Expert Advice from an Event Planner

Martha Stewart Weddings, Summer 2010

Maria Cooke, Event Planner
Washington, D.C.

Known for: Organized and inspired wedding planning and coordinating that infuses celebrations with polish and panache.

How to find her: Ritzy Bee Events, 703-508-7132; ritzybee.com

Some DIY brides may opt out of hiring a full-time wedding planner. Any other options? 
Definitely! She can hire a day-of coordinator to ensure that the wedding day goes smoothly. He or she serves as the main point of contact for all wedding vendors and the bridal party, prompts the couple and attendants on where to be and when, distributes payments to wedding vendors, collects gifts, and manages the styling of decor and the timing of ceremony and reception.

How does a coordinator differ from a very hands-on catering manager?
A catering manager works for his or her respective company, making sure that the food and beverage service is outstanding, while a coordinator is a planner who works with you on all aspects of your wedding day. The coordinator and catering manager have very different roles, but they should work closely together.

Is there anything a coordinator can't do? 
Unlike a full-time planner, a coordinator doesn't suggest wedding venues, recommend and negotiate vendors, or plan events and activities surrounding the wedding weekend.

Would you say the concept of a day-of coordinator is a growing trend? 
It's becoming increasingly popular as couples realize how important peace of mind truly is. They've put a lot of time and money into their dream day, and they want to enjoy it! DIY couples also want to make sure the decor they worked so hard to create is styled properly.

How can a bride decide whether she'll need a full-time planner or a coordinator? 
The average wedding takes over 250 hours to plan, so if a bride has very limited time, it's a good idea to hire a full-time planner to do the research, planning, and negotiations for her. If she's able to take on a more active role in the process, she might require professional help only on her wedding day. Regardless of what level of planning service you choose, it's important to work with a planner who understands your style and personality.

Any tips on making sure you hire someone who's competent and professional? 
It's critical to ask your prospective planner for references from past clients and vendors -- and actually check into them. And since whoever you hire is likely going to be making huge decisions on your behalf, it's important to meet her in person to get a feel for her personality.

Should the bride sit down with her day-of coordinator before the wedding day? 
Yes -- I'd say at least twice. The first meeting is the time to go over the schedule, vendor information, room layouts and decor, and guest seating arrangements. The second one should be a walk-through of the event space to discuss the logistics with your caterer and other vendors.

Is it also important for the coordinator to meet with the wedding vendors? 
Very. He or she should reach out to the vendors before the wedding to exchange contact information and confirm delivery and arrival times. 

Ever have a last-minute disaster? 
At one of my weddings, a fire alarm went off during the first dance, and the fire department had to come and deactivate it! There was a lot of commotion, so I asked the band to take a break, and I invited guests outside until everything was resolved. Ultimately, the couple laughed it off -- and they got some hilarious pictures on the fire truck.

Top Tip 
"If you hire a day-of planner, organization is everything, since he or she is stepping in at the last minute! Group items in boxes or bags by category: ceremony, cocktail hour, reception. And since your planner will need things ready to be placed as they are unpacked, alphabetize your escort cards in advance, and peel stickers off candleholders and picture frames. On the big day, there won't be time for that."

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