While some newly engaged couples have had their dream wedding vendor team picked long before they officially said yes, others start from scratch—and the process of bringing your wedding vision to life can feel especially overwhelming if you don’t know where to begin. Thankfully, there is a way to get off Instagram and start exploring your options in real life: a bridal show.
What Is a Bridal Show?
A bridal show (also called a wedding show or wedding expo) is a large gathering of a variety of local wedding vendors in a single space—typically a hotel ballroom or convention center. Engaged couples attend the event to meet with vendors and view and sample their work in real life.
"Be it online or through word of mouth, there are a lot of different ways to find vendors these days," says industry expert Jennifer Ammons. "A wedding expo is a great chance to have a bunch of interviews all at once and find the right fit for you."
Meet the Expert
Jennifer Ammons is the CEO and owner of The Big Fake Wedding, a new kind of immersive wedding expo that hosts events throughout the country. She is based in Atlanta.
Before you start searching for tickets to the next event near you, there are a few tips, tricks, and strategies to be aware of to make the most of the experience. Read on for everything to know about wedding expos—including what they are and what to expect.
What to Expect at a Wedding Expo
While it feels like we’ve been living in the age of Pinterest, Instagram, and online directories for ages now, it wasn’t actually that long ago when couples more heavily relied on word of mouth for wedding vendors. A wedding or bridal show was the one place where couples could meet vendors who weren’t already in their networks, so show producers worked hard to maximize the experience for both couples and wedding professionals.
That’s why, at larger, more traditional shows, couples can expect to browse booths and tables set up by over 100 vendors in a full spectrum of categories. In addition to photographers, planners, wedding dress salons, cake bakers, DJs, and florists, you might also find wedding-adjacent offerings from the likes of honeymoon travel agents and ring insurance brokers. While at the event, couples will have the opportunity to speak directly with vendors, collect pamphlets and promotional materials from the vendors they liked best, and snack on light bites or sip drinks from participating food and drink vendors. The larger the event, the larger the attending audience, but the lower the cost. Tickets to many larger shows can be as low as $5 to $15 per person, and some are even free, while more luxe events featuring bridal fashion shows and speaker panels can top out at $150. (No matter the size, though, you're likely going to leave with a fun swag bag!)
While that abundance of options can be thrilling to some, others find it overwhelming. If you fall in the latter camp, consider a more unique show, such as The Big Fake Wedding. Ammons’ company puts on roughly 30 events per year in cities across the country, and they follow a decidedly different format. Rather than browsing booths, Big Fake Wedding attendees walk into a simulated wedding. They witness a vow renewal, enjoy light bites at fully designed tables, and can even boogie down at a dance party reception. "We create a fun, immersive experience where you meet 35 to 45 vendors and also see them work in person and on-site," says Ammons. "You see a florist's flowers in the event design, you get to taste the cake and drink the drinks, and see how a DJ interacts with a crowd."
Because these events are more intimate from both a crowd and vendor perspective, tickets to a Big Fake Wedding event are also a touch more expensive, running from $20 to $32.
Should You Attend a Wedding Expo?
Wedding shows are going to be most useful to couples who are in the beginning stages of the wedding planning process and will be marrying in the same geographic area as the show. (Unless you plan on covering travel costs for vendors to work a destination wedding, it makes more sense to book vendors that are local to the area where you’ll wed.)
If you’re in the general information collection phase, and still learning your styles and preferences, a wedding expo can help you whittle things down by providing a large amount of actually available options to choose from. More experiential shows such as The Big Fake Wedding can also be helpful if you haven’t attended a lot of weddings prior to planning your own. "You’ll see what you like and don’t like about the way that the event flows, which is like a real wedding," says Ammons.
How to Prepare for a Wedding Expo
While you certainly don’t need to have all your event details ironed out before attending a bridal show, Ammons recommends deciding your wedding date or date range, a rough guest count, and a ballpark budget. If you get into a serious conversation with a vendor, these will be the first details they’ll inquire about.
Beyond that, it can also be helpful to know which types of vendors you’d like to meet during the expo. If, for example, finding a photographer is a top priority, that will help you focus your search and make the most out of your time at the show.
If you do find a vendor you’re excited about, try to book them as soon as possible. Many will run special promotions or discounts for show attendees, and these deals often only last a short time.
Wedding Expo Tips
Bring the people who matter.
Whether it’s your fiancé(e) or mom, there’s likely another person in your world whose opinion matters most when it comes to wedding planning. Having them attend the show with you provides the opportunity to discuss ideas and make vendor decisions on the spot.
Check the vibes.
"[Couples] underestimate how a vendor can make you feel on your wedding day," says Ammons. That’s especially true of your photographer and planner, the two pros you’ll spend the most time with, so it’s important that their energy matches yours. If you love compliments and thrive in emotional connection, a vendor who instead prioritizes direct, to-the-point communication may not be the right fit.
Do your homework.
While some wedding shows do have vetting processes for the vendors they showcase, not all follow the same standards. The only true way of knowing if a vendor has the experience and business essentials necessary to work your big day is to do some follow-up research. Read their reviews and look at complete galleries of real events they’ve worked on before signing a contract.
Ask for suggestions.
If you do end up going with a pro from a wedding expo, don’t be afraid to lean on them for suggestions on other vendors. "Knowing that they work well with other vendors is a huge green flag," says Ammons, who also notes that your wedding will run all the more smoothly if your team enjoys working together.