Committing to the right wedding planner
Experts weigh in on what couples should consider before hiring professional
Finding the right wedding planner can sometimes be as challenging and complicated as finding the right partner.
“Wedding planning has been fantasized by movies, books and TV, so couples have this idea that’s not based in reality,” said Jove Meyer, the owner of Jove Meyer Events in Brooklyn. “Securing the right planner who meets your needs, expectations and can deliver what you want can be overwhelming or confusing because we all work differently. In this industry, there is no certification, standard or gold star of how to plan or produce a wedding. That’s part of the problem.”
For the duo searching for someone who fits their style, personality and budget, we asked six industry professionals to help navigate the wedding-planning landscape.
What questions should couples ask a potential planner?
Like any perspective date, you want to know if you’re a match. Asking a variety of questions can reveal volumes about a person and how they work. Meyer suggested starting with these: How does your planning process work? What’s the typical budget of your couples? How many clients do you take on each year? Will I be working directly with you or someone else on your team? How many in-person versus Zoom or phone meetings will we have? Will you be at the wedding from start to finish?
The responses, Meyer said, “will give you key insight and guidelines about their personality, company values, work ethic, method and approach, and philosophy. Most importantly it will let you know on a gut level if you’re a fit.”
What questions should a perspective planner ask a couple?
A good planner should have just as many probing inquiries for you as you have for them. “I tend to be very blunt and decisive,” said Wendy Kay, the owner of Birds of a Feather Events in Dallas. “So I always ask couples: What is your communication style like? What are your expectations from me? What qualities do you most want your collaborative partners to possess and why? How do you think we can make your wedding better? What about our work caught your eye and why does that matter?” Such questions, she said, “specially address and set expectations.”
What kind of planner are you?
Wedding management or coordinators mostly work two to three months out and facilitate wedding logistics, organization, final details and day-of co-ordination, according to Jason Rhee, the owner of the Rheefind Company in West Hollywood, Calif. “These work for budget-conscious couples who have done all the hires,” he said, “and the planner connects with each of them. They also create a timeline, run the rehearsal and help execute the wedding.”
Rhee noted that partial planners start work four to six months before a wedding. They do all of the above, while also referring vendors, advising on floor plans, seating, tastings and making final decisions.
Full-service planners, especially those with designer backgrounds, “typically work a year out and produce your wedding from start to finish,” Rhee said.
Last on the list are on-site wedding co-ordinators. These planners meet the needs of the venue rather than the couple. “They focus on anything pertaining to the venue instead of services or logistics that happen outside that space, such as the invitation process, guest list management and guest accommodations,” he said.
What do wedding-planning services specifically include and exclude?
“No two planners work the same way or offer the same services,” said Jacin Fitzgerald, the owner of Jacin Fitzgerald Events in Atlanta. “It’s just as important to know what you’re getting as it is to know what’s not included. Couples assume everything is, especially if they’re paying for concierge level.” To prevent anxiety and disappointment, Fitzgerald suggested requesting to see a planner’s comprehensive list of services. “Most professionals have these bullet pointed in a document or spelled out in their contract,” she said.
She also advised creating your own list of services you expect to be included. “If you want something that’s not on their list, don’t be shy about asking or negotiating,” she said. “If there’s no wiggle room or they can’t recommend a vendor or specialist to do what you’re requesting, say creating a wedding website or stuffing wedding bags, then that’s a flag.”
How is the money dispersed? Are there hidden fees? And what is your cancellation policy?
Money and contract questions should be a crucial part of the conversation. “Some planners work on a flat rate to produce the wedding, others work on commission, charging 10 per cent to 30 per cent on the subtotal of the final cost of the wedding,” said Ryan Hill, the owner of Apothersis Events in Manhattan. “Others work on a hybrid of both.” Some planners may also receive money from vendors they have suggested for the job. “My contracts state I don’t do that, so it assures clients that I present the vendors best for the job rather than something I’m going to get from the back end,” said Hill, who presents vendors’ invoices to the couple for direct payment.
What new approaches have you incorporated because of COVID-19?
COVID demanded that planners learn new skill sets, like an increased ability to pivot, having backup plans for their backup plan and taking a more proactive role in guiding couples. “We’ve learned to encourage clients to book a multi-faceted venue that offers several alternatives, like indoor and outdoor spaces with tenting options, so if we need to pivot at the last minutes we don’t need to find another space,” said Guerdy Abraira, the owner of Guerdy by Design in Miami and Brooklyn. “In case we go back to size restrictions, invites to A-list guests are sent two months earlier so they can respond first, or we layer the invitation distribution process.”
Abraira also encourages couples to use Paperless Post as a message board for guests to check weekly, daily or even hourly for updates. If the couple is having a destination wedding that Abraira needs to fly to, she will secure a local backup team who will be available in person to execute her vision. “I now have a Zoom backup for guests or for me if travel restrictions make it impossible to be there,” she said.