Professional wedding planning tips + trends + what to do + especially what not to do

Professional wedding planning tips + trends + what to do + especially what not to do

Monday, December 8, 2014

HOW TO: Cut a Wedding Cake

Let’s set the record straight.  A wedding cake is made from scratch.  It’s not a light and fluffy “box mix” cake – it’s a dense, moist, rich cake.  It’s typically reinforced with small dowel rods inside the cake, to maintain its structure when stacking layers. 

I can share horror stories of family members who wanted to bake the wedding cake, and end up making a layered cake out of a box mix.  A box mix is spongy and soft, and is NOT made for stacking.  If your family member wants to do this for your wedding and doesn’t know about specifically making wedding cakes, PLEASE, for your sanity’s sake, do one of the following things:
  • Have them make cupcakes!  Much safer than attempting a stacked cake, and you can offer a variety of flavors and styles.
  • If you’re still going do a cake cutting ceremony, you can get a true patisserie to make a small cake for cutting, or your family member can make a small cake that doesn’t need to stack.
  • Have them make a single layered groom’s cake.
  • Or let them make a cake dessert for the rehearsal.

If you don’t hire Events by Autumn, if your caterer doesn’t cut the cake, OR if your caterer charges to cut the cake, the below tips will come in handy!  Ever wonder how a patisserie can say “this size cake will yield this many slices?”  It’s because there is a proper way to cut a wedding cake.  If you don’t follow this plan, a 200 person cake can easily be cut incorrectly and only yield 100 pieces.  As we mentioned above, a wedding cake is incredibly rich and dense, so the serving size is conservative.

Wedding cake slices with chocolate covered strawberries
What you’ll need:
6’ Table with no linen
Cutting board
Latex kitchen gloves
Sharp cake knife
Cake serving utensil
Pitcher with very hot water
A half dozen clean hand towels
A helper or two (Too many is not a good thing!)
The correct number of cake plates (pre-decorated for speed)
Cake topper box

Start here:
We recommend setting your table behind the scenes, where you can cut the cake outside of guests’ view.  Number one, you don’t want a linen on this table, so you don’t get icing and cake all over it.  It’s a messy job.  And a table without a linen is a no-no in your wedding reception.  I also personally feel bad when you’ve spent a lot of money on a cake – do you really want to watch someone cut it up?  I much prefer to see a beautiful cake, and then miraculously, it becomes delicious served pieces J  Following a cake cutting ceremony, I can cut and serve a cake within 20 minutes, no matter the size of the crowd. But that’s only if I can remove it from the reception room and cut it using my method below:  
  1. WASH YOUR HANDS and then put on service gloves.
  2. Place the knife blade in the hot water pitcher.
  3. Separate all the layers out on a large table.  The top cake layer goes into a separate box and should be labeled and put directly into a freezer (this is your anniversary cake).  If you’re at a venue that offers food service, make sure to write the bride & groom’s name on the box, and the date – this can EASILY get misplaced in a large commercial kitchen if unlabeled! 
  4. Place the first layer you want to cut onto cutting board.
  5. Remove all the dowels from this layer.  You can typically see them poking out from the icing.
  6. Remove the knife from the pitcher and dry it on a hand towel.

      7.  Cut it in half.  Dip your knife in the hot water, and wipe the knife off on the towel.
      8.  Cut a “rainbow” arch shape, approximately 2” from the outside edge. Dip & wipe the blade again. 
      9.  Now you’ll begin cutting straight lines, and forming your individual pieces.  Most slices should be about 2” tall and 1” thick to get the correct number of slices from your cake.  While you’re cutting your straight lines, if icing starts to stick to the knife, take your time to dip and wipe it!
     10. As you’re cutting, your helper (with gloved hands and cake serving utensil), will begin grabbing pieces and placing them on plates.  Once you complete one “arch” move on to the opposite side of the cake, so your team can plate efficiently and you aren’t in one-another’s way.
    11. TRUST US – don’t be tempted to cut the entire half of the round cake at one time. . .the pieces are comparatively heavy, and will start toppling over, especially if you have a filling.
How to cut a round wedding cake

      7.  Make your first cut approximately 2” from the edge of the cake.  Dip your knife in the hot water, and wipe the knife off on the towel.
      8.  Make your next cut parallel to the first, another 2” into the cake.  Dip & wipe the blade again.  Continue making parallel cuts, until you’re halfway into the cake.  Dip & wipe the blade again. 
      9.  Now you’ll begin making individual pieces, by making long cuts in the perpendicular position.  Most slices should be about 2” tall and 1” thick to get the correct number of slices from your cake.  While you’re cutting your straight lines, if icing starts to stick to the knife, take your time to dip and wipe it!
    10. As you’re cutting, your helper (with gloved hands and cake serving utensil), will begin grabbing pieces and placing them on plates.  Once you complete cutting one side of the cake, move on to the opposite side of the cake, so your team can plate efficiently and you aren’t in one-another’s way.
Visual instructions on how to cut a square wedding cake

If your cake layers are a variety of flavors, you may consider cutting half of one cake, and then moving to another layer, so you are able to begin serving all varieties while you’re still cutting.  

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

What not to wear. Mother of the bride dresses.

This question was just posed to me the other day by a friend.  She asked if it was ok if her fiance's mom wore a cream colored lace dress to the wedding.  The bride was wearing a cream colored lace dress.  Ummmm. . .that was an easy question - NO, IT'S NOT OK!

I'm going to make this short and sweet and I hope my moms out there aren't offended, but this is how it goes:  If you match the bride, the bride will likely be upset.  You have to admit that's understandable.  And your guests will notice too, and think it's in poor taste.  Here are my tips for picking the perfect outfit for the wedding:

1.  Pick a color.  
Preferably pick a color that doesn't completely clash with the color scheme of the wedding.  And definitely NOT an attention grabbing color like red.  If you're going to wear black, please add a pop of color (like an statement jewelry piece) so you don't appear to be attending a funeral.  Jewel tones are current, and a safe bet!  But if you MUST go with an off white or cream color, please make it in a completely different style from the bride.  (See image below).  If the bride is going with a long white tulle skirt on her dress, you can get away with a short length lacy dress in champagne. . . but that's about as close as I would call "safe" (see #2)!

2.  Don't match the bride.  
It doesn't matter if you're fully paying for the wedding.  It is still your daughter's/son's wedding, and you're not the guest of honor.  Yes, you'll know more people on the guest list than the bride likely will, but it's still "her" day.  So please don't compete for attention by wearing a dress that matches the bride.  You can have your say in how the money is spent for the wedding, but let her shine on her day in a dress that stands out.  

3.  Pick a dress that makes YOU feel great!  
After all the planning that goes into the wedding, you deserve to kick up your heels and dance the night away too, so please pick a style you can move in.  You can be absolutely stunning in a dress that doesn't resemble anything bridal, while still showing off your fabulous personal flair!

Here are some great examples of stunning dresses, perfect for a mother of the bride.  We love the ruffled collars, stylish jackets, color options, and flattering fits!

Flattering fits for a mother of a bride

Ruffled collars are super chic for mother of the bride dressesSleek fit in a flattering color

Matching shrug to go with Mother of the bride dressesBeautiful jacket and skirt combo

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

The Wedding Day "Emergency" Kit

We take our slogan “reduce your stress and not your expectations” very seriously.  We feel strongly that part of reducing stress is helping cope with any emergencies that may arise, by quickly diffusing them, and moving on.  That’s why Events by Autumn provides a bridal “survival kit.”  As a planner, this is part of our responsibility to our clients.   

In all, the contents include over 100 essential items, and over $300 worth of products.  We make sure it’s stocked for every single wedding we work, so you will always have access to a full kit.  It contains things like: a complete first aid kit, stain fighting solutions, hygiene items, tape, pins & glue, beauty products, and even a faux diamond ring!

Still want to make your own kit?  Let us ask a few questions:

How do you know what to pack?
Trust us that there is no one list online which includes the full contents of what you might need in the event of an emergency!  We have created our own kit based on a decade worth of wedding planning experience.  To be honest, we looked online as well, but needed to combine over a dozen “complete” emergency kits to create our version.

What are you going to do with these items after the wedding is over?
Just as an example, we provide all colors of bobby pins in the kit.  Your bridesmaids may need a few pins to repair an up-do at some point during the evening.  Granted, it’s only a few dollars for a bunch of bobby pins, but if you’re a blonde, what are you going to do with 500 black bobby pins after the wedding day?  It does add up quickly when you’re talking about 100+ different items.

What kind of “emergencies” would you prepare for?
I’ve seen the best man forget his socks when he packed his tux; so I now include black dress socks.  I’ve seen the groom break his shoelace 20 minutes before ceremony starts; so I now include extra shoelaces.   The kit continues to evolve as I see a need for additional items.  But the real question is - do you really want to buy all these items “just in case?”  Just let us bring the kit and you won’t have to worry about it.

Does your planner provide this?
When comparing planners, you need to look at ALL the services they offer.  In addition to all the planning we do, we also provide access to over $300 worth of products, and save you the time required to make your own kit.  If your planner doesn’t come prepared to diffuse an “emergency” situation into a “no big deal” situation, what services are they really providing you?  The point of a planner is to make the wedding run smoothly.  Yes, that includes managing vendors, setting up, and running the timeline, but it also includes being prepared AND equipped to handle any unexpected occurrences on the wedding day too.  We are fully prepared and equipped!

Why not save that money and spend it on something else?
What would you do with $300 extra dollars towards your wedding?  Why not create baskets of essential items in the restrooms?  Or maybe now you can splurge on moving lights from the DJ company, (which we strongly recommend!).  Or maybe $300 more will allow you to add prime rib to the menu?  There are so many options, but the answer is up to you!

But one thing is for sure – we’ve got a bridal survival kit that’s like no other.  Brides and bridesmaids oogle over it when I show them. . . Even vendors love it.  It’s flattering when a very successful wedding photographer tells you they’ve never seen anything like it before, and proceeds to take pictures of it!  That just means we’re doing something right.  And it’s just another reason why we stand out from the rest.    

Photo credit:  Cake Knife Photography 

Events by Autumn's wedding day emergency kit

Monday, November 3, 2014

Who will clean up your wedding?

This is one of my favorite topics to talk about.  Who is going to clean up after your wedding is over?  Either people just don't want to think about this, or they think their family/caterer/friends/venue is going to take care of it.  After planning weddings for almost 10 years I've compiled some seriously amusing realities of what happens when you leave your wedding for others to clean up.  I'll only list 3 here:

1.  Your Wedding Reception will end early.
Here's the scenario:  your older relatives think they're going to be really helpful and clean up for you.  And they're tired at 8:30pm, so they start cleaning up at 8:30pm.  But you've booked your reception space until midnight. 

I was at a friends' wedding when an uncle literally removed the centerpiece, candles, AND LINEN from the table I was still sitting at.  I was really confused, because it was very early in the evening.  But sure enough, the reception ended very shortly after that, because the room was stripped bare.

Or how about the time I left a reception room for 5 minutes to prep sparklers for a sendoff, and in that 5 minutes, an Aunt decided to start packing up the centerpieces.  Thankfully, she started on a few tables in the back of the room before I caught her!  I politely told her I was being paid to do that, and she should just go back to enjoying the party.  The candles she was blowing out was providing the ambient lighting in the room - she was going to make the room completely dark before she realized she shouldn't have done that.

If someone strips your reception room of decor while the party is still going on, it will kill the ambiance and end the party early.  I promise.  So be smart and hire a planner to clean up.

2.  You will be charged penalties
Think about this - you've signed an agreement with a rental company.  Likely, the agreement's fine print states that you WILL NOT put wet or soiled linens into the linen bag.  But if you aren't physically there to clean up, who else knows that fine print on the contract?

Think about it - your wedding is likely on a Saturday evening.  If you put those wet or soiled linens in a bag, and the rental company picks up on Monday, I guarantee there's going to be the beginnings of mold in there.  It's gross.  And it happens.  And ALL weddings have wet and soiled linens.  Trust me.  

I heard from a rental vendor last week that she had to charge a $250 penalty because someone was helping a bride pick up after the wedding, and a relative literally took the linen off the cake table, with the cake STILL in the middle, and shoved it into a linen bag.  It molded all the linens in the bag, and they couldn't be simply washed clean.  The bride was upset she was being charged the penalty, and her defense was SHE didn't clean it up.

But guess what?  When you sign that contract, you ARE responsible.  Hiring a planner who knows your contracts avoids penalties like this.

3.  Who really wants to clean up the next day?!
If you're lucky enough to leave decor up until the morning after, great.  But do you REALLY want to clean it up then?  I know the answer is no.  You do too - you just have to admit it.

Trust us - there are a million things you would rather be doing than return to the reception room AFTER the party is over.  An event venue after a wild wedding often looks like a tornado ravaged it.  And in the daylight, the disaster area is only more visible.  You don't want to remember your wedding this way.  

So you should leave it to the pros to clean it up!  The most overlooked but valuable part of my services is THIS:

I remove all decor and package it back into the original containers it came in.  If you or a family member lives nearby, I'll drop off your decor to a house, or leave it ORGANIZED and ready for simple pickup in the room the next morning.

Actual picture of an actual wedding mess taken on my personal cell phone.  Do you want to clean this up in your wedding dress?  Do you want to leave this mess for your friends or family?

A cake and cupcakes that were blown off the table by hurricane force winds

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Why should I hire a planner if the venue provides one?

This summer, half of my weddings had an on-site coordinator, but still hired me to facilitate their wedding plans.  When these clients initially called me to ask me about my services, there were a few concerns that seemed to form a trend.  So I’ll post them here:

  • I’m nervous because the on-site coordinator won’t call me back in a timely manner.
  • I don’t feel like the on-site coordinator understands my vision for the wedding.
  • My on-site coordinator hasn’t asked me about anything except the food plans.
  • My on-site coordinator doesn’t set up any of my decorations, or tear them down.
  • I’m just not getting a good vibe from my on-site coordinator – like they don’t have my best interest at heart, only the best interest of the venue.
  • My on-site coordinator shows up later on the wedding day and leaves right after dinner.

I was completely up-front with my clients about their situation.  You CAN save money and just use the on-site planner.  People do it all the time.  But if you’re feeling like the comments above are a reflection of how you’re feeling, you might want to consider bringing in a professional. 

I used to be an on-site planner.  That’s where my experience comes from, so by no means am I knocking the position.  But I strongly believe I was not the same as most.  I worked long hours on the weddings because I wanted to open my own event planning business one day.  I was getting experience with a company which allowed me to make all the rookie mistakes under someone else’s name – that sounds horrible, but it’s true.  A wedding has too many moving parts to leave in the hands of a rookie.  You don’t want your wedding to be a planners first rodeo.  So if your on-site planner doesn’t meet these standards at a minimum, consider hiring a professional wedding planner:

  • They are available to you “anytime,” meaning they are willing to give you their cell phone number.
  • They have been through a summer of weddings with their specific venue.
  • AND they have been planning weddings for longer than 5 years, OR have worked on a minimum of 50 weddings.
  • Your coordinator can commit to you that they will be in the room all night.  Often, throughout the reception, they’ll leave the room and head back their desk to work on other events (hotel venues are notorious for this).  You want your coordinator available to you at a moment’s notice.
  • They are there for the rehearsal, arrive early on your wedding day to oversee your setup, and stay to oversee the teardown.

So my final suggestion is this:  if you have a lot of working parts to your wedding day – lots of d├ęcor, a complicated timeline, lots of details – consider giving me a call, even if your venue provides someone on site.  Sometimes the professional planners are even willing to discount their price if the “on-site coordinator” is strong enough to act in lieu of an assistant. 

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Events by Autumn makes dreams a reality. . .even our own!

I have been talking about opening my own business for as long as I can remember.  And when I set a goal for myself, there’s no stopping it from happening.  Even if the road to get there gets windy and confusing, I always stay focused on the end result.  

As a kid, I spent every single summer and winter in Montana, skiing, riding, fishing, exploring, just enjoying everything the state had to offer.  When I got the chance to take a job in Missoula, MT at the age of 25, I jumped all over it.  I prefer being outdoors if given a choice, and Montana towns operate at a slower pace than the “big city.”  That combination makes living in Montana my ideal place, along with the fact I bought my dream home there – a log cabin on some acreage, ready for horses.  I’ve owned the house for about 5 years now in Stevensville, MT, located in the BEAUTIFUL Bitterroot Valley.

So when I took the job in Montana, it was with the goal of opening my own business one day.  But the job required more than 70 hours a week on a regular basis, and my salary wasn’t enough to save money.  So I didn’t have enough time, or money, to take the leap and open my own business.  I was good at my job, and was eventually recruited to take a position in Boulder, CO, doing the same thing I was doing previously.  I was hesitant to leave MT, but the pay was literally 3x what it was in Montana.  So, keeping my goal in mind, I took a leap of faith.  I took the job as the Director of Catering, thinking I would work there for 4 years, save some money, and move back to my dream home in Montana, live off the savings, and open my own business.

Well, the plans went awry, like they always do!  The new boss at the hotel was changing a lot of things – employees who had been there for 15+ years and were comfortable with the status quo didn’t like the new direction the hotel was taking, so they left in droves.  (Whole different topic, but change can be GOOD people, especially when the hotel hadn’t been making money for the past 15 years).  The mass exodus of staff alerted the ownership (from a foreign country), that they should take a look at what was happening at the hotel.  So they began to take notice of what we were doing, and the first thing they did was review the bonus structure -The same bonus structure that made my paycheck awesome.  It was cut completely.  So my plans of saving money and moving back in 4 years were up-ended.

It was time to re-evaluate my plans of opening my own business and how I was going to still make it happen.  So I took a part time marketing job with another company, and just went ahead and opened Events by Autumn in Colorado.  The past year and a half has been spent creating contracts, websites, marketing materials, and getting myself fully prepared to move back to Montana and hit the ground running.  And I’ve planned quite a few Colorado weddings as well in my first year, and received the kindest, most amazing positive feedback, which just reinforces that I’m on track.  But when you know where your heart belongs, you just feel compelled to follow.

In August, my renters moved out of my dream house in Montana, and I now had to be realistic about paying two mortgages.  So my decision was to move back to Montana, rent (or sell) the house in Colorado and get the business rolling where I really wanted it to happen in the first place.  Fall is the perfect time to move back, get re-acquainted with vendors & friends, and promote the business, since most engagements happen over the winter months.

I’ve been gone from Montana for 2 and a half years, and had planned on being in Colorado for 4.  I’d say that making a dream happen in about half the time is a pretty good feeling.

(A hazy day at the log cabin in Stevi. . .the Bitterroot mountains are barely visible in the background.)

The view from the field, up the driveway