Planning Guide for your Big, Fat, Indian Wedding
Updated: Jan 11, 2019
Spending time with family during the holidays, we had so much fun looking back at our wedding pictures and videos. We have such wonderful memories of celebrating such a beautiful time with our friends and family. As I look back to our Atlanta wedding and I think about all of friends who are getting married in the next few years, I wanted to share some advice and tips about planning a BIG FAT INDIAN WEDDING! Although, we had so much fun enjoying the wedding, planning it was no easy task…especially when I was living across the country…with a 3-hour time difference…and working 80-hour weeks during residency…and with Sumair living in a different city :O We still get stressed thinking about it! BUT I know a lot of you are in a similar situation. When I was planning my wedding, I had a very difficult time finding tools or guides to help me plan an Indian wedding. So I decided to create the following guide to help you plan your BIG FAT INDIAN WEDDING…or small, intimate, sweet wedding, whichever you prefer :)
The following guide is written in a timeline process. Most of us pick a date about 9-15 months in advance and I think at least 9 months are necessary if you are looking to have multi-event wedding.
9-12 Months Before:
1. Guest count: Starting with the guest count may seem weird but trust me, this is a crucial step in order to organize the next few things. Now, of course, you can’t possibly have an exact guest count a year in advance and you don’t need to! However, you do need an estimate count for each event to pick the appropriate venues. The desi family and friends circle tends be fairly large and trust me, your parents will want to invite every single relative they have ever known ;) (no hate, love my huge family <3). Discuss with your family and set an expected guest count. I would also advise to add an additional buffer count as well.
2. Venue: Venues get booked really fast! So this should be the first vendor you book! The longer you wait to pick a venue, the fewer choices you will have. Narrow down your location and do some online research to make a list of realistic venues. Weddingwire was a website I found extremely helpful with this. They provide information regarding capacity, venue cost, catering options and cost, additional services on site, etc. It also allows you to narrow down the type of venue you would like such hotels, country clubs, museums, etc. I really relied on this website to make a list of potential venues to contact. When contacting these potential venues, be sure to ask and note the base cost of venue, per person cost of food/services/beverages, if outside catering is permitted (requirements if it is permitted), services included, if servers will be provided and how many. Make an excel sheet if you can to compare the different venues and narrow down your list. Also, keep a separate excel sheet for venues for each event (mehndi, sangeet, ceremony, reception, etc). And this goes without saying but, visit the venues on your list to make sure you can imagine your wedding there. Some places may look beautiful in pictures but not quite click when you see them in person.
Our mehndi ceremony was held at Crystal Ballroom, pithi/sangeet was at Opal Event Hall, and reception was at Atlanta Marriott Alpharetta. We loved all of these venues and they were so gracious and accommodating that it made our jobs easier!
3. PHOTOGRAPHER: This is the MOST IMPORTANT one! These are the memories you will look back on at your anniversaries, around your home, at holidays back home years later. Spend some time to look at potential vendors in the market and their work. The pictures and videos should connect with you because those are emotions you will be feeling when you look back at your marriage. There are a lot of companies that will provide both photography and videography but you can also do separate providers as well. Generally, the packages are organized by the number of hours. If you have more than 2 events, you will need 20+ hours (to include the events, photo shoots, etc.). Work with your photographer to allocate appropriate times for each portion and take advantage of their experience as they will be able to offer you good advice. Hakim‘s Studios did a fabulous job capturing the most beautiful moments of our wedding in photos and videos.
4. The Dress(es): my FAVORITE part! If you are like me, you probably already know exactly what you want to wear for each event, but if you don’t, that’s totally fine. But start looking as soon as you can! You will probably have 2+ dresses for your Pakistani/Indian wedding. I would advise to start with the reception and ceremony dress as these will likely be the heaviest and/or most important. Search for ideas on Pinterest so you can get a better idea of what you are looking for. Whether you are purchasing a readymade dress or getting a customized dress, this will help you to focus in on the dress of your dreams! All of my dresses and my husband's clothes were custom-designed. I worked with Salima at Elan Atlanta to create each single outfit down to the detail. I have been shopping at Elan for 15+ years and there wasn’t anyone else I would trust with my wedding dresses.
5-9 Months Before
5. Decorator: your decorator can transform your wedding! This is such a crucial component to a desi wedding and I cannot emphasize it enough. Your decorator should be someone who can understand your vision and will work with you to create a beautiful setting that you will remember forever! There are so many little components that go into this process (down to the chair covers and charger plates) and you need a decorator you can trust to adjust these things appropriately to complement the overall theme. Again, for this, I recommend browsing through Pinterest and potential decorators to narrow your vision and what’s realistic. Royal Dekors created the beautiful settings for each of our events and really transformed them! We worked with them to really plan every detail of the set up and they are so talented that we felt comfortable trusting them to make adjustments and changes where needed.
6. Catering: Firstly, there are a few questions to address before you pick a catering company: what kind of cuisine you would like each event. Will the meals be served individually or buffet style? I found that when searching for caterers for Indian food, the best way was to just search via google. Things to look out for are to ensure that the restaurant provides wedding catering, have appropriate licenses and insurance (required by many venues), provides set up, servers, and clean-up, and have excellent reviews. Most caterers will have a package including options for various courses (appetizers, entrees, and desserts). Work with your caterer to come up with an optimal menu. All caterers provide a tasting meal so absolutely ensure that you taste the food before locking it down! Cafe Bombay catered all of our events and the food was DELICIOUS! Every, single guest commented on how much they loved the food! We didn’t have to worry about the set up or clean up. The quantity was plenty and everyone felt more than satisfied!
7. Wedding invitations: Now we all know that desis love their fancy invitations. But I was surprised to find how difficult it was to get good quality invitations made locally. A lot of us have family back in India or Pakistan and can have invitations made back home. However, you might not have that option and feel a little confused about where to start. There are plenty of international companies that will mail you invitations along with samples to approve. However, the shipping cost can be quite steep, almost as much as the invitations themselves. I also found this to be extremely time-consuming, waiting for the sample to arrive and then the invitations. So I found a local shop in Chicago, Ashu Cards, where my mother-in-law was able to go and see various samples, ensure the quality, and customize it to our preference. This may be a more realistic option if you live in a larger city but it definitely gives you the satisfaction of knowing the product you are getting.
8. DJ and music: This can make or break your event. You and your guests will always look back and remember how much fun you had at the wedding and how much you danced. In addition to providing music, he will also be responsible for coordinating and managing the flow through speeches, dances, skits, or whatever you chose to do. Meet with a few different entertainers before making your decision. Also, be sure to ask your DJ about the various lighting options (back lighting, patterned walls lighting, etc.) DJ Shaan in Atlanta was truly a talent to work with! Not only did he provide fantastic music to keep everyone dancing, he sang beautifully and interacted with the guests on the dance floor to keep everyone pumped! He also provided beautiful backlights and patterned lights that gave our venue that extra oomph!
9. Hair and Makeup artist: I’m sure this has been on your mind from the very beginning. You already know what kind of makeup and hairstyles work best for you but you may also want to be a little creative and try something different. Find a makeup artist with versatility who can help bring out the best of you! You want to have different look for each event that’s suitable for the occasion, so chose an artist with versatility. Once you narrow down choices, talk to your artist and schedule a trial. I cannot stress to you how important this is! Not only is this an opportunity to learn about who you’re working with, it’s also a chance to experiment with the makeup or hair you have in mind. Whitney Olivia did my hair and makeup for pithi, nikkah, and reception. Her work is AMAZING and she is so sweet and fun to work up! My mehndi day hair and makeup was done by Amber Bava, who is such a talented girl and such a sweetheart!
Check them both out if you are in Atlanta!
And that wraps up the biggest tasks in your wedding planning! I hope you found it useful! Leave a comment below and let me know what you think! If you have any questions, I'd love to help!