Gabby Polizzi met Michael Chester six years ago when he walked into her salon for a haircut.
Polizzi cut hair for Chester and his family for four years until she moved to Florida. The two would flirt at each session but the timing never seemed to line up, with both in separate relationships at the time.
The hairstylist moved back to New Jersey at the beginning of the pandemic and Chester’s mother contacted her for a haircut, and that led to the couple’s reunion.
“I went over there and it was really all a scheme to get me and him to hang out — and now, we’re getting married,” Polizzi chuckled.
When the Burlington couple got engaged in June 2021, Polizzi was paranoid about getting a venue booked right away.
“I was so worried about everybody getting pushed back — I didn’t want to wait two years to get married,” she said.
She was able to secure a venue for this September in Southhampton.
Tiffany Hall had the same worries when she and her fiancé, Casmere Williams, got engaged. So, she got right to planning with a date in mind
The two met eight or nine years ago at work. They were engaged twice, once in 2014 and then in 2021. The recent proposal was at Disneyworld under the Cinderella Castle with fireworks.
They found a venue for November in Berlin, after running into issues with booking other sites. Many dates were taken already by couples who had rescheduled from the year prior.
Both couples will say “I do” in 2022, the busiest wedding year in years due to the backlog of many postponed celebrations.
About 2.5 million weddings are expected for this year and about 2.2 million for 2023, according to The Wedding Report. Experts predict things will normalize after 2023 as the nation gets closer to pre-pandemic wedding numbers.
It’s a very busy time for for wedding planners, entertainment groups, venue operators, photographers and others who keep the business of “I do” chugging along.
To get engaged couples in South Jersey the best advice to plan ahead, we spoke with brides, grooms and wedding industry professionals in our region to help love birds plan their special day.
Here’s what you need to know to plan a wedding for 2023 or beyond.
- Set aside planning time as soon you get that ring:
Wedding planner Jeri Anne Gerace, who founded her company Pop & Clink based in Cape May, said couples are booking wedding venues faster than ever.
The first step, she suggests, is setting aside time to plan as soon as couples are engaged, making sure to include a weekend to plan with your partner and your support system.
- Make a list of venues and vendors in order of importance and budget:
In the first few weekends after the engagement, visit venues to get the best possible dates. Vendors and other elements of the wedding go hand in hand with the venues, Gerace said.
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“Everything is booking more quickly, so I always tell my couples — let’s make a list of the vendors that you’re interested in, whether you’re looking at a DJ or a band, videographer or just a photographer,” she explained. “And let’s put them in order of importance to you and your budget.”
Gerace aims to help couples get the most important vendor booked first so they have the one they wanted.
- Your budget may increase due to high gas prices and high demand
It’s important to keep in mind the effects of inflation when budgeting for your big day because it’s not going away anytime soon, Gerace said.
Remember, venues will be the biggest expense along with catering if the venue does not offer it, Gerace advised. Entertainment and photography are a close second.
Although her own service costs have gone up, Gerace said she will work with her clients to help them sort through their budgets and prioritize the important elements of their special day.
- Take the pressure off yourself:
Hiring a planner or a wedding day coordinator helps couples manage stress, creating a buffer between the couples and the vendors, Gerace recommended.
But if you have a solid plan that’s organized then you may not need a planner, she added. She suggests checking out the various checklists online offered on sites like The Knot and Wedding Wire.
“Just stay organized (and) realize everything is not going to be planned in a week,” Gerace said. “It’s just important to make a timeline and a budget, and to stay as true to those as you can.”
Your wedding day is an important day so be sure to enjoy it and take it all in, she advised.
One trend she said she loves seeing is the last dance couples do after all the guests have left the venue — a private moment the two can take in before the night ends.
“Enjoy the process; it’s supposed to be fun,” she said. “I know wedding planning can be stressful, but it’s supposed to be fun and you get to marry your best friend. So, try to enjoy it along the way.”
When booking a venue
South Jersey wedding venues are looking for couples to book up to two years in advance. That’s right — two years.
Kristen Cass, director of Cooper River Operations for The Camden County Boathouse at Cooper River in Pennsauken Township, advises engaged couples to make calls quickly and book for at least a year and a half before their wedding date.
The Camden County venue offers couples tours and a list of caterers to choose from for their big day.
Cass said couples also should expect a price increase given that inflation is impacting all areas of the industry, particularly the food.
Food from distributors has increased by 3%.
“It’s not a drastic change; it’s a slight increase,” Cass said.
- Smaller parties and date flexibility are key:
Cass also has noticed many couples straying away from the larger weddings and focusing more on getting married.
Along with party sizes, Cass said couples getting married on Mondays, Thursdays and any day of the week is becoming more common. She also sees venues increasing their outdoor options for celebrations.
Georgia Kalavruzos, director of marketing at The Merion in Cinnaminson, agrees weekday weddings are the new normal.
“Date flexibility right now is huge for couples because we’re still catching up from the pandemic,” she said.
- Venues are excited to host you:
Kalavruzos added a higher level of service and a personal touch are what guests should expect because “we are so excited to be bringing people back together.”
- Build relationships for a smoother day:
At Merighi’s Savoy Inn in Vineland, President Thomas Merighi advises couples to work with vendors and venues that have “some staying power” — meaning pick those businesses that can weather any storm, including a pandemic.
“The last thing a couple needs, with all the issues and stress that they have, is to worry about the vitality of their banquet facility,” he said. “If you deal with people that are proven, I think you have a better chance of minimizing risk and stress.”
Building a relationship with his guests is important to Merighi he said as it gives couples comfort when planning their big day.
Let there be cake
- Order your cake three to six months in advance:
Diane Nussbaum, who owns Diane’s La Pâtisserie in West Berlin, recommends a three to six-month notice for your wedding cake — especially if you’re looking to add adornments to it.
- Plan the cake design when planning the wedding look:
The cake should fit the aesthetic of the room, Nussbaum points out.
As you organize elements of the venue decorations — the color scheme, the flowers — think of how your cake will fit in, the cake shop owner suggested.
“As you’re planning, you get a good feeling for what you want the cake to look like in the end,” she said.
- Consider cupcakes or a smaller cake:
Nussbaum has noticed some couples are opting to forgo the big cakes for cupcakes or smaller-sized confections.
Get that beautiful bouquet
- Place your flower orders ASAP:
Tabitha Stapleton, a designer at Betina’s at Parkview in Galloway, advises placing orders eight to 12 months ahead of your wedding.
Many orders for October to December 2023 are already in, keeping flower shops busy, she said.
“People are booking a year and a half in advance,” she shared. “We have a high demand.”
Stapleton also suggests couples plan for cost increases for flowers. Due to high demand and inflation across the board, some wholesalers are charging double the price.
- Flexibility is also helpful:
Michael Bruce of Michael Bruce Florist in Haddon Township says having a plan B is key.
Hydrangeas have been a popular flower for a while but two weeks ago, Bruce said he couldn’t get any for his shop.
“You might have gotten it but if you needed some extra hydrangeas, you couldn’t find it,” he said. “You couldn’t sing for it. You couldn’t do anything to get it.”
Having flexibility on what you want and giving shops some wiggle room will get you the best result, experts said.
Say yes to the dress
- Purchase your dress a year in advance:
Owner of The Bridal Manor Marion Williams suggests ordering your dress a year out or even earlier, as delays in shipments, manufacturing, fabrics and more continue.
Tuxedos are a different ballgame. They don’t have to beordered until two months prior to the wedding. Some can be ordered last minute, on the week of the wedding, but earlier is usually better.
Williams advises her couples to come in together to ensure the look and sizes are correct.
- Know your vision and plan for a 90-minute visit:
The Sewell boutique is by appointment only.
When you come in, Williams and her team will discuss the venue and vision for the wedding.
Questions you should expect — What are you looking for in your dress? What is your vision? Do you want a classy, romantic or bohemian style?
Next, you’ll try on a variety of dresses to narrow down the down dress silhouette.
“We do not pressure,” Witts said. “We don’t want somebody to come back and make an impulse purchase. Once they purchase the gown, it’s their dress; we cannot cancel. So, we’re very clear about that. They have to be sure they love their dress when they make that purchase.”
Sessions run about an hour and a half for the first visit.
- Discounted dresses are available: you don’t have to break the bank:
Williams has seen a “huge” increase in product prices. The shop’s price point range is about $1300 to $5300.
The boutique also carries gowns discounted 50%. These gowns are not available for orders any longer — they’re called “retired styles.”
“It’s not that you can’t get a dress for less, just that you might not be able to order a brand-new gown less than about $1300,” she said.
Tuxedos have gone up in price slightly but are still comparatively cheap compared to gowns. They are also available for rent at the shop.
A nice ensemble can be rented for about $200, including the shirt, coat, tie, pants and shoes.
- Don’t settle for a dress but stay open-minded:
The boutique owner encourages guests to have flexibility in their budget and keep an open mind.
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“I wouldn’t settle for something because this is such an important day in your life,” she said. “It’s only one day but if you feel beautiful in your gown, you’re just going to look beautiful … We do a lot of customization here, and that’s something that we really enjoy doing so that our brides make this dress their own.”
Book a hair and makeup appointment
- Book your hair appointment four to six months in advance:
Lauren Witts of Revelations Bridal has at least one wedding every weekend so she suggests booking as soon as possible as her appointments are on a first-come, first-serve basis.
She advises booking four to six months out for her Turnersville company. Appointments for 2023 already are booked and some inquiries have been made for 2024.
- Note: there is a shortage of bobby pins:
Witts has struggled with finding bobby pins “as crazy as that sounds.”
“Whenever they do have things in stock, I have to buy it in bulk so that I have it so that I am prepared,” she said.
- Travel costs are up for stylists:
Revelations Bridal provides on-location hair and makeup. To accommodate gas price increases, Witts has increased the travel fees she includes in her services.
Offering services on location has become more popular — couples aren’t going to salons as much anymore, Witts said.
- Your hair and makeup stylist might cancel due to COVID:
Witts also has added a contract to protect her artists in case they get sick from COVID.
“We can’t always guarantee either the hairstylist or the makeup artist that they (couples) have for that trial, but we will always have someone available for them,” she explained.
Hire a photographer and DJ
- Get coffee with your photographer:
Jennifer Trumpfheller of Imagine Photography based in Pitman has been busier than usual. She recommends meeting your photographer in person.
The Pitman photographer says she was anxious about her photographer at her own wedding as she didn’t meet them beforehand. So Trumpfheller decided she would make sure her couples felt comfortable during their special day.
“Being a server for so many years, customer service to me is very important,” she said.
- Make sure your photographer has insurance:
Many venues are asking photographers to show proof of insurance, Trumpfheller mentioned.
She said she’s never had that issue before COVID but she’s been asked three times this year.
- Do your research to find the right DJ:
Similarly, the year has been a bustling for Christian Lucas, a DJ at BME Event Group based in Vineland.
“We went from nothing to going out Friday, Saturday, Sunday,” he shared. Sometimes we were doing Monday weddings, Thursday weddings because people didn’t have any other day to move their days.”
Lucas advises couples to find DJs with public events so they can see the person work and get a sense of their mixing styles.
He also has another suggestion: “The venue recommendations are huge; definitely don’t take those for granted,” he said. “The venue is going to know who does a great job and who doesn’t.”
Keep the stress at bay
Polizzi’s venue offered menu samplings that cost extra per person; signature drinks were $1 extra per person. and silverware was more expensive depending on style. (Gold was $2 more than silver.)
“That seems to be what they’re doing, trying to add on different areas and stuff like that,” she said. “I would definitely say make sure you know that going forward.”
The Burlington bride urges couples to think through and all questions to avoid misunderstandings, disappointments or unexpected costs.
- Prioritize what you and your partner want:
To keep those unsolicited opinions your parents may have out of your planning, Polizzi suggests keeping some of the planning to just you and your partner.
Be sure to fight for what you both want — it’s your wedding., she said.
- Take a break when you need it:
Polizzi recommends taking a break or getting some space to keep yourself calm through the process.
She takes her dog for a long walk when things get heated or she’s feeling overwhelmed.
- It helps to keep an open mind and a positive spirit:
Casmere Williams urges couples to be flexible with their wedding plans because not everything will work out to match the dream affair.
Williams and Hall were disappointed when they weren’t able to get their original date at the venue. But they kept a positive spirit and adapted to the change, a mindset that sprouted with the pandemic.
“Before you could just go somewhere and say what you wanted and then there it is,” he explained. “Nowadays, you’re just at their mercy.”
“Be open and flexible, because things will change.”
Hira Qureshi covers food and drink for South Jersey at the Courier Post, Burlington County Times and Daily Journal. She can be reached at HQureshi@gannettnj.com or 856-287-8106. Help support local journalism with a digital subscription.