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DIY Do’s and Don’ts

Lori Stephenson, owner and principal of LOLA Event Productions, fields our questions about pandemic wedding planning, big day trends and DIY tricks of the trade.

By Elise Hofer Shaw

With downsized weddings ’til who knows when, couples are asking themselves: ‘What can I do to bring my budget down now that things are more manageable?’ But are they? Really? The answer is yes and no, a conclusion we came to after a serious tete-à-tete with seasoned Chicago wedding planner Lori Stephenson. As owner and principal of LOLA Event Productions, the Bucktown-based events firm with a reputation for swoon-worthy affairs, she has seen her fair share of weddings big and small—and, so far, has produced at least a dozen lovely, little pandemic weddings, too.

With mandated micro weddings in mind, and what lasting changes 2020 could have on the weddings industry as a whole, we asked Stephenson some poignant questions that shed some light on what’s trending now and what’s on the weddings horizon—and how couples struggling with their budget can get involved to move their bottom line.

These are tough times for the events industry. How is LOLA weathering the pandemic storm? Have you had to pivot your business?

LS: At Lola, we’re focused on keeping our clients who had to postpone their weddings sane and calm, and booking for the very few dates we have open in 2021. And we’re working with a lot of new 2022 clients, too. PSA: Now is the time to book if you want a prime date in 2022!

What are the different reactions you are hearing from your wedding clients? Would you say the majority are going ahead with things but downsizing? Or postponing a year or two?

LS: We’ve postponed most of our client’s celebrations into the second half of 2021 and are, in many cases, helping those same clients have small intimate ceremonies for their immediate family this year. Marry now and party later is our mantra!

Any sage advice for couples who are on the fence about keeping their date vs. postponing?

LS: My advice is to get all of the pertinent info from your vendors before you make any decisions. Understanding your liability, when that liability changes (read: when are additional monies due), and the overall availability of your vendor team are all very important things to be able to digest and discuss before you make trigger decisions and set deadlines for yourself for when you need to make changes. You need time to mourn the loss of your original plan and to be rational about your priorities for plan Z (because postponing is no one’s plan B!). Get the big picture. Digest. Discuss. And then make a decision.

What does wedding planning at LOLA look like these days?

LS: We are planning weddings for our existing full planning clients and for new clients who want a chic elopement or mini wedding for less than 20 guests. Responsible planning also means cautioning people to move forward with their eyes open and with care—and educating them on how to adhere to the rules if they indeed want to move forward with their wedding. We want to be part of the solution and not part of the problem. No one wants their wedding legacy to include someone becoming ill or worse.

Tell us about one of your pandemic weddings…

LS: We did a really great wedding ceremony and small reception for a couple that postponed their larger celebration to 2021. We brought in the same caterer and did a spin on their original wedding menu as a really high-end picnic, and did a mini cooler of the Dipsy Desserts ice cream bars they plan to serve to their guests next year. Fun fact: Every LOLA pro is ordained, so if you need someone to help make it legal, we’ve even been officiating and loving it!

When it comes to micro weddings, what are the biggest challenges?

LS: The biggest challenge with planning anything right now is simply just the ‘not knowing.’ Will quarantine rules change? Will guest limits change? What new guidelines are in place for each vendor? For instance, hair and makeup are requiring more space, lots of PPE and extra cleaning time. That means that your glam squad alone will need more space, more time and, sometimes, have to add on additional fees. The point is that when it comes to pandemic weddings, every vendor is going to have some hoops they need to jump through to keep themselves and their clients safe. Ask in advance so there are no surprises, financial or otherwise.

With weddings being smaller these days, and with so many out of work, couples are wondering what they can take on themselves to keep the budget down. Do you think this is a wise strategy or a slippery slope?

LS: Well, I think some people are surprised at how much a small wedding can still cost. There are some things you can amortize over a guest count, like food, beverage, invitations and centerpieces. And then there are the things that are going to be of similar cost whether you have 20 guests or 200—the gown, the rings, photography, video and wedding planning, for example.

Considering things are smaller in scale, what are some wedding DIYs that you think couples can perhaps tackle themselves? And why?

LS: Things that can be done in advance usually end up being easier to DIY. I mean, think about it: You don’t want to spend the morning of your wedding trying to put together your own flowers. Here are three examples of things that I think couples can take on themselves before the big day if they factor in enough time…

Paper: Think invitations and day-of menus and place cards. Your wedding paper suites can be a fun project that you can assemble yourself or with the help of friends if you plan in advance. Find a friend with a Cricut machine and so much is possible! For example, those cute boxes or gifts that you put together for your bridesmaids… That more complex concept can translate to guest invites when the headcount is down. Also, consider writing a personal thank you note for each guest and put it at their place setting at the reception. Chances are they jumped through extra hoops to help you celebrate right now, and the acknowledgement would be a lovely gesture.

Transportation: When you aren’t moving large groups of people or a wedding party, it’s way easier to hop into an Uber to get from point A to point B! Just be sure to alert your guests that transportation won’t be provided.

Favors: Make everyone your grandmother’s pickles or jam. It’s so much easier to make these types of custom gifts for a smaller group—and it feels really personal.

What are some examples of things, decorative or otherwise, that should always be left to the pros?

LS: Again, anything that needs to happen on the day of your event, like fresh flowers, needs to be left to someone else so that you aren’t consumed by that project instead of enjoying the wedding.

DIYing the wedding planning process can be overwhelming at any time. And during a pandemic, with so many protocols and procedures to follow to keep everyone safe, it can be altogether daunting. Why is it important now, more than ever, to be working with a wedding planner?

LS: Your planner knows all the rules inside and out at this point—and can help you celebrate safely. We can also help with any last minute changes that come up. At LOLA, over the last six months, we’ve found that our clients are more appreciative than ever to have a planner to help them through this mess!

At the end of the day, it’s really all about being smart with your budget. What would you say are the top 3 things to invest in when it comes to your pandemic wedding day?

LS: First, great photos. Even though things will look different than you originally planned, you’ll still want to capture and remember your special day. I also recommend investing in a videographer, especially if you are going to marry now and celebrate later. Being able to show a highlight reel of the actual ceremony would be a wonderful thing to include when that celebration rolls around! Last but not least, a planner, and, in particular, a planner like LOLA who can multitask. We can do it all from creating your bouquet to helping you create a really special and intimate ceremony—and officiate it, if needed. We’ll also act as a coordinator with other vendors and keep you sane when the stress starts to build.

Obviously there’s no playbook for any of this. But if you could plan a pandemic wedding with carte blanche on all of the decisions and details, what would be the where? The headcount? Paint us a picture of your “ideal” COVID wedding scenario…

LS: Oh that’s easy… A sunrise ceremony on the beach at Lake Michigan with a single guitarist before the lifeguards come out to their posts for the day, followed by the most glamorous boho brunch picnic on a private rooftop overlooking the city for 10 of your nearest and dearest! Lush plants, tons of mini champagne bottles and paper straws, and gourmet food all packed into the chicest custom and personalized picnic baskets that are labeled for each guest. Imagine it: Colorful rugs, pillows and sun umbrellas—and maybe some giant Jenga!

Any other general advice for couples tying the knot in 2020? And, since there are still so many unforeseen variables, advice for those looking to 2021 as well?

LS: Stay flexible. Book a venue that would be great with 50 or 150 guests so you can flex with whatever comes your way. And envision multiple scenarios as you plan so that there are no surprises or disappointments. Make your 2020 plan Z into a 2021 plan B that you can be excited about.

For more information on how LOLA Event Productions can make your wedding day magical, visit lolaeventproductions.com.


Is searching “Wedding Reception Venues Near Me” and “Wedding Reception Venues in Chicago” not pulling up quite what you’re looking for? We’re not surprised. It’s an I Do jungle out there. From the time of your initial inquiry to the big day, Chicago Loft Venues is committed to remaining a resource for you for venues and beyond. We have longstanding relationships with an array of Chicago’s top vendors, which means that an event at The Zephyr or The Stockhouse will be in the caring hands of industry pros who endeavor to make your event the absolute total package.

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