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  • Writer's pictureRachel Griffin, owner & lead wedding planner

First Five Vendors to Hire

Plan Along with Me SeriesStep 2: The Five “F’s”

Way to go taking care of those basic beginning decisions we talked about last month – date, guest count, budget, venue(s) and planner. Let’s talk this month about the first five vendors to hire for your big day.

These are vendors that will usually do only one wedding a day, take up the bulk of your budget, influence the style and feel of your day, or all the above.

My shortcut for the first five vendors to hire when wedding planning is The Five “F’s.”

  • Food

  • Photos (I know, I know - it sounds like a “F” though!)

  • Flowers

  • Fashion

  • Fun

There’s lots of things to consider with each, so let’s break it down.


If your venue also offers catering services, congratulations – you're already ahead of game and can check this one off the list!

Typically, Food’s going to be the biggest budget item, especially if your caterer handles your bartending needs as well. For estimating’s sake, if your venue and catering are all together, think about 50% of your budget. If it’s a stand-alone item, you’ll want to set aside 40% of the total budget for food.

Make sure you’re comparing apples to apples when you're making your selection. If one caterer provides food only but another also includes the linens, dinnerware and servers, the two estimates are going to be very different. Don’t automatically go with the cheaper option without first looking at the cost you’ll add providing those items yourself or through and additional vendor.

Questions to ask:

  • What rentals items do they include? (ex. plates, glassware, linens, etc.)

  • Do they have servers for the food and bussing/clearing tables?

  • Do they provide bartending? If so, are you able to provide the alcohol or will you purchase it through them? Are mixers part of this service?

  • Do they offer tastings? If so, when in the process are you able to schedule one?

  • What menu options do they have for both dinner and cocktail hour appetizers? Is this customizable?

  • When do you need to provide final guest count to them by?

  • Is gratuity included already?

  • Do you get to keep any leftovers?


This is one of the vendors that will only be available for one event per date, so once you find the one you love, make sure to lock in your date with them quickly so they don’t end up booked.

A good estimate is roughly 15% of your budget for photography.

Make sure that you hire a PROFESSIONAL in this area! Remember this is all you’ll have left to remember your day by. You don’t want to hire a hobbyist that doesn’t have the right equipment or experience. And while friends are great (even when they have legit photography skills), they tend to party with your other friends in attendance and lose focus because they’re excited to celebrate too.

Also, make sure you and your fiancé click with your photographer. This is someone that will be around and in your face all day long during your wedding. You want to make sure they’re your kind of people and that you get along together. If you’re annoyed, it will definitely show in your pictures!

Questions to ask:

  • Can you see an entire gallery from a wedding, preferably at your venue? (not just highlight reels from many different weddings and locations)

  • How many hours of coverage do you get with the different packages?

  • Is an engagement session included? If you don’t want this, can it be moved into something else of equivalent value?

  • Is there a second shooter included?

  • What do you get in terms of product after the wedding? (ex. digital images, prints, albums, etc.)


This one is a larger budget chunk and also influences the look, colors, and feel of your day. It’s great to have a design direction that stems from your flowers that you can run with when it’s time to pick everything else like invitations, cake, linens etc.

A typical estimate is about 12% of your budget for florals and décor.

A good florist will be able to show you photos of weddings they’ve done and different venues they’ve worked at. They also should provide you with a detailed estimate that includes costs for each item they’ll provide, often with the types of flowers they’ll look to include.

Things to bring with you to get the most out of your appointment:

  • Pinterest board or photos of different examples of florals you love. Think bouquets, centerpieces, arches, etc. You don’t need an image of the EXACT thing you want, but examples of colors, styles, shapes that appeal to you.

  • Numbers of bridesmaids, groomsmen, and parents that will need personal flowers

  • Locations for where they’ll be delivering flowers

Questions to ask:

  • Can you see photos of work they’ve done at the venues you’re using? (great way to get ideas you may not have thought of!)

  • Will they deliver and set-up the décor? Do they break these down as well afterwards?

  • When do they need final counts by?


You’ll want to set aside about 2 to 5% of your budget for fashion items and you’ll want to make these decisions as close to 6 months out as you can manage. This will give you plenty of time for the dresses to come in and for you to have time to get them altered.

Questions to ask:

  • How long will it take to come in?

  • What alterations (if any) are included?

  • Ask how they will create the bustle and if those alterations are additional.

  • Do they steam or press the dress before you pick it up?

This is a great category to think outside of the box on and an area to potentially save in. For example, The Wedding Cycle here in Gainesville is a WONDERFUL shop that carries gorgeous, pre-loved fantasy gowns on a real-life budget. Options for bridesmaids like Rent the Runway or other retail and online department stores offer great selections that won’t break the bank too.


This is your entertainment – think DJ or Band. You’ll want to set aside at least 2 to 5% of your budget for this category also. Often, this is a vendor that will only do one event per date as well, so book and lock them in as soon as you find the one you love here too.

Make sure you’re hiring a WEDDING DJ or Band. Wedding experience and expertise is KEY!! I cannot stress this enough. A club DJ might make for an epic night out with your friends at the hottest bar in town, but I can almost guarantee you that they’ll have NO CLUE how announce your wedding party in, keep the party going while there’s breaks for food, toasts, and cake cutting, or know to NOT announce those things while your photography team is grabbing a quick bite of dinner.

Questions to ask:

  • Have they worked at your venues before?

  • How many setups are needed for ceremony, cocktails, and reception, and is that doable for them?

  • How much time is included in the packages?

  • Are there things like lighting, monograms, etc. that are included, or can be added on?

  • Do they have any special requirements for power or coverage if part, or all, of your event is outside?

So that’s the first five vendors to hire for your wedding! Not too scary, right? My hope is that these tips and questions to ask help to guide you in your decision making and help you find awesome vendors that fit your style, personalities, and budget.

You’re well on your way now to creating your very own dream wedding team! Woo-hoo!

Check back in next month to learn the ins and outs of what to DIY for your wedding and what to leave to the professionals. Step 3: Deciding What to DIY.

Until then, Happy Planning!

- Rachel

P.S. If you’d like to chat with us about different vendors you’re considering or how we can help with your day, reach out on our Contact page.


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