Wedding planning is an art form. No really, it is. A good wedding planner not only has to have good business sense and excellent organizational skills, but she also has to be able to see the brides' and grooms' visions for their perfect days and know how to execute them. Experienced professional wedding planners know exactly what they're doing and have planned for every contingency.
No matter what you've seen on reality television wedding shows or in the movies, wedding planning at its core is not glamorous. It's a lot of lists and details, followed by blood (setups can be rough), sweat (try setting up a wedding on a beach in August) and tears (hopefully happy ones from the bride, but not always).
Unfortunately, in this day and age, it's easy for anybody to call themselves a wedding planner by putting up a website (usually featuring somebody else's pictures) and promoting their business on social media. For brides and grooms who don't do their homework before hiring these people, it can be a really disastrous situation. Frankly, you're better off DIYing your wedding than hiring a bad wedding planner, or one without enough experience to execute your vision on your wedding day. Claiming to be a "certified wedding planner" means exactly nothing. They offer certifications courses online for $29.99.
I have heard some really bad wedding planner stories from brides and vendors that I work with, and truth be told, it always makes me cringe. One bad actor reflects on the entire industry and it's important to realize that the horror stories you may hear are not representative of wedding planners across the board.
There are some basic guidelines that should apply to all professional wedding planning staff and most vendors - when these things don't happen or aren't what they should be, the bride and groom can be in for some seriously ugly surprises. Here are five examples of what should and should not happen when you've hired a professional:
1. Wedding planners should be available to the bride and groom from dawn til the whole event is over on the wedding day - they should never be MIA. I know of planners who have their own hair and makeup done for every wedding and I've never understood where they find the time for that. If we're not working on the actual décor and setup, we're supervising all the other vendors as they arrive at the venue. We run home to shower and make ourselves look like professionals and then return back to the venue hours ahead of the wedding to finish all the little details. Sometimes we have to bring a change of clothes if the venue is remote. But no matter where we are or what we're doing, if we're not within yelling distance of our clients, they can always reach at least two of us by phone or text. I've done flowers for brides who used other planners and the brides were calling me hysterical on the day of the wedding because they couldn't find the planner they'd hired. I can't do anything to help at that point because it would be completely unprofessional to show up and run somebody else's event. But I always wonder how these planners thought they were going to get away with being unavailable to a bride at any point on her wedding day.
2. Event staff are not wedding guests, and they shouldn't be flirting with the guests, dancing the night away, or drinking alcohol. I know that a lot of my colleagues in the industry believe it is okay to drink and be merry after the ceremony is over with, but I disagree completely. The drama and problems usually occur late into the event after everybody has been drinking for an extended period of time. That's when a wedding planner really has to have their A-game going so they can troubleshoot and do as much damage control as possible when nobody else is sober enough to be the adult. It's also not okay for the caterers to be drinking in the kitchen (violates most insurance policies too, I'd imagine), it's not okay for the DJ to be slugging back cocktails while he spins, and it's not okay for the bartenders or servers to do shots with the guests. This is one time when it's really not alright to "buy a shot" for the guy pouring your drinks unless you want to get him fired.
3. Wedding planning staff and vendors get fed last at all events. That's just the rules because the caterer has to be sure to have enough of everything for the guests and sometimes people change their orders at the last minute. Whether it's a "staff meal" or the couple have paid to feed the planning team the same food as the guests, we always eat after everybody else has been fed. I recently heard a story about a diva wedding planner visiting our island who insisted she and some of the vendors be fed a special meal BEFORE the guests were fed. That isn't how it works and the caterers were moving 100 mph pushing out plates to a very large group of wedding guests. But she was insistent. Interesting priorities, huh?
4. Appropriate professional attire is always required at wedding events. Depending on the event, what's appropriate might change. For example, we wear uniform shirts with shorts and flip flops to run beach parties because all of the guests are in bathing suits. Wedding vendors (planners, photographers, etc.) should NOT match the wedding party or the wedding theme colors on the big day. Sometimes it happens by accident, and there are some little touches that are cute - like when the planning team all paints our fingernails to match the bride's signature color. Occasionally, the bride has asked us all to wear a certain color and we respect her wishes if we have those clothes. When it's a "white wedding," we all wear white. But overall, we're supposed to blend into the background when we're doing our jobs. Some wedding pros believe head-to-toe black is most appropriate, and that's true in major cities. But it would look weird here in the Caribbean where nobody is wearing all black because of the temperatures. Use your judgment and match the type of attire without matching the color scheme. People who are not supposed to stand out in everybody else's pictures (such as photographers and videographers) should not be wearing super-bright colors or vivid patterns. More importantly, never under-dress to work a wedding event. When in doubt, step it up, don't go more casual.
5. Unless otherwise specified, wedding planners are responsible for making sure that all of the wedding events have the proper permits and permissions, and that the event follows the rules of the venue where it's being held. If the music has to be shut off by 11 o'clock, and the event completed by midnight, it's the planning team's job to make that happen. Venues are often located in hotels or private homes that are close enough to other properties for the music and party noise to really bother people late at night. If you're getting married at a landmark or on a beach, you probably need a permit of some kind. The planner should have all the permits in hand and be knowledgeable about the rules and prepared to enforce them. More than once, I've pissed off guests and even clients because I wasn't willing to put my company's name and reputation on the line to break the law so they could do something stupid like set off Asian fire lanterns or dig a fire pit on a beach where endangered turtles have been nesting.
It's one thing to play at being a wedding planner, but when the chips are down and the wedding day arrives, clients expect their event coordinator to know what he or she is doing and be available to them for anything and everything. Don't get into this business because you think it's glitz and glam because that's only on television and in the movies. Real wedding planners stay up late working and get up early to set up events. They take ridiculous calls from clients at odd hours and find a way to make themselves available when needed.
I always tell brides and grooms who want to DIY their weddings to think of it as taking on a part-time job - because really, that's what it is - and make sure they have time for that second job before they get overcommitted. It isn't that everyone who hires a wedding planner couldn't plan their own wedding, many don't have the time or resources to do it. But when you hire a professional to run the trains for you on your big day, you should expect them to be professional from beginning to end, and to have their ducks in a row. That's what you hired them for so you could relax and be the guests of honor at your own wedding.