By Thea Marie Rood
Hiring a wedding planner may be just the best wedding decision you’ve made since you said yes to the proposal.
First, no surprise: Wedding planners are good at, uh, planning. And this goes further than typing up a simple timeline: 5 o’clock Ceremony, 6 o’clock Cocktails, 7:30 Dinner. “The difference between a bride’s ‘timeline’ and a professional’s is about seven pages,” says Darcie Swedelson, who has been in the business of planning weddings for more than 20 years. “We’re also going to review that timeline with all the other wedding professionals, paying special attention to things like the address and the delivery time.”
Planner Kate Whelan, who has a background in corporate event production, agrees: “We fully understand the process, and that allows us to build buffer time into the schedule.” Say the toasts run a little long or the bride needs to use the restroom before the couple’s first dance—the entire day won’t be derailed. “A seasoned wedding planner can take care of all those details—and make sure things don’t happen until all the key players are in the room,” says Lora Ward, who has run A Day to Remember for 29 years.
In addition to knowing where the timeline can be delayed, however, planners also know what must start on time: “The ceremony and dinner,” says Ward unequivocally. “No one wants to eat cold chicken or fish!” It is also easier to herd 150 people to the next activity if you are a professional, as opposed to the distracted newlyweds or their families. “We are very skilled at keeping things moving in a pleasant way,” says Whelan.
They can also protect the couple from managing every vendor issue. “Instead of the DJ going to the bride, asking about the song for the first dance—‘I forget what version you wanted’—they come to me,” says Whelan. “This is key in allowing the couple to be present and relaxed and enjoy their day.”
- THE BOTTOM LINE
Weddings don’t come cheap. But an inexperienced bride can blow a lot of her budget, say experts, on nonessentials, like knickknacks or wedding favors. “I can also help them prioritize where to put their top dollar,” says Swedelson, who owns A Dazzling Day…Weddings by Darcie. “For one bride, the food is very important; for another bride, it’s the flowers.”
Wedding planners can actually work within a modest budget, and make an event look more posh than it actually is. “I can really stretch a dollar,” says Swedelson.
- MAKING THE CONNECTION
By hiring a professional planner, you are also gaining access to experienced florists, chefs, musicians and photographers. “We know great vendors in all different budget types,” says Whelan. “There are websites out there that list wedding vendors, but those are paid lists. It doesn’t necessarily speak to the vendors’ quality—or whether they will be a good fit for you.”
In fact, there can be significant savings in using a wedding planner’s network. “I get discounts and I pass those directly on to my couple,” says Swedelson. A wedding planner can also make sure you’re not paying for something that’s not necessary.
- BEING THE HEAVY
You only need to watch reality TV—“Say Yes to the Dress” comes to mind—to know weddings are fraught with emotions. “Sometimes an unbiased, third-party opinion can help in difficult situations within a family,” says Whelan. “There have been times where the statement ‘the wedding planner thinks it’s a bad idea’ ends the conflict.”
Similarly, Swedelson calls herself an “emotional sounding board.” “I understand and remember traditions, the way we ‘used to do it,’” she says. “So I can bridge the gap between the mother who wants formal invitations and the bride who wants to use email and a website.”
- DISASTER PREPAREDNESS
Finally, there are hundreds of things that can go wrong on your wedding day. Swedelson describes an elderly guest who took a header on the ramp right in front of the bride. Whelan has rushed into reception halls with extension cords from the trunk of her car. Ward tells of being a guest at a wedding where the couple cut the cake, had their toasts, danced their first dance—and then the bride’s mother walked into the room. A good wedding planner is also adept at food allergies, CPR, cutting off inebriated guests before there is vomit or a fight, and stopping little kids from putting their fingers into cake frosting. “We are the eyes and ears of the day,” says Ward. “We see where there are problems.”
How To Hire
Wedding planners can be hired for Month Of Coordination or Day Of Coordination, which are pretty much what they sound like. With “Month Of,” your planner will have a timeline in place a month before your wedding, and will have worked closely until that point with you and your team of vendors, most of whom she knows and suggested to you. With Day Of, you will make your own timeline and arrange your own vendors, but will have professional help on your actual wedding day.
It might seem economical to choose the latter, except for this: “Ninety-nine percent of the problems that I resolve are done prior to event day,” says wedding planner Kate Whelan. “Also with Day Of, many of the vendors may not know I exist, and will still go to the bride with questions and problems.”
Most wedding planners also offer full-service and partial-service packages, as well as a la carte items: Maybe you want expert advice on flowers, or your dress, or your menu.
Quotes are individual and based on your location (out-of-area weddings, for instance, cost more), the number of guests, how long until the wedding. “Many brides have the impression a wedding planner costs at least $5,000,” says planner Darcie Swedelson. “But we have very affordable price ranges.”
In general, full service Month Of packages with a seasoned wedding planner range from $2,500 to $8,000, and that comes with the caveat you get what you pay for. “Don’t hire someone with less than a year’s experience,” says Swedelson.