Tips from an event designer
Creative Director of Matthew Robbins Design, a contributing editor for Martha Stewart Weddings and author of the new book “Matthew Robbins’ Inspired Weddings”
Where should couples start when planning the design of their big day?
The best place to start is to choose a season. This will dictate the choice of venue and your color palette. If you want an outdoor wedding or a reception in an old barn, you will go with warmer months like June through September. If a ballroom is your dream, you have more options for time of year.
What are some wallet-friendly design tips?
Choose a strong color palette and use this to carry your design ideas throughout the wedding. If you are going for blush, lilac and pewter gray, for example, give your bridesmaids a great pewter-toned dress and have each one carry a single bloom in a blush tone, such as a lovely pink hydrangea tied with a floppy silk ribbon. Fill your dinner tables with candles and accent with flowers rather than the standard, which is lots of flowers and candles to accent.
What do you think is tacky?
Avoid colorful lights in your dining room. I always try to go for a warm white with a touch of amber. Keep your table linens elegant, but not over the top. Your tables aren’t being dressed for a prom date, so they don’t need layer upon layer — and the chairs don't need bows! Stay away from chair covers unless they really fit. Also, stay away from the towering ball of flowers for your centerpieces. This is tired, and you can come up with something much more original.
Foolproof design tricks
Always choose more than two colors or tones for your color palette. This will create a more unique, custom look and feel for your party.
Keep the lights dim! Even if you don’t have the budget for over-the-top event lighting, choose a venue with decent in-house lights — but confirm they are all on a dimmer. Keep the lights at 50 percent for dinner and load up on candles. This always creates a dreamy, ambient space, and everyone will look great in this light.
A beautiful table creates the perfect welcome for guests. Embellish the napkins with a single bloom or herbs such as a sprig of rosemary. Place a lovely votive on top of each menu. Create defined paths with lanterns filled with candles.
Tips from a caterer
Director of catering and events at Benares in New York
How can couples find a good caterer?
You definitely want to go with someone who has been referred to you, someone who has done events for a friend or family member. Also, find out who has catered events at venues that you’re interested in and meet with them. Venues have a list of vendors who have worked there in the past.
What should they look for in a caterer?
First, make sure you like the food. The caterer should be flexible; they should be able to provide you with various options and to show you pictures of past events. You shouldn’t just go by what they say— you should see it firsthand. Ask: “Can I come to your next event?” Most caterers should be able to get you into an event for a short visit. This way you see what they are capable of pulling off and if it’s what you’re expecting. Also, make sure whoever you work with will be onsite during your event.
How can couples cut costs?
One great way is to ask if you can provide your own liquor, because then you control how much money you spend on the bar. Another great way is to have a specialty cocktail instead of a full bar. As far as food, passed hors d’oeuvres are more cost effective than stations. Stations have to always be full, and you end up throwing away a lot at the end of the night.
What are your thoughts on buffet vs. sit-down?
Both are great for different reasons. A sit-down is more elegant, but a buffet allows you to have more time on the dance floor and more options. So it depends on what kind of feel you want for your party.
What’s the best way to ensure your food will taste great?
Do a tasting. Make sure you give your caterer detailed notes from your final tasting. If you have any special changes or requests, make sure that your caterer understands them.
Do a walk-through close to the day of your event with your cater and your wedding planner or coordinator.