As any couple knows, planning a wedding can be a huge amount of work. There are countless decisions to make, and they're all the more daunting for brides and grooms who are inexperienced with putting together such a big event. Sometimes one of the best steps a couple can take is to hire a wedding planner.
Wedding planners are no longer just for couples with unlimited budgets; they have become indispensable today to many brides and grooms, who find their services well worth the expense. You might consider hiring a planner soon after you get engaged if you have a demanding job that leaves little time for much else, if you're getting married in a city other than the one you live in, or if you simply feel overwhelmed by the details involved.
A wedding consultant guides you through the planning process and the wedding day itself, assisting in whatever capacity you need. He or she can help you refine your ideas, connect you to the appropriate vendors, advise you on proper etiquette, and suggest ways to use your budget wisely. Besides keeping your schedule on track, a planner will also create a wedding-day timeline and make sure that it gets carried out -- down to the smallest detail. "A good planner will analyze what you are looking to do, help you find the resources to get it done, and take you every step of the way," says Chicago wedding planner Randy Schuster.
Your Wedding's Details
You can expect your planner first to find out what kind of wedding you envision, whether it's a formal evening affair, for example, or an outdoor garden luncheon. You'll discuss with her the number of guests you'd like to invite, the color scheme or theme, which aspects are most important to you (such as the food, the music, the flowers), and your budget. Based on this information, she can begin brainstorming with you on everything from invitation decoration to venue locations. Keep in mind, though, that while a planner is there to help lead the way and lend her expertise, it doesn't mean you have to surrender control of your wedding. "The decisions were always ours," says Stephanie Penner Degodny, who hired Schuster for her 2002 Chicago wedding. For Degodny, the area in which Schuster provided the most help was, naturally, planning -- outlining what had to be done and when. "Planners know the timing of everything," she says. "They tell you what you need to do right away and what can wait."
Having a professional look after you can also be invaluable when it comes to finding the people necessary to make your wedding a success, such as musicians, caterers, photographers, and florists. Experienced planners have spent years cultivating relationships with vendors and know which ones are best for you. Often, they can even get you discounts. Your planner will act as a liaison between you and the vendors, setting up appointments and guiding you through the contracts. A good planner will also find the right combination of professionals, one that can function as a team designed to pull your wedding together smoothly.
The Wedding Day
Perhaps the most important role a planner can play is in orchestrating the wedding day itself. (Some couples hire planners to help only on that day.) Besides coordinating the vendors, she might do everything from gathering your wedding party for pictures to making sure all the seating cards are in place to calming nerves. She'll check that the flowers and food are exactly what you ordered and manage the evening from cocktails to cake. With a person to take care of the logistics, you're free to focus solely on enjoying yourself. "I want couples to actually eat their meal and not worry if the band is going to play a certain song," says Victoria Stanbach of Violet Weddings in the San Francisco Bay area.
To make sure your planner will meet your expectations, be careful about whom you hire. Though there are many planners advertising their services, locating one through a friend or colleague is preferable. It's wise to interview several planners in person to see if there's a good rapport. "You need a high level of comfort and trust," says Nicky Reinhard, who runs David Reinhard Events in New York City with partner Ann David. Find out how long the planner has been in the business, how she got started, and why; it will help you gauge her level of enthusiasm for the job. Ask how many events she does each month -- you'll want to be sure she has enough time for you. Ask what kinds of weddings she has planned and where they were held. If you want to hold your reception on a yacht, for instance, it makes sense to work with someone familiar with that type of setting. Look at her portfolio, focusing on how much attention was paid to detail, rather than whether the style matches yours. Finally, ask for references.
Remember that the planner will be working for you -- she should listen to your ideas and concerns, not make proclamations about what to do. She should also be upfront about whether your budget is in line with your vision. You want someone who will be honest about what you can afford and who can find less-expensive alternatives you'll be happy with.
Pricing and Value
As for a planner's fees, they depend on the extent of services you'd like. Before hiring anyone, ask not only how much she charges but what exactly it covers. Some planners charge a flat rate; others charge per hour. Still others charge a percentage of your wedding budget, usually 10 to 15 percent. Most will create a proposal for you to approve and will then draw up a letter of commitment or a contract. While you can expect to pay at least several thousand dollars for "full service" (meaning the planner works with you to put together your wedding from beginning to end), you may ultimately save money. "There are places to spend and not to, where it will show and not show," says Schuster. For example, if your reception site is a gorgeous room with a breathtaking view, your planner might suggest cutting back on floral arrangements. If you feel, however, that you can't afford a planner's full-service fees or don't need someone there for the entire process, you can cut costs by hiring a consultant to help only during the last few weeks leading up to your wedding or during the wedding weekend itself.
The best affirmation of a planner's value is when a wedding leaves the intended impression. "We ask clients how they want guests to feel at the end of the wedding," says David. "Then we make it happen."