Wedding Advice From the Pros

We talked to florists, officiants, caterers, and photographers who have seen hundreds of weddings. Here’s what they have to say about trends, traditions, and keeping your day as low-stress as possible.

Tom Giffey, photos by Kate Bentley

What is one of the more interesting trends you’ve seen in Chippewa Valley weddings recently?

“For a period we went through a Mason jar craze, a bling phase, and baby’s breath everywhere. Most recently we have noticed a more natural approach … plant centerpieces, natural accents like seed pods and branches throughout their floral pieces. We have even been making bridal bouquets with living plants that can be potted after the wedding.” –Brent Stelzer, florist and owner of Brent Douglas

“The most interesting trend I’ve noticed is the numerous quick, very small weddings I’ve been asked to do (bride, groom, and witnesses) for insurance reasons, military, health, citizenship, house buying-financial, and then later in the year I do their ‘big’ wedding. Most of the time, no one even knows they are already married!” –Susie West, independent officiant, Weddings by West

“Quite a few of our brides are liking the succulents in their wedding bouquets and reception centerpieces.” –Maureen Toner, florist, May’s Floral Garden

“My favorite recent trend is people including their pets as part of their special day. The last couple of years I’ve seen quite a few dogs on wedding days, and a few cats during engagement sessions. I’ll never forget Louie the corgi in his bowtie! When pets are part of the family, they should be included. ... Another trend I’m loving is couples moving away from doing traditional guest favors. Instead they are choosing to spend that part of their budget on experiences for their guests like photo booths, caricature artists, and an awesome array of yard games.” –Kate Bentley, photographer

“We see more and more wedding parties getting away from the traditional head table for the immediate wedding party, opting for a sweetheart table (just the bride and groom) or a ‘King’s Table’ where the entire immediate wedding party is seated at a large table in the center of the banquet venue, with the guest seated at smaller tables around them.  –Jack Schulte, owner/manager of Premiere Catering Service by Yankee Jack’s

What’s the most “Wisconsin” thing you’ve witnessed or been a part of at a local wedding?

“Barn and farm weddings have been very popular in recent years, which is pretty ‘Wisconsin’ to me. However, we have decorated camouflage cakes, made shotgun shell boutonnieres, and flower centerpieces in beer bottles. It might not sound very classy, but it looked great!” –Brent Stelzer, florist

“I would think I’d say the wedding at Lambeau Field, but the following two are very Wisconsin. The one that sticks out in my mind is being loaded onto a hay wagon, riding through the cow pasture to a hillside where hay was growing and had not been mowed. We stood in 2-foot-high hay, guys wearing jeans and plaid, girls had cowboy boots, guest on hay bales and cows watching and mooing as the couple said “I do.” It was perfect for them!” And of course there is the redneck(?)-type wedding: shotgun shell boutonnières, camo dresses and vests, and let’s not forget the men all had sidearms on. They drove off in a monster truck and wedding pictures have the bride and groom shooting rifles at targets. Again – it fit them perfectly!” –Susie West, officiant

“The Wisconsin tradition I enjoy the most is a good polka, and some of the best moments on the dance floor happen when the ‘Beer Barrel Polka’ is played. But the most ‘Wisconsin’ thing I have seen was a full grand march in Packer gear. It was a winter wedding, so Packer season was in full swing, but they were fully prepared to show their Packer pride. I think it’s great when couples include things that they are passionate about.” –Kate Bentley, photographer

“We catered a wedding last year that instead of serving a traditional dinner, appetizers and snacks were served the entire evening and then at 7pm everyone sat down and played bingo.” –Jack Schulte, caterer

“I moved here just a few years ago. The thing I’ve noticed most is that Wisconsinites love the outdoors, and especially hunting. I attended an outdoor wedding where the groom built the arbor under which they were going to be married from tree branches he found in the woods. It was then decorated with flowers, crystals, pearls, and decorative birds. His love for hunting was also reflected by using antlers and turkey feathers in the decorations. The bride wove flowering vines, strings of pearls, and fairies among them to reflect her feminine and playful sides as well. It was magical!” –Ronnie Roll, independent officiant

What advice would you offer couples to reduce wedding planning stress?

“Plan way ahead of schedule. It used to be standard to book a florist a year in advance, and recently that has changed somehow to only six months. Flower availability changes with the seasons. If you meet with your florist a year in advance then you can actually see what flowers will be available on your wedding day.” –Brent Stelzer, florist

“Everyone has their own idea of what a perfect wedding should look like and will give you plenty of advice. But what you have to remember is this is your wedding, do it your way. Never will you please everyone, so just please the two of you.” –Susie West, officiant

“The one piece of advice I give every couple I meet with is that they need to make sure that they actually LIKE their photographer and DJ. They will spend more time with those two people on their wedding day than any other people, so make sure you enjoy their company. Ask yourself, would I want to sit down and have a coffee or a beer with this person? If the answer is “no,” find someone that’s a better fit for you! Having a team of professional vendors will ensure that your planning process is smooth and that your wedding day stays on schedule. Once you find a vendor you really like, ask them for referrals. As a photographer, I spend every weekend with other vendors, I know who will take good care of you on your big day. My other piece of advice is to let go of traditions that don’t speak to you. Your wedding day should be a reflection of you as a couple, and if there is a wedding tradition that doesn’t feel right, then don’t let anyone tell you that you have to do it. Do the things that will bring you joy and celebrate your love with family and friends.” –Kate Bentley, photographer

“Work with your event vendors (photographers, officials, venue host, caterers, DJ/musicians, etc.) and develop a timeline prior to your celebration, share it with each vendor, and stick to your plan. This way each vendor knows what their responsibility is and the timeline they have for each service. Go with the flow: You cannot control the weather! When planning outdoor celebrations, always develop a ‘Plan B.’  What if there is a rainstorm, what if it is 95 degrees and muggy, what if someone gets really drunk before the wedding? I know it is hard to anticipate everything that could go astray, but if you have a semi-plan in place it will relieve a lot of stress on the day. Don’t be afraid to put your trusted friends in charge of a few of the Plans Bs to take the pressure off of you.” –Jack Schulte, caterer

“I would suggest that they be open to substitutions. We get couples loving different looks from Pinterest, but sometimes that look is unrealistic to fulfill with smaller budgets.” –Maureen Toner, May's Floral

“The size and complexity of your wedding and reception can be in direct correlation to the amount of stress involved in planning it, especially if neither of you have been part of planning one before. There are also so many last minute details that need attention on the day of the wedding, regardless of the size or complexity of the day. I suggest that all of those details be written down in a notebook ahead of time. A day or two before the ceremony, the notebook is handed off to someone else who has agreed to oversee the completion of them. That way the couple can truly focus on what really matters that day – their love for each other, why they’re making this commitment, and enjoying the moments, their guests and each other. This day will never happen again; be fully present for it!” –Ronnie Roll, officiant

Are there wedding traditions you’d like to get rid of? What are they, and why?

“Many people have the normal afternoon wedding, the dinner around 5 or 6 and then a dance to follow. The timeline is always so packed and rushed. I would like to see more morning weddings. Get married when the day is crisp and new, then you have the whole day to enjoy the people that came to see you.” –Brent Stelzer, florist

“Personally, I would like to see couples re-think large wedding parties. Large groups really take up a lot of time on the day of the wedding. Obviously it means a bunch more time shooting photos, but moving large groups of people between the different venues and any other stops during the day can really eat up time. The couple should be hanging out with their guests or just relaxing! Don’t worry, we’ll get your #squadgoals photo with all your friends at the reception! On that same note, bar hopping is a tradition I would like to see go away. You’re hosting guests on your wedding day, and if you are out bar hopping, you are missing your own party!” –Kate Bentley, photographer

“I love traditions, and now couples are adding their own twist to them. (Instead of just) traditional white dresses, brides now are adding color or are a different color. It is not always Dad walking the bride down the aisle but a very important person in the bride’s life. Even the unity ceremony – which used to be candles or sand – (now may be) wine, painting, or tree planting. Engagement rings are not always diamonds now, they choose different gemstones.” –Susie West, officiant

“Wedding couples are exchanging the ‘clinking of the glass for the bride and groom kiss’ to more unusual events: We’ve seen the bean bag toss for a kiss, the sing a song with the word ‘love’ in it for a kiss, to the most unusual – beer pong for a kiss! Sure, it’s fun, but it really slows down the night. The bride and groom are the central focus.” –Jack Schulte, caterer

“I believe that traditions can be a beautiful thing. They remind us of our heritage, our families, and the things that matter to us. The most important part of any tradition or ritual in today’s society is to make sure they are respectful of all who will participate in or witness them. I often create a special part of the ceremony that the couple can recreate on special occasions and anniversaries to remind them of their love and promises to each other as the years go by.” –Ronnie Roll, officiant

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