Accommodations for Out of Town Guests

Standard room at The Benson Portland, OR

With the rising popularity of Airbnb’s and other alternatives to hotels, many of your out of town guests are not going to want or need recommendations on where to stay in Portland. So when do you need to contract for a room block? Find pricing for hotels near your wedding venue? Etc.

If you are having a true destination wedding, such as an intimate affair in Hawaii where 100% of your guests and you will need a place to stay, please negotiate a room block. If your wedding is late in the day in to the night or early morning in a remote part of the coast, The Gorge, wine country (or any time in summer when all accommodations fully book up) negotiate room blocks if you confirm with close family and friends they need and want this.

What is a room block?

Hotel deLuxe – Portland, OR

A room block is a contracted rate guaranteed for a select number of hotel rooms for a given set period of dates. Most room blocks are set for ten guaranteed rooms. While you don’t have to directly pay for all ten rooms, if your guests don’t book all ten rooms fully and the hotel cannot book them after your release date on the rooms, you will have to pay for those rooms – used or not.

Other options include negotiated discount codes. Some hotels will give you a discount code to give your guests on your wedding website. There is no contract involved. As a courtesy they give you a discount code (usually between 5-10%) your guests use it when they book directly online through the hotel website. Hotel Zag will do this.

Don’t over think this in your planning phase. People have personal reasons to choose where they will stay. Maybe they have family or friends they’re visiting as part of your wedding trip and they want to be near them or stay with them. Maybe they have rewards points to use with one hotel chain over another. Don’t assume people want you to set up their accommodations. They usually don’t.

Airbnb St. John’s, OR

The best thing to do for all weddings is recommend a few hotels – look up their current rates for your wedding weekend, and put a link to their web booking page in your wedding website. You can say something like, “The Jupiter Hotel – $157+ per night

So to summarize, put some info on your wedding webpage about nearby hotels but don’t contractually negotiate rates unless you absolutely can guarantee those rooms will be reserved. Room blocks are great for destination weddings, in most other circumstances just ask for a discount code or recommend nearby hotels you would stay at. Find at least 2 price points if possible. Don’t waste more than 20-30 minutes on this task in your wedding planning process. A good partial or full service planner will do this for you. If your wedding is happening anywhere with a lot of options. Don’t spend more than an hour on this task even if your wedding is not close in. Find two – three good recommendations and then relax. Your friends and family know how to book a room!

Guest Books

The guestbook from my wedding has sat in a hat box in my closet for 22 years. It’s falling apart, despite never being looked at. Guestbooks are just a sweet reminder of who was at your wedding. Over the years so much will change, loved ones will be lost, you’ll enjoy knowing this weird thing exists.

Alternatives to the guestbook

One of our favorites is as simple as a handful of Sharpies and a wooden letter. A wooden signboard of the state of Oregon with your names and wedding date, an engagement picture with a wide mat frame to sign, whatever style you prefer to see on a wall somewhere in your home.

Signed hearts to be attached to a family tree or designed in a shadow box.

And a trend many couples tried over the past few years, but we really don’t recommend this trend needs to die, the insta pix or Polaroid guestbook:

I’ve done two weddings with these recently, they both flopped. At this wedding, the flower girl took more pictures than all the other guests combined (and I kept chasing her away because they were all pictures of walls or floors or peoples butts). Nobody likes taking Polaroid pictures at weddings. They’re low quality, everyone looks bad, nobody wants you to remember that for life.

At another wedding, we had a camera fail. The cameras were not charged and didn’t have the needed chargers in the boxes. We had no choice but to put out a camera you couldn’t use because we didn’t get them until 30 minutes before the wedding (always give us decor and other items ready to use or by the rehearsal at the latest or we won’t have time to troubleshoot).

They’re just bad. They seem great, in theory it’s a fun idea, in theory. But in reality, they’re not good. A better alternative is to have a different guestbook and create a great hashtag for fun photos. One of my couples for next year has #poolehall that’s freakin gold! I can help you come up with a hashtag if you are struggling. But a memorable hashtag allows your friends to insta the pics they stage with great lighting and use their high quality phone cameras to take. It’s a win/win!

Wedding Budgetting

Georgia Ruth Photography

It’s engagement season – which leads to the start of wedding planning season. After you say “YES!” And before you book a venue you have some work to do.

Step 1 Figure Out How Much You Have To Spend

This includes funds from family, what you are contributing, everything. More couples are paying for their own wedding settle on a final number you can afford before going forward.

Step 2 Stick To Your Budget

This is a once in a lifetime event if you can spend more on it than you would on a car, go for it. Your marriage should last longer than your car. If you can’t afford to spend as much on a wedding as you would on a new car, and you can’t even afford an old used car DO NOT GO INTO DEBT FOR YOUR WEDDING. It’s not just OK, but truly important, to plan whatever wedding you can afford.

Step 3 How many guests can you afford to invite?

First determine how many people you must invite. These are the people who will hate and disown you if they are not invited. The true number here falls between 2-30. Nobody must invite their best friend at work. Nobody must invite their first grade best friend they haven’t spoken to in twenty years. Just the absolute must be theres.

Second determine how many people you would invite if you had all the money in the world. Keep in mind you still don’t have to include your best work friend or your best friend from first grade. This is the list of people you know matter to you and should be at your wedding. This list may include your best work friends, it may not. This is a very personal decision.

Now divide your total available budget by the number of people. This is your total per person budget under each scenario – this number will make sense in considering what you can and cannot afford.

Step 4 Imagine Your Ideal Wedding

  • Do you see yourself on a beach somewhere far away with just your key people?
  • Do you picture an urban ballroom and your family church?
  • Do you want a rustic vineyard with chic chandeliers and a barn dance?
  • Do you see a very non-traditional Portland ceremony followed by an amazing dinner to please any foodie, followed by dancing, clubbing, karaoke after party fun?

Who are you? What would be the best day ever for you? Figure that out first. Now pick options you can afford for your key people, vs. the big list before deciding on a venue.

Step 5 Stick To Your Budget

If what you want does not match what you can afford, change your attitude not your budget. Change your guest list and style not your budget. Have a dream vow renewal one day instead. Don’t blow up your financial well-being for your wedding.

Step 6 Choose a Venue First

Before you put down a deposit on anything, choose your venue first. Your date you want may be booked but there may be a second option you are ok with so do not book anyone until you have a venue and a set date.

If you are sticking to your small list (intimate weddings are the biggest and best trend for 2020) make sure your venue fits the party size. An empty giant room or barn will be awkward. Consider if the food and beverage are included at your venue, if so what are the minimums?

Do not be fooled by food and beverage minimums. Example, one venue may have a $15,000 food/beverage minimum with no other venue costs beyond gratuity. Another might have a $2,000 site fee, $10,000 food and beverage minimum, and another may have just a food/beverage $6,500 food and beverage minimum. You may assume the lowest minimum is your best bet, but you have 150 guests on your list and their menu may have dinner options from $48-$98/person. The lowest option is over your minimum. Now the $15k place may have $38-$58/per person meals. You could add a fantastic cocktail hour, not worry for a second and not stress that you need to pay an overage bill at the end of the night.

Some venues will include extras – champagne toasts, waived cake cutting fees, open catering options with just a site fee. Add it up. Get menus, get pricing, how much is the true cost?

Do not pick a venue with an $8,000 site fee if you then have $4000 left for food and drinks and a 200 guest count. Keep looking!

What will you have left for everything else? Break that out, is it enough left if you choose this venue and wedding style?

Step 7 Stick To Your Budget

Change your plan, change your attitude, don’t change your budget. Get married off season – this can save you a lot in Portland. Get married in March or April, indoors, the flowers are amazing!

Something may have to give at this phase in planning. Too many people choose venue and style over anything that will actually end up mattering you you. If you need 300 people and don’t have a huge budget, get married at your church or in a public park with venue space. Have the reception in your church hall or at a park. Choose catering you can afford. If you need a cocktail appetizer or luncheon instead of a plated dinner, do that.

Step 8 begin booking other vendors

You should already know exactly what you can afford per vendor. Book a photographer, caterer, and planner (if you didn’t start with a planner) first. They all book up well in advance.

If you will be using a wedding floral designer as opposed to a florist book them early the best ones book up for key dates fast! Book a DJ/musicians next. If you need decor or rentals source those early they do get more expensive or hard to find in wedding season. Order a cake and desserts.

Wedding Themes, Without Making It Weird

The theme of any wedding is you, the couple – getting married. Many couples very much have elements of a decor theme, meaning something important to their relationship, or something inspired by the venue, or the season the wedding will be taking place in.

It’s actually rare that a decor “theme” isn’t part of what inspires your wedding design. We’ve had weddings on the coast with sand, rocks, and sea shells working their way in to the decor without smacking guests in the face with seaweed and beachwear. Or weddings in Spring in a garden setting, with bright bold blooming peonies and other spring florals without informing guests – this wedding brought to you by Mother Nature and Spring. The key in design is to incorporate elements in to your wedding without deep diving in to a fundraiser style over-the-top full blown theme party, unless such things really appeal to you.

This year, The 4th of July, and Halloween fall on a Saturday, Roaring 20s full Gatsby is in for any Saturday, here are some tips on how to design a themed wedding without making it weird for your guests.

Decide if this is a mild theme, or central to your big day

A mild theme is – we are getting married in an old building, we want it to feel like a speak easy with hints of vintage Gatsby, but we don’t need everyone dressed as a gangster or a flapper.

A Central Focused Theme means everything from your invites to the password to get in to the feather tree centerpieces, coup martini glasses and fringed assed bridesmaids dresses with groomsmen in Zoot Suits – are going to be part of your wedding.

Having a 4th of July wedding? Respect the reality that your guests love you and America. Choose a venue, and a timeline, that will balance the traditions of the day and your celebration. Example, see if you and the bridal party can be in your hometown parade that morning if you are marrying near home. Allow time to get your hair and makeup done after but before the wedding. Don’t wear your wedding gear, wear patriotic attire fit for a bridal party. Don’t forget to buy and prepare candy to toss to the kids watching. Make sure your reception venue and budget either afford you the opportunity for fireworks at the end, or that your venue is near a big fireworks display you can incorporate in to your wedding events, with appropriate viewing opportunities for you and your guests.

Don’t surprise your guests in a way that will make them feel left out

If you are having a Halloween themed wedding, don’t make that ambiguous. Spell it out in your wedding invite, on your wedding website, and directly to your guests. Wouldn’t you feel awkward being the only guest to show up as a traditional wedding guest, surrounded by zombies, bunnies, and devils? Conversely, if your wedding is on Halloween, and you’ll have fall colors, some cute pumpkins in the decor, tables named after haunted places, some fun named custom His & Hers cocktails, but otherwise a classy traditional wedding, don’t send Corpse Bride themed invites with ambiguous wording. Nobody wants to be the weirdo who shows up as a sexy clown, while everyone else is in cocktail dresses.

Tacky is always tacky, too much is always too much – except when it’s totally not

Nobody wants to eat eyeball soup or brains, at your wedding feast. A cute fun name for an appetizing meal is fine, but don’t gross people out while they’re trying to eat. Have fun naming your tables! But don’t be icky. “Shanghai Tunnels” – good name of a local haunted place. “Trans-Allegheny Lunatic Asylum” – your guests may be offended you sat them here, or you may put your bridal party here and they will find it freakin awesome! Know your audience.

Have a fun photo booth with boas, feathers and old prohibition props, that’s cool, but don’t put MAGA hats in there – even if Uncle Dan would love it. Keep politics out of your 4th of July (or any) wedding day, unless politics are a key part of who you are, or if you are actual politicians. Also, funny is always funny – for example, we had a client name a table “Trump & Twitter” last year that’s just perfectly funny.

Don’t have your DJ play all swing and The Charleston. A little bit goes a long way! Trust your DJ, they know the right balance of what’s fun and what fits the theme and crowd.

On that note, consider instead of doing The Time Warp down the aisle, have your bridal party do it as your grand reception entrance. Timing is everything at a wedding.

Here’s a perfect example of designing with a theme, while not turning your wedding in to a Mad Hatter Tea Party, IRL

Our couple collected vintage books, teapots, milk glass, tea cups, plates, and glass pieces from thrift stores. We painted all of the clear glass gold, stacked salad plates and dinner plates using glue and dollar tree candlesticks and created these designs for the guest tables.

We have only July 4 available still in July, and October 31, in October. We’d actually love to plan either so we are offering $200 off any Day Of, Partial or Full Service bookings for either of those dates only. You don’t have to have the date as a theme, but we’d love it if you let us help you do so!

DIY Centerpiece Ideas

Centerpieces can be very expensive. Here are some ideas to help you cut costs:

1) Order pieces that can be used at your ceremony then easily moved and repurposed for at least half your tables during the reception:

These boxed designs just simply get picked up and placed in the center of rounds with votives for elegant centerpieces.

2. Order low designs instead of tall, Tall designs average $150-$350 each table. You’ll save money just by not going high.

3. Skip the fancy vessel. You don’t need an ornate gold compote. Even if you just rent them, they will add a lot to each table. Instead you can order pieces with 100% hidden mechanics built in to a disposable container. Bonus points – you can send them home with guests and cut down on cleanup time:

The first piece runs $100 each (rental of vessel included) the bottom $50 each.

4. Order flowers for half of your guest tables, use candles and DIY styles for the other half.

Our favorite DIY centerpiece is the simple floating candles. Fancy it up, add cranberries, rocks, greens around the bottom or tapers in craft sand, or a combo to mix it up:

Your Rehearsal Dinner

Elder Hall – photo by Ellie Asher Photography

Too often, couples leave their rehearsal planning until the last minute. This limits your options and can cost you, or simply stress you out! Here’s my guide to planning your rehearsal dinner.

Step 1) Set a budget. The traditional old school rules were the groom’s family paid for the rehearsal dinner. You may still do this, but as is the case with the rest of the budget most couples have a general overall budget which may or may not include funds from either or both families. Expect to spend about 10% of your overall budget here.

Step 2) Create a guest list. This will be different for every wedding. If you are having a destination wedding, for example, expect to invite most or all of the people who traveled all that way to be there with you. If you are having a large wedding where you live and many people have traveled far to be there with you, you may want to include everyone, dozens of people even. If you have social anxiety, are overwhelmed with large groups, having a very large wedding and just want the bridal party and your closest family by your side for a low key night before DON’T invite a lot of people. The only people you absolutely should feel you must invite include immediate family, bridal party and their spouse, flower girls and ring bearers plus their parents, and your officiant (if it is your family’s clergy you worship with regularly or a friend is serving as your officiant you may need to invite their spouse).

Step 3) Decide on a style and venue. If you’re back in your hometown with a large crowd, a family home, family church meeting space, or your favorite restaurant growing up, may be the best option for you. If you are having a destination wedding and want to make sure traveling guests don’t have to stress, something in walking distance or at the hotel you’re all staying at, or nearby with detailed transportation options available and shared with your guests. If you are having 50-150 people (yes this truly happens a lot) consider a park picnic area or a restaurant that will give you a food and beverage minimum buyout option.

Step 4) Catered or homecooking? A lot of people choose to invite more people and have a less formal venue. Backyard BBQ, family pot luck arranged by mom, or large home cooked feast made by the family as a group project are commonplace when your crowd is large. Think family reunion style. You can do this and have catered food that is picked up from virtually any family restaurant, Chipotle, Po’ Shines, you name it. The other option is a restaurant with private dining space from pizza and beer at a local pub to a custom limited menu at The Ned Ludd Elder Hall, to a full service catered affair in your own home. It’s truly wide open here. One of my couples had everyone meet up at the food carts on Hawthorne to order whatever they want. It’s truly up to you.

Step 5) What will you do at your dinner? You will want to do toasts, of course. Thank everyone for being there. Prepare a video to show, or have a slideshow on a loop in one room if your venue is a house. You may want to give family and bridal party members special gifts, toast your future spouse, dance, do karaoke, perform a song, do a special dance with your bridal party, or just relax and enjoy one on one conversations with your loved ones.

Step 6) Plan your decor. If you’ll be at a restaurant or having a picnic this may mean you need nothing. At home, in a church hall, or at a hotel you may want to make some simple centerpieces with your family the day before. Flowers from your garden are perfect for an at home dinner, Trader Joe’s always has a great selection of flowers pre-arranged in bouquets you can trim and place in a Dollar Tree vase. The key is to not spend too much time or money if you don’t have the budget. If you do have the budget consider potted plants to give as gifts at the end. Or include this portion in your quote request to your wedding florist.

*Bonus tip, do not get everyone drunk the night before your wedding. An open bar is unnecessary, instead select an option of a few types of wine or just one type you really love. If you’re at your favorite restaurant with a select family style or plated dinner select the perfect drink options yourself. A few types of beer and cider plus non-alcoholic drinks are sufficient. People can order cocktails on their own at the bar if you’re at a restaurant, or hit the hotel bar after if they must. If you really want it to be a party or you’re at home, consider a family favorite cocktail, or a few bottles of your favorites for mixed drinks of choice.