Hiring A Limousine? Be Sure to Ask These Questions

by Melanie Magness

Hiring a limousine is a guaranteed way to give your wedding or bar/bat mitzvah some extra flair. However, if your limousine service is poor, the luxury will pale. Imagine your dismay if the vehicle that arrives on the big day is dirty, in bad repair, poorly maintained, or even dangerous! There are plenty of reliable, well-established limousine companies out there, but there are also plenty of unethical, fly-by-night operations. By taking the time to ask the following questions when you are choosing your limousine service, you can avoid dealing with disaster on your special day.

First of all, how can you narrow down your choices to exclude the companies that are real losers? These questions will help:

  1. How long has the company been in business?
    Can they provide references from past clients? Is the company a member of the local Better Business Bureau?
    George Raines, of Z Best Limousine Services, Inc. in Baltimore, Maryland, advises clients to also visit the state Public Service Commission web site. Legitimate companies are required by law to fully insure their vehicles and maintain proper permits. Compliance is regulated by the PSC. Says Raines, “Check out www.psc.state.md.us to see current records that will tell you all about the company you are considering.”
  2. Is the company a member of any industry associations?
    Usually, to be a member of a professional association, a company must keep to a certain standard. Memberships in local livery associations or in the National Limousine Association are a good indicator that you are dealing with a reliable, professional service.
  3. What determines the cost?
    When choosing your limousine service, bear in mind that price alone is not a good indicator of the best deal. The cost of a limousine is usually determined by the age of the vehicle, its size, the number of passengers being transported, the travel distance, the time of the year and even the day of the week. “During prom season, for example, which runs from mid-April to late May,” Raines states, “There are only seven Fridays and seven Saturdays. Those days are going to be extremely busy.”
  4. What does the price include?
    Are there extra fees, such as sales tax, gratuities, drinks and food?
  5. Is there a signed contract?
    If a company is unwilling to provide one, keep looking! A signed contract protects your reservation from being dropped at the last minute for a higher paying fare.
  6. How many vehicles does the company own?
    Is there is a contingency plan in case the limousine you’ve hired breaks down? If so, make sure you have it in writing in your contract.
  7. How does the company handle overflow?
    Will they transfer your contract to a partner company if theirs is overbooked for that day?According to George Raines, “Everyone in our industry works collectively as a team—when we’re overbooked, we will usecompanies in the area that we’ve done business with before. We know that their quality is up to our standards and that they are licensed with the state PSC.”
  8. Will the company provide proof of insurance?
    Limousine companies are required to maintain insurance on their vehicles. The industry average for insurance coverage is $1.5 million, although many companies offer higher coverage.

Now that you’ve identified the more reliable limousine services, use these questions to help you narrow down your final selection:

  1. Does the company offer the vehicle style that best meets your needs?
    When deciding on the body style you seek, consider your budget and the number of passengers you will be transporting. Will you need a town car? Stretch limo? SUV? Limo Bus?
  2. How many seatbelts are available for passengers?
    Companies will tell you how many passengers their vehicle will seat, but keep in mind that there is a big difference between having your guests squeezed in tightly together versus having the space to sit comfortably. The number of seatbelts in the vehicle will give you a much clearer idea of the actual number of passengers the vehicle was designed to carry. Beware the company that tells you otherwise.
  3. Will the company show you the vehicle you are renting?
    Are they willing to send you pictures, or allow you to stop by to see the car? If you are viewing pictures on a web site, make sure the pictures are of the actual limo you will be getting, not a generic stock photo.”Really, for the customer, it’s about going to see the cars,” advises Raines. “It’s easy for someone to sell you on the phone; you can’t see anything. We always encourage our clients to come to the lot and let them see the vehicles for themselves. Half the time, people will take a look at the size of the vehicle they think they want, then go for the larger car when they realize their guests will be more comfortable.”
  4. What is the age and condition of the vehicle?
    Stretch limousines are expensive to maintain and repair. To avoid these costs, some companies will put off repairs until they are unavoidable. You certainly don’t want a vehicle that will break down on the way to your event!
  5. How are cars prepared for hire?
    You want to make sure the limo will be cleaned, inside and out. Are the lights, television, radio, and other amenities checked to ensure that they are working? Is the glassware cleaned? Are snacks and drinks restocked?
  6. Are there signs on the vehicle?
    You probably don’t want your limo covered with advertising logos. If there are signs, where are they located? How visible are they?
  7. How does the company select chauffeurs?
    Are the drivers trained to carry out the luxury of the car by being courteous and professional? Are they licensed to drive in your state? How are drivers screened for drug use?

Finally, before you’ve signed the contract, be sure it includes the company’s deposit and cancellation policy. If you have to cancel, will you be able to get your deposit back in full? Don’t forget to find out about final payments as well—will a check for the balance on the day of the event be all right, or do you need to have everything pre-paid?

The way a limousine company handles your questions is an excellent indicator of their professionalism and approach to customer service. Steer clear of the company that is unwilling or unable to give you the information you need. Look for a company that gives you informative and courteous answers to your questions. If you get quality customer service when are selecting your limousine, you can reasonably expect the same high level of service as you celebrate your special day in style.

Great Tips about Tipping the Caterer

by Lisa Horton

When planning a large “shindig”there are so many things you will have to deal with: the invitations, booking the venue, finding the entertainment, and-ugh-hiring the caterer.

Here is actually where the question of if/how much you should tip the caterer might be answered for you. After gathering recommendations and calling various companies for price quotes, but before signing that contract, make sure you have an extensive itemized list of everything included in the bill. In this list, you might discover that you have luckily avoided any awkwardness of figuring out how much you should tip because some caterers include an 18-20% gratuity charge (written sometimes as a “service fee”).

If, however, you have chosen a caterer who didn’t cover tip for you in the bill, never fear. Take the cue from the caterers themselves. Since many caterers have put their seal of approval on the 18-20% range, you can take that as the standard for how much to tip. The quality of service (and perhaps your budget) will dictate how much you end up giving. But unless the service was so unsatisfactory to the point that the food has burnt to a crisp, tipping is definitely expected and the “norm” of party etiquette.

And if you have particularly enjoyed the service, whether the tip has been included or not, show your gratitude by adding a little extra gratuity onto that 18-20% standard. Or if your budget allows, you might even want to
give some individualized tips to any servers who seemed to go above and beyond the call of duty.

Party on!

Honeymoon Planning Basics

  1. Start out by doing your homework. Decide on a location, or
    a region, review tapes and travel books from the library or your
    travel agent. Ask friends or relative who has traveled; a
    personal recommendation is worth more than a brochure.
  2. Work with a trusted and knowledgeable travel agent. Look for an agency that is a member in good standing with The American Society of Travel Agents (ASTA). Again, agents who have visited a particular location are providing a valuable service. Ask lots of questions and shop around. Decide a budget and know what is affordable. Don’t forget anything, such as medical issues or meal packages (what does the trip include?).
  3. The Caribbean is very popular, as well as the western ski areas,
    Mexico, Florida, and Europe.
  4. All-inclusive’s are just that: everything (that we list here) is included:
    one fee covers room, meals, drinks (exact rules vary by resort), tips,activities, entertainment, sports, etc. Many packages include airfare and transfers to and from the resort (ask!). Realistically, you still need some money for tours, gambling, souvenirs, some water sports… All inclusive resorts cover the globe.
  5. Couples-only all-inclusive’s offer an all-adult atmosphere with moreadult activities, including nightlife. Look for names such as Couples(Jamaica), Sandals and Super Clubs.
  6. Cruises are similarly all-inclusive, but typically do not include drinksand tips. Entertainment is often first rate, including Las Vegas-typeshows, you get to visit several countries in one week, and the oceanbreeze is irresistible. Again, bring money (or start an on board creditaccount, tied to your credit card) for excursions, massages, casino, portrait photos and shopping.
  7. Destination weddings: Plan the wedding like a vacation. Decide
    what location you want, research it, ask about wedding packages. One couple eloped to marry in Saint Lucia, then had a reception when they returned to Maryland. A Washington, DC couple, now in San Diego, had 26 relatives and friends meet them in Punta Cana,Dominican Republic, for a beachfront ceremony. Everyone had a 3-night vacation, and the newlyweds flew to Hawaii for a honeymoon.
  8. Get Insurance and pay by Credit Card. Stuff happens, such as illness,weather, world events, and dishonest companies. Protect yourself.
  9. Plan to get a passport. This is currently required for much internationaltravel, and new regulations will require one for all US citizenstraveling to the Caribbean beginning December 31, 2006. A passport is a legal document that proves US citizenship; it gets stamped everywhere you go, so its like a mini travel log. It costs least to apply at your local Post Office, but you might wait five and up to eight weeks by mail. Look on the U.S. State Department’s Bureau of Consular Affairs home page under passport information.
  10. Pack with your location in mind. Do laundry a few days early so everything will be clean and ready for action. Start your packing list a week before you leave and add items as you think of them.
    Bring sun care and after-sun products if you’ll be at the beach.
    Pack moisturizer and lip balm if you’re skiing or visiting the dessert. Plan wardrobes to mix and match-some pieces get more than one use on vacation-and bring a few versatile shoes. Do not bring your entire shoe rack, because you’ll either, bust your zippers, bust your luggage’s zippers, or pay extra for overweight baggage (check your airline’s weight limit per bag). Opt for wrinkle-resistant fibers, pack items inside of each other to save space, roll clothing to avoid wrinkles,and double-bag any loose bottles or tubes of liquids.

Marriage License Requirements

                Delaware

    • Both the bride and groom must be present photo identification such as your driver’s license, state ID, or passport. You do not have to be a resident of Delaware.
    • You will need to show the original or a certified copy of your divorce decree or the death certificate of a deceased spouse.
    • Waiting period is 24 hours. If both are nonresidents, there is a 96 hours waiting period.
    • Fee is $35 cash only. $20 CASH Additional for ceremonies performed by the Clerk of the Peace office.
    • License is valid for thirty (30) days. If either one of you is on probation or parole, you will need special authorization.

               Maryland

    • Only one applicant needs to be present and they must bring with them a form of identification with proof of age and Social security number for both parties. Residency is not required for bride or groom.
    • Show all divorce decrees
    • License will be granted within 48 hours, valid for 6 months
    • Couple must marry within the county they register. Cost is $35-$60 cash, varies by County.

       New Jersey

  • Must go to the Registrar of Vital Statistics in the bride’s hometown. If the bride does not live in the state of New Jersey, you can apply at the municipal office of the groom’s town. If both the bride and groom are from out of state, apply at the municipal office of the town where the ceremony will take place.
  • Bring a valid form of identification and social security card and documents that previous marriages have ended.
  • Birth certificates are required for as proof of age (if not available, 2 other forms of identification will be sufficient).
  • A witness over the age 18 must be present. The cost is $28.
  • Valid for 30 days. It is recommended that you apply at least
    2 weeks before the ceremony.

    Pennsylvania
  • Apply in person with the person you are planning on marrying at the county clerks office (located in the county courthouse).
  • Bring a photo identification, and death or previous marriage certificates.
  • Pay $25-$50 (depending on county) in cash.
  • License will be granted three days after you apply. Valid for 60 days.

    Virginia

  • Licenses are issued by a clerk or his deputy clerk of a circuit
  • But bring a valid drivers license, documentation of previous marriages
  • Valid for 60 days
  • The cost is $30 (cash)

    Washington DC
  • Residency is not required but a valid photo identification is, along
    with social security number
  • Both bride and groom must be present to apply and sign the license
  • Blood tests are required and must be done somewhere in DC
  • Bring certificate of death or divorce
  • The cost is $45 (cash)
  • There is a five day waiting period

Wedding Planning Timetable

At Least 1 Year

  • Arrange for all parents to meet
  • Work out budget and review with your parents, if they’ll be
    paying for any part of the event
  • Interview and hire a wedding consultant if you are using one
  • Decide on style of wedding
  • Decide who will officiate. Favorite officiates may book up as quickly as caterers and banquet halls. You will need to consult this person regarding many issues throughout your planning. When necessary, book the officiate, church, synagogue, sanctuary or chapel.
  • Make preliminary guest list and estimate final party size
  • Choose your wedding party and call them
  • Set wedding date & time
  • Pick a caterer, a ceremony and reception location (if there will be one, for the engagement party, rehearsal dinner, after-wedding breakfast). Send a deposit when necessary
  • Book a block of rooms for out-of-town guests
  • Interview and choose photographers, videographers, florists,
    musicians, calligraphers
  • Make transportation reservations
  • Make plans and shop for your honeymoon
  • Shop for wedding gown.
  • Send a “Save-the-Date” card to your “A” list guests 10 Months
  • Choose a color theme
  • Order wedding gown & accessories (have plenty of time if
    something should go wrong)
  • Make up your final guest list
  • Go House or Apartment-hunting with your fiancé.
    Narrow choices to a few
     

    9 Months

  • Decide what gifts you would like and register for gifts
    (china, flatware, etc.)
  • Shop for and order invitations, announcements, programs and
    any other printed materials
  • Have your engagement party. Start a “thank you list” and mail
    notes as soon as possible
  • Have an engagement picture taken & submit to newspaper
  • Create schematics for the processional, recessional, reserved seating. Distribute them to participants.
  • If you are not having a wedding consultant for day-of coordination, arrange for someone to be in charge of keeping everyone on schedule and coaching the processional.
  • Select guests for honors (e.g., toast, speech, blessings). 

    8 Months

  • Discuss wedding attire with mothers of the bride and groom
  • Order your accessory items and bridesmaid dresses
  • Look at tuxedos 

    7 Months

  • If you are buying a home, get serious about a contract. If you
    will be renting, place a deposit.
     

    6 Months

  • Select guests wedding favors
  • Order imprinted favors including yarmulkes.
  • Order wedding invitations, programs and other stationery 

    5 Months

  • Arrange for tuxedo rentals
  • Book your honeymoon
  • Included directions, as needed, in Save-the-date and/or invitations. Take a trial drive to double check distances & landmarks. Consider the time of year and day in your travel time estimates. 

    4 Months

  • Purchase wedding gifts (for attendants & fiance)
  • Finalize floral arrangements.
  • Set hair, make-up, nail and wax appointments
  • Select a bakery for your wedding cake, as well as cakes for pre-
    wedding receptions & pastries for after-wedding brunch
  • Begin to address invitations or take final guest list to your calligrapher
  • Select wedding bands. Place an order.
  • Get change of address cards from post office and get them ready to mail
  • Decide who will ride with whom and where people need to be when
  • Prepare programs and/or a wedding booklet for the wedding and assign one to distribute them
  • Have the groom select and order tuxedos for himself, his groomsmen & the dads. If people are in different locations, mail the measurements

    3 Months
  • Final dress fittings for you and your bridesmaids
  • Finalize cake arrangements
  • Write your own vows
  • Buy cake knife, toasting glasses, guest book & garter
  • Pick out associated events clothing. Remember shoes (ballet slippers, sandals) for the reception
  • Find a hairdresser & make a test run with your veil
  • Send invitations (double check postage) (8-10 Weeks) 

    2 Months

  • Get name-change forms for social security, driver’s license,
    credit cards & bank. Review documents and make needed changes (e.g. insurance, lease, Health Care Proxy, Living Will, etc.)
  • Get blood tests (if required) and marriage license
  • Make hair and nails appointments very close to the wedding day
  • Finalize menu with caterer
  • Review your needs with your photographer and videographer. List your wedding party, a schedule of events, any toasts or speeches planned and any special photos, memories or candid’s you want. It is best not to surprise these professionals
  • Meet with your entertainment (music, etc.). A schedule of events, favorite tunes, style of music requested, plus a list of toasts, speeches, etc. will ensure that the MC and you coordinate
  • Arrange the rehearsal dinner, as well as other wedding-day- connected parties 

    1 Month

  • Make guest baskets and assign someone to distribute them
  • Make sure all your groomsmen, ushers, ring bearer, and fathers have ordered tuxedos
  • Send change-of-address forms to post office
  • Reconfirm all reservations and accommodations
  • Confirm honeymoon plans
  • Start the seating plan for the reception 

    3 Weeks Before

  • Call guests who have not responded
  • Finalize reception seating arrangements
  • Get your marriage license
  • Prepare wedding announcement for the newspaper
  • Pick up your wedding bands
  • Fill out the table cards or give names to your calligrapher.
  • Put fees and tips in envelopes (officiant, soloist, maitre d’ etc.)
    and give it to someone you assign in making the payments
  • Arrange with someone to bring items to the wedding venue, such as cake knife, toasting glasses, programs, emergency kit for the bride, wedding license and to take them home
  • Arrange for someone to return rentals (tuxedos, chairs, etc.)
  • Arrange for someone to take your bouquet and gown “home”
    put them in preservation
  • Pay all Church, Synagogue or officiant fees 

    2 Weeks Before

  • Call caterer with final total of guests
  • Confirm directions, pickup & drop-off points with transportation
    service. Confirm all other professionals
     

    1 Week

  • Create a detailed schedule of your wedding day activities
  • Get a manicure and/or pedicure &/or other beauty services.
  • Pack for your honeymoon
  • Confirm post-wedding brunch arrangements 

    1 Day

  • Get a manicure
  • Attend wedding rehearsal
  • Pack wedding day emergency kit. (extra pantyhose, safety pins, thread
    and needle, steamer, brush & make- up)
  • Get a good night’s sleep 

    Your Wedding Day

  • Eat a good breakfast
  • Have your make-up done
  • Have your hair done
  • Give yourself lots of ready-time
  • Relax & have fun! 

    After Your Wedding Day

  • Send thank you notes and/or send gifts to the special people
    who made your wedding “happen.”
  • Send wedding photo and announcement to newspaper(s); post on Facebook and Instagram

10 Steps to get more business from a consumer Expo

Certainly the fee you pay a promoter for space at a consumer expo like Brides and Grooms Expo, as well as the time, supplies and staffing costs, are a serious investment for most businesses. There are steps you can take to maximize your investment and leverage your resources and skills to a competitive advantage. Many exhibitors do not consistently adhere to all of the following steps, which are neither exclusive nor comprehensive. These are simply the BASIC rules, and you’d be surprised at how many folks don’t even follow them.

10. Smile and make eye contact. Simple, huh? I’ve been running expos since 2000 and we always see this rule broken (along with #9). Special events good and services are personal services. It does not matter if your artistry or venue or food or product is the best on the market if you turn off customers. They have to like and trust you first, so forget about selling for a few seconds, work on likeability. Then at least they will hear your message. If they don’t want you, they don’t want what you’re selling.

9. Stand, don’t sit. We see this all the time. Most vendors who have consistently poor results from expos have problems with this or #10. Put the phone down, stand up, make eye contact and turn on the charm!

8. Ask customers a question. Congratulations, have you picked a photographer yet? Do you have a venue selected? Would you like to hear more about our coffee bar? Who is making your cake? try to make any follow up questions open ended.

7. Have an attractive display with clear and concise signage. So important for many businesses, particularly those with choices, multiple products or useages, unusual or unorthodox services, etc. You have about seven seconds to get a customer’s attention and make a connection. A very clean and clear display is helpful as a visual cue. Use a simple, clear tag line or logo, if the logo is recognizable or conveys the substance of your message. Otherwise you have to use gimmicks to attract customers to your display when a clearly understood message may work better.

6. Samples and giveaways. These work like magic. Food and nice prizes, even candy and pens. The nicer the giveaway, the more attraction it has. But be sure to display it, don’t hide it.

5. Groomed and presentable. Again, we shouldn’t even have to put this one down, but we have seen it violated. You are selling a personal service, yourself or someone else on your team, to serve customers for or at a wedding. And first impressions are everything in this field.

4. Good literature. As a takeaway, nothing beats a good brochure. Sure, it’s got to be up online as well, but a brochure or post card is a tangible reminder of you and your services, and they are another reflection on your professional appearance, standing and demeanor. When the customer is ready to make the cricial decision, “pull the trigger” on the purchase or booking, you want to be on the short list or top contenders for their business.

3. Date book. Many people do not expect to book a date right at a wedding show, but it happens all the time. You don’t want to hesitate when they are waiving a check at you, so take your date book.

2. Arrive and be ready on time. At every expo, someone either does not show, shows up last minute or late. There are already customers in the room, so they are missing some opportunities, as well as displaying a disregard for timeliness to witnesses. Not a great selling point.

1. Don’t leave early. It makes everyone look bad, and there are always late customer arrivals. You are cheating yourself of opportunities you’ve paid for, as well showing customers and your industry peers, who may be in a position to offer referrals, that you just don’t care. yes, stuff happens, and the kids may need to be picked up or a gig starts at 6 pm. But it still looks bad to the rest of the crowd, so please plan carefully.