A Father of the Bride’s Wedding Planning Tips

By Ed Flaherty | Photograph from Ed Flaherty

As a father who just completed the challenge of giving his daughter away in a marathon process that required months and months of planning, I thought it might be helpful to separate myself from some of the emotional investment and highlight a little of the learning that I may have gained in terms of the financial investment. I hope some of these tips translate into an even better experience than I had, which I must say would be hard to top. As a start point, let me say, once you are anointed as the father of the bride, you will have a target on your back that goes nicely with the crown known as “financier extraordinaire.” So I suggest that you don’t stand still for too long. Let’s get started.

Ed Flaherty with his daughter, Chelsey, and her husband, Paul Nostro

The Engagement 

The day the engagement is announced is the day the race begins. The planning for the great event starts that same day whether you like it or not. The sense of urgency is immediate; accept it even if you don’t necessarily subscribe to it. It will help you in the long run. The most important thing to remember is that everything — I mean everything — is negotiable, including what your family and the other family would like to do or not do to stage the celebration.

After all the congratulations, it is important to quickly get together with the other parents to discuss the financial investment they are willing to make. All of the published formulas as to who is responsible for what have little to no bearing in the real world. It all comes down to what each family is willing to spend. As the father of the bride, I took the lead to identify what the other family was willing to commit. Once that investment was understood, I was then in a position to determine how much I was willing to invest.

The Guest List 

The number of guests sets the stage for most of the planning moving forward — church, reception venue, transportation choices, etc. The key here is to lock down a number that is consistent with the standard of service you are able to afford, starting with the reception venue. The choice here will more or less set the bar for all the other supporting vendors. Then, decide which guests are considered “must haves” and which are the “nice to haves.” This is an important step in terms of the RSVP process. The save the date will directly impact the affirmative responses. I would suggest that save the dates are only sent to the “must have group” to limit your exposure.

Also, in reference to the RSVP process our experience would suggest the following:
Out-of-town guests/RSVP Regrets: 20%
In-town Guests/RSVP Regrets: 10%

The Deposits 

Keep in mind that almost every vendor will require good faith money in the form of a check or down payment of some sort. The lesson learned here is that most of these deposits are required nearly 12 months or more before the use of the service. Most vendors were open to post-dating the check to 60-90 days in advance of the wedding date, allowing you to use your money for a longer period of time.

The Budget 

Everybody’s numbers will fluctuate, but in terms of line item costs, you can expect that many of the purchases listed below will be similar to ones you will make:

Larger Expenses:
Reception — Food: 26%
Reception — Beverages: 22%
Florals: 11.5%
Rehearsal dinner/post-party: 9.9%
Stationery: 6.5%
Photographer/videographer: 5.5%
Brunch: 5%
Transportation: 3.5%
Music: 3.5%
Smaller Expenses:
Bridal shower: 1.5%
Wedding ceremony: 1.5%
Bridal attire: 1.5%
Gifts: 1.5%
Bakery: 1/5%

Advice for Larger Expenses 

Reception — Food

  1. Service charges/taxes can account for almost 25% to 30% of the total expenditure.
  2. Entrée selections are presented with varying prices but most hotel and banquet facilities will invoice all meals at the cost of the most expensive entrée selection.
  3. Get to know the banquet manager in addition to the sales/marketing personnel. He or she will be the problem solver on the day of the event.

Reception — Beverage

  1. Again, service charges/taxes can account for almost 25% to 30% of the total expenditure.
  2. Our experience was to select a set-price-per-person (S.P.P.P.) as opposed to the consumption option based on the assumption that our family and friends would out-drink the S.P.P.P. number provided by the hotel. We guessed right and I hope you do, too. The thing to remember here is to provide the venue with the number of under-21-year-old guests so that they are not included on the liquor tab. You may want to throw in a few of the confirmed non-drinkers to avoid the added expense.
  3. Also, you may be able to negotiate your own selection of wines or Champagne, but most facilities will charge a corkage fee.


Flowers are extremely expensive so I would suggest that you do your best to go directly to a wholesaler and avoid paying retail. A little more work will yield a sizable savings. This is not an easy task, but it can reduce what would be a sizable investment.

Rehearsal dinner/Post-party

My son-in-law’s family picked up the cost associated with these events. The only thing here that I would emphasize is that the speeches made during these festivities will set the tone for the wedding reception toasts. More laughing, less crying — save the tear jerk stuff for the funeral parlor!


The design of the invitations will most likely set the stage for all other communications to family members and guests to include:

Church programs
Table place cards
Table numbers
Wine bottle labels (Guests signed the bottles for best wishes — it was a big hit! )
Bag tags
Menu cards


  1. All I can say here is to error on the side of creativity. Choose a vendor that demonstrates the ability to deliver the unexpected.
  2. This investment is critical to enjoying the entire experience. You will not be able to enjoy a 360-degree perspective the day without experienced professionals. In the end, these folks will allow you to see all those special moments that you were unable to see the day of the event!


  1. The only advice I can provide here is to focus on getting the exact number of guests right and the times to transport those guests down to the 5-minute mark. Prices jump dramatically when you are wrong.
  2. The wedding planner will help here, but if your wedding party parties are delayed you will pay in the end.


We got a band. Was it worth it? Yes!
They set the tone not only for the dancing, but also for the toasts, the special, announcements and the cocktail hour.

Last Thoughts for Dads

You basically have nine minutes of duty, or something around three minutes per major task — walk her down the aisle, do the father-daughter dance, and give the speech of your life — all without getting choked-up. Good luck and enjoy what will be one of the most monumental days of your life.

Embassy Suites by Hilton Pittsburgh — Downtown, www.youtube.com/embed/Z2Oz0HD9_bo
For more information, call 412.352.6730 or email eflaherty@fscmarketing.com
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