One of the most important and crucial tasks when planning a wedding, is booking the right people to help make your vision come to fruition and ensure your guests all have a fantastic time! Your vendors are key to making this happen. But who do you book and when do you book them and how much do they cost and... the list of questions can go on and on. So here's some tips/suggestions to get you going.
If you're hiring a wedding planner, this should be your first step. A wedding planner can help generate a list of wedding vendors that you should consider - people they've worked with and can vouch for their professionalism, talent and ease of working with. They can also help set up appointments and negotiate contract details with them so that you don't have to! Some couples will book their venue first and then find a wedding planner. These brides usually know exactly where they want to get married and go directly to the venue to secure it and then they'll seek out a wedding planner. Either way is fine. However, if working with a specific wedding planner is your ideal, you may want to book them first to ensure they will be available on your chosen date.
Next, you'll want to start filling in the other key important roles, and again, if you have hired a planner, they can make some suggestions for you for each role. My rule of thumb... it's never too early to book a vendor. I guess that's not entirely true. If you're planning a wedding 3-4-5 years in the future, it probably is too early to book certain vendors. But for most people planning a wedding 6, 12, 18 months out, I say as soon as you have your date confirmed with your wedding planner and venue, you can get to work filling in the rest of your vendors.
Photographer - Some photographers will book up 12-18 months out - some will book up 2 years out, so this should be one of the first vendors you book once you know your date. When I was getting married, I knew exacatly who was going to photograph my wedding and asked for their availability before booking my venue. When the wedding's over, the DJ's gone home and the cake's all eaten, the one thing you still have and will always have is your photographs. So make sure you hire a photographer that can capture the moments of your day in a style that moves you without compromising quality or losing the timelessness of the occasion.
Videographer - videographers will usually book up 6-9 months out. It's one of those services that some couples forego for their big day as it's not an essential, but man can it capture some memories and the overall feeling of your day. Photographs are great and I would say the most important vendor you will book. But a video of your day can capture the sentiments expressed through toasts by the Father of the bride, best-man and maid of honor. A video can capture the vows you two promise to one another. A video can record your first dance and there's something special that happens when you hear the music and see the moment unfolding. So, although it may not be considered essential to your wedding day, if you can swing it, I highly recommend it.
Florist/Designer - your florist and/or designer of your day, will be key in conveying how you two feel about yourselves, each other and your guests. They will bring everything together in a way that represents your individual styles, your love for one another and the joy and love you feel especially on this day. So don't waste time when booking your designer and/or florist. Once again, the minute you have your date/venue booked, get to work jotting down notes about what you are envisioning and start finding your florist. Depending on what you're looking for and how experienced and in-demand your florist is, the price range you could be looking at varies immensely. Speak with your wedding planner to get an idea of pricing on your particular florist choices.
Bakery - typically you can book a bakery within 6 months of your wedding. The nice thing about most bakeries is that they can book multiple weddings/events for any given day. But a word of caution... in my experience, not all bakeries can make a beautiful cake and make it taste delicious. Some make beautiful cakes and some make tasty ones. But ask your planner or venue coordinator (if you don't have a planner) for a good baker that excels at both form & function. Most bakeries charge around $4-$6/pp for a cake - so if you have 100 people coming, expect to pay around $400-$600 for the cake + a delivery fee of around $250-$500 (depending on how far they have to go to make the delivery).
DJ or Band - a Band is obviously going to run you more than a DJ (bands typically have 4-5+ members which means more people they need to pay and more equipment they need to bring.) DJ's are typically in the $500-$1000 range whereas bands are usually $3000+. And the more popular the DJ/Band is, the sooner they will book up. As I said, it's never too early!
Officiant for the Ceremony - perhaps theres someone from your childhood church you'd like to officate the ceremony. Or perhaps a friend or family member has been ordained. Whatever the case, you're going to want to book them at least 6 months prior to ensure you have time to meet and go over your hopes for the details of the ceremony. What you want to include, what you don't. Time to write your vows if that's the route you choose, and if not, time to select the vows you wish to recite. Expect to pay around $250 for a wedding officiant, although some just ask that you cover their mileage, transportation and hotel stay if needed.
Ceremony musicians - consider the venue for the wedding first and then consider the style of music you would like played. Sometimes your DJ can take care of this for you, some couples prefer something more classic like a violinist, pianist or a string quartet! Some religious venues (churches/chapels) do not allow certain types of music to be played in their space so make sure you read their contracts before booking your ceremony musicians.
Caterer - if you've booked a venue for your wedding that does not have an in-house caterer, then you'll need to find one to come on-site and provide food & beverage to your guests. I feel like a broken record here - but again, start making phone calls to caterers immediately after booking your date, if not before. It may be wise (especially if you're planning a wedding in less than 6 months) to get a list of available dates from your venue and then contact a list of caterers to see if any of their available dates match up with your venue's availability, and then decide on the date. It won't be much of a wedding if you don't have someone with experience and with recommendations to provide the food! Many caterers will also provide a serving staff, bartenders and alcohol for your party, so check with them on those details when in discussions. If they don't, you'll need to hire bartenders & servers on your own as well as provide the open bar.
Day-of Coordinator - If you're not hiring a full service planner, you should consider hiring a month-of or day-of coordinator at the very least, to set up the venue spaces and to direct the ceremony & reception. Typically a Day-of Coordinator will run you around $500-$1500 and a month-of Coordinator may charge a little bit more.
This is your general list of vendors you'll need to book, but of course some couples will have others. You may hire a caligrapher to design specific elements of your day or an invitation designer or both. You may elect to have a photobooth with an attendant to run it, transportation for the Bride & Groom following the reception and/or transportation for guests from the ceremony to reception. Perhaps you want a food-truck on site at the end of the night for a late night snack, an artist to pain the scene of the event... I've even had a caricaturist at a wedding drawing guest's pictures as favors! Your day is your day - but your vendors are key in making your day a reality!