Planning a Wedding

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Where to begin?

“Will you marry me?”

Those four words bring so much love, excitement, joy and…anxiety. The actual effort of planning a wedding can make one of the happiest times of your life stressful and exhausting. This is especially true if you’re working full-time. After the initial excitement wears off, you might start to feel overwhelmed. “Where to begin?”

While your first thoughts might lean toward wedding dresses and color schemes, Chicago wedding planner Susan Cordogan at Big City Bride recommends leaving the design process until later. Before you get into the nitty-gritty of floral arrangements and seating plans, start with the big picture – the venue and date.

The venue is the wedding’s foundation, and everything else – from florists to music – goes on top of that foundation. Begin by listing places to contact and tour. The guest list can be made after selecting a venue, but keep in mind a rough number. Most couples already have a guesstimate, knowing whether they want an intimate family affair or a large extravaganza. Regardless, Ms. Cordogan urges you to consider larger venues. “You can always use less of that space, but not more,” she says.

Likewise, most couples know whether they want a spring, summer, fall or winter wedding. If summer is a consideration, Ms. Cordogan advises looking into the Chicago calendar to avoid large conventions and events such as Lollapalooza and the Air & Water Show, which might hinder traffic and guest accommodations on the big day.

Marc Kaufman, director of catering, Ritz-Carlton Chicago, finds that weddings are booked at the hotel anywhere from 8-18 months out, noting that when the economy started to go downhill, weddings were booked with less and less advance notice. Yet, he says the bookings for 2013 were off the charts as early as last November. “We had 10 more weddings booked last November than we did at the same time in November 2011.”

It’s a good idea to secure a venue as soon as possible. Avoid researching vendors until the space is set, as some places have exclusive vendor relationships. Mr. Kaufman also says most vendors and caterers are flexible and ready to help at any time, adapting to the size and flow of the wedding and last minute changes. He caters weddings of all sizes, from 50-person weddings in the Ritz-Carlton Pearson Room to 550-person weddings in the Grand Ballroom.

The role of a professional wedding planner can streamline the entire planning process. Ms. Cordogan explains that planning a wedding is akin to building a house, and that wedding planners are like home contractors. “People often come to us with the paint colors chosen before the foundation has been built,” she observes, noting that hiring a professional to oversee the process ensures pieces fall into place at the appropriate time.

About 75 percent of Mr. Kaufman’s clients have wedding planners. But if you’re part of the 25 percent who’d prefer to plan on your own, Mr. Kaufman says Ritz-Carlton Chicago, and many other hotel wedding venues, can provide similar services if you need help. “If there’s no wedding planner, we do what they do,” he shares.

By Elizabeth Huppert

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