By Marybeth Bizjak | Illustration by Jason Crosby
It’s a tough job, but somebody’s got to do it.
You probably won’t find “wedding planner” on any list of the most dangerous occupations in the world. But do you have any doubt just how hard it is to work for some of the most demanding people on the planet: brides? The job requires the diplomacy of an ambassador, the flexibility of a Cirque du Soleil performer and an ability to stay calm, cool and collected while all hell is breaking loose. We talked to four of Sacramento’s top wedding professionals to find out how exactly they do this challenging job.
Improvise, Improvise, Improvise
When it comes to weddings, Murphy’s Law applies: If something can go wrong, it will. But a great wedding planner can take those lemons and turn them into lemonade. Just ask Kendra Pfeiffer-Wershing, owner of Pfeiffer Event Planning. An hour before one of her weddings, a heavy rainstorm caused a tree to fall onto a power line outside the church, knocking out the electricity. Pfeiffer-Wershing gathered up votive candles and a string of battery-operated Christmas tree lights that she just happened to have in her emergency kit, and—voila—she pulled off a last-minute candlelit ceremony. “It was beautiful,” she recalls. “The guests didn’t even realize it wasn’t planned.”
Mo Ward, the owner of Perfect Parties by Mo, has had her fair share of near disasters that required quick thinking. When the top layer of a five-layer wedding cake went missing just before the reception was scheduled to start, Ward ran to a nearby Raley’s and purchased a small cake from the supermarket bakery. Back at the reception, she quickly decorated it with flowers to match the rest of the cake. The bride and groom were none the wiser.
Roll With the Punches
Kim Lantz knows the importance of improvising. Last year, the owner of Alpha Lee Events was orchestrating a wedding in Loomis when a police standoff in Roseville shut down Highway 80 traffic shortly before the ceremony was scheduled to begin. “We had guests coming in from all over,” she recalls. Luckily, several members of the wedding party worked for the fire and police departments. Lantz enlisted their help to reroute the guests, and the wedding was delayed only 30 minutes. “You can’t lose your cool,” says Lantz. “You walk in as prepared as you can be, but at the end of the day, you don’t know what’s going to happen.”
Expect the Unexpected
Mo Ward creates a detailed timeline for every wedding she oversees. But no matter how meticulously she prepares for every contingency, something inevitably will go wrong. Several days before a backyard wedding in Loomis, she instructed the bride to make sure the sprinklers were turned off. (Sprinklers, it turns out, are the bane of many a wedding pro.) The wedding day, however, was a 107-degree scorcher, and that morning the father of the bride turned on the water to cool down and perk up the landscape. Uh-oh. During the reception, the sprinklers came on full force. Ward maintained her sangfroid (that’s French for “cool,” you know), however, and Dad managed to turn off the water before everyone was drenched.
Pfeiffer-Wershing had a hair-raising experience at a wedding several years ago at Ryde Hotel on the river. During the reception, a wedding guest with a nut allergy had a strong reaction to the wedding favors. Fortunately, because fireworks were scheduled to be set off at the end of the evening, firefighters were already on the scene. “They gave him Benadryl, and we got him in an ambulance without the bride even knowing,” she recalls.
Never Let ’Em See You Sweat
Wedding pros know how to handle just about any emergency without falling to pieces. Problems that would send most brides over the edge are just a blip on the radar for Lora Ward, the unflappable event planner behind A Day to Remember. A limo doesn’t show up? No biggie, says Ward. “I can make a call and get a limo in 30 minutes.” Other bridal catastrophes require a little more effort to fix. Ward recalls a wobbly wedding cake that started to slide sideways just as the photographer was about to take a picture of the happy couple cutting the ceremonial first slice. Stretching her arms in order to stay out of the photo, Ward managed to hold the cake aloft with a super-long spatula. “I knew it was going to fall the minute I let go,” she says. “I looked at the bride, and she said, ‘Let it go.’ I had my assistant put a tablecloth on the carpet, and everyone stood around cheering as I removed the spatula. It was a funny moment, and fortunately the bride didn’t care.”
Turn to the Experts
Wedding planners know a lot of things: how to fix a broken zipper, how to remove red wine stains from white satin, how to handle a bridegroom with a bad case of cold feet. But sometimes, even they confront an issue they know nothing about. That’s when they bring in the experts. Lantz was planning an outdoor wedding on a 99-acre property overrun with rattlesnakes. “The bride’s aunt owned a beautiful piece of property in Newcastle,” she explains. “It was definitely a gorgeous spot. But I saw a few rattlesnakes every time I made a trip up there.” The property also had lots of tall grass, which presented another risk: fire. So Lantz brought in fire professionals and a rattlesnake expert to figure out the best place to site the wedding. During the wedding and reception, the snakes were a no-show.
Let Kids Be Kids
Everyone loves to see tiny flower girls and young ring bearers walk down the aisle. But small children aren’t the most dependable members of the wedding party. “You have to be prepared for the little ones who won’t walk down the aisle,” says Lora Ward. “If they’re too young, they’ll often do one of three things: They’ll run, they’ll cry or they’ll flat-out refuse to walk down the aisle.” Ward still cherishes a photo from one wedding she organized. “It’s a darling picture of two flower girls. One is smiling and the other is screaming, tears everywhere.”
Lantz has had her own problems with temperamental tots. “Half the time, I end up either walking them down the aisle myself or bribing them with candy—whatever it takes,” she says. Mo Ward offers brides this bit of advice: “You have to remember that kids are kids. As a bride you can’t expect perfection.”
But the fact that kids do the darnedest things isn’t necessarily a negative. At one recent wedding organized by Lora Ward, the bride instructed the DJ to play her 2-year-old nephew’s favorite song: Pharrell Williams’ “Happy.” The little boy got on the dance floor and won everyone’s heart with a show-stopping performance. “Kids steal the show,” says Ward. “Be prepared for a lot of oohs and ahs.”
Handle Drunks Firmly
When somebody is overserved, it’s up to the wedding planner to step in. (It’s an occupational hazard.) At one of Pfeiffer-Wershing’s weddings, a drunk guest drove into a pond. At another, it was the bride who overindulged. Says the planner, “She was so drunk, I canceled the limo because there’s a $400 charge if you throw up in a limo.” (Who knew?) Pfeiffer-Wershing instructed the bride’s uncle, a doctor, to take her home and watch her throughout the night to make sure she was OK. “He was pretty drunk as well,” she recalls.
Lora Ward remembers a wedding where grandma got sauced. “I looked at her and said, ‘Would you like me to get you a cab?’” Ward recalls. “The family didn’t even know until the next day, and they were thankful that I took care of her.”
Cue the DJ
Sometimes, a wedding planner needs a little help to make sure everything goes smoothly. For Lora Ward, that person often is the DJ. When a best man turns his toast into a risque roast, Ward gives the guy in charge of the music the sign to step in and move things along.
The DJ also came in handy at a wedding Ward handled at the Hyatt. A groomsman decided to honor the groom’s Greek heritage by flinging a glass and a plate to the floor in an impromptu display of plate breaking. Before things could get out of hand, the DJ abruptly turned off the music, and Ward grabbed the groomsman by the arm. “I pulled him outside and said, ‘There’ll be none of that.’ That nipped the problem in the bud,” she says.
Remember What Matters
Wedding planners know that, no matter what difficulties they face, the most important thing is remembering what the wedding is all about. Lora Ward explains: “In my opinion, and I tell this to my clients, emotion is what the wedding guests will remember. If you have tearful moments, if you have hysterically funny moments, even if you have embarrassing moments, those are the things that guests will remember long after. They’ll say, ‘Wasn’t that wedding great?’”