the same thing can sometimes make it finally click!)
  • What is the ceremony fee?
  • Do I need to pay an officiant/priest/pastor? organist?
  • Do I need to pay a translator?
  • Do you have fixed hours for wedding ceremonies? (they likely have multiple per day at 12, 2, 4.. etc.)
  • Does the music have to be church approved or can I bring in my own sheet music?
  • Can we say our own vows?
  • How far is the church from the reception site? If not walkable, can you afford transportation?
  • Does the church require you to leave/donate any decorations? Do they allow all the details you want (i.e. candles)?

Reception Pricing Questions:

  • What is the venue fee?
  • What is the cost per person for food? are any drinks included?
  • What is the estimated cost of different bar options, i.e. open bar or just beer and wine or ad hoc menu orders?
  • What hours are we allowed private access to the venue?
  • In what currency are the cost estimates provided? (Currency fluctuations can affect this in US dollars). 
  • Does it include a VAT tax (value added tax- important!) in Italy, this would add 22% onto any estimate if not included.
  • How does the cost compare to a wedding at home?
  • What is the deposit and what do you pay day-of?
  • Is gratuity included?

General Reception Questions:

  • Is the venue completely private or shared (with other events or hotel guests)?
  • Can I have a band or DJ, and are there any loud music rules, i.e. time cutoff (important to ask in Europe, especially at hotels!)?
  • Is it possible to bring in your own wine/liquor?
  • What is provided as it relates to tables, chairs, linens, flatware, candles/centerpieces, floral, cake, other details you want?
  • Is there an option for a cocktail hour? What does it include? Is it incl in price per head?
  • How many people can the reception locale handle? How far in advance do they need final numbers and how flexible are they with changes?
  • Are there recent reviews for the wedding and reception sites?
  • Does the reception site handle all aspects of a reception - multi course dinner, wedding cake, tables and table cloths, chairs, flower vases, dance floor, place for band or DJ, etc.
  • In the event of inclement weather for an outdoor reception, can the site handle it seamlessly?
  • Are there reputable photographers and videographers available there?
  • If I want certain details, is it difficult to ship to the ceremony/reception site? How far in advance can I send things and they'll hold for me?

Church/Ceremony:

  • Do you do both Civil and Symbolic ceremonies? 
  • Depending on which type you're doing, ask in their words what the paperwork process is?
  • What is the ceremony fee?
  • Do you have fixed hours for wedding ceremonies? (they likely have multiple per day at 12, 2, 4.. etc.)
  • Do I need to pay an officiant/priest/pastor? organist? 
  • Does the music have to be church approved or can I bring in my own sheet music?
  • Can we say our own vows?
  • How far is the church from the reception site? If not walkable, can you afford transportation?
  • Do we need a translator?
  • Is a rehearsal possible the day before?

Accomodations:

  • Where is the closest hotel to the wedding and reception sites? If people don't have cars, is it walkable or can you provide transportation?
  • Are there AirBnB/HomeAway options in the town?
  • Can you get a block of rooms at a discount?
  • Are there different price tiers for guests with different budgets?
  • Is there wifi? Is there air conditioning or heat (depending on time of year)?
  • Do you want everyone together/nearby, or do you not care?
  • Do you want to provide welcome bags? If so, keep in mind the difficulty of distributing to multiple lodging options.

Wedding planner:

  • What are your core objectives to make a bride's planning process easier?
  • Can you outline your scope of work, detailing tasks you will and will not help with?
  • Can I see a portfolio of THEIR (not the whole firm's) weddings they have worked on?
  • To head of firm - how do you determine which planner is a good fit with which prospective client? (I've found some are definitely more creative than others) Can you see portfolios by planner of who's available and decide for yourself?
  • Do we work only with the wedding planner or is direct contact with vendors possible? Can you be cc'ed on everything?
  • Do you only work with a list of preferred vendors, or can you do the research/choose?
  • Who are the florists, DJs, live bands, hair/makeup, etc. vendors you recommend? (Always ask for at least two of each so you can be sure you're not getting overcharged)
  • What is the scope of the wedding planner's work? What are their expectations, what are yours? If you ask a question, and the answer is no, will they be creative and find a solution, or end the conversation there? Setting expectations for their level of proactivity is crucial.
  • Do they plan other weekend activities, i.e. rehearsal dinner, or specific to just the wedding day?
  • Do they serve as coordinator AND planner? (will they tell you/bridal parties where to go and when the day of)
  • Do they have an organization system to track questions/answers/followups/to-do lists? If not, make sure they'll fill out yours. 
  • What options do you have for decor and details outside of what the venue provides? (things you would likely DIY if getting married nearby that you can't fit in a suitcase, i.e. centerpieces, candles & candle holders, card boxes, signs, cocktail napkins, name cards, drink stirrers, cake toppers, guest favors, menus, programs, etc.)