Do You Really Need a Wedding Planner?
Ok so I'm going to start this one off by explaining my reasons behind the post title - as it really looks like I'm shooting myself in the foot a little!
To give a bit of background, I am a member of various wedding industry networking groups, both through professional bodies and social media channels. On one such networking group a few weeks ago, another member of the group (perhaps inadvertently) caused a little controversy in a conversation which has - to be fair - been up for debate over the last decade since wedding planners have become more mainstream in the U.K. The member in question is a professional wedding caterer, who proffered the notion that wedding planners are an unnecessary expense, as (in her own view) any caterer or venue coordinator worth their salt can help the couple plan their wedding as part of their service package - free of charge.
And what's wrong with that, you might ask?
The thing is, (aside from ruffling a few feathers), it transpired fairly swiftly through this particular thread that the general requirements of the clientele of this member, and the requirements of the clientele of most professional wedding planners, is widely disparate. For many couples planning their wedding - particularly those on a tight budget - the service provided by a caterer or venue coordinator can be perfectly adequate. Most caterers and venue coordinators do a superb job on the wedding day, and go over and above to meet the expectations of the couple. They are perfectly placed to work through catering timetables with the couple, provide examples of room arrangements as they have been previously implemented at the venue, will be happy to recommend their preferred suppliers, and will work their socks off to make sure things go to plan on the day.
BUT... (and here's the biggie), caterers and venue coordinators are NOT your personal wedding assistants.
Sure, they will work through catering and service timetables (this is a core part of their service!). They will assist with choices directly related to the venue and food, such as menu selection and wine pairings, host food tastings, keep record of any food allergies/intolerances, and set up the tables according to your floor plan. They might even set out place cards and tealights if these items are provided to them in advance. It is not necessarily their job however, to set out additional table decor items - particularly items hired externally (charger plates, coloured napkins, cutlery, table runners etc.), or more complex place settings - nor to decorate other areas within and around the venue (ceiling decor, entrance areas, archways, walkways and breakout rooms to name a few). A wedding planner will not only work with you to ensure these elements are taken care of, but will also work closely with your chosen cater and/or venue coordinator to ensure the reception room is ready, and all timings are adhered to for a seamless running of the day.
Sure, they can give example room layouts based on weddings which have taken place in the venue previously - but it isn't necessarily their job to shake things up and help you to create something different for that space. Perhaps you want long rustic wooden tables with antique cross-back chairs, but the venue only provides linen covered rounds and conference chairs in-house as standard? You need to hire that equipment in... Will the hired tables fit the dimensions of the room? Who is sourcing and coordinating the furniture arrival? Who coordinates the storage and collection of the furniture post-wedding? You got it, a wedding planner can - and they will organise and oversee the logistics on your behalf.
Sure, they can provide you with their preferred supplier recommendations - but it is not their job to select the right suppliers based on your vision and budget, nor is it their job to attend supplier meetings with you to communicate your vision effectively, and negotiate the final price. A professional wedding planner will not only have an extensive knowledge of suppliers whom they know and trust, but also a bank of suppliers whom they might not have necessarily have worked with, but just KNOW their work will fit your vision. And they will be right there with you to meet the suppliers, or suss them out personally before recommending them to you - saving you considerable time and expense.
In my experience, it is highly unlikely that any wedding planning "package" or added extra advocated in their service by a caterer will cover the aspects covered by a professional wedding planner - and why should they? Statistics show that the average wedding takes approximately 250 hours to fully plan and coordinate (although a professional planner can reduce this by almost half given their experience in the field) - that's a hell of a lot of extra hours to take on, either for free or at a considerably reduced rate, when they are primarily contracted to provide the food service. Therefore it is imperative to establish with any caterer who offers a "planning" service exactly what the service entails, and how many hours this will actually cover.
It is also important to note that a professional wedding planner not only ties together the elements prior to your wedding, but is also your go-to contact on the day itself. An unexpected (and unforecast) rain shower? We're moving that furniture and implementing the agreed wet weather plan. Tension between relatives? We're working our magic and peacekeeping (and discreetly distracting if the occasion calls!) A contracted supplier stuck in traffic on the motorway? We're liaising with them and speed-dialling our contacts list for back up. Falling fruit from trees in that beautiful orchard causing a slip hazard? We're clearing that right up and steering your guests around the area without batting an eyelid. A bridesmaid has a broken heel? We're there with superglue and a spare pair of flats in an emergency.
You get the idea.
If a caterer is offering full wedding planning or on-the-day coordination as part of a "package", think about this - would you rather they were dealing with a crisis, or concentrating on providing kick-ass food in the kitchen?
Please don't let this be interpreted as any disdain on my part towards caterers or venue coordinators - in fact quite the opposite. I have a fantastic relationship with a number of wonderful caterers and venue coodinators across the South West who are a joy to work with - and it's testimony to this that the majority of my client referrals are actually from them! A professional wedding planner will build a solid rapport with your caterer and venue coordinator to liaise seamlessly and provide an impeccable service for you on the day - we are a team. This is simply about understanding the specific roles each supplier has in your wedding.
So this leads me neatly back to my original question - do you really need a wedding planner?
For many couples, the answer will be almost certainly no. There are many couples who can work time in their schedule to allocate those hours to planning, are happy to source and negotiate with suppliers in their free time, and who have friends and family on board to help set up and deal with any unexpected eventualities on their behalf on the day. And for those couples, the services offered by the caterer or venue coordinator might be ideal!
However equally, for many couples, the answer will be a resounding yes. There are many couples who, through busy work and family schedules, simply don't have time to designate that number of hours to planning their wedding in the allotted time. Perhaps you are planning your wedding in a completely different geographical area, and it is logistically impossible for you to personally coordinate and attend supplier and venue meetings. Or maybe you prioritise your guest experience, and actually don't want your family members helping out on the morning - or during the day - as you'd prefer them to simply have a great time at your wedding with the minimum level of stress. For those couples, the services offered by a professional planner are likely to be a perfect fit.