Wedding shows (also often called "wedding expos" or "bridal faires") can be a great way to learn about many categories of wedding services at once, talk to vendors in person, get ideas, and even book services efficiently. Plus, you can often pick up free copies of multiple wedding publications* (often saving more than the cost of admission!), gain discounts from wedding vendors for booking at the show, and register for drawings to win wedding prizes.
But, without planning, the experience of attending a bridal show can be overwhelming and unproductive. Here are our tips for busy brides who want to enjoy and make the most of their wedding show attendance:
• Pre-evaluate the show. Wedding shows differ in size, scope and atmosphere. Smaller shows often promote an "intimate setting," a focus on a specific local area, and a relatively small number of vendors (30 or 40 vendors or fewer). These smaller bridal shows (often held at a restaurant, wedding reception site, or community center) usually offer a relaxed atmosphere and time to visit with vendors at length. There will be less variety, but you can learn more about whether any specific vendor is a "fit" for your wedding.
If show is at a large expo center or hotel ballroom -- and the show advertises 50, 150 ore more participating wedding exhibitors -- odds are the show will be large and crowded. At this type of wedding show, you'll have the opportunity to see a wide variety of vendors, but perhaps not talk to them at length. Be prepared for the crowds of brides and grooms, and to quickly identify the vendors you want to see and the material you want to collect at the bridal show.
• Prioritize categories. Are there some services you already have or know you won't need? Commit to skipping those booths so you have the time and energy to see the things you're really interested in. Remember that some categories need to be booked very far ahead, such as wedding reception sites and wedding professionals who can only book one wedding per day (such as wedding photographers and DJs). Put these at the top of your bridal show priority list if you still need these services.
• Hate crowds? Plan to avoid them. Exhibits at most bridal shows are quiet during their fashion shows. If you already have your wedding gown selected, skip the fashion show and visit wedding vendors instead. Most shows also quiet down during the last hour or two, when most brides and grooms have already left. You can usually talk to wedding vendors at greater length, with less interruption, during these lulls.
• Prepare to set appointments. Bring your calendar/planner or Palm device with you. For smaller shows, you may find it helpful to bring your wedding binder if you have one.
• Pre-printed labels or a stamp with your name, address, wedding date or planned date (important!), phone and email will save time filling out forms and help you avoid writer's cramp.
• Check the exhibitor list (from the web site, or call the show) - make a point of visiting any vendors you're already considering. (A show can be a great environment for comparing vendors.)
• Bring reinforcements. Your fiancé, your mom and/or your bridesmaids can all be helpful to your bridal show shopping. (And having decision makers with you helps, in case you want to book a vendor right at the show.) But don't bring along kids or others who'll get bored -- a show can make for a long day. And don't forget bottled water, healthful, portable snacks, and your wallet/checkbook.
• Confirm wedding show location, parking, hours, etc. Show advertising is often placed months before the event - and occasionally the hours, location, or even the date of the wedding show may have changed after printing. Doublecheck the bridal show's web site to be sure!
• Wear comfortable shoes!