Archive of ‘Vendor Love’ category

7 Ways to SPRING into action for the big day and beyond!

If you want to spring into action and get yourself fit, emotionally and physically, for the big day — then you will not want to miss this blog post. I have had the pleasure of knowing our guest blogger, Chris Szabo, for nearly 15 years now and let me tell you, she is a total powerhouse! I asked Chris to write about ways to get “wedding day” ready and then keep those routines long after the wedding. I love her fitness motto: Train – Evolve – Achieve. Train for an Adventurous Life.


The Big Day is fast approaching and there is so much to do! How can working out be something besides just another task to check off the endless list? There are lots of ways to make it happen – here are some main concepts to guide you to success:

1. Prioritize. Remember we make time for the things we want to prioritize. Whether it’s conscious or not, ‘not having time’ is the number one reason clients give for not getting the workout in or the results they want. It helps to reframe this by realizing ‘I make time for’ or ‘I choose to.’ It helps to think of working out as non-negotiable as brushing your teeth. You just do it. It’s part of your day.

2. Start with something you know and LIKE to do. I can’t emphasize this enough. Exercise can be hard work and is challenging. To have staying power it’s got to be something that you find satisfaction in, intrinsically. Is this taking a class on a regular basis? Is this working out with a friend? Do you like to dance? Take a hip-hop class. Rather lift weights? How about cross-fit or a strength class?

3. Make it count. It’s not only what you do that matters, but HOW you do it. You will get much more out of 30 minutes where you try to jog or run versus walk. Exertion counts. Sweat! You need to challenge yourself to make changes and take your fitness to the next level. There’s a place for reading books and magazines but if you read them when working out, you’re not making much of a difference in your fitness.

4. Be Accountable. For many clients, having to answer to someone or something other than themselves creates more accountability and commitment. What motivates you? If signing up and paying for classes will get you to workout, great! Do you hate the gym? Find a group or trainer to work outdoors. Want to spend more time with your spouse-to be? Find a time to workout together, or at least at the same time.

5. Persistence wins the day. So maybe you missed a day this week because you had a work project to do, or you were feeling sick. Make sure to keep it in perspective. Life happens. Keep in mind that missing a day or two isn’t the problem, it’s when that becomes a pattern that you develop issues. You didn’t bring your regular intensity to spin class? That’s ok. You showed up. Take the long term approach.

6. Schedule it, write it down. It’s great to have ideas and goals. It’s more important to write them down. Make things happen by creating goals that are realistic, time-bound, and measurable. These things don’t happen in your head. You’ve got to make them actionable items. Spin class is on the calendar, like a business meeting. Aim to workout two to three times a week on alternate days, for a few weeks. If you stay consistent with that, add in another day. If you already workout, shoot for five days, a recovery day, and a complete day off.

7. Focus on the process. It’s easy to focus on what pounds are coming on or off, or how you will look on the Big Day. While these things may matter to you, it’s most important to focus on how you will feel on that day and beyond. If you stay in the moment and focus on the process, one workout at a time, the rest generally takes care of itself.

Now take time to reflect on your successes and hard work along the way! You deserve it. By the time your Big Day comes around, you will shine with pride and confidence knowing what you did to get there.


greatest-expectations-szabo-fittness-chrisChris Szabo – Szabo Fitness, owner

Chris is an ACE Certified Personal Trainer, Bootcamp & Strength Instructor and Cross Country Coach.  She promotes a love of lifelong fitness through unique and fun workouts.  She especially enjoys empowering clients by building a sense of community and using the outdoors as her fitness playground.

Certifications Held: ACE Personal Trainer, AFAA Group Instructor, TRX trainer, USA Track & Field

Specialties: Strength Training, Body Weight Training, Core Training, BootCamp, TRX, Middle Distance/Distance Running

If you are in the Worthington, Ohio area be sure to check out Chris’ classes!

Class Times: Pure Strength: Mondays 7-8pm

Total Body Bootcamp: Wednesdays 5:45-6:45pm & Saturday 8:30-9:30am. All at the Worthington Community Center.

Why you still need a planner when having a hotel wedding

Please help us welcome Emily Vandevender, Catering Manager for the Four Seasons Hotel Chicago. Emily joins us to talk about the importance of having a wedding planner, even when having a hotel wedding. We have been fortunate enough to work with Emily in many capacities over the last decade and are thrilled to have her as our guest writer this week.


The first (and arguably most important) question has been asked: “will you marry me?” and accepted. This, in turn, leads to more questions – “Where?”  “When?”  “How much will this cost?!”  “Is there anything we’re missing?”

Often the venue search can help you answer those questions.  As a catering manager, I find we often conclude an initial site visit by going through the logistical flow, set up, accommodations, availability and pricing associated with hosting an event at our property.  Given all of your other questions, you may also be wondering if the catering manager you meet during the site visit will be onsite for your wedding and if you really need a wedding planner.

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Personally, I try to be at as many of my weddings as possible.  Because we book weddings so far in advance, however, my personal availability may not always align with your big day (I was a bridesmaid in three weddings last year!) Remember that even though important elements of your wedding are being held on our property, we actually only hold a few pieces of the puzzle that is your extraordinary event.

I always like to equate planning a wedding to putting together a puzzle. You have to determine which pieces work best for you and how you want to put them together. Sometimes that puzzle looks exactly like the picture on the box and sometimes, by the end, it becomes a whole new picture. While your catering manager (at a hotel) holds three specific pieces of your puzzle – venue, food and beverage – we can’t necessarily see or manage your entire picture. Fortunately, there is someone who can: a seasoned wedding planner. I cannot stress enough the importance of hiring a professional, seasoned wedding planner!

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Every vendor holds a piece of your puzzle and due to their experience and expertise, a wedding planner can work with you to ensure that the decisions made and vendors chosen are a cohesive fit. They help ensure the entire puzzle fits perfectly together and eliminate the risk that you may select pieces that might not fit properly.

A planner will partner you with the perfect vendors

While any catering manager will happy to make suggestions of vendors that know their property well, who they’ve had good experience with, etc. they are not necessarily privy to your total budget – and don’t want to refer vendors that are not your aesthetic or might break the bank. A seasoned planner will schedule a consultation to not only get to know you and your style, but will delve into the “nitty gritty” about your entire vision and price point.

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A planner will be responsible for every single aspect of your wedding day

A catering manager’s responsibilities include things that happen on our property and only in direct relation to events happening on our property. Your wedding planner will handle things that happen both on and off the hotel’s property as well as wedding party and family dynamics. For example, if your ceremony is off-site and the trolley is stuck in traffic, your planner will be in constant contact with the driver and can adjust the schedule to accommodate the change. Perhaps you will spend another five minutes with your makeup artist, instead of rushing downstairs and waiting.

A planner is always working on your behalf

All of your vendors should work together but your planner is the decision maker on your behalf. Things do come up that are unexpected. Your planner becomes everyone’s point of contact, as opposed to bothering you. For example, your father would like a little more time before he speaks and we are all happy to accommodate his wish. But this does impact your caterer’s first course or entree service, your emcee announcing him and photography capturing the toast. Therefore, instead of these three vendors all asking you if he is ready, your planner has already confirmed to move forward with cutting the cake first and having your father’s toast after. He gets his extra time, all vendors stay on track and no one is bothering you with questions.

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A planner offers a personal touch

One of my personal favorites is that, often, a planner will take the gifts up to your room (catering managers won’t touch your gifts and cards because then the hotel could be liable). This prevents family members having to leave the reception to take gifts to a room or their car and ensures that there is one specific person responsible for the safety of these items. This is just one small way a planner add’s a personal touch.

You are the planner’s main focus

While you, as the client, are my focus that day, the puzzle pieces I am specifically responsible for are the venue, food and beverage – therefore, if our chef has a question and needs me in the kitchen, that’s where I need to be. If your grandma needs special access to an elevator other guests are not using, I should be assisting her – and if I’m assisting her, I’m unfortunately not able to run up to your room and grab the ballet flats you wanted to change into, but have forgotten to bring. A planner will have those extra shoes at the ready. That is one of a million aspects of their job.

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Finally, and most importantly, I stress seasoned wedding planner as the person you should hire to help you put your puzzle together. This is because he or she has the relationships and experience to lead you through this process flawlessly. His or her experience and relationships will be more valuable than anything else he or she brings to the table.

As a catering manager, I would love to be your planner and assist with every aspect of this event, but there is someone much more suited to the task: a seasoned wedding planner. They will always be your best resource.

When you asked me, “Is there anything we are missing?” my answer is simple: a seasoned wedding planner.

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20150720 averyhouse 010-XLAs Catering Manager for the Four Seasons Hotel Chicago and former Senior Wedding and Social Event Manager for Bon Appetit at the Art Institute of Chicago, Emily Vandevender has nine years of event planning experience and has executed over 500 weddings and special events.

With a degree in Communications, an extensive public speaking background and as a published writer, Emily also founded Toast Points in 2015 to assist with ghost writing and toast whispering needs.

Headshot by Avery House

Featured wedding shot by Fred Fox Studios. Venue, Four Seasons Chicago. Floral and design, Kehoe Designs.

Wedding cake: Things to consider when booking

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Photo by: averyhouse

One of the most exciting parts of wedding planning is selecting your wedding cake! However, just like every other aspect of wedding planning, if you are not prepared for the tasting, things can get overwhelming quickly.  

Many thanks to this weeks blog guest, Elysia Root. If you want super delicious cake in Chicago, Elysia is always a great bet!


Unless you’re a wedding planner, you probably don’t really know what to expect in terms of finding and booking your perfect wedding cake. It’s a fun process and can be very straightforward as long as you’ve been given a little introduction beforehand. We’ve put together some tips and general information that could be very helpful to know prior to diving into your wedding cake search.

Schedule your cake tasting at least 3 to 6 months in advance of your wedding date. Most custom cake studios have limited staff and dates do fill up (especially during popular wedding months and dates). Check the cake studio’s availability before making an appointment to avoid disappointment.

Do YOUR homework before meeting with a cake vendor. For example, find out if a wedding cake is included as part of your venue package. If it isn’t, see if there is a preferred vendor list. Are there extra charges for bringing in an outside vendor?

Bring as much information as possible for design inspiration (invitation, color swatches, photos of the attire, flowers, Pinterest boards). Be prepared to explain why you like certain elements. Talk to your partner prior to the consultation about what he/she wants as far as cake design.

Know how you’d like the cake to be distributed at your reception: plated or at a dessert station. If you would like the cake to be plated, then you must account for every single guest in your serving size. If you plan to have a dessert station, you can usually serve less cake (we suggest 20-25% less cake, and serve other desserts to make up the difference).

Know cake terms – tiers versus layers. Standard wedding cake slices are 1 inch deep, 2 inches wide and 4 inches tall.

Know how cake pricing typically works. Most wedding and custom cakes are priced by the slice. Each cake vendor will price differently based on skill, experience, location, ingredients, and other factors. Other aspects such as premium ingredients, sugar floral work, or complexity of design will most likely add to the cost of the cake. Keep in mind you are serving your wedding guests a meal equivalent to a fine restaurant experience at your wedding; a wedding cake slice should be thought of as equivalent to a dessert served at a restaurant.

Figure out the delivery. Who will be doing the delivery? Does your cake vendor provide rentals for the display of the cake, or do they have suggestions for rentals? Is your cake vendor properly licensed and insured?

Send all requested information prior to your cake tasting. If you were asked to make any selections such as choosing cake or filling flavors you’d like to try, send that promptly ahead of time. Some vendors do the tasting deconstructed (cake and fillings served to you separately) as opposed to constructed cake.

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Photo by: Husar Photography

Know the difference between buttercream and fondant. There are many different kinds of buttercream such as American, Italian, and Swiss buttercream. Fondant is edible sugar paste made from powdered sugar, gelatin, glucose, glycerin and water, and it is only used as an icing (not a filling). In some cases, we recommend that you choose fondant. Why? Because sometimes only fondant can create the design that you’re looking for; it keeps the cake fresher, it makes it easier to handle (transport, slice, and most importantly, decorate), and it is heat-stable for warmer weather.

Tips on Choosing Your Cake Flavors

When discussing your wedding cake, we always recommend choosing flavors you personally love. We think that every detail of your reception should be a reflection of who you are as a couple. A wedding is more memorable when every details is a “favorite” of the couple and that absolutely applies to the flavor of your cake! Like the outside of the cake, the inside can be just as customized and we love working with our clients to create a scrumptious cake that tastes as good as it looks.

Analyze your palate – Do you enjoy fruity confections – or do you prefer something more nutty? How about dark, rich flavors such as a dark chocolate ganache? Or perhaps you enjoy sweet and salty combinations, such as a delicious salted caramel.

Seasonality – Think about what ingredients are available during the seasons: strawberries and raspberries in the summer, warm spice and pumpkin in the fall. Chocolate is available all year round (thank goodness!).

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Photo by: Z+V Photography

Recreate your favorite dessert – some of our clients come in with a favorite dessert in mind – we deconstruct the dessert and build the flavors up as a cake. Some of the fun flavors we have created for clients are as follows: “Almond Joy Cake” –  Almond Cake, alternating layers of Dark Chocolate Ganache and Coconut Buttercream. “Peanut Butter & Jelly Cake” – Vanilla Cake, Peanut Butter Buttercream with Raspberry Preserves.

Don’t be afraid to go outside the box and treat the cake like a “composed” dessert. Mix up the four layers of cake and three layers of buttercream flavors to give your guests an unexpected surprise. Desserts are most memorable when they are unique and delicious. We let you choose three flavors of cake and five flavors of filling from our menu for your cake tasting so you can mix and match and come up with something that reflects your tastes to share with your guests.

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Photo by: Geneoh Photography


wedding-cake-greatest-expectationsBefore launching Elysia Root Cakes, Elysia who has her B.S. in Business from the University of Illinois and a M.B.A. in Strategic Management and Marketing Management from the University of Chicago, worked in the insurance industry for 10 years. Cake decorating began as a fun hobby for Elysia in 2010 and she enjoyed making cake creations for her family, friends, and colleagues.

Elysia received her formal training in the pastry arts at The French Pastry School in Chicago where she attended L’art du Gâteau and studied with Chefs and Master Cake Artists Nicholas Lodge, Mark Seaman, and Kristin Ryan, as well as Chefs and World Pastry Champions Scott Green and Joshua Jackson. Elysia has continued to refine her skills by taking additional classes from some of the world’s best sugar and cake artists including Nicholas Lodge, Ron Ben-Israel, Mark Seaman, Susan Carberry, Lauren Kitchens, Mike McCarey, Courtney Clark, Debbie Brown, Marina Sousa, Rick Reichart, Jacqueline Butler, Kaysie Lackey, and Alexandria Pellegrino.

Sharing love: Chicago’s finest Valentine’s treats

“And I’d choose you; in a hundred lifetimes, in a hundred worlds, in any version of reality, I’d find you and I’d choose you.” ― Kirsten White, The Chaos of the Stars

We love love. We love it in all sorts of forms and for so many reasons. We love our partners / spouses, our parents, our siblings, our friends, our children. We love sharing things with those we love: things that make us happy, things that make us smile, things that make us grateful. Sharing is one of the most beautiful ways to show love and gratitude.

We love our clients, readers and vendors, so in this post we are sharing some of our favorite local treats (if you are reading from outside of Chicago, don’t worry, nearly everything can be ordered online). Below are some of the most delectable and delightful treats Chicago has to offer. Each treat comes from a true artisan small business owner. Supporting them helps keeps their communities thriving and truly makes an impact on the daily lives of the owners and their employees. But this is not only about supporting small business – – these treats are truly amazing from their appearance to their melt-in-your mouth taste. To be honest, it was really hard to keep our hands off of these goodies long enough to photograph them!

Nothing warms you up on a winter night like Salted Carmel Drinking Chocolate from Katherine Anne Confections, featured here with their handmade marshmallows. Seriously, we cannot believe we ever ate store-bought marshmallows! These handmade treats are like eating clouds. And did you hear us say salted caramel? Chunks of salted caramel melt inside this delicious cup of cocoa making it rich, smooth and nearly sinful.

Salted Caramel Drinking Chocolate

Salted Caramel Drinking Chocolate, Katherine Anne Confections

Katherine Anne Confections has been creating local-focused sweets in Chicago since 2006. Their hand-dipped truffles, soft honey caramels, and pillowy marshmallows are ridiculously good, partially due to their awesome, locally sourced ingredients and local wildflower honey replaces corn syrup. Each truffle is rolled and hand dipped for an elegant look and all flavors are a twist on the traditional. Pictured below are Katherine’s passion fruit and basil truffles.

Passion Fruit Truffles, Katherine Anne Confections Basil Truffles, Katherine Anne ConfectiosKatherine also hosts monthly truffle making parties and “tasting” nights where she debuts her newest flavors.  What a fun date night with someone you love!

Bringing a new meaning to Valentine’s Day candies are these gorgeous handmade candies from Veruca Chocolates. All of these boutique chocolate confections are the brainchild of Heather Johnston, a pediatrician-turned-chocolatier. Veruca Chocolates are made for chocolate lovers with discriminating taste and an eye for beauty. Each piece is handmade from only the finest ingredients, and hand-finished to entice the eye as well as the palate.

Kiss me Caramels, Veruca Chocolates

How cute are these “Kiss Me” Caramels? We secretly snuck these into the little ones’ lunch boxes this morning. Who says artisan chocolates are only for lovers!?

Fruit Pate, Veruca

A special “in-store only” treat are these blackberry pate de fruits. Heart shaped and lollipop like. It’s always fun to stop into Veruca and see what specials they have inside.

Heather says, “I believe that opening a box of chocolates should be almost as fun as eating it. I design each chocolate in a way that incorporates color, shape, pattern and texture to indulge all of the senses.” We could not agree more! Each of Veruca’s chocolates are tiny little pieces of art (that just happen to taste amazing).

Veruca takes new twist on an old favorite with their “Turtle Love” collection. I mean, come on!

Heart Turtles, Veruca Chocolates

Personally, I don’t think any celebration is complete without pie. First Slice, an amazing, local, cafe has this awesome mission from the Chicago Recovery Alliance: any positive change. It’s the idea that each of us has the ability to create a positive change in every needy person we meet. Making a connection, whether simply eye contact, a handshake or, with First Slice, providing a meal, can really help create a positive change in someone who’s living on the street… Everybody has something wonderful in them.

There is nothing quite like the Michigan Cherry hand pies and mini pies.  I may have been known to get a aggressive when it came to getting my hands on one of these babies. Complete perfection.

First Slice Pie

First Slice funds its efforts with a “shareholders program,” with some 100 subscriber families receiving home-cooked, restaurant-quality meals weekly. Funds from those subscriptions are used to make the same quality meals for people in need. Community volunteers, working with First Slice staff, serve often 300-plus needy and homeless each week through several social service organizations, such as Streetwise. There are three First Slice cafes (North Ravenswood inside the Lillstreet Art Center, North Ashland Avenue, and Manor Street).

Cherry hand pies. first slice

So when we think of pie, we think of First Slice and when we think of sharing food, love and knowledge, we think of First Slice. Each bite makes a big difference. Now that is a really amazing pie!

So there you have it. Delicious, beautiful and heart warming treats. These are gifts with heart, share them with everyone you love.

Happy Valentine’s Day … We love you!

XOXO,

Greatest Expectations

Mexican Fiesta – Destination Wedding

Destination Wedding Greatest Expectations

As we continue to suffer through the cold Chicago winter it is delightful to reminisce on past weddings in luxurious destinations. Today we share a really special wedding with you from Los Barriles, Mexico. Julia and Cosmo are a truly delightful couple that wanted an intimate, romantic beachside wedding with those they love most. This was an extra special wedding for us because these clients are also friends. Julia is a very talented photographer and Cosmo is a world-renowned chef. Can we say power couple?

Destination Wedding Greatest ExpectationsLos Barriles is a sleepy little fishing village about an hour from Cabo.  It is also where Cosmo proposed to Julia after working on a destination wedding we did together. Finding a meaningful spot for a destination wedding truly does make the entire experience that much more amazing.

To set the mood for invited guests, Sarah Drake Designs created the most stunning hand-painted invitations. Opening these little beauties was like getting a special gift in the mail. It was the type of invitation that you immediately hang up because you simply cannot stop looking at it.

Destination Wedding Stationery

Kicking the weekend off was one of the most festive and beautiful rehearsal dinners we have ever seen at Hotel Los Pescadores. There was so much excitement and joy in the decor that guests knew it was celebration time! Many of the guests walked to dinner from private beach houses and hotels clustered together in this sweet little village, continuing the personalized and intimate feel of the weekend.

Destination Wedding Greatest Expectations

Destination Wedding Greatest Expectations

Destination Wedding Greatest Expectations

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Julia was a stunning bride! Every detail was perfectly attended to and she absolutely glowed. The bouquets were full of the rich, vibrant colors of coral, soft pink and white with a few succulents tucked in to add texture.

Destination Wedding Greatest Expectations

Destination Wedding Greatest Expectations

Destination Wedding Greatest Expectations Floral

The wedding party was dressed in fun and flirty outfits: soft, romantic gowns for the bridesmaids and casual, tropical printed shirts for the groomsmen.

Destination Wedding Greatest Expectations Destination Wedding Greatest Expectations

Everyone gathered on the beach for the sunset ceremony officiated by a personal friend. There was no shortage of tears and laughter throughout this meaningful custom and personalized ceremony.

Beach Wedding Ceremony Greatest Expectations

Beach Wedding Ceremony Greatest Expectations

Beach Wedding Ceremony Greatest Expectations

Beach Wedding Ceremony Greatest Expectations

Destination Wedding Greatest Expectations

Directly following the ceremony, guests headed back to the house where a poolside cocktail party awaited. They were greeted with unique sea shell escort cards, hand written by the bride herself, such sweet little keepsakes for people to take home.

Destination Wedding Greatest Expectations

The reception was adorned with long wooden feasting tables overflowing with beautiful centerpieces from Mazarte Floral, candles, custom glassware and rentals from Intuitive Designs and Let it Be Events and, as the sun went down, beautifully strung twinkle lights. There is nothing quiet like dancing and dining under the stars.

Beach Wedding Greatest Expectations

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While all of these other, wonderful things were taking place, Cosmo’s dear friends and fellow chefs (who came in from all over the United States) were busy preparing a wedding feast like nothing any of us had ever experienced before. Upon arriving to Los Barriles, these guys spent days deep sea fishing to catch what would become the wedding meal. The day before the wedding, they went to the local market and purchased the freshest and most delicious items to put the finishing touches on this farm-to-table delight.

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Capping the evening off were homemade cookies (Julia’s grandmother’s recipe, no less) and a speciality bourbon bar coordinated by Julia as a surprise for her new husband. It was quite a feat getting all of these rare and expensive bottles from Chicago to Mexico!

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Bourbon Bar Greatest Expectations Destination Bourbon Bar Greatest Expectations Destination

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It was such a joy to be part of this very happy occasion as a planner and a guest!

Kina Wicks Greatest Expectations Destination WeddingWhile there was no shortage of beautiful photographs from a room full of talented photographers, the images shown here are from Kina Wicks — the official photographer for this wedding.  The only exception is the rehearsal dinner shot which was from our owner, Heather Vickery.

Tips on hotel accommodations for your guests

The very first welcome your friends and family receive upon arrival to your wedding weekend is often from a hotel’s front desk clerk. Hotel accommodations immediately set the tone for your out of town guests’ wedding experience yet are often overlooked on your to-do list. When you have guests traveling in to join you on your big day, they must have someplace to stay, and the vibe of that place will set the tone for the celebrations to come.

With the prevalence of online travel booking sites and private home rentals, it can be tempting to refer your guests to one of the many discount travel sites and let them choose their deal. This has dangers, though. You relinquish control over their guest experience and you lose the convenience factor of having your loved ones concentrated in one site, which can aid in providing amenities and transportation.

This is why we recommend investing the necessary time to negotiate a room block that will not only keep your guests together, but keep them comfortable and happy from the moment they arrive for your special weekend.

So, What are the Priorities?

As hotels expand their lists of creative amenities, guests now expect more than just a bed and shower. Start by compiling a list of important factors beginning with how many rooms you might need. Don’t forget rooms where the wedding party will get ready and your own wedding night accommodations.

What kind of properties are your friends and family accustomed to: luxury or budget; full-service or boutique? Most guests want easy access to your wedding venue, but also to major transportation hubs and local attractions. In terms of conveniences, consider a restaurant on-site for impromptu guest get-togethers or a more formally-organized hospitality suite during the day. Jot down every possible priority so you can rank them in order of importance. This list will come in handy when you negotiate with your chosen hotels.

Room Block Contracts

Armed with this information, scrutinize any contract you receive. Compare online rates to the contract rates to be sure you’re getting the best deal. Ask about attrition: it is common for a hotel to hold you financially responsible for a percentage of the rooms after certain cutoff dates. There may also be extra fees for gift bag delivery, wifi, parking or breakfast. Are more rooms available to you at the rate if your initial “room block” fills up faster than expected? Can you reduce the number of blocked rooms, and can guests cancel reservations up to a cutoff date without penalty?

We realize there are a lot of details here and the process can quickly become overwhelming. We highly suggest you enlist the assistance of a wedding planner to help streamline this process. If you are not working with a planner, a company that specializes in guest accommodations like Where Will They Stay is a great option.

Extending the courtesy of making room block arrangements for your guests is just one way to thank them for celebrating with you on your big day. Make it the first of the many expressions of love that result from your new lives together.

What do you consider the most important quality when looking for your host hotel?

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Amy Green is one of the founders of Where Will They Stay?, a free service which offers custom room block procurement for engaged couples. She has worked in the event planning industry for nearly 20 years, booking tens of thousands of rooms each year for conferences, conventions and special events. When staying at a hotel for leisure, she is most likely to be
found poolside!

* Featured image by Husar Photography

Bridesmaids dresses: top trends for 2016

When it comes to outfitting your wedding party there are so many choices that many couples find their heads spinning!  Thanks to our friends at Bella Bridesmaids, we have pinned down the top trends for bridesmaids dresses this year. These are some seriously stunning gowns that your bridesmaids will be delighted to wear. 

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(Never) Too Much Tulle

Move over, ballerinas! Tulle is no longer just for pale pink tutus. Brides have been gliding down the aisle in this breezy fabric for years so it’s time the bridesmaids felt the tulle love, too. Looking for an alternative to chiffon, but don’t want your bridesmaids to look so structured? We HIGHLY recommend tulle. Designers like twobirds and Monique Lhuillier have transformed their classic styles with this fabric. We promise they will never want to take it off.

Just when we thought the twobirds dress could do it all…they add tulle. We were THRILLED to welcome this addition at Bridal Market and we are even more excited to share it with our brides in our showrooms. It’s light. It’s airy. It’s a bit more formal. And yes, it can still be tied in a zillion different ways.

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Monique Lhuillier’s tulle gowns feature some seriously stunning colors this season which are perfect for creating an ombre palette. Your bridesmaids will love her delicate details with cool cutouts and sophisticated silhouettes. The tulle fabric ties together this glamorously girly look.

Say Yes To Separates

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Gone are the days where bridesmaids dresses are actually dresses. Designers like Jenny Yoo and Joanna August are giving girls more options with skirts AND tops. The mix and match trend is still holding strong in 2016 and separates are the perfect effortless addition for your bridesmaid.

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Jenny Yoo’s 2016 collection includes classic sweaters and tulle skirts in soft colors and watercolor prints. Audrey would be proud with the new Jenny Yoo closet must haves. Joanna August keeps her California cool style this season with flowy chiffon tops and wrap skirts. Try pairing a neutral top in white or ivory with a colored skirt to stay on the two tone trend. This will give your wedding photos more dimension and keeps your girls feeling fresh and playful.

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Metallics are the New Neutral

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Sparkle and shine are having their moment in 2016. Glitter done. Amsale and Nouvelle Amsale have introduced new fabrics that will quench your thirst for sparkle. Be bold this year because metallics are the new neutral.

Nouvelle Amsale’s new liquid metal dresses are perfect for the boho bride that wants some red carpet flare. The rosegold and wheat colors are subtle, yet still make a statement. Plus the touch of glam is a flower crown’s best friend.

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Amsale raised the bar this season with sequin styles that are a major must have for any black tie wedding. Their color options include gold, rosegold, navy, gunmetal and black. PLUS the sequins are soft so your bridesmaids won’t have to itch about it.

So tell us … What are your favorites?  What will your bridesmaids be walking down the aisle in? We cannot wait to see all of the beauty.

Photos courtesy of Bella Bridesmaids and Krista Mason Photography

So you’re ready to propose …

This is it. You have met “the one” and you are ready to propose. Wait. Whoa.  This is a really big deal!

Let’s all start by taking a deep breath.

Proposing can be nerve-wracking! You want it to be “just right.” You want your partner to be blown away.  After years of helping clients plan the perfect proposal, we thought it would be a good idea to provide a few helpful hints when planning an unforgettable proposal.

Type in “proposal” on Pinterest and you are bound to discover hundreds of posts about “the most creative proposals.” While we love the idea of getting creative (and we hope you will allow us to help plan this momentous occasion with you) there are things to consider.

First, lets consider your partner. Are they sentimental? Do they have champagne taste? Would they be considered “traditional”? Do they love crowds (or hate them)?

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For those that are more sentimental we might suggest proposing where you had your first date or the street corner where you realized they were “the one.” Now, if your significant other has more extravagant taste, we suggest taking them to the restaurant that is the hottest ticket in town followed by a walk at exactly the same time the fireworks on Navy Pier are going off. Buying out the skybox at the Willis Tower could also be a big hit for your extravagant partner.

It is important to really know your Forever Human well enough to decide if a public proposal would thrill them or horrify them. Remember, this moment needs to be about rocking their world, not necessarily what you would want if the situation was reversed.

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We find that many people want to have a photographer document their proposal. We highly support this idea as it makes for really beautiful memories.

But let’s discuss a few very important and often-overlooked factors when having a professional photograph your well planned and extremely special proposal.

1. No one likes an under lit photograph, especially a photographer. If the lighting is poor, the photographer cannot properly capture this momentous occasion. So be sure to consider the lighting when selecting your venue. Are you proposing at nighttime? Will there need to be additional lighting? How can one make the additional lighting relatively hidden (you should count on your proposal planner or photographer to help you with this one)?

2. How can the photographer capture the moment without giving anything away? Often a professional photographer will have a decoy situation set up that would prevent your special someone from suspecting a thing. However, at a private dinner and in smaller venues,  a photographer holding an unusually large camera is more noticeable. Talk through these details before the big day so that everything goes smoothly.

3. This one would seem obvious, but we have to say it: hire a professional photographer! Do not hire your friend with a “nice” camera. There is no guarantee that your photographs will turn out the way you want them to. You also run the risk of spoiling the surprise when your partner sees a friend of yours with a camera strapped around their neck.

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Finally, lets talk friends and family. This is when you really need to know your future spouse. Often, after a proposal a couple wants to do one of two things: spend as much one on one time together as possible or shout “I’M ENGAGED” from the rooftops with forty of their closest friends and family members. If you think your partner would prefer the latter then invite away! We suggest renting a private room at a restaurant or planning a party at a spot close to where you’ll propose. For those partners that would rather spend a romantic night one on one, rent a room at a hotel for a special getaway evening or plan your proposal over a vacation (and yes, those professional photographers and proposal planners will travel to your destination with you!).

One thing is for sure: no matter what you do or who is there your partner will have eyes only for you. The funny thing about love is that it can make you feel like you’re the only two people in the whole world, even if everyone’s watching.

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Love is Love – Celebrating 1 Year of Marriage Equality in Illinois

Love is Love Logo

Last month we worked with an outstanding group of Chicago wedding vendors to plan and produce Love is Love, a celebration of 1 year of marriage equality in Illinois.  We had hundreds of people in attendance and it was quite the celebration!  It was such a delight being part of this event and we were thrilled to see many of our past and current same-sex clients in attendance as well.

That night, we all talked about how proud we were of Illinois and how awesome it was to see equal rights for all couples in love in our home state of Illinois.  Finally, we can say the same thing for the entire country!  We have celebrated and rejoiced for over a week now that the SCOTUS ruled in favor of marriage equality! We are seeing same-sex weddings happen all over the country, in cities and counties that some of us never dreamed would be a reality.  As a wedding planner who works with a lot of LGBT clients, my heart is overjoyed to see this wave of love wash over our nation.  This Independence Day we have something extra to celebrate.  While we know there is still a lot of work ahead for equality across races, religions, gender and sexuality, it is important to still take a moment to be thankful and celebrate our victories.  They may come slowly, but they are coming.  Our hard work and dedication to equality makes changes day by day, one step at a time.

I am delighted to share this beautiful video from my friend Keith at Poetic Productions.  He did a beautiful job capturing the Love is Love celebration for same-sex marriage.  We also have a really fun stop motion video from Doug and Doug McGoldrick Weddings.  It is a pleasure to share these beautiful pieces of art with you all.

love is from doug mcgoldrick on Vimeo.

I giant thank you to all of the outstanding vendors who came together to make Love is Love such an exceptional celebration.  Everyone at Greatest Expectations is thrilled and honored to work with each and every one of you!

Amy Beck Cake Design

Limelight Catering

J & L Catering

Entertaining Company 

Wolfgang Puck Catering

Modern Luxury Brides Chicago

ChicagoStyle Weddings Magazine

Lincoln Park Zoo

Halls Rentals

BBJ Linen

Revel Decor

Sound Investment

Greatest Expectations

SQN Special Events

Liven It Up Events

Emily Wheeler Custom Cakes

Rick Aguilar Studios

Doug McGoldrick Photography

Lofty Wedding Photography and Videography

Sprung Photo

Hendzel Productions

Poetic Productions

Beatmix Music

Okyne Medialab

Shutter Booth Chicago

KGA Garret Associates

Loft on Lake

Stand Up – Wedding Professional for Marriage Equality Chicago

All proceeds for Love is Love benefited Equality Illinois.

The Details Are In The Fine Print: Creating An Event Concept With Printed Items

We think it’s important to create a cohesive event “concept” for your wedding.  Some people may use the term “theme” but we don’t really love the associations made with that word, so let’s call it “creating a cohesive event concept.”

Some couples become leery when we bring up the need for an event concept.  Often they mistakenly think we are talking about a cheesy prom theme like “Love Under the Stars.” We assure you, this is not the case! Creating a concept for your wedding really means coming up with something that is unique to you as a couple; something that is presented to your guests at every turn. It can be as simple as a color scheme, a custom monogram, or a specific pattern set.  The most effective way to introduce a concept into your wedding and have it play out from start to finish is through printed details.

Once you have selected your wedding date and location you are able to let those two details inspire your concept. If you’ve chosen a rustic, outdoor location, take note of the flora and fauna that surrounds your venue and choose colors, patterns and textures that speak to it.  The same applies to a wedding taking place in an urban loft space or chic city hotel. The use of clean lines, colors and a modern patterns in your pre-wedding printed items gives your guests a little taste of what is to come and will help build the excitement for your big day.

Beautifully thought out invitation suite. Patterned backs, coordinating designs and colors.  Designed by Elizabeth Grace.  Photo by Wasio Photography.

Beautifully thought out invitation suite. Patterned backs, coordinating designs and colors. Designed by Elizabeth Grace. Photo by Wasio Photography.

 

Custom Invitation Set from Magnificent Milestones.  Photo by Amanda Hen Photography.

Custom Invitation Set from Magnificent Milestones. Photo by Amanda Hen Photography.

So, what do we mean by “printed details?” We are not just talking about your save-the-dates and invitations … Oh no, this goes much deeper than that, although they are the perfect place to start. Depending on your interests, budget and personality, consider a fun mailing just before your guests’ arrival.  Perhaps that’s a little letter or note to get them excited.  Include some details about the ceremony and reception venue.  Tell them about the local restaurants, where to get a great spa treatment, or who has the best cocktail!

Rehearsal Dinner Invitation from Magnificent Milestones.  Photo by Amanda Hein Photography

Rehearsal Dinner Invitation from Magnificent Milestones. Photo by Amanda Hein Photography.

When it comes to your guests’ arrivals be sure to welcome them in style.  Depending on budget this can be as simple as a welcome letter presented at check in, or a fabulous swag bag with treats that represent your style and personalities.

If you’re letting the small details stand out in print, as we suggest, this is the time to let them start shining. Programs, place cards and menu cards are not the only way to wow your guests with print. We are big fans of signage for events.  Make signage (large and small) interesting, eye catching and fun.  Highlight your sweet treats, favors, coffee stations, popcorn bars, or anything your beautifully creative mind can come up with.

Custom signage for a Hindu wedding. Design by Ruby the Fox.  Photo by Jennifer Kathryn Photography.

Custom signage for a Hindu wedding. Design by Ruby the Fox. Photo by Jennifer Kathryn Photography.

Scoop, Savor, Sip sign designed by Courtney Callahan Paper. Photo by Belen at Orange 2 Photo.

Scoop, Savor, Sip sign designed by Courtney Callahan. Photo by Belen at Orange 2 Photo.

Personalized napkins designed by Courtney Callahan Paper. Photo by Belen at Orange 2 Photo.

Personalized napkins designed by Courtney Callahan. Photo by Belen at Orange 2 Photo.
Event logo featured on matchboxes designed by Courtney Callahan Paper. Photo by Belen at Orange 2 Photo.

Event logo featured on matchboxes designed by Courtney Callahan. Photo by Belen at Orange 2 Photo.

Infused water bar for a Hindu Wedding Ceremony.  Design by Ruby the Fox.  Photo by Jennifer Kathryn Photography

Infused water bar from Entertaining Company for a Hindu Wedding Ceremony. Design by Ruby the Fox. Photo by Jennifer Kathryn Photography.

Consider parting gifts or treats to thank your guests for making an effort, traveling and spending a great deal of money to celebrate with you (let’s face it, it does cost guests a lot of money to attend a wedding).  

Organic honey guest favors with custom labels. Courtney Callahan Designs, Fleur, Inc.  Photo by Simply Jessie Photography.

Organic honey guest favors with custom labels.designed by Courtney Callahan. Photo by Simply Jessie Photography.

 

Custom Designed Monogram used on Favors by Truffle Truffle.  Design by Lily Red Studio. Photo by Amanda Hein Photography.

Custom Designed Monogram used on Favors by Truffle Truffle. Design by Lily Red Studio. Photo by Amanda Hein Photography.

As for your reception, there are a countless number of ways to use printed details throughout the night. If you’ve chosen to have a traditional, seated dinner for your guests, one the more obvious print item needs you’ll need are place cards. We admittedly love this small but important detail! There are so many different ways a place card can look, feel, be presented … It may seem silly, but we look forward to being inspired by them at every event we produce! You can easily take whatever printed details you’ve used on your invitations and ceremony programs and pull a piece of it onto traditional, small tent cards. If you’ve offered guests a choice of entrée, don’t forget to somehow indicate each guest’s selection on their individual place card. This in itself is a fun way to keep your theme going! We absolutely love the tiny animal that was stamped in the upper right corner of one of our recent couple’s place cards that indicated a chicken, fish or vegetarian dish (a small heart indicated a vegetarian dish).   

Beautiful patterned, square place cards/  Photo by Belen at Orange 2 Photo.

Beautiful patterned, square place cards/  designed by Courtney Callahan. Photo by Belen at Orange 2 Photo.

Honey dipper place's as place cards! Vintage drawers filled with sugar.  Courtney Callahan Designs, Fleur, Inc.  Photo by Simply Jessie Photography.

Honey dipper place’s as place cards! Vintage drawers filled with sugar. Courtney Callahan, Fleur, Inc. Photo by Simply Jessie Photography.

Custom Labels for favors (that are also place cards).  Design by Magnificent Milestones.  Photo by Amanda Hein Photography.

Custom Labels for favors (that are also place cards). Design by Magnificent Milestones. Photo by Amanda Hein Photography.

Creative Place Card Display on Large, Padded Picture Frame.  Photo by Amanda Hein Photography.

Creative Place Card Display on Large, Padded Picture Frame. Photo by Amanda Hein Photography.

 

Custom place cards for a Hindu wedding.  Guests meal options were shown with darling little carrots, chicken, or fish to indicate meal choice. Design by Ruby the Fox.  Photo by Jennifer Kathryn Photography.

Custom place cards for a Hindu wedding. Guests meal options were shown with darling little carrots, chicken, or fish to indicate meal choice. Design by Ruby the Fox. Photo by Jennifer Kathryn Photography.

Monogramed Place Cards. Photo by Dayna Schroeder Photography.

Monogramed Place Cards. Photo by Dayna Schroeder Photography.

For couples who are either working with a tight space (not enough room in the venue to display their place cards) or are going for a more non-traditional vibe, there is always the option of a seating chart instead of place cards. Instead of having several small cards printed with your theme of choice, show guests to their seats via a creative, well produced seating chart that fits in with your theme. The more creative, the better! We love the idea of having the seating chart professionally painted onto a vintage, framed mirror, a chalkboard, or just about anything you can imagine!

Seating chart poster. Photo by Document The Day Photography.

Seating chart poster. Photo by Document The Day Photography.

Chalkboard Seating Chart designed by Lil and Val and sold on Etsy.

Chalkboard Seating Chart designed by Lily and Val and sold on Etsy.

Your custom print details definitely don’t have to end with place cards or a fun seating chart; depending on your venue, guests might need more direction than just to their assigned table. Sometimes, directional signage to things like your cocktail hour location, dinner and dancing location, restrooms, bars, etc. might be helpful (or just plain fun) for your guests. Or, perhaps you’ve selected some yummy cocktail hour bites and beverages that you’d like to call attention to with menu signs. Keep this in mind during any walk-through appointments you have with your venue, and take the opportunity to create fun signage that will further enhance the theme you have going on.

Custom Designed Monogram and Food Signage.  Design by Lily Red Studio. Image by Amanda Hein Photography. Food Scape from Pure Kitchen Catering.

Custom Designed Monogram and Food Signage. Design by Lily Red Studio. Image by Amanda Hein Photography. Food Scape from Pure Kitchen Catering.

Custom Chalk Board Dessert Station Signage.  Photo by Jeremy Lawson Photography.

Custom Chalk Board Dessert Station Signage. Photo by Jeremy Lawson Photography.

Let’s not forget table décor – just like place cards, we’ve been inspired by a wide array of table numbers and names. Whatever your preference, numerical or something unique to you as a couple, keep it in line with your theme in order to keep the tone you’ve set in tact when guests are seated. We also adore a beautifully crafted menu card that slips into or sits on top of each guest’s napkin (for traditional, seated dinners of course). For couples that have chosen the food station route, creatively themed signs or individual food labels at your buffets ensure that your creative vision is seen in every corner of the room.

We used two larger menu cards on each table for this romantic terrarium wedding.  Designed by Anne Benjamin from Mok Duk.  Photo by Chad HusarPhotography.

We used two larger menu cards on each table for this romantic terrarium wedding. Designed by Anne Benjamin from Mok Duk. Photo by Chad Husar Photography.

Custom table numbers designed by Ruby The Fox.  Photo by Jennifer Kathryn Photography.

Custom table numbers designed by Ruby The Fox. Photo by Jennifer Kathryn Photography.

Menu card designed by Pink  Paper + Ink.  Photo by SnoStudios Photography.

Menu card designed by Pink Paper + Ink. Photo by SnoStudios Photography.

Creative table names, Cocktails! Each table featured a special cocktail recipe. Design by Magnificent Milestones.  Photo by Amanda Hein Photography.

Creative table names, Cocktails! Each table featured a special cocktail recipe. Design by Magnificent Milestones. Photo by Amanda Hein Photography.

We think printed details are a great way to create a long lasting, cohesive concept for any event. Hopefully our ideas have inspired you! Still having trouble coming up with a theme for your big day? Our creative team at Greatest Expectations would be delighted to help you create a vision for your “I Do’s” from start to finish!

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