Why Wedding Favors Still Matter and How to Pick Out The Right Ones

In the course of wedding planning, there are bound to be details that fall through the cracks, get left until the last minute, or get forgotten altogether. It is my experience that deciding on wedding favors tends to be one of those last minute tasks. A small number of couples will think of an awesome idea for favors way in the beginning of the planning, but for most, it is an afterthought. In recent years, I've even heard a lot of couples asking "Are favors even worth it? Does anybody care?" My answer is simple: Yes, they matter, and make them count. Your guests will likely have spent a significant chunk of money (travel, clothing, hotel, gift$$) to be at your wedding to celebrate you. The least you can do is give them a little token to show your appreciation. That being said, it doesn't have to cost a lot of money to be thoughtful and special to your guests. Here are my tips on picking out the perfect wedding favors for your wedding: WeddingFavors

Factor it into the budget and plan ahead. Favors can get expensive, but they don't have to be. Once you have your venue and you have some clue of how many guests you might have, you should be able to get a clear picture of a per-person budget for favors. Get this piece into your budget right off the bat, so it doesn't become a surprise expense at the end of planning. Also, the farther out you have your spending limit, the sooner you can start shopping around. The best way to save money on all aspects of your wedding is to start shopping early. If you find an item you want from a store that has holiday sales, you can keep an eye out for when your item gets marked down or wait until you have a coupon, rather than being stuck at the last minute paying full price or not being able to afford it.

Connect it to the theme. My go-to method for coming up with a cute favor is to connect it back to the theme of the wedding, especially when it's off-beat or non-traditional. I designed an invitation earlier this summer for a travel-themed wedding. For their favors, they made mini magnets that featured a tiny map of each guest's hometown or favorite place. So personal, useful and totally fit the theme! Another of my past clients had a champagne-themed invitation, and they gave each guest a mini bottle of champagne at their seat. Rather than just picking something generic like a bag of mints and sticking a monogram on it, try thinking of a favor where the item itself connects to your wedding!

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Connect it to the venue or location. If your wedding doesn't have a specific theme other than the awesome location and decor, try thinking of something that matches that. If it's on a farm filled with with wildflowers, why not give your guests a packet of wildflower seeds for their own backyard? If your venue specializes in something like honey or baked goods, they probably offer a favor package for weddings. If you have a lot of guests coming from out of town, you could always feature something local. Couples in St Louis love to give their guests Gooey Butter Cake, and a couple I worked with from Martha's Vineyard gave a mug from The Black Dog to every guest. Whether it's perishable or an item that will last a long time, a location-inspired favor will remind them of how much fun they had at your wedding!

Connect it to something you as a couple enjoy. Another fun idea is to give your guests something useful that is inspired by something you love to do together. Love cooking? Give out wooden spoons or a homemade spice mix! Love to camp? Give canteens or pocket flashlights. Love the beach? How about koozies and flip flops? What may seem like a basic gift in theory, could be really cute and thoughtful when tied into your wedding, and it might actually get used!

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Pick a "day-of" item that they can take home! I've seen some really great ideas for "double uses" of wedding favors. One idea is to personalize each favor by adding a label or a tag that includes their table seating. By using the favors as escort or place cards, it kills two birds with one stone, and at the end of the night, the favors left behind have your guests' names on them, so the caterer knows who they belong to! I've seen couples give out sunglasses (which look silly but super fun in photos), koozies, custom glassware, or flip flops, all of which can be used at the wedding and then taken home by guests. You could also order paper flowers instead of using a traditional florist, and your guests could take home stems at the end of the night. These ideas all serve double duty, by adding to the fun and decor on your wedding day, but also giving your guests a token to take with them.

If you do the donation thing, make it meaningful. There is an opinion out there that a donation can be a cop-out for wedding favors. While I agree that a couple could easily say they made a donation when they actually didn't, I have more faith in humanity than that. My feeling is that on order to make a donation that is meaningful to your guests, you should donate to a cause or charity that someone (or multiple people) you love has a connection to. Too often, I see couples go the donation route and choose a cause that they feel close to or that they deem important. In my humble opinion, this seems a little self-indulgent for a favor that is supposed to be in honor of your guests. If you do choose to donate to one of your causes, at least attach the card to a piece of chocolate :).

Don't go crazy with personalization. If the item is something useful that your guests might have around for a long time, don't spend all that money putting your photo, monogram and date all over it. A koozie is one thing, but if I get a candle or a reusable bag or a wine stopper, I'm not all that interested in having someone else's wedding details all over it. Your guests will remember where they got it, and will be more likely to keep it and use it without your names printed on it. Make it special on your wedding day by ordering custom tags with a Thank You note and maybe a cutesy saying that ties it all together. That way the tag can be removed and the item will actually get used!

Think: What Would I Do With This? If the answer is, throw it away, then it's a waste of money, and it's not a favor that will matter to your guests. Go the donation route if you're truly stuck, or hire a pro to help you get creative with details like this!

Are you planning a wedding? What are your thoughts on favors? For more inspiration check out my Pinterest board!

3 Simple Rules to Follow for the Best Wedding Ever: PART THREE

Back in April, I started a mini-series on the blog highlighting Three Simple Rules for the Best Wedding Ever. Part One was the 2 Week Rule: Make a timeline for your planning that ends 2 WEEKS before your wedding. And stick to it. A couple of weeks ago I gave you Part Two: Focus on how you want your wedding to feel, not how you want it to look.Check out Part One and Two, and meet me back here! The final rule for planning the Best Wedding Ever is PART THREE:

Make a pact to stay by each other's side all night long.

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This one is the simplest of the three rules, but possibly the most important. In keeping with my Parts One and Two, here are a few points to focus on:

1. Why? Well, this is an easy one. It's your wedding! The two of you! The room will be full of all your favorite people in the world, but you just chose to marry each other and this day is all about your love. You worked together for months planning this day, and you deserve to bask in the glory of that together; to share the day with the other person that it's all about. One of my close friends gave me this advice before my wedding, and it is the single best piece of advice I can pass on.

2. It's more difficult than you think! Staying by your new spouse's side may sound like a no-brainer, but it's actually a challenge to stay on each other's hip all night. Just think -- you are the center of attention, everyone in the room wants to talk to you, dance with you, take a picture with you, and make sure you have a drink in your hand. If you're standing next to each other and two people come up to you at the same time and split you apart, it's very easy to get pulled into the crowd, onto the dance floor, and all of sudden lose track of each other. It can be a challenge to make it back across the room without seeing someone you haven't seen yet, or getting pulled into another photo with friends, so it's not always easy to get back to each others' sides. Before you know it, a precious hour has gone by without a kiss! If you agree before the wedding starts that "where you go, I go" you will avoid long stretches apart.

3. If you follow some traditions, you haven't seen much of each other before the wedding. In many cases, couples spend the last few days before the wedding participating in guys-only/girls-only events and appointments. Many couples see each other at the rehearsal and dinner the night before and then stay apart until they have a first look or walk down the aisle. So you might actually feel like you miss each other by the time the wedding starts! Don't forget--you are each other's date! Treat it like a date to the best party you've ever been to, and it feels much more natural to stay together all night.

4. Take a moment alone. You've probably heard it before, but time flies by so quickly on your wedding day. You've thought about the details of the day for months, you've practiced your vows and your dancing for weeks, and now it's here. Take a few minutes at some point in the evening to step outside, just the two of you, and have a moment to soak it all in. It's worth a few minutes of the night to have some privacy away from your families and the cameras and just be.

5. Greet people together. It's a challenge, but make sure you say hello and thank you to all the guests at your wedding. The best way to do this is together. Some of the guests from your spouse's family you may be meeting for the first time, and you don't want to have to introduce yourself at your own wedding. People are there to see the two of you, and they love to see the bride and groom together, take a photo and congratulate you.

6. Don't do the cigar thing. This one might be a battle you don't want to have, but please hear me out. I've been to many, many weddings where at some point in the evening, whether formal or casual, there are cigars offered outside. Typically, the groom and a large group of guys head outside and gather for a cigar. Sounds like a fun celebratory tradition, right? Well, guess what happens inside? The party dies. All of a sudden, you're missing 25 men from the dance floor, and it feels like the party is over. And the worst part? It lasts at least 30 minutes! I could go on and on about how I think this is the biggest party-killer out there, but I am listing it here because it also means, unless the couple is both having a cigar, you are apart for 30 minutes or more and (he) comes back smelling like an ashtray. I politely told my husband I really didn't want to do the whole cigar thing at our wedding, and he agreed. The dance floor was packed all night, and as far as I know, no one missed the smoke break.

Obviously there will be moments you will have to step away from one another (ahem, bathroom break) but if you both have it in your heads from the start that you are going to try to be together for the entire night, it will happen for the most part. I have worked with couples who have said their biggest regret from their wedding was that they felt like they barely saw their new spouse. On the other hand, the couples I have met who have followed this simple rule (myself included) were so grateful for the advice. Every memory I have from our wedding night includes my new husband standing or sitting right next to me, and that's a beautiful thing.

So, what do you think of my Three Rules? Try following them yourself and let me know how it worked for you! I sincerely believe these are simple, straightforward ways to make your wedding awesome and completely enjoyable for you and your guests. Good luck and happy planning!

Choosing the Perfect Wedding Photographer: Advice from a wedding planner and recent bride

EganFam2014-0110 My post this week was inspired by Photography by Nikki Cole's new website, which features a photo of Anthony and me on the front page! It's a beautiful image from our "first look" on our wedding day. Looking at that photo, and clicking through her gorgeous new site made me realize how grateful I am to have chosen such a fantastic photographer for my own wedding. Having seen and heard many horror stories working in this industry, I got to thinking--what if I hadn't been so lucky? I thought I'd share some of the best advice I have for the brides and grooms out there losing sleep over how to search for, choose and afford their dream photographer.

1. Prioritize your Budget (and research locally!). 

This is some general wedding budget advice that you've probably heard before, but it's very important when looking into wedding photography. How important is this? should be a question you ask yourself about all of the major big-ticket items in your wedding budget. Although everyone in the wedding industry wants you to think otherwise, you don't have to do anything. The choices you make are yours to make--don't let venue managers, invitation designers and catering companies pigeon-hole you into a bill that includes things you don't care about. Prioritize based on what is most important to you, and also to those paying for your wedding.

Once you've prioritized your "must-haves" and your "kinda-must-haves", you need to figure out how much everything on your list costs to effectively write a budget. There are lots of online budgeting tools out there, but I've found them to be generally inaccurate since the cost of a wedding completely differs from state to state, region to region. A wedding photography package in Boston can be as much as twice the cost of a comparable size and quality package in Ohio. You can't make decisions about your spending up front without making some calls and doing some research on local photographers.

2. Be smart about packages and payment plans.

Most photographers set up packages that include a limited number of hours, one or two photographers, digital copies of your photos, web hosting for a given amount of time, printed photos and/or albums for your families, and some throw in "free" engagement sessions. Some photographers aren't quick to offer a la carte packages, so it seems like this is the only way they price their services. And an engagement session is never truly free--it's almost always built into the pricing somewhere! If a standard package includes anything you don't want, most honest photographers will negotiate a package that is tailored just for you so you don't pay for what you don't need.

Every photographer will have a payment plan involving a deposit and then one or multiple payments before your big day. While I don't recommend trying to negotiate the final price (read #3 below), I do recommend being honest with your photographer if their payment plan isn't ideal for your financial situation. Many, many of these men and women own their own businesses and have some wiggle room if you want to stretch your total bill out into smaller payments or work with you as you juggle payments due from other vendors. If they want your business, they will work with you--just get everything in writing. If they refuse to budge on payment terms, maybe they're not the right photographer for you.

3. Don't hire your friend's cousin to save money.

So by now you've done your research and come to the conclusion that good wedding photography isn't cheap. So is there another option? Once, I heard of a bride who "had a friend whose cousin said he'd do it for $150" and she was blown away by his professionalism and his work. She was his jumping off point, and two years later he was doing weddings for $4K and is an award winning wedding photographer. Ok, I've actually NEVER hear of that happening. But to answer the question... Yes, there is another option: Bad wedding photography. In the form of unreliable communication, unprofessional demeanor, untimely delivery, underwhelming results. Yes, there are very talented photographers out there who are itching to get into the business, and there are plenty of brides willing to risk it to give them a shot and save some money. But being a good wedding photographer is different from just being a good photographer--there are tight schedules, traditions, nuances and bitchy bridesmaids to deal with that only experience will get you through. If you're feeling inclined to give a newbie a chance, I recommend only using him/her as a secondary shooter. Hire (and pay) a professional for the bulk of your images. Then you can offer for your friend's cousin to come for free and give her a meal in exchange for the images. It's a fair trade for that photographer to build her portfolio and for you to get free images.

The long and the short of it is that good photography is expensive. You're not hiring someone to come take pics on their iPhone and email them to you Monday morning. The skill, experience, practice and equipment required to create these beautiful, lasting images come at a cost, and that cost is worth it. You truly get what you pay for in this segment of the industry. Don't cut corners.

4. Find a portfolio you absolutely LOVE.

Photographers are constantly refining their websites and online galleries to reflect their most recent and favorite work. They curate their collection carefully so it shows not just the range of their work, but also their overall style. If you love one particular image from a photographer, but the overall collection doesn't evoke the style of story-telling you'd like, it's probably not the right fit. You can ask a photographer for specific shots, but it's their instinct and eye for capturing the unexpected moments of your day that will likely lead to your favorite images. If you find a photographer whose portfolio you love, chances are you'll love the work they do for you.

So with so many photographers and styles out there, how do you know what you like and want? Start by envisioning what you will do with your collection. Do you plan to hang them on your walls? Put them in a physical album? Will they live on for eternity only in the digital world? (Stop right here if this is the case, and hire your friend's cousin. This is lame.)

Once you have an idea of why you want these photos, think about how you want them to look and what story you want them to tell. Is your Pinterest full of cute bridal party poses you want to duplicate? Are you obsessed with the faded vintage trend ? Do you want a journalistic-style collection that tells the story of your day? The best photographer for you is the one that shares your style and specializes in producing the collection you're looking for. Figuring out the tone and style you want first will help you sort through the hundreds of portfolios out there to hone in on your ideal photographer. From there, it's a matter of availability, personality and cost.

5. Make sure you like your photographer as a person.

Availability, personality and cost? I cannot stress this enough, since I know many people don't take these words to heart. Your photographer will be by your side all day long on one of the most important days of your life. You don't want to sacrifice the enjoyment of your day for some great photos. Read reviews, meet in person, and hire her for an engagement shoot before you sign on the dotted line. I have met some nasty, crazy (read: egocentric) photographers out there that create beautiful work but add stress and headaches to the big day. This is the last thing you want. You want someone who will keep you genuinely smiling and feeling wonderful, who will stay on schedule and get all the shots you asked for, along with the best ones you didn't expect. Sound too good to be true? It's not, but you do have to do your research and possibly talk to a lot of people!

6. Don't wait until you've chosen a wedding date to start looking for your photographer.

The wedding industry is a fast-moving machine and like real estate, sometimes you have to commit fast or you lose your vendor to another couple. If you wait until you have your venue and date to start looking at bands, photographers, and caterers, you'll be dead-set on the date and may be stuck with no availability for your other favorite vendors. The venue is by far your biggest decision, but the other big-ticket pieces are equally important. Start poking around online and send in some inquiries regarding price, packages and even availability before your date is set in stone. If you have already narrowed down your favorite photographers that fit into your budget, the process is much smoother and faster (and you're more likely to get who you want!) once the date is set. Also, if your venue has two dates available and your dream photographer is only available for one of them, it can help with date choice!

Everything you need to know about Wedding Hashtags (6 DOs and DON'Ts)

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It seems as though, these days, every wedding incorporates some form of modern technology in the planning and execution of the big day; from wedding websites and online RSVPs to self-service photo booths and crowd-sourced videos. One trend that's gaining major ground is the wedding hashtag; a simple, FREE tool (which is hard to come by in the big wide world of weddings) that makes it easy to collect social media content related to and posted from your wedding. Hashtags can get out of hand... #weddings #newblogpost #writingonaplane #gopatriots #justgotabloodymary. When people use them in this way it's really just to be cute, and defeats much of the purpose of a hashtag (#imguiltyofthis). If you work in the social media world, you know the point of a hashtag: to "tag" posts, tweets and photos relevant to a topic or brand with the intention of making that content searchable by that tag. When I searched #doyourjob yesterday, I got a huge stream of Patriots fan photos; food prep for Super Bowl parties, pets dressed in Brady jerseys, and even a life-size stuffed Patriot mascot laying next to a dude in bed. Just what I was hoping for.

So, tagging all the social media posts (your friend's selfie on the plane headed to your big day, the video of your walk down the aisle, the photo of all your college friends hungover at brunch the next day) is an awesome idea, right? You've hired a photographer to take the pretty, posed shots, but there's something about those less than perfect snaps that you want to collect and save. With a wedding hashtag, days, weeks, months, years(?) down the road you can search for your tag on your favorite social media platform and it's like reliving your day all over again through the eyes of your geusts (I do this probably once a week with mine--there are over 100 photos!) Are you sold? As you're starting to think about your wedding hashtag, here are some tips:

1. DO create a unique hashtag. Create a unique hashtag. Create a unique hashtag. Create a unique hashtag. I literally feel like I cannot say this enough. And by unique, I don't necessarily mean clever or cute. I just mean UNIQUE. Like, no one else will use this hashtag, possibly ever. It seems like a no-brainer to me, but I am constantly seeing couples choosing generic hashtags that aren't going to get them to that end-goal of being able to collect just their wedding content. Just yesterday, I saw a couple using #MattandAshley. Do you know a couple named Matt and Ashley? Chances are, you'll meet at least one in your life if you haven't already. Go to Instagram right now and search #mattandashley. The photo collection is all over the place; from at least 5 different weddings and about 17 different couples named Matt and Ashley (including a few tweens, which is just awkward.) If the whole purpose of a hashtag was to be able to easily search and find photos and posts from their family and friends at their wedding, Matt and Ashley missed the mark. Unless your name is super unique (like my friends #kiraandwillem), I'd stay away from anything that's simply your names, even if it includes any form of "wedding" or "2015". Even if you don't see it in a search today, there's bound to be a duplicate out there eventually if you keep it that generic. It's only January, but come June every weekend your social media feed will be packed with tagged wedding photos, and chances are, yet another "Matt and Ashley" will be tying the knot. There are lots of ways to make your hashtag unique to your wedding. Adding at least one of your last names is a great first step, or referencing the location or the date. If you're feeling creative, try to think of a pun or a play on your names combined. The most important thing is to search for your hashtag and make sure it's not already out there. My hope is that as more people learn about this trend, a sort of etiquette will evolve and there will be fewer duplicates. But to be on the safe side, make it unique to you!

2. DON'T make it too complicated. Before you go too crazy coming up with a unique and clever hashtag, keep in mind that you want it to be memorable and easy to both read and type. Choosing something like #mattandashleyweddingcapecod2015 may make your hashtag unique, but it's also sort of obnoxious. It doesn't even fit on one line on Instagram and takes up 32 of your precious 140 characters on Twitter! And don't do an anagram like #MAATTK (Matt And Ashley Tie The Knot) because that's just silly, and not in a good way. Try to keep it short, sweet and simple. Options like #CotterCapeWedding, #CapeCodCotters, #AshleyTakesCotter or #CotterMcKnaught2015 would all be great options for the "Matt Cotter and Ashley McKnaught" wedding. (Adding the year is a good idea if your names are more common, since you only have one year's worth of weddings to compete with.) If at least one of your first or last names is uncommon, you can definitely get away with something as simple as a combination of your names, adding the date or year as security. My maiden name (Egan) is very common, but my groom's name (Rotio) is not, so we were able to get away with simply #eganrotio. The chance that another Rotio is going to marry an Egan in this lifetime are pretty slim.

3. DON'T pressure yourself to come up with something clever. The fact of the matter is, not all names are created equal when it comes to wedding puns. If one of your last names is Nott, Wring, or Glover, you have some cute options (#AmyandNickTietheNott, #HePutAWringOnIt, #thegLOVErs2015). But if it's Egan or Scizewski, you're going to have a hard time making a cute wedding pun (although for my Bachelorette we did use #LastRodeoBeforeRotio which was genius). At the end of the day, it's just a tool, and you want your guests to use it. It's not going to have any effect on the amazingness of your wedding. Just pick one that works and move on. There are WAY more important things to be creative about (like signature cocktails and day-of stationery!).

4. DO make sure you let your guests know what you've picked! These days, many young wedding guests who use social media hashtags will ask around to see if there is an "official" hashtag before they post any content. If there isn't one that's been publicized, they'll make up their own (may times leading to the #mattandashley predicament). If you want a successful hashtag, it should be clearly communicated to your guests. If you make it a point to ask your guests to use a hashtag, this will also encourage people who don't normally tag their posts to tag the ones from your weekend, making your collection bigger and better. Including the hashtag on your wedding stationery is a great way to let your guests know. It could go at the bottom of an informal ceremony program, on a welcome note for hotel guests or on a small sign on the bar or the guestbook table. You can even create a #hashtag tutorial like the one we included in our welcome note to our guests:

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The older generations don't always understand these new-fangled technologies, and it's nice to include them instead of just assuming they won't be a part of it because they don't understand. No one wants to ask, but they want to know!

5. DON'T go overboard. Remember, this is a wedding, not a marketing event. Don't get me wrong--I love a well-branded wedding. But putting your hashtag on everything from coasters to koozies to table menus is tacky. And the more you push it on your guests, the more you run the risk of shifting your guests' focus from their real life experience of your wedding to their sharing of it on social media. You don't want to look around at your wedding and see everyone on their phones.

6. DON'T live-tweet your own wedding. Ok, so I don't actually think anyone out there is live-tweeting their wedding, but seriously.. for the love of all things Holy, do NOT have your phone on you! You have surrounded yourself with plenty of people who will keep an eye on the time, the details, and making sure everyone shows up when and where they should. This is your day. Take the rare opportunity to be phone-free and soak it all in. Believe me, there will be plenty of photos and videos taken by your family and friends. Leave it up to everyone else!

Have you seen any cute wedding hashtags lately? What are you planning to use for your big day? Leave a comment!

Two Food Lovers in Love (OUR WEDDING!)

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Anthony and I love food. We love to cook, we love to eat, and most importantly we love to sit across the table with those that we hold dear and share a meal. (Sharing a meal is different than the simple act of "eating", but that discussion is for another time). If you ask Anthony the way to his heart, he probably wouldn't say "through my stomach" because he's pretty romantic and I think I have other qualities he would list before my cooking. But, he would definitely agree that a mutual appreciation for cooking and eating good food was a huge building block of our relationship. We made pizza together on our second date! Our love for all things food has led us on many journeys together; amazing dinner dates, the perpetual hunt for new eateries, the food blog, and some memorable cooking disasters, just to name a few.

So when it came time to talk about the feel of our wedding, we both agreed immediately that we couldn't skimp on the food, and a fantastic farm-to-table caterer was a must. We eventually settled on Season to Taste, and it was one of the best vendor decisions we made! As one vendor after another started to fall into place, so did the feel and theme of the whole event. The focus would be on sharing a meal, and in general, the idea that "food is love". In keeping with the KE Events model, our stationery would start to tell that story, and then the details and decor on the day of would tie it all together.

We started things off with a postcard Save the Date that looked like a recipe for a good time!

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A great way to save money is to do a postcard -- it's $.15 less postage per card, and the envelope is another $.25 to $.50 depending on size. We sent 200 of these bad boys, so by sending a postcard, we saved $100! 

When it came time to design our invitations, I stuck with the theme, and tied in the red striped tea towels we would be using for our table settings.

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Anthony designed a beautiful website that matched all our stationery (he built the website, I created the content) and we accepted RSVPs online.

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Accepting RSVPs online is a fantastic way to use modern technology to make your wedding consumed life easier. Again, you save at least $1.00 per invitation (postage and envelope for returned RSVP cards). But more importantly, it's easier for you AND your guests. You automatically collect all your responses in one place that you can access from anywhere, and your guests can RSVP from their smart phone--no trip to the post office! We used a google form to collect ours, but many of the wedding websites out there now have online RSVPs included in their website templates. I can't recommend it enough! (If you hire KEEvents for planning and coordination, we even offer a free custom website with online RSVP as part of the package!)

When our out of town guests arrived at the hotel, we had prepared some goodie bags to welcome them. Inside was a little booklet I created with some information about the wedding and the area, complete with two maps and an explanation of what the heck a #hashtag is! (Click to see full size images)

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A Welcome goodie bag is certainly not a necessity for your wedding. It does add work, and some cost, and if your budget is tight it's an easy thing to skip. However, it's a nice thing to consider if you have a lot of guests coming in from out of town. We had over 150 people staying at the hotel, many of whom had traveled quite a distance to be with us and share in our day. My mom was a big proponent of the bags, and I wasn't about to argue. It's a nice thing to provide for your guests, but it also provides you with another way to communicate important information for your guests. Our little booklet included a personal note, the schedule for the weekend, wedding shuttle details and a tutorial on #hashtagging (for the older folks!) 

We got married at the church I grew up in, Melrose Highlands Congregational Church. The ceremony was so special to us. It included a poem written by my cousin and a song written and sung by some of my closest friends. I didn't want a boring program!

Photo credit: Nikki Cole Photography

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The reception was held at Soldiers and Sailors Memorial Hall in Melrose, MA, which is an old utilitarian theater and event space that houses the Melrose Symphony Orchestra and Melrose Youth Ballet, along with many community events and a few weddings per year. The stage is where I performed in The Nutcracker for 8 Years as a child, it's right around the corner from my childhood home, and right in the center of my hometown. I personally didn't know anyone who had hosted a wedding there, and there were almost no photos online of the space set up for a wedding, so I was starting from scratch with decor ideas.

We went with long tables because I love the look, but also because I think they're better for conversation than the more traditional rounds. We did a family style dinner, and we wanted our guests to feel at home.

Photo credit: Nikki Cole Photography

Photo Credit: @clairemary on Instagram

Each table was covered with white linen and a layered  paper runner and decorated with simple paper roses in mis-matched jars and mason jars with fresh Maine winter berry. The bridesmaid bouquets were lined up down the length of the head table. The simple look worked to blend the rustic, farm-to-table meal with the grand, indoor, utilitarian space.

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Photo credit: Nikki Cole Photography

We weren't allowed to light real candles in the space, so my mom rigged up some stringed cafe lights to bring a cozy feel to the tables without any open flame.

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To fill the old theater boxes at the back of the hall, I hand painted large banners that coordinated with the logo I had designed. Each was 4 feet wide by 6 feet tall:

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The cocktail hour was held in a room off the main hall, and was pretty much filled to capacity with our family and friends. We made up a signature cocktail, The Crimson Camel; a twist on a Moscow Mule that represented our two Alma Maters (the Harvard Crimson and the Connecticut College Camels)

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For our favors, we bought spice jars from World Market and filled them with our Rotio spice blend for our guests to use in their own kitchens. I designed tags for the front that served as place cards, and a small hang tag with recipe suggestions. Anthony's Dad built us a giant "spice rack" to display them, and I wrote on the kraft table runner, "Spice a dish with love and it pleases every palate" along with a little map of the tables.

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table map

Each table was named after one of our favorite restaurants. Anthony built a miniature sandwich board for each table, and I created a "chalkboard" design for each one that told a little story of why each spot was important to us.

Photo credit: Nikki Cole Photography

The menus and table settings were meant to mimic the trend in some of our favorite restaurants - a clipboard style card holding a simple utilitarian menu, tucked into a tea towel.

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In keeping with the theme (and taking into consideration that we'd want it displayed proudly in the future), our "guestbook" was a collection of bamboo cutting boards.

Photo credit: Nikki Cole Photography


There were a couple other pieces that didn't get photographed -- an adorable Rehearsal Dinner invitation with an embossed silverware emblem and checkered envelope liner, and Head Table placecards for our bridal party. Only now, after writing this post and seeing all these photos collected in one place, am I coming to terms without how much work I did on my own wedding! Holy moly! And this doesn't even include the flowers!

* E X P E R T * T I P *

If you don't work in this industry, I would strongly recommend NOT taking on this many DIY projects for your big day. (Hire an expert like me!) Because I do this for a living, I was able to tackle it all myself, and was very prepared with a timeline that started 11 months out and left me two weeks before my wedding to catch my breath and take it all in. I recommend taking on 2-3 major projects max, and I would also suggest choosing projects you can tackle well before your wedding date. The other tip I have for getting DIY projects done on time is to ask for RSVPs extra early. Our RSVP date was a full 2 months before our wedding. You won't have your final count for Welcome Bags, Favors, Placecards, Menus and Programs until you have your RSVPs back, and if you have a bigger wedding (ours could have swung 100 people in either direction!) you'll want some breathing room.

Passport Wedding Invitations

My friend Kerry got married in July, and when she asked me to do her invitations I was so excited! She and her fiance were planning a destination wedding in Jamaica and they had this vision for "passport" invitations, and already knew their colors. Piece of cake, right?

Now, I love Pinterest for all the inspiration it has to offer, but I feel like it makes it difficult to come up with something that no one's ever seen before. Kerry sent me some pins of some invitations she really liked, but I really wanted to create something special for them that didn't just mimic everything else that was out there. So I took inspiration from a LOT of different places (including the State Department) and came up with a passport invitation that I LOVE:

We ended up going with a postcard instead of a reply card with envelope. It was a play on a boarding pass, and the postcard worked really well with the passport/travel/destination theme! Plus, it saves money (and paper)!

When the time came for the wedding, Kerry also asked me to do her programs and table numbers for the Jamaica ceremony and reception.

The Newlyweds also had a reception at home with their friends and family who couldn't make it to Jamaica, so again Kerry called on me to make some Wedding "mad libs" that she used in place of a guest book! So cute!

Love these invitations? I'm now taking orders for personalized handmade invitations! Complete this form for a quote!