Saturday, May 10, 2008

Budget brides should beware Craigslist

I love Craigslist, believe me. I'm constantly on it, checking out writing gig listings and seeing whats out there in terms of rentals in my area. And with the tough economy, and everyone being all the more budget minded, you may be tempted to take advantage of Craigslist when it comes to planning your wedding. But, as with all things online, its buyer beware.

There are a lot of wedding-related services offered on Craigslist, but the most common seem to be photography and venue related. Are these ads a way to find something unique and totally unknown to anyone else, or simply a cheap way of advertising?

I found at least three ads for venues in Southern California. Here's one for the Enchanted Manor in Valley Village:

Incredible grounds to host your party, charity event, children's birthdays, or wedding. Property features a children's play house that is a mini version of the main house. Very unique. Price depends on amount of guest and what your needs are. The property has a lagoon type pool with 3 waterfalls, a fire pit, Gazebo Bar, Jacuzzi, Large deck, 2 grills, tree house, play house. Photo's on request by emailing me. 818-508-7618. SEE HTTP://ENCHANTEDMANOREVENTS.COM
You can also see photo's on my website by clicking on "On Location" from the main page.

Of course, I checked out the site, and the place looks like a pretty house. (However, as a voracious online consumer, I really hate the site's design, especially the moving clouds. Yikes.) And actually, the place looks more like an urban bed and breakfast, with daily, weekly and monthly reservations. There's no information available about actually holding a large event like a party or wedding, so again -- bride beware.

One ad was basically the image of a flyer for Matteo's Restaurant. So I did a Google search for Matteo's and found Matteo's LA. (If you decide to click, turn down your speakers if you're at work.) The site itself is pretty nice, the restaurant pictures look cozy and elegant, and the food looks good. (Although, I detest all-flash sites.) When you click on events, they tell you that they can provide decorations, flowers and music for a party of up to 70 guests, apparently, but for cocktail parties, they can accommodate up to 120 guests. And actually, what they're advertising on Craigslist is a wedding/event planners party on May 21st, so if you're planning a tiny party and want little to no fuss, that might be something worth checking out.

Still another ad tells us nothing:




Checking it out via Google, it looks more like a bar/club, than an actual place to have a wedding. Meh.

The other majority of ads on Craigslist are service-related -- makeup artists, photographers and wedding planners. I cannot stress enough -- buyer beware. Its already hard enough getting reliable service from people you find in the Yellow Pages or even from recommendations.

Don't get had -- follow these common sense tips:

  • Wedding coordinators should work for a flat fee, not a percentage of the total cost of the wedding. If they work for a percentage, that's incentive for them to find you even more expensive vendors.
  • Get recommendations for photographers, caterers, limousine services. For florists, ask to check out a wedding they'll be decorating (if they aren't decorating any weddings between now and your wedding, that's not a good sign).
  • Don't pay up front. Duh! Pay in payments, with the balance paid on the day of your wedding.
  • I've seen some experts say that you shouldn't pay cash to vendors. Well, yes, and no. In the case of florists, I'd say cash is not a bad thing, since florists have to go to their flower vendors and bargain. I know this from personal experience. As with everything in life, you have more bargaining power with cash.
  • Make sure you have a contract that spells every minute thing out, down to the labeling of personal flowers.
  • Pick a photographer and videographer you've seen in action (again, recommendations!).
That's all I can think of now, but if you have more tips to add, please leave it in the comments!

Now, I don't want to make you think Craigslist is evil when it comes to weddings. I found this lovely story about a couple that met via Craigslist extend the theme to their wedding:
We decided to take the next step. We started planning our Craigslist wedding. Again, it started as a joke. We were making out (yes, engaged people still do that), and I mentioned how weird it was to be making out with my Craigslist fiancé on my Craigslist couch in my Craigslist apartment. She asked if I got her ring on Craigslist. I responded that I wish I had, I would have splurged on something that wasn't made out of hard candy.

Then it got serious. At the time, we were poor — I was finishing up my last year of law school, and she was an artist — basically, we were living in debt. Craigslist discounts/donations could help defer costs. She's English — the bulk of her family lives across the ocean. Most of them would not be able to make it to our wedding in SF. Craiglist guests could help fill her side of the isle.

Could Craigslist be used to set up a wedding? The same impulse that led me to answer her original Craigslist personal ad led us to give it a shot. You never know. It could be fun, right?

We ran with it. Our first post looked something like this:

"Like weddings? Want to meet some new people? Do you own a suit/nice dress? Can you fake an English accent better than Madonna? Want free champagne and cake? Are you available January 15th? In 500 words or less, describe why you'd make a great wedding guest. Best responses get an extra slice of cake."

First off, let me tell you that San Franciscans are fantastic. We received over 2,000 responses. One man volunteered his restaurant in North Beach for a reception — another volunteered his strip club on Mission for the bachelor party. One woman said she'd baked a 7 layer cake for her sister's wedding, and could do it again, this time with raspberries. Another woman said she was a florist and could get us a deal on flowers.

These four people got extra slices of cake, even though their English accents were, in all honesty, absolute shite.

Our post/wedding became the hottest ticket in town. Two tailors volunteered to help with dresses and suits. Six separate caterers offered to set up a four star buffet. A couple offered to let us borrow a pair of their horses so we could gallop into our new life together after our vows (though we did not borrow the horses, these folks did receive an extra slice of cake which they brought home for the horses, Mandy and Sprinkles).

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