Historically, alongside buying up the local newsagent of wedding magazines and inviting their besties to become bridesmaids, one of the first things newly engaged brides-to-be would do was sign up for all the local wedding fairs in town. Such things were a right of passage for brides-to-be. An early celebration of having moved from girlfriend to fiance and soon to be, wife.
Nowadays things have changed. For a start you’ll be lucky to find a printed wedding magazine in a newsagent. Furthermore, if you do find one you’ll no doubt recoil in horror when you see the price tag. The last one I picked up (in Tesco’s in case you’re interested) was over £9. Needless to say I didn’t buy it.
It’s common knowledge that social media and online content have taken over from where the printed magazine left off. Digital information is quicker to receive and better for the planet. Win. Win.
But what about wedding fairs?
Well these days it feels as though wedding fairs have quadrupled in number. Ever since lockdown ended we can’t go on social media without seeing an ad for a wedding event of some kind. It can get a little confusing if you and your new sparkler, I mean partner, are just stepping into wedding world and don’t know the difference between a fair, open day, showcase or show.
So are there differences between these event titles?
Yes. The differences may be subtle but it’s worth knowing what they are to avoid disappointment. But let’s be clear. The differences are not golden rules. Event promotions usually include an explanation of what to expect but if the marketing is vague then you’re bet is to contact the venue and ask.
The Wedding Fair
Traditionally the Wedding Fair was organised by a wedding venue to invite their booked couples to come along, usually on a Sunday morning, and meet the venue’s line up of preferred suppliers. It was the venue’s way of giving you a helping hand to find your cake maker, florist and other essentials for your big day. This arrangement is pretty much the same today although nowadays venues often turn to wedding fair organisers to handle the planning. Suppliers can still be recommended by the venue but venues often encourage organisers to bring in new suppliers to keep the line up fresh and to support local talent. Either way it’s an opportunity to take a look around the venue without committing to a conversation with the venue team. If you like what you see then booking a private, escorted show round of the venue would be the next step. A show round opens up the opportunity to ask the venue questions and delve deeper into how your wedding would unfold.
What happens at a wedding fair?
There is a certain expected structure to a wedding fair but whether the event is worth attending really depends on how it has been organised. Alongside the venue team, a range of wedding suppliers will be in attendance hosting their own stand or display space and most will have leaflets for you to take home. You’ll often get a goodie bag on arrival and occasionally, although less often nowadays, a glass of something fizzy will be pushed into your hand upon arrival.
The first question you’re often asked by suppliers is ‘have you booked your venue?’ and the second is ‘what’s your wedding date?’. This may come across as a little mercenary, but in reality if you haven’t secured a venue then you don’t have a date and if you don’t have a date there is no way of knowing whether that supplier is available to work your wedding. That doesn’t mean you should only come to wedding fairs when you’ve booked your venue – far from it. In fact the raison d’etre of wedding fairs from the venue’s point of view is to meet couples who are at the venue hunting stage.
From a suppliers point of view however, not having a date means they are less likely to spend half an hour talking with you about ideas for your wedding if there is the possibility they won’t even be available for you. Remember, for suppliers, a wedding fair is a business event and they only have a slim window of opportunity to meet as many couples as possible. Their goal is to promote their brand, secure genuine interest in their services and hopefully secure some bookings.
Wedding fair season used to be September to November, January to March but not now. You’ll find wedding fairs happening throughout the year, even during the high season of August plus midweek and evenings so if you’re on shifts or work weekends, you should be able to find an event that fits into your diary.
Finding a line up of essential suppliers under one roof can make wedding planning a lot easier. Remember the episode of Gavin and Stacey where she plans her entire wedding in a single afternoon? You’ll get the opportunity to meet a range of suppliers and check out different price points and ideas. There’s often more than one supplier in each category so there’s plenty of choice. Remember though that quality is better than quantity and it’s best better to meet a few good quality, reputable suppliers than a room full of poor quality suppliers packed in like sardines.
Depending on who has organised the event you could end up spending the morning in a dusty hall with a handful of wedding suppliers who are past their prime and losing the will to live. Also, just because a supplier is recommended by a venue doesn’t mean they are right for you or even the best in their field.
Be cautious about any venue that says you MUST use their preferred suppliers. The only exception to this is caterers because venues often have exclusive agreements with catering companies and are understandably wary about who they allow in to their kitchens.
It has been known, and here I stress not always, but sometimes, that commissions are paid to venues by suppliers, but it could be you who will cover that cost in your supplier’s invoice. It’s more than reasonable that venues value suppliers who have proved themselves and understand the venue’s rules – we all like to work with people we know and trust – but if a venue is forcing you to use their suppliers, whether you want to or not, then you might consider looking elsewhere. It’s your wedding and your money. No one should be telling you how to spend it.
The Full On Wedding Show
When I read the word ‘Show’ I would usually assume a much larger event, often held at a conference centre, sporting arena, large hotel or an event space such as the NEC. I’d expect in excess of 50 suppliers at a show (not always, but more often than not). There is usually a catwalk with several runway shows happening throughout the day. Tickets usually have to be purchased but it’s worth searching online as you might find someone promoting free tickets. Wedding shows can attract suppliers from much further afield so you’ll have to sift through the stands if you’re only looking for local suppliers.
Usually you can expect many more stands and a wider range of ideas and inspiration. If you’re looking for your dress then you’ll enjoy the catwalk shows.
Too much choice isn’t always a good thing plus it can be exhausting traipsing around a large show not to mention a little overwhelming. Wear your most comfortable shoes and take a bottle of water with you.
The Wedding Venue Showcase
A venue showcase is hosted at a wedding venue, obviously, and usually in collaboration with local suppliers who dress the venue as if for a wedding. Displays can be quite over the top because suppliers are aiming to impress. Depending on the quality of suppliers involved, you’ll see some beautiful eye candy and hopefully leave with lots of ideas and inspiration. Whether suppliers remain in attendance for the event itself is down to the venue so you won’t necessarily meet the creatives involved but the venue should give you their names if you want to do some research.
Venue showcases are great if you’ve already booked that specific venue because you’ll probably see a ceremony set up and a reception set up with a top table and possibly a scattering of guest table displays. If the venue is a marquee or tipi only venue then there should be a fully dressed tent of some description and if you’re lucky a food truck or two. The idea of a showcase is to create the vibe of wedding so you can see the venue at its best and imagine how your own wedding could be.
You’ll get to see the venue in full swing and be able to visualise how your wedding could look.
Huge floral displays, extravagant cakes and imposing installations can be overwhelming and could leave you feeling that if you don’t spend that kind of money to ‘get the look’ then your wedding will be flat. Try to think of the showcase more of a catwalk from which to take ideas and make them your own. If you’re inspired by a display, don’t be afraid to contact the supplier and discuss your budget. You might be pleasantly surprised.
The Wedding Venue Open Day
This is often a straightforward ‘open door’ event that venues put on. Members of the venue team will be there to give you a guided tour and show you the space available. You’ll get the opportunity to ask lots of questions, discuss prices and guest numbers and check available dates. If the venue has accommodation you’ll usually get to see the bridal suite and some examples of guest bedrooms.
Usually there are no suppliers at Open Days (or very few) so this is an opportunity to focus on the venue without getting distracted. If your purpose is solely to hunt for suppliers then this type of event might not be right for you. Call the venue ahead of time and check.
If the venue doesn’t have much imagination you could find yourself looking at an empty, soulless room. Worse still if you’re unlucky enough to get a wedding co-ordinator who displays a total lack of enthusiasm for your show round you’ll be left feeling like you’re wasting your time. I’m speaking from my own experience on this last point. I was once shown into a room and told ‘this is our main room’ and that’s all she said! If this proves to be the case, ask if they have any photos of the rooms set up for ceremonies and receptions or scan their instagram – either that or go and view somewhere else!
The venue will want to show you their best bedrooms so don’t be frightened to ask to see the smallest bedroom they have or bedrooms in the least desirable locations.
Which wedding event is best?
There’s no overall winner. It really comes down to your goals and what you are hoping to find. If you’re looking for a venue then all types of events will give you an opportunity to have a nosey around but its best to book a private show round if you want a personal, one to one tour and the chance to sit down and ask lots of questions with the wedding co-ordinator.
If you’re looking specifically for wedding suppliers then I’d probably suggest visiting a wedding fair or show but it’s still worth calling a venue that is hosting a showcase to ask them how many suppliers, if any, will be in attendance. Try and go for events which are held at venues similar to your own as you are more likely to find the type of suppliers you are looking for.
Wedding events are brilliant for ideas and inspiration in an informal atmosphere. Do your homework before you go and take a look at the suppliers who are attending. Check out these forthcoming events and let us know how you get on.
Photos taken at insposa wedding events in the East Midlands