Questions to ask your venue before you book

Wednesday, October 18th, 2017

Choosing a venue might be one of the single most important decisions you make in wedding planning, and it’s often one of your first. The rules and procedures of your venue will strongly influence how your vendors can bring your vision to life. Before you book, be sure to ask these questions.

Will there be any other events (weddings or otherwise) on my wedding day in the space(s) I’m reserving for my reception or is my event the only one taking place? How many events do you book per day and per weekend? These are really critical questions to ask because the answer will impact your set up timing, how your vendors are able to bring your design to life, their labor costs, etc. If you’re having an outdoor event, when deliveries need to be staggered over the course of a few days (i.e. your tent would come in on a Thursday or Friday, while your rentals would come in on Friday afternoon/Saturday morning), be sure to ask if there are any events prior to yours than will impact delivery windows and be sure to ask if there is an up-charge for early or multi day set up. Obviously so early in planning you may have no idea what the set up requirements of your event will be, but it’s important to ask in case you need the time. Be aware that some venues book a space two times per day during busy season. For example, there may be an 11 o’clock booking and a 4 o’clock booking, with a standard two hour set up window allowed for each. You don’t want to sign a contract that limits you to two hours of set up if you’re envisioning a great deal of customization in your event design. Likewise, you will want to know if other events or activities will be taking place on the property that could impact your event parking, load in and load out, etc.

When will my vendors be able to access the space to set up? Does your venue have any restrictions on set up (i.e. three hours prior to event) or are they flexible? Do they charge an additional fee if you access the space prior to a certain time?

Do you have a preferred vendor list? Am I required to work from that list or may I bring in my own vendors? Some venues have preferred or exclusive agreements with vendors and will suggest or require you to work with only those on that list. If you go off the list, there can be an up charge. Ask if it’s possible to go off that list and if there is a fee to do so.

What is included in the rental fee? If catering is included in the rental fee, inquire about minimums and ask for a sample quote. Does the venue offer tables, chairs? If they offer linens, what do they look like? What sort of existing lighting, power and facilities are available on site? How many people can the venue comfortably accommodate?

Are there any restrictions I should be aware of? Does the venue observe a noise ordinance? Are candles allowed? Can you bring in your own alcohol should you wish? Any other decor restrictions?

And finally: Do you require we have an insurance policy? Do you require a security damage deposit? May I see a sample contract? Will the venue undergo any changes or renovations prior to my wedding date?

photo patricia lyons 

wedding math for cocktail receptions

Monday, June 19th, 2017

Determining how much wine a guest will consume or how popular your shrimp toast hors d’oeuvres will be isn’t an exact science, but we use the guidelines above as we plan. If you’re from the south, you’re familiar with “cocktail receptions” — parties that offer limited seating, heavy hor d’oeuvres and small plates from “action stations.” Parties of this format traditionally offer limited seating. Use your best judgement — you know your guest list best and the specs of your venue. 60% seating is a loose guide. You may round up or down depending on existing seating at your venue or your crowd’s taste.


5 things to consider when planning a summer wedding in Virginia

Wednesday, June 14th, 2017

summer wedding

Summer in Virginia is beautiful but it can also be hot, swampy and muggy. If you’re planning during the months of June, July, August or September, keep these tips in mind:


    1. 1. Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate. Make water plentiful. Offer water in decanters, where guests can serve themselves, as well as butler passed by servers. Cucumber water is a favorite of mine — it has a great flavor and it looks pretty in a large glass decanter. Orange water with mint is also lovely.


    1. 2. Find shade. If your ceremony is outdoors in the summer months, pick a shaded spot under a tree and plan to have a late afternoon or early evening ceremony.


    1. 3. Keep it cocktail casual. I think you’d be hard pressed to find a man eager to wear a coat, let alone black tie, to an outdoor wedding in the hot summer months. Adjust your dress code accordingly so seersucker and linen are entirely appropriate at your event.


    1. 4. Install fans. If you’re having a tented reception, ask your tent company to install fans on the poles of your tent — it’s a no brainer and the cost is minimal. Air conditioning, on the other hand, is an investment and not something the average wedding budget can bear. In the case temperatures are going to be dangerously hot, consider booking a venue with an indoor back up.


  1. 5. Offer cool, refreshing food and beverage. Your catering staff and your guests will thank you (just imagine how hot it is cooking on a stove in a catering tent with walls in the summer heat!). Think vichyssoise, gazpacho, cucumber canapés, agua fresca, sorbet…

Finally, pamper your guests as much as you can. Offer pretty paper fans. Stock your restrooms with chilled hand towels. Offer shuttles back to hotels throughout the night. Provide more seating than you might normally if you’re planning a cocktail party. As with any other planning task, think, “what would I crave if I were a guest at this wedding,” and go from there.

For more summer wedding inspiration, head over here. Photo above by Patricia Lyons of Christina and Tom’s wedding at Castle Hill Cider.


7 things we can’t live without on a wedding day

Tuesday, March 14th, 2017

tuckahoe plantation wedding_merriment events and katie stoops photography

Would you believe me if I told you that I once sewed a bridesmaid into her dress after an unfortunate dance floor accident? It’s true. Or how about the time that a maid had too much to drink at the rehearsal dinner and found herself sick at the altar the next day? Her bouquet was the casualty. Thank goodness we’re able to make bouquets on the fly while nursing a sick one with sprite and saltines. Our wedding day kit is a lifesaver. Here are seven of our favorite things that are always stocked in our wedding day kit:


    1. 1. Steamers. We are known for arriving at weddings, steamers in hand. We always steam linens, focusing especially on those we know will be highlighted in photographs (the head table, cake table, escort card table, bars). There’s nothing worse than a huge, ugly crease in a table linen, and just ask a photographer how much they love photoshopping creases out of linens (hint: not at all). Steamers also are imperative to have on hand for dresses wrinkled in transit.


    1. 2. Baby wipes. I was singing the praises of baby wipes long before I had my daughter, Birdie. These little miracle workers are so versatile, we’d never be caught without them. If you have a stain on your dress: baby wipes. A little spill: baby wipes. Need to cool your head on a hot summer day? Baby wipes.


    1. 3. Straight pins. I can’t tell you how many bouquets and boutonnieres I’ve made or remade under pressure two minutes before walking down the aisle. It’s my party trick. Straight pins are there in a pinch for pining ribbon to bouquets or pinning boutonnieres to lapels. I also like to keep ribbon cutting scissors, a few shades of ribbon, floral tape and rubber bands on hand at all times.


    1. 4. Bobby pins. Without fail a lady will need a bobby pin for her hair, whether she’s having a last minute coiffure crisis or needs to attach a floral crown. Don’t leave home without them.


    1. 5. Water. Self explanatory. Also Altoids mini mints are a must.


    1. 6. Clear lip gloss and a few shades of lipstick.  When you’re taking portraits, whether on your wedding day, bridal portraits or engagement, a glistening lip is best. I always tell brides to lick their lips in between each shot. Trust. It works. But it’s also nice to apply a clear gloss or retouch color. Often brides forget their lipstick, but we don’t!


  1. 7. Sewing kit. See torn party dress above. The sewing kit is a must.

5 things to do before you mail your wedding invitations

Thursday, March 9th, 2017


vintage wedding stamps

Wedding invitations should be mailed six to eight weeks before the date. Before mailing yours, be sure you’ve completed these last few tasks.

1. Budget a month to complete invitation assembly and addressing. Often we work with calligraphers who are out of town, so we’re sure to build time into our schedule for shipping envelopes back and forth. You may not be using a calligrapher; beautiful handwriting is just fine. Whatever method you’re using, you will need about a month to address, assemble and mail.

2. Proof read your address list, and always remember to spell it out. State names, street quadrants (“northwest”), the word “apartment,” suffixes, such as “junior,” should all be spelled out, not abbreviated.

3. Assemble your suite. Your invitation will be on the bottom, face side up, with enclosures, organized largest to smallest, on top of the invitation. The response card should be tucked into its stamped return envelope, print side up. Typically the order is: wedding invitation, reception card, reply card in envelope. You may have more enclosures. Order them by size.

4. Weigh one complete invitation set at the post office to be sure you’re using the correct postage.

5. Make sure all of your response card envelopes are stamped with return postage. Bonus points: number response cards so you know who they belong to in case a guest forgets to write her name.


photo katie stoops

3 things you’ll need to know before you make a wedding day agenda

Monday, February 13th, 2017

First things first: when you start planning your wedding, begin building a wedding day agenda. This basic breakdown of timing will help you as you’re booking vendors and thinking through transportation and transitions. The three most important time stamps you’ll need to know are: when your ceremony will begin and end, when cocktail hour will begin and end, and when your reception will conclude.

5:00 PM ceremony begins

5:25 PM ceremony concludes

5:40 PM cocktail hour begins

6:40 PM cocktail hour concludes/dinner reception begins

11:00 PM reception concludes

Now that you have the basic building blocks of your wedding day, you can develop your timeline before the ceremony and during the reception. Looking at an agenda like this, and assuming there’s not significant traveling in between venues, I would recommend that this bride book a photographer a minimum of eight hours, a dinner band for about four hours and a half hours, then I’d start working on transportation timing so I could be smart when booking hair and makeup appointments. Happy planning!



photo particia lyons

Wedding design: begin at the end

Friday, February 10th, 2017

merriment events katie stoops tuckahoe plantation

My biggest piece of advice when you’re thinking about the design of your wedding: begin at the end. Most people do the opposite — they collect pictures on Pinterest, oftentimes imagery that is not cohesive, images that don’t complement the space they’re working with, or images that depict design ideas that are out of budget. Then, they struggle to retrofit the look with their space and budget. Obviously the fun part is thinking about the way your wedding will look. It will be nearly impossible to not daydream as you click through images on Pinterest or peruse the pages of Martha Stewart Weddings, but my one admonition is this: don’t get married to design ideas too early. Stay flexible.

First things first, establish your budget. Then, do some housekeeping: draft a guest list and secure a venue. After those major groundwork tasks are out of the way, shop for your gown. Next, and this might sound strange, look at rentals (begin with the end!). You might be surprised to see that some of the colors you had in mind don’t exist in linens at your local rental store; perhaps you will need to bring materials in from out of town to bring your color story to life, or you might find you will need to tweak your color story. Next, look at bridesmaids dresses. I love Bella Bridesmaids because you’ll be able to see many colors and styles on the floor, as well as swatch books for other colors and fabrics not in store.

Doing a little bit of research about what is available before you select a color palette will save a lot of time and heartache and it may also lead you to a group of colors you didn’t realize you loved! Once you’ve done this research, you should have a good sense of where to go next so you can turn your attention to the fun part: gathering inspiration images, developing a design board, working with a stationery designer on your invitation suite and save the dates, and working on an order with your floral designer.


photos katie stoops photography

How to format your address list for your calligrapher

Saturday, January 14th, 2017

bohemian invitation suite

You’re nearly finished! You’ve approved your invitation design, materials will soon go to print, and envelopes are on their way to your calligrapher. Next up: sending a properly formatted address list to your calligrapher.

Although the calligrapher with whom you’re working may have her own system and requirements, over the years we’ve noticed some standard requirements as it pertains to address list formatting:

1. Send a typed list in a word document, not a spreadsheet

2. The list should be in address label format, as below, max three columns

3. Use a legible font, such as Times New Roman, 12 pt

4. Alphabetize your list

5. If you have changes or updates to addresses after the initial list has been sent to your calligrapher, send changes and updates by email. Do not send a new, revised list. Updated drafts cause confusion.

This is what is meant by address label format:
Miss Sally Sue
14 Sunshine Street
Sunnyville, California 23456

Happy mailing! xoxo



photo katie stoops

Making the cut

Tuesday, January 10th, 2017

westover plantation wedding_merriment events_jen fariello

No matter how you slice it, making cuts to your guest list can be an arduous (and sometimes impossible) task. As you embark on one of the very first steps of wedding planning, drafting your guest list, bear this in mind: your guest count will drive costs more than most any other decision you make. That’s because food and beverage consumption will represent about half of your total wedding spend.

To get started, identify the maximum number of guests your budget and venue will allow. To kickstart that process, ask your caterer to help you identify a high and a low cost per person for food and beverage, including tax and service charges. Keep your maximum number on the conservative side, slightly lower than your total budget will allow and slightly lower than your venue’s capacity.

Traditionally the couple invites half the guest list, while each set of parents invites a quarter. If your parents are paying for your wedding, you may want to adjust these percentages in their favor.

Begin by making your dream list, a list of every possible person you’d love to invite, then divide this list into buckets that ultimately relate to priority to invite.

-Bucket #1: close family members (siblings, grandparents)
-Bucket #2: close friends and extended family
-Bucket #3: colleagues and other friends

When you merge your parents’ lists and yours together, you may discover you need to cull the list or revisit budget. To cut or not to cut? If you’ve never spoken to the guest, consider cutting that person from your list. As it relates to unmarried couples: unless the couple is engaged or lives together, considering cutting plus ones. If you haven’t spoken to a person on your list in a year or more and are not related, you may  consider cutting that guest. Consider eliminating co-workers from your list – have a close look at bucket #3 of guests.

Cutting a guest list can be a challenge, and sometimes it may be impossible, but giving your list a good scrub and knowing the commitment you’re making before you make deposits will empower you as you plan your wedding!




photo by jen fariello

What happens to your flowers after your wedding

Friday, October 21st, 2016

colorful wedding bouquet_merriment events_katie stoops

Without fail, in the two weeks leading up to a wedding, the question will be asked: what will happen to my flowers after my wedding? Surely they won’t all go to waste? Before you ponder the idea of asking a few friends to deconstruct those arrangements and deliver to your parent’s home tout de suite, take a breath. Often the vases are rental, meaning that arrangements will have to be deconstructed on site and loaded into buckets of water so the floral designer can collect her containers. It’s a big job and one that friends and family might not be able to easily take on at the end of the evening. As an alternative:

-You can offer “to go bags”  to guests and encourage them to pluck a few blooms on their way out. I love these from For Your Party. If you’re not interested in ordering custom printed bags, you can easily find clear cellophane candy bags at most any craft store. Display those with some pretty ribbon, and you’re all set!

-You can hire a company to donate your flowers after your event. Grace in Bloom in Richmond is dedicated to just that. Conceived by two friends, Brittany Heare, who also works with Merriment, and Brittany Mantiply, Grace in Bloom delivers “gently used wedding flowers” to nursing homes and assisted living facilities in the Richmond area. Brittany will work closely with you, your planner and your floral designer to develop a schedule and plan for collection. We love Grace in Bloom because it is such a win/win!





photo katie stoops

bouquet design by merriment