Planner Julie Pryor Offers Advice on Pulling off a Memorable, Meaningful Wedding

To-do’s before “I do.”

Los Angeles-based wedding and event planner Julie Pryor of Pryor Events has been coordinating weddings and events for over 20 years in Southern California and around the world. She’s handled special occasions for Felicity Huffman, Ricki Lake and Quincy Jones, among other celebrities. Here we querie Julie about how to put on a magical wedding that will provide memories to last a lifetime.

To me, the most meaningful weddings are when the bride and groom integrate personal touches. It just feels like them. Advice? 

When guests enter a wedding, they should think that it reflects the bride and groom’s personality. I tell the couples we work with that their guests should not walk in and think “Julie Pryor planned this wedding.” As far as what is possible, I tell couples, “As long as it’s legal, we can make it happen.” That could mean having the person who introduced you officiate, or having your college band serenade guests at cocktail hour, or flying in dessert from the little bakery you visited on your first getaway together.

Let’s discuss reception dining options: buffet table versus sit-down dinner versus grazing stations. 

Whether to offer a fully served meal, have stations or perhaps a hybrid of the two is a personal decision. My advice: Do research on each venue you are considering. Some locations do one type of service better than another, and sometimes their kitchens are more equipped for one style versus the other. Costs are typically similar.

Regarding bride’s bouquets, I’m seeing everything these days—from a small sprig of wildflowers to long-stemmed calla lilies. Can you offer some parameters?

The bouquet should be in line with the bride’s stature. A petite bride will look silly with a huge bouquet. The wedding gown will also play a part in the design of the bouquet. While I love colorful weddings, I am partial to a classic white bouquet. A nice touch: Incorporate one of the bride’s flowers into the groom’s boutonniere.

Are people still doing the sign-in book at the reception? 

A fun alternative to the traditional sign-in book is to display a custom book of pictures from the engagement shoot. The photo are printed in the book, leaving blank spaces for the guests to sign. The couple then has a lovely coffee table book of beautiful photos combined with heartfelt notes from their guests. Make sure to use archival pens so that the ink will last, and have extra pens on hand.

What traditional wedding practices have gone out the window, like announcing the bride, groom and wedding party at the beginning of the reception? 

Others rarely seen nowadays include receiving lines, the last dance and saving the cake top. However, some traditions live on, such as the father-daughter dance and the cutting of the wedding cake.

Let’s talk reception food. How important is it to incorporate gluten-free, lactose-free and vegan dishes? 

It is important to have vegetarian, vegan and gluten-free dining options for cocktail hour and the meal. We always alert the catering team of any known allergies in advance. If you don’t know about specific allergies in advance, your guests should alert the wait staff. It’s important to remember that most items can come into cross-contamination in the kitchen. Make sure that waiters know all of the ingredients in the tray-passed appetizers. 

Black tie used to mean men wore black ties and women wore full-length gowns. But it seems like this has changed. Does “black tie” ever mean elegant, dark suit and tie for men and cocktail-length dress for women?

Traditionally it still dictates tuxedos for gentlemen and long gowns for women. Some of our clients get creative in their wording, especially for destination celebrations: Island Chic, Aloha Casual, California Casual, Fancy Ranch, Cocktail Chic. If you decide on one of those creative dress codes, do offer on your wedding website a description of exactly what that means.

If you have a large family and a large bridal party, how do you whittle down the guest list for the rehearsal dinner? 

One way to get around a huge rehearsal dinner, which can cost nearly as much as a wedding, is to plan an intimate dinner for your immediate family and wedding party followed by a large get-together—aka welcome party—of all guests, or guests who have come from out of town. This can be a dessert-and-Champagne party, cocktail party or dive-in movie and popcorn night.

I was just at a wedding, and the couple spent more than three hours—before, during and after the reception—taking pictures. Guests were constantly asking, “Where are they?” The answer was, “They’re taking pictures!” I wanted to find them and whisper in their ear, “Forget about it! You’ll pick one or two to display in your home, and the rest will sit in an album over the years getting dusty. Go enjoy your party!” Thoughts?

We encourage our brides and grooms to do a “first look” with their photographer before their ceremony. This is typically a romantic and special time for the bride and groom to spend together. After that session, the photographer takes pictures of the family and the wedding party with the couple. This makes the whole day go smoother, while allowing couples to spend more time with their guests. 

The decibel level of the music is always a debate. Older people often complain that the music is too loud. But younger people love to rock out. What to do here? 

Keep the music at background level during dinner so guests can hear one another. After dinner, it’s time to dance and have fun. I keep earplugs on hand for guests who are not fond of loud music.