freed hands

Let's Talk About Guest Seating

Jesse Jo StantonComment

So, you’ve made your guest list, and it’s time to figure out where these guests are going to sit. Like everything else in wedding planning, this can get tricky if you’re not prepared. I’ve created this guide to the terms that you’ll see floating around, and you’ll also find exactly what you need to know based on your seating plan!

Photo by Rachael Koscica

Photo by Rachael Koscica

terms

ESCORT CARD

Escort cards "escort” your guests to their seats. They include each guest’s name, table assignment, and sometimes, a meal indicator (more on those below!). A guest will pick this card up off of a table (or pull it off of a board, pluck it from your decorative tree, etc.), then carry it to the assigned table, usually to place it at the seat of his or her choice.

PLACE CARD

Place cards indicate a guest’s "place” at the table. They include the guest’s name and sometimes a meal indicator, but not a table number (because it’s already at the table!). Your guest looks for his or her place card and sits in that assigned chair.

MEAL INDICATOR

If your guests were asked to choose an entree in advance (typically via your RSVP card), you need to record their choices and somehow get that information to your serving staff. If you don’t, the venue’s catering staff will be walking around asking each guest what he or she requested. This is a problem, because who wants that?, but also because your guests usually have NO IDEA what they checked on their RSVP card two months ago.

To avoid this, we indicate each guest’s meal choice on his or her escort or place card. This can be a small icon to indicate protein choice (fish icon for salmon entree, cow icon for steak entree, etc.), a set of decorative swirls that coordinate with meal choice, or even differently colored cards. The most important thing is to communicate whatever method you decide on to your catering staff, so they know that blue = chicken, pink = vegetarian, yadda yadda yadda.

Photo by Elyse Hall

Photo by Elyse Hall

SEATING CHART

Seating charts list your guests and their table assignments. Typically, these are organized alphabetically, by guests’ last names. A lot of couples prefer the look of grouping guests by table instead, but if you’re having a large wedding, alphabetically is best. This allows your guests to find their names quickly and easily and be on their way! These can be done on paper, mirrors, acrylic, wood, ETC.

ESCORT DISPLAY

“Escort displays” is the category in which escort cards, seating charts, etc. fall. It is whatever is used to display where guests need to go!

Now, which do you need? Find your scenario below!

Photo by Andrew Jade Photography

Photo by Andrew Jade Photography

what you need

Find the scenario that fits for your wedding day!

SCENARIO 1: NO SEATING OR TABLE ASSIGNMENTS

Going for a free-for-all with seating? Well, you’re brave. And, lucky for you, you don’t need any of these!

SCENARIO 2: TABLE ASSIGNMENTS, BUT GUESTS WILL PICK THEIR SEATS AT THE TABLE, AND THEY HAVE CHOSEN A MEAL IN ADVANCE

You need to do escort cards with guests’ names, table assignments, and meal indicators. Guests will pick this up and carry it to their seat of choice, and serving staff will rely on their meal indicators when bringing out entrees.

Photo by Daniel Kim

Photo by Daniel Kim

SCENARIO 3: TABLE ASSIGNMENTS, BUT GUESTS PICK THEIR SEATS AT THE TABLE, AND WE DID NOT OFFER MEAL CHOICES

You can do escort cards with guests’ names and table assignments, so they can pick them up and carry them to their seats of choice, OR you can simply do a seating chart. Seating charts are typically alphabetized by last name, allowing guests to quickly find themselves and their tables.

SCENARIO 4: TABLE AND SEAT ASSIGNMENTS, AND GUESTS HAVE CHOSEN A MEAL IN ADVANCE

You will need to do a seating chart + place card combo to cover this. Your seating chart will allow guests to find their names and table assignments quickly (as it will likely be alphabetized by guests’ last names). Once your guest has found his table, he will then find his place card, with his name and meal indicator on it!

SCENARIO 5: TABLE AND SEAT ASSIGNMENTS, AND AND WE DID NOT OFFER MEAL CHOICES

You will need to do a seating chart + place card combo to cover this. Your seating chart will allow guests to find their names and table assignments quickly (as it will likely be alphabetized by guests’ last names). Once your guest has found his table, he will then find his place card with his name on it.

Photo by Leslie D Photography

Photo by Leslie D Photography

Of course, this is a simple breakdown of something for which the options are ENDLESS. We can also do menus with names lettered at the top (serving as place cards!), and color-coordinate menu paper color to meal designation! We can use potted plants with small name flags as place cards! We can laser cut guests’ names out of acrylic and place this on their plate! We can hire humans to physically escort guests to their chairs! Honestly, the best route is to explain to your stationer-calligrapher which scenario you are going with, and let them dream up something special!

Happy assigning!

Let's Talk About Prices (and Price-ing!)

Jesse Jo StantonComment
Photo by Daniel Kim

Photo by Daniel Kim

When people start planning their weddings, I think there is a moment that is universal in every household: the “wtf, it costs that much!?” meltdown. You probably had one — I’m sure I had several — it’s how it goes. It’s impossible to know how much anything costs ever because we’re flooded with misinformation (see also: HGTV and ruined home renovation budgets everywhere!). If you google the average cost of a wedding right now, you’re probably going to read things that aren’t true for your guest count, region, time of year, etc.

It’s our job to educate our clients, and I also believe it’s our job to help each other, so today I’m laying it alllll out. How much I charge for things, how I decided on these numbers, and how you can price appropriately, too. I am no expert, and this information comes from years of undercharging, charging inconsistently, not having a system, and general mayhem.

Photo byVienna Glenn

Photo byVienna Glenn

FOR MY COUPLES

CUSTOM INVITATIONS

Fact: custom invitations are more expensive. They are labor-intensive because they require a stationer to not only manage a customer-service experience, but also graphic design, project materials, payment schedules, tools, and oftentimes, hours hunched over a desk, writing names and addresses.

While expensive, they are also beautiful, special, and quite frankly, one of the ONLY THINGS that survives after the wedding day. Your flowers will die and the food you ate will… ya know. If you have your heart set on a gorgeous suite, it’s a good idea to budget accordingly and be upfront with your stationer. A custom suite will cost you anywhere from $10-$60+ per household (remember, you don’t send one to every person on your guest list!). My starting package, which includes an invitation, RSVP card, and addressed outer and RSVP envelopes, is $1300 for (100) suites. Add in envelope liners, letterpress, calligraphy, wax seals, vellum jackets, custom stamps, etc., and you are looking at closer to $3000.

Semi-custom suites are a great budget-conscious option that still give you a custom feel. They are pre-designed, but can be totally customized, so you get your luxury suite while opening up room for embellishments that hadn’t been possible with a fully custom route.

DAY-OF STATIONERY

Day-of stationery includes the pieces that will be used on your wedding day: menus, place cards, etc. Expect to pay a minimum for $325 for menus and $2-3 per place card.

SIGNAGE

Signage is a really fun way to elevate your design. Your venue might provide labels for buffet items, but most of my clients want everything to coordinate and appear custom. Signage ranges in cost, with paper being the most affordable, followed by wooden signage, then acrylic signage. I think that just about anything can be turned into a sign, so don’t feel limited to those materials!

For pieces that have guests’ names written on them (i.e. mirror escort displays), expect to pay per guest.

Photo by Katrina Wallace Photography

Photo by Katrina Wallace Photography

FOR MY FELLOW STATIONERS

This is how I price things, generally. I’ve found it works best for me, and gives me a formula that I can apply to just about anything. It also helps me understand my profit at a glance, to ensure I’m actually making money at the end of the day!

(design fee) + (marked up product costs) = total

DESIGN FEE

I’ve determined my design fees based on the amount of time each item requires, and the amount of money I need to charge to be profitable. This number is essentially “how much I want to make off of the piece.” For invitation pieces, design fees range from $150-400. For signage, this can be $25-150.

As small business owners, we can’t forget that our “profits” have to also cover a buttload of taxes, business expenses, materials, website fees, etc., so this number is more than just what we’ll pocket.

MARKUPS

Marking up product costs covers the time it takes you to source, order, and manage the materials. For example, wooden signs — wood is relatively inexpensive, but requires going to the store, cutting, sanding, staining, and sealing before you can even write on it. Another example is printing; I mark up my printing costs to cover my time and experience with the software needed to prepare a file for printing, time taken to communicate with the printing company, the materials I’ll need to wrap it up, etc. I typically mark things up by 25-50%. For those of you who don’t love math, just multiply your costs by 1.25-1.5 to get your marked up cost! Add that to your design fee and you have your total.

CALLIGRAPHY

Calligraphy is a separate category because I don’t account for volume when pricing calligraphed items. Follow me here: for items like menus, it’s cheaper (per piece) to print 100 than it is to print 10. With calligraphy, there is no bulk discount. An order of 100 envelopes will literally take 10 times longer than an order of 10. I charge $2.5+ for escort cards, and $3+ for envelopes.

In the same vein, I charge “per line” for pieces like escort displays, since the amount of work depends on the size of the guest list. So, for a large wooden escort display, I’ll charge $1.5/line + marked up product costs!

Photo by Marisa Belle Photography

Photo by Marisa Belle Photography

Welp, that’s all! Any questions about pricing?

Let's Talk About Minted

StationeryJesse Jo StantonComment

Just going to go there. Hold onto your hats, folks.

Minted, if you’re unfamiliar, is a great online tool for designing and ordering your wedding stationery. They have worked with tons of designers to come up with customizable templates that you can have them print and mail to you at a good price point. Wedding planners are partnering with them to boost their businesses whilst giving you a great deal. Their process is automated, so Millennials can accomplish the task without interacting with a single human. I’m not throwing shade about any of this — it is fabulous and I, myself, love not talking to humans when I’m accomplishing tasks. I get it.

It’s gained a lot of popularity over the past few years, and with that, has bred some confusion. Why would I pay a stationery designer to make my wedding invitations if Minted can do it instead?

Well, I’m gonna tell ya. If you are looking for a certain level of service, quality, and overall guidance, Minted (and similar sites) might not be the best option for you. I’m going to make a case for hiring a stationer (like myself!) today, so you can make the call with all the information at your fingertips!

Photo by Marisa Belle Photography

Photo by Marisa Belle Photography

WHERE TO START

It is a fact that these sites are loaded with designs. This is a great thing, and also an overwhelming thing. You can’t send Minted your moodboard and have it return only the suites that make sense for your aesthetic. Working with a stationer immediately narrows in your vision, so making selections is a more streamlined process, with a lot less noise.

ONE OF A KIND

This is an obvious one, but if paper that doesn’t look like anyone’s else’s is a priority to you, these sites are not going to be your jam.

UH-OH, PROBLEM!

Not sure how to address an envelope to your gay uncles who are both doctors? Got thrown a curveball by your cousin who just moved to Germany? Your fiancee’s niece married a French guy and has a bunch of strange characters in her last name that the computer can’t process? An experienced stationer has your back. These kinds of things come up WITH EVERY SINGLE CLIENT. It could be a late address, a change of date, a rehearsal dinner invitation — anything! There are always questions and exceptions, and experienced stationers will always have your answer or a game plan!

COHESIVE DESIGN

Another benefit of working with a stationer on your wedding invitations is that he or she should also be able to create your day-of stationery (menus, place cards, signage, etc.) to coordinate perfectly with your suite. This way, you aren’t scrounging together signs from Etsy that all feature different hand-lettering styles. You may hear people talk about your wedding “brand” and while it sounds kind of silly, it’s a real thing. All of your pieces should be related.

ALLLLL THE PRETTY THINGS

You love those wax seals and want a gold one with your wedding monogram on every envelope, but HOW. Silk ribbon? So pretty, but where do you get it!?

If you’re interested in gorgeous embellishments (which really take a suite to the next level, IMHO), working with a stationer eliminates roughly 600 additional hours of work. Your stationer can even assemble everything for you, so you don’t have to lift a finger (or burn a finger pouring hot wax everywhere…).

VENDOR-FRIENDORS

At the end of the day, the rest of your wedding vendors are likely humans. While the online shops are convenient, nothing can replace two humans communicating to each other about your big day. Stationers communicate directly with planners, who communicate with everyone else. Working with a custom stationer is another way to ensure a smooth and confusion-free big day.

Photo by Daniel Kim

Photo by Daniel Kim

Let's Talk About Supplies

StationeryJesse Jo StantonComment

I wonder if Ina Garten just woke up one day with impeccable taste and knew exactly which fancy olive oil she preferred. It’s possible, but not likely. Filling your toolbox — or, in my case, the collection of empty boxes and candle jars that my husband will definitely throw away first in the event of my passing — is usually a process that happens over many years, with tough lessons sprinkled throughout. My process of finding my favorite things included a lot of scouring the internet for others’ favorite things, trying the different tools out, and deciding if they work for me, too. Maybe that’s what has brought you here! Welcome. Happy scouring. I hope I can help.

Photo by Rachael Koscica

Photo by Rachael Koscica

CALLIGRAPHY

I started my calligraphy journey with a kit from The Lettered Bride by Ashley Lurcott (I’d link, but no longer available anywhere!). It was comprehensive, but basic, and served as a perfect introduction to using these weird little things called nibs. I recommend finding something similar on Amazon just to get the juices flowing.

What you’ll learn very quickly is that everyone has a different grip, level of pressure, and overall lettering style. This means that a nib that I loooooove may be too sensitive for your heavy hand. Trial and error is the name of the game, folks.

I get all of my calligraphy supplies from John Neal Bookseller. Here are my faves:

NIBS

  • Hiro / Leonardt #40 Nib (Blue Pumpkin)

  • Brause Steno Nib 361

  • Brause 66EF Nib

INK

  • Dr. Ph. Martin’s Iridescent Ink: Copper Plate Gold, Copper, Bronze, Nickel

  • Dr. Ph. Martin's Bleed Proof White Ink 

GADGETS (necessary, not in a ~baby-wipe-warmer~ kind of way)

  • Topolino Magnetic Stirrer 

  • We R Memory Keepers Laser Square & Mat (I have the Slider Writer, which is no longer in production, but same-diff)

Special walnut with white writing! | Photo by Rachael Koscica

Special walnut with white writing! | Photo by Rachael Koscica

WOODEN SIGNS

Another trial and error situation for me, but I will try to save you some splinters. I get all of my wood from Home Depot. I bring in a diagram of how I want them to make cuts, usually so I can maximize each 48x96” board to get the most 24x36” and 24x48” pieces — my most popular sizes. I like birch wood best. Then, I bring it home and (have Daniel) sand it down and stain it. I’ll include some supplies that we’ve found make this process SO MUCH EASIER. Last step is to seal it before I letter it. This makes the ink glide more easily, and not soak into the wood as much. I am so excited to share these tools. They have each saved me about 500 hours of my life.

PREPPING THE WOOD

LETTERING TOOLS

Photo by Marisa Belle Photography

Photo by Marisa Belle Photography

ACRYLIC SIGNS

My best recommendation for sourcing acrylic is to NOT go to Home Depot or Lowe’s. I see that everywhere, but I don’t understand the suggestion when there are plastic wholesalers everywhere! Find a plastics supplier near you, make a friend, and send him or her the sizes and thicknesses that you want. You may be the only person in line for pick-up that has ever ordered a 5x7” piece of plastic and/or does not work for a commercial construction company, but whatever — it’s cheaper, faster, and better.

You may also see affordable acrylic on Amazon. I have had some luck with this in a pinch, but you really want to control the thickness of the acrylic. If you want to letter a large sign, you and your clients will not be happy with a flappy piece of thin plastic. You might need a .25” thick piece. Quality matters, folks!

I recommend mapping your design out on a piece of butcher paper first. Then, WINDEX THAT SUCKER to get the oils off or you will deal with bleeding ink. My favorite markers are linked above, too — Uchida Deco Color Paint Markers. Super permanent, won’t come off without a violent show of force, but so opaque and perfect.

NOTE: You might read on other hand-letterers blogs that they use water-based markers that come off with Windex and allow them to reuse acrylic. I do not like scratched acrylic, and I do not like making clients worry about smudging my work on the day, and I really, really (prepare for honesty here) do not like managing rentals — barf — so all of my pieces are permanent and yours to keep. To each, their own, though — find what works for you!

Photo by Rachael Koscica

Photo by Rachael Koscica

PAPER & PRINTING

After a few years of paying way too much for paper at Paper Source (which I love, but why pay retail when you are a wholesaler, right?), I decided to become an Envelopments Dealer. I love it. I use them for about 75% of all of my paper and printing needs. It’s easy, it’s efficient, and they offer tons of printing methods (foil stamping, letterpress, etc.). I love having all of those options in one place. I’ll list all of my favorite paper and printing sources below!


Again, happy scouring — and happy trial and error-ing! Hope this is helpful. What did I miss? Let me know!


Let's Talk About Minimums

BusinessJesse Jo StantonComment

Once upon a time, I was hired by a bride to make two signs for her wedding. After over eight months of conversation (regarding colors, lettering style, wording, general questions, process questions, hounding for guest list, etc.), I probably pocketed $100.

If I did that every time, I’d have diaperless babies running around.

Difficult (okay, overly communicative) brides are a reality of our business. It’s also just a reality of humankind; stressful situations stress people out. She wasn’t mean, and I don’t think she was knowingly torturing me — she was just a stressed bride. BUT, as a business owner, I need to build my business in a way that is profitable. So, this is what I decided.

Photo by Marisa Belle Photography

Photo by Marisa Belle Photography

I had to ask myself “what is the minimum amount of money I am willing to make off of an order?”. Don’t forget that this isn’t just profit that I can spend on diapers at Target. Since I am a small business owner, what I “pocket” at the end of an order covers my taxes, business expenses, supplies, software, subscriptions, etc.

I decided on a number, and have had some interesting results.

  • About half of my prospective clients just add more items to their order to be able to meet the minimum. It’s usually table numbers, an assortment of small signs, or something like place cards. They don’t bat an eye at the minimum and just add on some things they’d be getting off Etsy anyway.

  • About a quarter of my prospective clients decide to go another direction. They sometimes ghost me, or give me a terse response suggesting they’re irritated with the policy, but most of the time, they understand and move on to another option!

  • The remaining quarter of my prospective clients actually just pay the balance. If it’s $40 or $50, I think they just frame it like a gratuity or something and go for it anyway? Or, my pricing is so under their budget that they don’t care? Or maybe, they’re just so damn tired of wedding emails that they’ve given up on reading?

The result? I have less orders, but bigger orders. I’ve weeded out the one-offs and referred those to hand-letterers who are a little bit more flexible and maybe don’t have two infants at home!!! It’s great, because I’m interacting with and managing less clients, while still making money.

Photo by Andrew Jade Photography

Photo by Andrew Jade Photography

If you’re a small business owner, I highly recommend cranking up the minimum, watching your client count go down but your overall profit increase or stay the same, and drinking some wine in the backyard with your new free time! (LOL what is that)

Let's Talk About Postage

StationeryJesse Jo StantonComment

You ordered your invitations, are racing against your planner’s suggested deadline for getting them in the mail, and BOOM. You realize you forgot about postage. It happens all the time. Or maybe you thought about postage, but now the post office is telling you that your envelope is too heavy or rigid for the stamps you chose.

Lemme help you out. I love pretty paper, but more than anything, I love order. I know — boring — but exactly what you need when it comes to wedding planning and the chaos that alwayyyyys ensues. Plan ahead. Here’s your guide to postage!

First, let’s talk options.

Photo by Rachael Koscica

Photo by Rachael Koscica

CUSTOM POSTAGE

Custom postage is a fun way to reiterate motifs or themes in your suite. Do you have a monogram? Is your liner a beautiful floral pattern that you want to incorporate everywhere you can? Custom postage does the job, and eliminates the need to sift through pages of USPS Forever stamps of old white presidents. It has a considerable markup, and you need to know the denomination of the stamp (how much $ you need per envelope) before you order, so if this is your jam, plan wayyyy ahead and budget for it!

Photo by Daniel Kim

Photo by Daniel Kim

VINTAGE STAMPS

They just don’t make ‘em like they used to, right!? Vintage postage is a great way to add some nostalgia and personality to your envelopes. There are several sources for vintage postage online, or you can have your stationer curate a collection that matches your suite perfectly. There is typically a markup on these, too, so you will pay more than face value for stamps, and, since postage used to be printed in smaller denominates, will likely require several stamps per envelope to meet the postage requirement. Thanks, inflation!

USPS STAMPS

Every once in a while, the Post Office remembers that people like stamps, and they release one that isn’t a flag. It’s remarkable, and you can count on every single stationer stocking up on these like the apocalypse is near (shoutout to the Rifle collection that changed all of our lives). Keep an eye on their website through your stationery design process, and swoop in if a not-ugly stamp is released!

 
Photo by April Maura Photography

Photo by April Maura Photography


Now, let’s talk tips.

WEIGH IN ADVANCE

I will say this every day for as long as I run a stationery business, but what Minted cannot do for you is go to the Post Office and talk to a human. If you do decide to forego the humans and order online, make sure you take a completed suite (with all elements including liners, inserts, etc.) to the Post Office to be weighed ASAP. Look very closely at your kind associate’s nametag, and when he or she tells you that your wedding invitations will require [x] amount of postage, write it down. I can’t stress this step enough. It’s the only way you’ll know if your suite is 1.1 oz., versus 1 oz., and therefore requires additional postage! If you go with a human, he or she should handle this aspect and pass the information on to you!

POST YOUR RSVP ENVELOPES

To avoid horrifying your guests (this is definitely taboo with the more ~mature crowd) or losing out on all of your RSVP envelopes, don’t forget to put stamps on your RSVP envelopes before you stuff your invitations!

REQUEST HAND-CANCELLING

When you drop your water bill in the mailbox, it begins its long and relatively violent journey to city services. It’s sorted via machine, which means it gets sucked up and pooped out …and no one cares. HOWEVER, when you pay big bucks for a gorgeous suite with a liner and a wax seal and calligraphy, you might care. You should care. The Post Office will “hand-cancel” your envelopes at your request, which means that they will use their actual hands to process the envelope. Real talk: they don’t seem to love doing it, so ask nicely, and mention that you are sending wedding invitations. And stand your ground if they try to tell you they don’t offer that service (it’s not true). I’ve had so many clients take on their assembly and then tell me they were turned away at the very Post Office I go to — send your stationer instead because familiar face usually means less runaround! I often bring my chubby baby with me and force him to smile at them so they are particularly weakened.

PLAN AHEAD

My best piece of advice is to plan. Figure out what you like, so that you are ready to drop those suckers in the mail and have a celebratory glass of wine without a Post Office meltdown. Figure out right away if you are going to go the custom, vintage, or USPS route. Note: if you are having your envelopes calligraphed, your calligrapher needs to know how much space to keep blank for stamps, so this is extra important!

There you have it! Postage is oft-overlooked detail but a very important one. It can elevate your suite in a special way, or lead to 100 returned envelopes… WOMP. Share your questions about anything I missed below!

PS. — I’m already starting to sense a theme with my blog and it’s looking like “PRETTY THINGS ARE GREAT BUT HAVE YOU HEARD OF PLANNING!? IT IS SO GREAT!”. Bear with me. Any enneagram ones in the houuuuuse!?

Photo by Karlee K Photography

Photo by Karlee K Photography