The vows have been exchanged-now it's time to celebrate. But before you can get to the bouquet toss and cake-eating, there are many important decisions to consider, from budget and location to keeping things interesting while focusing on tradition.

The long driveway lined with trees and white fences sells the Darby House to many a bride who has imagined a picture-perfect wedding. It's a dreamy, quiet drive to the property's main buildings, and at the right time of day-early evening, especially-it's the kind of place that makes you forget your cares. It simply reels you in with its beauty; such was the case for Lindley and Darcy Baxter when they were planning their July 2012 nuptials.

"I was looking for a rustic-type setting for an outdoor reception," Lindley says. "We really fell in love with the Darby House. It was something that we didn't think we could find in the city."

The Darby House is 20 minutes from Columbus, yet the 1,200-acre Darby Dan Farm is still a short enough drive for many couples. And it's an enchanting spot. The venue provides the mood lighting of mother nature, the beauty of the Big Darby Creek and old-fashioned glamor. It's a place that's been rustic since long before "rustic" was cool. It is, simply, unpretentious yet breathtaking, and it's hard to believe somewhere this picturesque is located right here in Central Ohio.

For the Baxters, the tree-lined driveway even helped inspire the decorating theme, starting with the couple's monogram, which featured an oak tree. That monogram appeared on wedding elements from the invitations to the gift bags guests received when they arrived at the Renaissance Hotel.

Big-Picture Planning

A summer wedding such as the Baxters', though, isn't one that can be easily put together in a few months' time. After getting engaged in December 2010, the couple gave themselves about 18 months to plan for their big day.

"We got engaged in December, and I had the Darby House booked by the end of January," Baxter says. "Once we went out there, we were sold; then it was a matter of convincing the parents."

The Westin Columbus, with its stately ballroom, elegant guest rooms and ideal Downtown location, is another popular reception spot and hosts about 60 weddings a year-most taking place between May and October.

Craig Tremblay, senior catering sales manager at the Westin, notes that while the hotel hosts a fair amount of weddings in the winter and spring, Fridays and Saturdays during the warmer months are booked quickly. "Right now (in June 2013), I have almost no Saturdays open until August of 2014. So if a couple is looking for a specific date with us, they need to think long-term."

Booking at least a year out is imperative, even at a location such as the Franklin Park Conservatory and Botanical Gardens, which hosts more weddings-about 200 a year-than most venues in the city. But the conservatory has three spaces from which to choose. "We do intimate weddings and large-scale weddings, and we do weddings any day of the week," says Colleen (Winkel) Tassone, client services manager at the conservatory. Tassone herself was married at Franklin Park Conservatory in January, as she and husband Vince saw it as the best fit for their glamorous day. (Head to page 135 to see a shot of her big day.)

The conservatory is considered by many to be one of the city's premier wedding venues-it boasts not only variety but also natural beauty, which allows for flexibility when you're decorating the venue. Some wedding professionals argue that the venue doesn't even call for additional decor-the flowers and lush greenery do the work for you.

The conservatory is so popular that its wedding staff used to host an annual "booking day" during which brides would line up to speak to a planner, and dates were booked on a first-come, first-served basis. For logistical reasons (and to keep brides from freezing in the February cold), the conservatory now books dates as far in advance as brides wish.

The historic John F. Wolfe Palm House is a popular cool-weather spot and offers gorgeous tropical gardens and views through a glass ceiling, while the West Terrace is perfect for warm-weather receptions-and for large guest counts. The Veridian opens up to the Brides Garden, while the Grove offers a rooftop garden space that overlooks the outdoor gardens and features fountains and seasonal flower beds.

Anthie Constantinidis, director of catering and events at the recently opened Hilton Columbus Downtown, agrees that booking about a year out is ideal if couples are looking for a hotel banquet space.

"Beyond that, weddings begin competing with conventions," Constantinidis says.

Constantinidis' hotel is quickly becoming one of Columbus' most popular wedding venues-it has the location, of course, and the plush guest rooms. But the chic space offers even more for couples who want their big day to be all about sophistication. The hotel is home to more than 100 original works of Central Ohio art, the grand ballroom offers 12,000 square feet of dining and dancing space and the extras-leather chairs and custom linens-are anything but ordinary.

While in the spring and early summer facilities and caterers are busy with proms and graduations, it's in the winter, from Thanksgiving to New Year's, that many facilities fill their open dates with corporate holiday parties. And some locations have recurring events that take priority. The Columbus Museum of Art, for example, is not available for weddings when the museum has its annual Art Celebration fundraiser in October.

For the museum, "busy season" is a long one.

"We have a wedding almost every single weekend April through Thanksgiving," says Katie Laux, director of events and business strategy for the museum. "I recommend that brides come in as soon as they're engaged and have an idea of when they want to get married. If they want to get married during one of our most popular months-May, June and October-they should really come in within a week of their engagement."

The museum can host both ceremonies and receptions, and increasingly couples are choosing to enjoy their entire day in the space. In 2013, about 80 percent of couples chose to host both events at the museum. Two spaces are available for weddings, with the largest able to accommodate 225 guests.

Local wedding professionals say September and October have become two of the most popular months for weddings in Columbus, following May and June. Budget could have something to do with this, but fall and winter also lend themselves to beautiful backdrops. Though the weather doesn't always behave as the temperature cools, there's something magical about a wedding on an sunny autumn day or snowy winter evening.

But while October is quickly becoming one of the most sought-after months for Central Ohio nuptials, a fall wedding date can get complicated because of the Ohio State football schedule. The Blackwell and the OSU Faculty Club, for example, will not book weddings on the Friday or Saturday of a weekend when the Buckeyes play at home.

"Unfortunately, we don't have weddings on game day or the Friday before," says Rachel Remy, wedding sales coordinator at the Blackwell. "Those weekends are extremely busy. We have guests staying here for the game. On game day, we can sometimes see upwards of 1,000 people coming in and out of the Blackwell." The facility is available on Sundays of home-game weekends, though.

Couples willing to wed in an off-peak month are more likely to find an open slot and can plan something on shorter notice. And at Franklin Park Conservatory, if a Saturday isn't available, try a Friday or a Sunday afternoon, Tassone suggests. Sometimes, those off-peak months or alternate days come at a cost-savings, too.

"That way, they still get the environment of the conservatory but it's at a price point that fits their budget," Tassone says.

For couples that have their hearts set on a specific, sought-after spot, there's hope. According to the experts, you can score any venue you want if you're willing to be flexible about the date. And of course, it never hurts to ask-cancellations do happen, and desired dates can quickly be on the market once again.

Making Any Budget Work

When it comes to wedding planning, most sales and catering managers have the same advice: "Stay within your means," Tremblay says. "Set a budget and stick to it. People get unhappy when they just keep throwing money at [the wedding]."

Budget is a subject that many soon-to-be newlyweds are unwilling to discuss openly, but it's an important conversation to have with each of your vendors-and especially with the folks at your venue. Regardless of how large or small your budget may be, money factors into nearly every aspect of the planning process, from linens to cake-cutting.

Although the dress, flowers, invitations and DJ are important and fun-to-plan-aspects of a wedding, it's truly the guest list and budget that are critical. If you determine these two elements right out of the gate, the rest of your planning will go smoothly-so long as you're realistic about your big-day wants and needs.

Advises Katie Kirschner, field marketing specialist for the Bravo/Brio Restaurant Group: "Know your budget and be comfortable and confident with it. You don't want to be uncomfortable with what you're spending."

"My best advice is to sit down and think about what you want in a venue," adds Remy. "It's important for the bride and groom to share what's most important to them."

Like most venues, the Blackwell has a food-and-beverage minimum. In the summer that minimum is $12,000, but it drops to $8,000 in January. Some venues have been known to drop as much as $10,000 for a Friday-evening wedding.

Many venues offer a wedding package, which is often the most economical choice-these packages include things like bar service, cake-cutting, linens and various decorations. If a couple doesn't want or need something that's included in the package, it's a good idea to ask for it to be removed, as it may save some money.

At the Athletic Club of Columbus, rates don't change based on the season, but they do change based on day, says Kristin Coburn, assistant director of private events. Friday and Sunday have lower minimums than a Saturday, as well as a lower room charge.

The food and beverage minimum for a Saturday wedding at the Athletic Club of Columbus is $10,000-this is the least amount a couple can spend on food and beverages for that event. On a Friday or a Sunday, the same minimum drops to $7,500. Likewise, the club charges $1,500 for room rental on a Saturday, but that drops to $750 for a Friday or Sunday event.

The Ivory Room, a new loft-style reception space Cameron Mitchell opened in Miranova in September 2012, has a Saturday-night minimum of $20,000, while the Darby House, a retreat-like setting also managed by Cameron Mitchell Premier Events, has a minimum of $15,000 for a Saturday-night event during prime wedding season.

Similarly, the NorthPointe Hotel and Conference Center has minimums that range from $10,000 to $20,000 for a Saturday in June, depending on the space, says Kathyrn Burton, general manager at NorthPointe.

Ultimately, though, the guest list has the most impact on budget. A large guest list means it will be easier to meet the food and beverage minimums, but it also means a couple has less to spend per person. A typical wedding budget, for example, probably would not accommodate serving filet mignon to 300 guests.

Couples should remember that about 20 percent of their invited guests will not attend. "If a good portion of the guests are from out of town, that might be closer to 25 or 30 percent," Constantinidis says. "This can help you determine that budget. A guest list of 300 will look more like 220 or 225 people."

At venues like Franklin Park Conservatory, where weddings can be held every day, there are a variety of food and beverage minimums. What you'll spend all depends on the space, the day of the week and the time of day-Saturday evenings are the most expensive.

The Columbus Museum of Art's rental costs also shift by the day; the building rental fee is $4,000 for Saturday and $3,000 for Friday and Sunday.

Finally, whether or not a facility has a food and beverage minimum goes a long way toward figuring out if a particular site is affordable-and alleviating stress. Couples should find out exactly what the minimum requirements are at different venues. These also can shift by season and day.

Once you've done the hard part-and come up with at least a rough idea of your budget-it's time to prioritize your wants and your needs (and to determine which is which).

Lovely Locations

After the budget's agreed upon-and you have your date, of course-start checking out venues. Central Ohio is home to myriad incredible wedding locations, from dreamy outdoor spaces to formal elegant ballrooms and everything in between. Tremblay recommends couples do some online research before visiting locations. Sometimes simple geography helps pin down a venue.

"I knew from the beginning that I wanted to do everything Downtown," Karilyn Whalen says of her May 2012 wedding to husband Matt. The couple's love for wine led them to Via Vecchia Winery in the Brewery District. "We got really excited when we first saw it because our first trip together was to California and to Sonoma and visiting all the wineries."

The two had the right idea according to Emily Whipple, Columbus banquet coordinator for the Bravo/Brio Restaurant Group.

"Couples need to decide what kind of style they want," Whipple says. If they know they want an outdoor, Western-style event, then Brio, for example, wouldn't be the place for them. Similarly, if their guest count will be 100, Whipple says, they wouldn't want to book a banquet hall big enough for 250 people.

Many locations with flexible spaces, such as the conservatory, also find it easy to accommodate couples who want to have both their ceremony and reception in the same place. "About 80 percent of the couples have both their ceremony and reception here, if not a little more," Tassone says.

Sometimes couples have an emotional attachment to a place and that helps them narrow their choice of reception venue.

"About 65 percent of our couples include graduates from Ohio State," says Remy of the couples who choose the Blackwell for their reception. "There really is an emotional connection to the University. They spent time here; they might have met here. Mirror Lake is here, the stadium is here."

When Holly and Pablo Chignolli were planning their July 2012 wedding, they knew they wanted an outdoor ceremony followed by a reception in a rustic, nature-filled setting still close to Downtown. They chose Frank Fetch Park in German Village for their ceremony and visited the Grange Insurance Audubon Center because of its close proximity to the park.

"We just drove there one afternoon, and we knew right away that was where we wanted to have the reception," Holly says.

The Grange Insurance Audubon Center has become one of the city's more desired wedding spots among outdoors enthusiasts who want to wed in an open space-without taking the party too far from Downtown. The Audubon Center, which has won architectural-design accolades for its gorgeous (and environmentally friendly) design, is located on the Whittier Peninsula just south of Downtown. It offers a unique space for a reception, and the views are unparalleled.

Meanwhile, several other Downtown venues provide unique settings for both ceremonies and receptions. The Ohio Statehouse offers the beautiful rotunda for ceremonies and provides a gorgeous backdrop for photos. Huntington Park, the home of the Columbus Clippers, is perfect for baseball fans, while the Columbus Museum of Art is ideal for the visually inspired couple. For a truly distinctive ceremony, the historic Southern Theatre is great-you can wed on stage while your guests watch from the seats below.

If you want to be surrounded by priceless artworks on your big day, the Columbus Museum of Art, which hosts weddings year-round, has three beautiful spaces.

The Broad Street lobby is located at the south end of the museum and is ideal for smaller gatherings; it can seat up to 80.

"It's a beautiful small and quaint area," Laux says.

The museum's West Garden can be used for ceremonies or cocktail receptions, while the Derby Court, perhaps the museum's most magical space, can hold up to 225 people. It was renovated and reopened in 2011 and now, as Laux says, has quite the "wow" factor. An all-glass ceiling gives you the feel of the great outdoors with the comfort of being inside.

"You get beautiful sunshine, the stars … all without having to worry about the weather," Laux says. "It can be 100 degrees outside, but you'll still have a nice, cool wedding with an outdoor vibe."

The most unique aspect of the museum, of course, is the artwork that lines its walls. Wedding guests are encouraged to look through the galleries during the reception (no food or drink permitted, of course), and even special exhibitions are open during the event. If your guest list includes serious art lovers, you can request a docent to share information about the artwork during cocktail hour.

"The museum is a really special venue," Laux says. "A lot of people who get married here came here as children, and it's about reliving that memory. It's also just such an incredible place to share with your guests."

Not allowed in the museum, of course, are candles. Photography is OK, however. The wedding coordinator will meet with your photographer to note any pieces of art that cannot be photographed.

For those who don't mind a drive, the Bryn Du Mansion in Granville-the site of dozens of weddings each year-is a beautiful spot. The grounds stretch across 52 acres just 30 minutes east of Columbus, and the property is managed by a nonprofit whose mission is to preserve the mansion's history and pristine exterior. Couples can choose from the front and back lawns or the property's Fieldhouse, the largest reception space in the area. If you rent the mansion, you have access to the entire first floor, the front patio, the backyard and the garden.

Additional unique-to-Columbus spots include COSI-whose museum exhibits provide an interesting backdrop for a formal event-and the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium, which houses a reception venue along the Scioto River. The Boathouse at Confluence Park is popular for its can't-be-beat views of the city and plenty of space for dancing.

The Worthington Inn, meanwhile, is a charming spot for small receptions and for couples who appreciate a bit of history; the inn, today one of Central Ohio's best restaurants, was once a stagecoach stop. The Kelton House, located just east of Downtown, is also a great location for history lovers-although the garden alone is enough of a draw. If you so choose, yourguests can enjoy post-ceremony tours of the home led by costumed docents.

If you want to go all-out glam, the Capital Club is an incredible choice; floor-to-ceiling windows, chandeliers, unique menus and so much more make for a truly exclusive event-the kind of wedding people can't wait to attend.

Once you've narrowed down your search and you're armed with a good sense of a facility's physical aspects (and have reviewed your budget), your next step should be to evaluate the human touch. If you visit a facility and get along well with the person who will oversee the event, chances are you'll be able to trust them to carry out your vision.

"It's important to feel confident and comfortable with whom you're working," Tassone says. "You really want to have a good relationship with your [vendors]."

Outside the Box

Ohio weather is Ohio weather. That is to say, it can be fickle. Outdoor weddings can offer a gorgeousness that the great indoors just can't, but couples planning garden ceremonies and outdoor receptions need to prepare in case the weather just won't cooperate.

Many couples are attracted to Franklin Park Conservatory because it offers both indoor and outdoor spaces. Every outdoor space there is paired with an indoor space in case the festivities must be moved. The Zen Terrace is paired with the Grand Atrium, for instance, the West Terrace with the Palm House and the Bride's Garden and the Grove with the Veridian. Couples can rent their space of choice at the conservatory and not have to make a final decision based on weather until the day of the wedding.

"We definitely had a backup plan," Chignolli says of her ceremony at Frank Fetch Park. In fact, it did rain on the morning of the wedding, but then the weather cleared in time for the ceremony. "Our plan was that the ceremony was going to be in the Audubon Center if it rained. We had rented chairs for the park anyway, and the rental company was ready to move them if we needed to," Chignolli says.

Down on the Farm

Jorgensen Farm, located less than 20 miles from Columbus in Plain Township, is a

65-acre working organic farm. Cultivated by farmer Val Jorgensen, the farm has long been a source of high-quality, fresh food for area residents, and now it's serving a new role, too: wedding venue.

"We had done other events over the years," Jorgensen says. "And then Columbus natives living in Manhattan saw photos of an event at the farm. They emailed to see if we'd host their wedding."

"Zach is a farmer, and food-growing it, where we buy it, cooking it-is a really huge part of our life together," says Manda Martin, who married Zach at the farm on Sept. 1, 2012. "So we knew the wedding was going to be food-centric, and we had always hoped we'd be able to find a farm that would work with us. Val's farm is not only functional but also drop-dead gorgeous, so it was a dream come true."

Since that email in 2010, "a few weddings here and there" has evolved into a full-time business for Jorgensen and her staff. In 2011 the farm hosted two weddings. In 2012 that number increased to five. This year Jorgensen and her staff have 44 weddings on the books with the potential for that number to grow.

"When we started showing the farm [to interested couples], things changed quickly and drastically," Jorgensen says. "Now we have a full-time event coordinator who takes over about eight weeks out."

Other recent additions to Jorgensen's wedding business include expanded parking, building renovations, golf-cart shuttles for guests who need assistance and updated (and elegant) mobile restrooms.

Many couples, Jorgensen says, are drawn to the space because they want an outdoor wedding. They like the fact that the venue serves another, real purpose-"We're a working farm … This is my job. I'm the farmer," Jorgensen says-and they appreciate the vast options that come with having acres of space to do with what they please.

"We have options … we have a half-acre flower field, we have water and woods on the property and we have an incredible amount of space," Jorgensen says. So much space, in fact, that couples receive 10 acres of land for their big day, and the farm can host more than 250 people indoors if it rains. If the wedding is to remain outdoors, the guest list isn't an issue at all.

"We can move the entire party inside-making that happen [through building enhancements] has really been the focus of 2013," Jorgensen says. "This way, couples don't have to break the budget and rent a tent for a backup plan. That's a big area of focus-making sure there isn't a last-minute crisis because of the weather."

Martin says, "Having an outdoor wedding in a non-traditional venue does require advance planning and considerations you wouldn't encounter at a typical venue, and Val was amazingly helpful and opened minded every step of the way."

The property boasts several historic buildings, including two farm houses that are used for pre-ceremony prep. The bride and her party can make use of the entire first floor of one house, while the groom and his crew use the other.

"It's very homey; it feels like [getting ready at] home for people," Jorgensen says. "These personal touches are a big part of what people like."

Also a nice touch? On the day of your wedding, the farm is yours from 10 a.m. to 11 p.m. This, Jorgensen notes, allows for a lot of flexibility. And as for the wedding package, it's unique in that it bundles much of what you'd need several vendors for at other venues. It includes setup for tables, ceremony chairs and everything in between, decorations and even flowers. Jorgensen's certified-organic garden grows dahlias, hydrangeas, peonies and sunflowers throughout the year. You can even use food grown at the farm in your menu.

Of course, the farm isn't in the catering business-you'll need to hire vendors to serve your food and drinks. Right now, Jorgensen still just rents the facility, although she is happy to grow food and flowers for her brides. Jorgensen has frequently worked with Two Caterers, though she doesn't require couples to choose any specific vendors.

"We give our couples the guidance they need to make decisions about catering, the bar, shuttle service, the cake, flowers and so on," Jorgensen says. "Together we put their whole day together."

The cost of a wedding at Jorgensen farm is comparable to other Central Ohio venues, Jorgensen says. "We provide enough service to make the cost fair. As we upgraded not only our service package … and with the addition of the wedding coordinator and more finished indoor and outdoor spaces, we're definitely in line with a typical wedding budget."

Jorgensen also notes that because they've been able to host more and more weddings, they've been able to add more features to the wedding package without adding to the price. The wedding package includes all of the services for up to 250 people.

Right now, there are about 20 weddings booked at the farm for 2014. By January, Jorgensen estimates that all Saturday dates will be booked. However, the farm can host weddings any day of the week, April through the weekend before Thanksgiving. Most couples have both the ceremony and reception at the farm, with the entire day typically taking place outdoors.

As for the couples who are drawn to the farm, Jorgensen says it's a varied group. She's seen both "less is more" affairs and all-out lavish weddings. The Martin-Pickens wedding was simple, with a multi-course meal served at one long table followed by dancing in the barn. A recent vintage-themed day included a 1950s powder-blue Chevy, driven in by the bride and her father and later signed as a four-wheeled guestbook. Jorgensen is excited about a circus-themed affair scheduled for 2014.

"We're realizing more and more what the brides want. I love this business. As much as I love farming, I'm the mother of four boys. And to be so hands-on with all of these awesome women, it's been great," Jorgensen says. "We love what we're doing here."

And as for what sets them apart, Jorgensen alludes to the farm's spirit of inclusiveness. "I think we're unique in that we actually have a 100 percent 'accept you as you are' policy. We generally care about the people who are here, from the first time they contact us to when the lights are shut off at the end of the day," she says. "Our couples get a lot of TLC. We bend over backwards to make sure every part of the day is exactly what they want, and there is a huge amount of room for doing that here. This space is a platform for creating a really unique, one-of-a-kind day."

To the Nines

The grand trees that line the road to Darby Dan Farms got bride Lindley Baxter started on her theme. Her rustic wedding, which included a late-afternoon outdoor ceremony followed by a dinner reception and dancing, featured decorations that matched the setting. "Our centerpieces were made of white and green flowers, and they were all in mason jars with raffia tied around them," she says. The cocktail area featured tables topped with flowers and candles atop burlap squares. And the place cards, which the bride ordered on Etsy, were slices of tree logs. The table numbers, also slices of wood, had the table numbers branded into them and then were tied to the Mason-jar vases on the tables.

When Kanady began working on the decor for her Via Vecchia Winery reception, she knew one thing: instead of splurging on real flowers, she wanted to save that money for other elements of the day. So instead, the graphic designer put her creative talents to use and made the flowers for her wedding-from her own bouquet and those of the bridesmaids to the boutonnieres and the centerpieces.

"I decided to make these funky paper flowers. That worked out really well," Kanady says. Online tutorials helped get her started and then she was on her way, using inexpensive colored copy paper and even cupcake wrappers to design her unique floral decorations.

"I made seven bouquets and then I had four little flower balls," she says. "I ended up making even more cupcake flowers. I made hundreds and hundreds of flowers. I started making them about nine months ahead of the wedding."

The reception location also helped inspire the rest of the decorations.

"We used wine bottles as decorations," she says. "We used corks as trivets."

In lieu of a guest book, the couple asked guests to complete a unique Mad Lib message that Kanady and a designer friend created-the messages were then tucked in a bottle for the couple to read later.

"Just try to think outside the box," Kanady advises future brides when thinking about decor. "[Decorations] don't have to be as expensive as they look. Think of different ways to do things that seem expensive. People will still remember it."

At the Columbus Museum of Art, the decor is practically done for you-you don't want to overshadow world-renowned artworks, after all. Laux says brides really focus on flowers and linens when decorating the museum, and she's seen more and more brides install up-lighting to showcase the lovely walls and sculptures.

"Our goal is to make the day as memorable and special for the bride and groom and their families," Laux says. "Making it personal is important, and we really try to help couples make their dream come to life."

For the Kids

If you're inviting little ones to the wedding, it's a nice gesture to keep them entertained, too. Having a space where children can play, dance to their own music and even watch a movie has become increasingly popular. A special children's menu is a nice touch, too, if your reception venue can accommodate one.

Dreamy Desserts

Many weddings feature a grand, tiered wedding cake-but not many feature multiple cakes in different shapes and sizes, all made by the bride.

But Caitlin Cardina, a dentist no less, baked the cakes and cookies that her guests were served at her June 2012 wedding to Chris Marett.

"We had about 180 guests, and I just kind of had a vision," says Cardina, who used her favorite family recipes and worked for weeks to make the desserts. "We had about 10 different cakes, from 9-inch rounds to some decorative, molded cakes." The flavors ranged from cappuccino to her grandmother's favorite lemon pound cake. What's more, the bride also made dozens of small treats, including thumbprint cookies made with her dad's raspberry jam, brownies and her trademark spoon cookies made with brown butter and blackberry preserves.

"It's kind of my traditional Christmas gift," Cardina says. "Our freezer was so full. I baked over the course of a month and a half. The more fragile things I made closer to the wedding."

On her wedding day, the bride's family assembled all of the cakes at the Bluestone, where the couple's reception took place, and made a display decorated with flowers from the bride's aunt's garden. "Once the cakes were out, we put the cookies out so people could grab them," Cardina says.

Other dessert table options include cake pops, pies, specialty malts and shakes, tortes, truffles, candy bowls, miniature cupcakes, lemon bars and truffles.

Eat Up

The truth is, food is one of the things that your wedding guests will most remember. As such, menu-planning should begin early-and should be taken seriously.

"All of our guests raved about how great the food was," says Baxter of her reception at the Darby House, which has an exclusive catering contract with Cameron Mitchell Premier Events. "The service was outstanding. That was really important to us … for our guests to have a really good time, also with great food."

The Baxter's meal started with cocktails on the patio. "We had mini sliders, lobster corn dogs, deviled eggs-fun, casual food that our guests could eat while mingling," she says.

The dinner began with an apple salad and passed bread. Guests could choose one of three entrees-a flat-iron steak, chicken prosciutto or sweet corn with asparagus and arugula (the vegetarian
option).

In some cases, a desire for great food-and perhaps the venue's forte-is a drawing factor for couples. At Bravo, for example, the family-style dinner is popular, and it's something the restaurant does well, says Kirschner. "Everything is passed and shared," Kirschner says. "It's very interactive and conversational."

Holidays also can inspire great meals. Constantinidis recalls a New Year's Eve reception at the Hilton Columbus Downtown that was "completely over the top." The ballroom was decked out with special lighting, the tables were topped with 5-foot-tall centerpieces and the food and drinks were flowing throughout the night. The couple served their guests a nice plated meal and, later in the evening, late-night bites.

"There was continuous food throughout," she says. "As the guests were leaving, we did a coffee station. Our pastry chef made homemade macaroons and we passed out what we call coffee bombs, where you have a chocolate square and you pour coffee into the vessel. It runs through the chocolate and into the cup, so you have chocolate and coffee. The guests are always excited to see what the next thing is going to be."

Although the dining schedule can be modified to accommodate special events-a wedding reception on New Year's Eve, for example-the basic timeline of the meal service generally doesn't vary much from reception to reception. First, a pre-function period with small hors d'oeuvres can be scheduled to occupy guests' attention until the newlyweds arrive. After the hors d'oeuvres, the main meal is served, followed by the dessert course, which is usually a piece of wedding cake or some other sweet delicacy. Wedding cake is typically served individually to each guest after the bride and groom have ceremoniously carved the first slices.

Many catering directors say a fourth course-the late-night bites-continues to be popular. These post-dinner snacks can be inspired by fast-food favorites, food trucks or simply the couple's preferred treats.

In addition to making sure everyone's well-fed, couples should be conscious of any guests with dietary restrictions or food allergies. Catering managers are getting more frequent requests for vegetarian meals or gluten-free dishes.

"Our chef and his team are really happy to accommodate," Coburn says. "But we encourage our clients to offer a dietary restrictions choice on their RSVP card. It's always better to know in advance."

Set the Bar

Beverage service is another essential part of a wedding reception, but it's one that can cause anxiety for a couple reasons: the bar tab can run high if couples aren't careful, and couples-and their parents-are wary of sending guests home after they've had too much to drink. Reception sites are aware of the difficulties, and most can work with a couple's needs, including those who are on a tight budget.

The alcohol portion of the reception tab, after all, can add up to nearly half of what the food cost will be, says Constantinidis, who has seen more than one father of the bride get steamed at an extreme bar tab. When you pay by consumption, cost can get out of control.

"I've had many clients who say, 'My guests won't drink,' " Constantinidis says. "That's just never true."

Rentals Provide the Wow Factor

From table linens (basic) to chandeliers (not so much), it's what you rent that often gives a wedding that "wow" factor. Many venues will have the items you'll need to achieve a desired look-the table settings and chair coverings, for example. But if you're looking to fill a big space-and if "lush" or "luxurious" are words you're using to describe the big day-you may want to look to another wedding professional for help. But start with the expertise of your venue's planner or your caterer.

Most wedding professionals are happy to point you in the right direction for rentals (and many even include this consultation in the cost of their service). These rentals can include dance floors, additional lighting, special decorations, speakers and sound equipment and photobooths.

"We work with couples to make sure everything they want is here on the big day," says Kevin Porter, owner of PC Events.

Be Accommodating

If you make sure that your guests-especially those who are traveling long distances-are happy and comfortable, it'll go a long way toward making your wedding weekend wonderful for everyone. And hotel selection is a good place to start.

First, determine what's most important-if you'd like your guests to be near your ceremony or reception (especially if the wedding is Downtown), you'll want to start your search sooner than later. It's also important to note if any large event is taking place during your wedding weekend.

If you're looking at a hotel in a busy area like Downtown, suggests Constantinidis, "See what large events or conventions are happening in the area … such as marathon weekend or a big sporting event. You might be hard-pressed to find rooms in your prime location if there's something else going on in town."

Constantinidis notes that if you're looking elsewhere-a Grandview hotel for a Downtown wedding, for example-you may accrue additional cost for hotel shuttles to and from the reception.

In addition to choosing nice accommodations, another nice touch is to offer a brunch for your guests on the morning following the wedding. Hosting a Sunday brunch for guests who want to refuel before getting on the road (and say a final congrats to the bride and groom) has become a wedding-weekend must-do for many couples.

"If you have a lot of out-of-town guests that have traveled long and far, have a brunch," Constantinidis says. "A lot of people will choose to even have brunch at their home as opposed to at the hotel, but either way … it's an unspoken etiquette."

At the Hilton Columbus Downtown, couples receive brunch vouchers they can provide to guests staying at the hotel (often included in the gift bag). These vouchers allow guests to come down at their leisure.

"The nice thing about these vouchers is that guests can even sleep in," Constantinidis says. "And couples are only charged for the vouchers that are redeemed. You can hand out 50 vouchers, but only 32 people might show up. That won't cost you anything."

As for blocking rooms, the Hilton Downtown Columbus, Constantinidis says, gives preference to couples who bundle the wedding.

"We have several brides who want to reserve their room block six months out-which is, really, the ideal time to start looking," she says. "However, because of demand, we sometimes just can't do that. But we will make exceptions if you book your rehearsal dinner, brunch or both at the hotel, too. Otherwise, we can only take reservations four months out."

Additionally, couples can negotiate a better rate when bundling their big day into a big weekend. "I always recommend that couples get a nice size room block and then bring their rehearsal dinner and brunch to the Hilton," Constantinidis says. "Put it all in, and you get the biggest bang for your buck."

Finally there's the matter of keeping tabs on who's reserved a room-and who hasn't. At the Hilton Columbus Downtown, the wedding coordinators send frequent updates regarding the room block so couples know well before the cut-off date if they need to reach out to guests. Constantinidis says that many brides will use the wedding website to remind guests to book rooms in time. Four weeks prior to the wedding is the standard cut-off date, although in some cases, this can be extended by a week.

And for the brides, Constantinidis says they should reserve their room at the hotel for the day before the wedding, too.

"If they're looking for a room to get ready in, they really need a suite. And they should block this the day before," she says. "I've had brides show up on the morning of their wedding, ready to get started on their hair and makeup in their suite, only to hear that check-in isn't until 3 and the room isn't ready yet. That's something we definitely want to avoid. Reserving the room for the day before of course adds a little expense, but brides can always negotiate the rate."

Get it in Writing

The No. 1 piece of advice from many wedding professionals? Get all of your wedding-day details in writing. From the color of the table linens to the alcohol served and the parking spaces secured, it's imperative that everyone's on the same page, especially come wedding day.

Before signing, inspect any equipment that will be used by your rental company; if there's a damage waiver, consider it. This way, the vendor pays for anything that's been damaged or needs replaced. As for the down payment-required by most wedding professionals-understand when and how much you owe.

Many couples may be quick to dismiss the cancellation policy, but it's still an important piece of information to review carefully. Some facilities may offer a refund or cancellation policy, but many will not refund the down payment; just make sure the policy is in writing.

Get the Party Started

Planning your wedding doesn't have to be-nor should it be-a chore. Stay organized by keeping a notebook of ideas, which will help when planning. Also helpful? Choosing the right vendors.

Take it from Tassone, who has worked both sides, as a recent bride herself and as one who works with brides at the conservatory: "Really just try to not get too caught up in all the details and enjoy your day," she says.

photobooth Festivities

If you're attending a Columbus wedding, you'll likely run into a fan favorite-the photobooth. This source of both entertainment and guest favors has become a go-to for weddings large and small, but they weren't always so popular, says Chad Zwayer, owner of The Columbus Photo Booth Company.

"Our company opened in 2008 with this idea that has continued to grow and grow," Zwayer says. "Back then, photobooths weren't done much here in the Midwest, and that's why the company was formed."

The Columbus Photo Booth Company is now hired for hundreds of weddings each year. Zwayer credits the success to the fact that his 30-employee company offers a unique experience.

"First, when it comes to on-site attendance, we do things differently. Most companies have one attendant … we typically assign two to each wedding," he says. One attendant helps guests pick out props and use the booth, while the other prints the pictures and creates a scrapbook for the bride and groom.

The second difference will impress anyone who's piled into a booth with a dozen friends only to receive one single strip of images for the entire group. "Couples always ask if everyone receives a copy of the photo, and the answer at The Columbus Photo Booth Company is 'yes,' " he says. "Every time a guest goes into the booth; they will receive a photo strip, and regardless of how many people are in the booth, everyone receives the images."

Another perk of hiring the Columbus Photo Booth Company is the size of the booth; according to Zwayer, it's one of the largest in town. The company's record? Sixteen people in one photo.

The company also provides props, from masks to feather boas. A standard package comes with at least 20 hats, a handful of masks, 20 sets of glasses of varying styles, 10 feather boas and 10 props on a stick (think faux moustaches and bright-red pouts).

As for logistics, Zwayer or a member of his staff meets with every couple to talk cost and things like duration-a typical wedding booth rental is for three to four hours. The number-one question from couples, according to Zwayer, is "do we own the photos?" For the Columbus Photo Booth Company-as well as many other Columbus photobooth rentals companies-the answer is yes. You'll receive your images on a customized DVD about a week after the wedding, Zwayer says.

If a booth isn't your style, the Columbus Photo Booth Company also offers open-air photography options with green screens or professionally designed backdrops. Opt for a green screen, Zwayer says, and you can choose any background you desire. "The beach, Las Vegas… anything you like," he says.

"With the open-air option … it's almost like a fashion shoot," Zwayer says. "People love that. It's very popular."

And as for who you can expect to enjoy the booth, Zwayer is convinced age doesn't matter.

"We just did a photobooth for a 72nd anniversary party," he says. "Whether you're two or 90, it really doesn't matter. Everyone loves it."

tell the Story

From unique color combinations to jaw-dropping centerpieces, it's the little things that often leave the largest impact at a wedding reception. But getting from point A ("I love feathers") to B (peacock-inspired table settings) isn't always easy, especially for brides who are planning a major party for the first time. Using an inspiration board is a great way to determine your general theme or build upon one small detail-and as most brides-to-be are now savvy Pinterest users, it's likely that you already have a good place to start. Here's our advice for developing an inspiration board that will do just that.

Keep it relatively simple. The beauty of Pinterest is that you can pin just about anything you've ever dreamed for your wedding day. But this is also the trouble with the increasingly popular site; it's overwhelming. Whether you're using Pinterest or a physical board at home, stick to about a dozen images. A shot of a dress, a reception that really catches your eye, a cake with colors that would suit your day perfectly … if you end up with 100 pieces of inspiration, you'll never successfully narrow down what you want your day to look like. Start with a color combo. Figuring out your palette is critical, as it helps you plan for flowers, cocktails, table linens and so much more. Here are some of our favorites: light blue and deep purple, gold and silver, red and aqua, blush and gold, yellow and deep gray, chocolate brown and ivory, and, of course, black and white. Keep it realistic-but have some fun, too. Inspiration boards can certainly include shots of weddings that are a little out of reach, of course. Their purpose, after all, is to inspire. But if you're planning an intimate backyard affair, steer clear of anything that's too lavish or not so budget-friendly. Marrying tradition with Personality

Weddings are full of traditions that haven't changed for years.

Today's brides and grooms, though, seem to be putting their own spin on their event in an effort to make it stand out from the rest of the pack.

The guest book
"Use a guest book that's more utilitarian, versus folding it up and putting it on a shelf for all of eternity," says Kristin Coburn, assistant director of private events at the Athletic Club of Columbus. She's seen a variety of new ideas, like signing rocks for a rock garden and signing a guitar that also served as a surprise gift for the groom.

Social media shots
Where disposable cameras once laid on guest tables now lay smart phones with great cameras and an ability to post photos instantly to Instagram and Facebook. Couples can create their own hashtag for the day and invite guests to label their images with the customized tag. #cheers!

Escort cards and table numbers
It's common for couples to name their guest tables after favorite vacation destinations-or favorite spots on the Ohio State campus-paired with a photo of that location.

Entertainment
More than one wedding in Central Ohio has taken place with guest appearances by Brutus Buckeye or even the Ohio State University Alumni Band. But what about a visit with animals from the Columbus Zoo? Or even Irish Step dancers? "I was recently married, and my parents surprised me with Irish dancers," says Tassone, who participated in an Irish dance group as a young girl.

Play Favorites

If you go local with your favors, you're likely to be a big hit, and Columbus boasts a variety of unique shops perfect for wedding-favor shopping. From chocolate and peanuts to ice-cream kits and super-soft T-shirts, you've got plenty of options for wedding favors that have a little something special. Here's a roundup of unique Capital City treats that your guests are sure to love.

Jeni's Splendid Ice Creams: Sure, Jeni makes a mean pint of ice cream. But her scoop shops and website also offer a variety of perfect-for-gifting items, including sweet treats like almond brittle and dark chocolate bars. The make-at-home pack accessories are great for a small guest list (items range from $8 to $43 for the entire make-at-home pack and Jeni's Splendid Ice Creams at Home book). jenis.com

Homage: You don't have to be a sports fan to appreciate this Columbus company's popular T-shirts, but if you're thinking small gifts, there are tote bags, posters, Frisbees, drink koozies and more. homage.com

Krema Nut Company: First, make sure no one has a peanut allergy. If you're in the clear, don't skip on Krema when you're putting together a gift bag. Their nuts, spreads and other sweet treats have been a Capital City favorite for decades-the shop, located in Grandview, opened in 1898. Wedding-appropriate items include caramel popcorn, gourmet chocolate mints, chocolate-covered nuts, trail mixes and, for the adventurous, spicy peanut butter. krema.com

The North Market: The North Market is a Columbus institution-and it's a great spot for unique gifts. From the international rubs and spices at North Market Spices and gourmet sweet-and-salty combinations at Pam's Market Popcorn to super-spicy barbecue sauce and salsa from CaJohns Fiery Foods, there's nearly something for everyone. northmarket.com

Robert Mason: The Robert Mason pop-up shop on Gay Street is a dream for anyone with a knack for stationary-collecting-and it's home to an incredible variety of gift items, from seriously nice pens (you can try them out yourself at the pen bar) to beautifully crafted pads of paper. Depending on guest count and budget, you can purchase gifts for $2 or $20. hello.robertmasoncompany.com

Sugardaddy's Sumptuous Sweeties: Robert Mason's landlord is Sugardaddy's, the little shop behind the city's best brownies. Sleekly packaged, the brownies and blondies make a perfect wedding favor-but probably won't make it home.sugardaddys.com

Hidden costs

Weddings aren't cheap-but you know this already. What you may not be aware of, though, are hidden costs and fees that seem small but quickly add up to be budget-breakers. Sweat not, bride-to-be. Here's a list of sneaky line items to look out for-or perhaps avoid completely.

Postage. Your invites have to be mailed; there's no avoiding that. But understand that bulky or large invitations will cost more to send. If awe-inspiring stationary isn't at the top of your priorities list, go with a simple one-page invite and save on stamps.

Vendor meals. You've opted for a live band-great! The dance floor will likely be on fire for the duration of the night. Ask up front, though, if the band members need to eat dinner, too. Depending on the size of the crew, serving them a plate of your wedding dinner can add up fast.

Vendors that don't make the list. Your venue may require that you use certain vendors, and you could end up with additional fees if you stray from this list.

Cleanup. You've had a successful big-day celebration and wowed your guests with the food, music, cake and entertainment. Now someone has to clean up the party. Ask your coordinator the cost for cleanup at the start of the planning process.

Permits. If you're planning a wedding to take place in a public space-a park, city street or other outdoor spot-you may need to obtain a permit or two, and they're not always cheap.

Questions to Ask on a Venue Visit

Sales and catering experts from throughout Central Ohio agree: When couples hit the pavement and start visiting a few venues, it's good to go armed with questions to ensure you know what you're getting-and what you'll end up paying.

May I look at the space that I will actually rent? If the ballroom will be split up, can I view the portion where my event will take place? What is the site's capacity for sit-down dinners, hors d'oeuvres receptions and buffets? Are there time limits for receptions? Do additional hours come with additional costs? Should extra time be arranged before the reception, or can it be done during the event? What are the food-and-beverage minimums for the date and time we're considering? If the facility needs to provide the bar service, is there a minimum charge for bar packages? How early can clients get into the venue to decorate on the day of the event? Will more than one reception be booked at the facility on my wedding day? If so, how much time separates the two? How much parking is available? Where is it and how much does it cost? Is valet parking available? How accessible is the facility for handicapped guests, and what help is available for handicapped or elderly guests? Must this assistance be arranged in advance? What services and equipment are included in the purchase or rental price? Can I have an itemized list and review it with the site manager? What is the policy on damages or overage charges? When is the final guest count due? What cushion is accorded for unexpected guests? What is the security deposit, and when is it due? When is the balance to be paid? When is the security deposit returned? What is the venue's cancellation policy?