Are you organized? Do you have a clear vision of what you want for your wedding day? Then do yourself a favor and avoid a wedding coordinator at all costs. They will just add more headaches and add even more tasks to your to-do lists.
Making this statement goes against everything I had read about on wedding blogs. Those bloggers tell you that hiring a day-of-coordinator is a great investment. Those same sites tell you that hiring a coordinator will allow you to sit back and relax on your wedding day. Well, as I talked about earlier this week, sitting back and relaxing was not for me.
Background on our Coordinator
There’s a woman who lives down the street who owns her own Concierge company. That means that she does things like tracks down hard-to-find theater tickets, will stay at your house and supervise home improvement contractors while you’re at work, and she also plans parties and events, including weddings.
We found out about her very shortly after getting engaged. (These next few sentences are related, I swear).
At last year’s annual Homeowners’ Association (HOA) meeting in our community in November 2010, Ken and I volunteered to help make a website for the neighborhood. A few weeks later, the HOA board invited us to an informal meeting to discuss what they wanted included on the website.
It was a low-key meeting and, during our discussions, Ken and I mentioned that we had gotten engaged about six weeks earlier. When folks at the meeting asked us “How’s the wedding planning going,” we told them how absolutely disgusted with wedding prices in the DC area.
They suggested that we get in touch with a woman from the neighborhood that owns a concierge business. They said they’ve all hired her for various things and she can negotiate excellent prices. They also mentioned that she had planned the neighborhood party that took place the previous summer.
We thought it was worth a try. After all, we were making zero progress on finding a venue and caterer within our price range. So we contacted her the very next day after the meeting. We met with her about a week later.
A Barter Agreement
We were fairly impressed during our first visit with her. She had a contact at one of the preferred caterers for a venue we loved. She filled us in on some shady stuff that that venue had going on. A very reputable venue in the DC area no less!
We negotiated a barter agreement with her. We would redesign her concierge company’s outdated website and, in exchange, she would help us with various pre-wedding things, like helping us negotiate prices with caterers. Then, for the day of the wedding (and any tasks in the days before the wedding) we would pay her and an assistant at a discounted hourly rate. It sounded like a win-win situation!
But, she kept suggesting vendors that we either A) Didn’t like, or B) Were out of our budget. Then Ken and I found the perfect venue in January on our own, about a month after we had made our agreement with her. And that venue had no vendor restrictions, so I thought that would open up a huge pool of cheaper vendors, especially caterers. But she was continually finding caterers for us that were $25-$30 per person for rubber chicken-type food. Not our style!
It reminds me of this post in which wedding planners wonder why a couple would do extra work to find cheaper prices when they’ve hired a planner to do just that.
Two Main Reasons for Hating having a Coordinator
1) Explaining what you want to another person (the coordinator) just so they can explain it to someone else (the caterer or other vendor) is extremely time consuming. Much, much more time consuming than just doing it yourself. Especially when you then subsequently have to hear all the vendor’s information second-hand from the coordinator. I suppose if you want to leave these smaller details up to the coordinator, then it may work just fine for you, but Ken and I wanted to be involved every step of the way
2) I don’t trust that the coordinator will find the best prices. They want to use their own buddy-buddy network of vendors, regardless of the cost to us, their clients.
Once it became clear that we were finally getting good at finding vendors and figuring out all this wedding stuff, a drastic change from the first six weeks of our engagement, we basically stopped asking her for advice.
Plastic Walls and Straw Bales
As we started to solidify the details of the wedding, we asked for her help with some of our “weirder” tasks, like having plastic walls installed on an existing pavilion structure, or buying straw bales as decor. She was useless on both fronts. She knew of one place to purchase hay bales, a local produce market right down the street. But the price was $7.50 per bale!!! She knew the owners, of course, so perhaps she could “negotiate” a discount of 50 cents per bale.
After about 10 minutes of Googling, I found a listing of TONS of local hay and straw bale-offering farms on the Loudoun County Extension’s website. The verdict? I found hay bales for $4.50 each, including delivery. I was also the one to track down a rentals company willing to install plastic tent walls on an existing structure. None of her “preferred” party rental companies could do it, so she told us it couldn’t be done.
She did, however, recommend a reasonably priced bakery that had both excellent Yelp and Wedding Wire reviews. The coordinator arranged for a tasting, and both Ken and I thought the cakes were fantastic!
We decided to book the bakery! But, after that, I hated the entire process of communicating with the bakery. Because the bakery was the coordinator’s “find,” any communication Ken and I wanted to have with the bakery had to go through the coordinator. I never even had the bakery’s phone number or e-mail address! It was like a giant game of telephone. I had to tell coordinator what I wanted, then the coordinator had to tell the bakery, then the bakery had to give their response to the coordinator, then the coordinator had to tell me the response. And if I had even a single additional question or change to our order, the entire process repeated itself.
I kept thinking to myself, why on earth would anyone EVER want a full service wedding planner? Just using this one vendor that we found through the coordinator was an absolute nightmare process. I could only imagine how awful it would’ve been if we had used several of the vendors that the coordinator had suggested. I prefer having direct communications with my vendors, thankyouverymuch. It saves so much time and hassle! I thought having a planner was supposed to make things easier, not more time consuming!
Wedding Day Cake Disaster
If you recall from my quick wedding day recap, the cake was our biggest disappointment from the wedding. The cake story will be an entire blog post on its own, but here’s the short version of the story.
The night before the wedding, the bakery was calling the coordinator asking for clarification on what we wanted. I thought it was pretty fucking simple. Simple round cakes with the flavors, filling, and frosting that we had listed on our contract. No fancy “wedding decoration cake.” Just simple, elegant, but tasty cake!
The wedding coordinator was at our venue for the rehearsal when she took that call from the bakery. So, the coordinator put the bakery on hold to say that the bakery had some questions and needed some clarification. Ken and I were beyond mad.
1) We sent our contract in MONTHS earlier, so why was the bakery asking for clarification just right now, less than 16 hours before the wedding?
2) We should have trusted our original instinct and used a more traditional bakery or just gotten our cakes at Costco, instead of asking a wedding cake bakery since we wanted simpler, plainer cakes.
Sometimes personalities just clash. And sometimes people are useless fucking morons
It was just more than the cake issue that annoyed us about the coordinator. In fact, about five days before the wedding, Ken and I seriously considered firing the coordinator. She had become such an annoyance and we actually thought it would be better to not have her at the wedding at all.
But because all the wedding blogs tell you how important it is to have a day-of-coordinator, we decided against firing her. Instead, we had her amend the contract so that she could not charge us any more than 20 man hours for her and her assistant (including the day before the wedding – Thursday – and the actual wedding day – Friday). Initially we were going to want her help on Wednesday after we got checked in to the venue, but any time we were around her, we would just get so annoyed at her so we didn’t want her around at all.
Let’s look at some of the things that led us to realize that she was useless:
- Well, there was the whole “6 people max to a table thing“
- Then, there was a point when Ken and I were considering getting a combination of both cakes and pies. We have found this amazing pie shop nearby and thought it would be a fun mix to have cakes an pies. Well, you could tell she didn’t like this idea at all because that would mean a smaller order with her preferred bakery we already told her that we’d use. Then she asked us “what size pies?” so I showed her the pricing sheet. I think they were like 8 or 10 inch pies we were considering. So, she says to us “I don’t think that would look nice presentation-wise. Perhaps you should get the smaller, individual size pies (which, I would like to point out, were about $3 each, and would feed one person). We asked her to describe what she meant about the presentation. She wasn’t able to articulate it. And anyway, what do I care about presentation if I want pies at my wedding? Ultimately, we never ordered any of the pies, but it was a very strange conversation. I don’t know why the “presentation” of pies was such a concern to her.
- Then there was that plastic siding and hay bale thing I mentioned earlier in this post. But you want to know why I ordered hay bales as extra seating? Because she told us that our ceremony site, which had existing benches, would only seat 90 people. Ken and I have a photo that we took of our guests right as the ceremony started. We counted 87 people in that shot, and the ceremony site was maybe 50-60% filled. So we probably could’ve fit TWICE her estimate in the ceremony site. So, there went $225 we spent on hay bales to use as extra seating because of her moronic estimate (although we did use some for decor, so it was fine). At least we didn’t spend the $7.50 per bale that she had originally found.
- She was completely technology incompetent. Ken and I maintained a detailed wedding to-do list in Google Docs. One of the MANY benefits of Google Docs is that you can share a document with lots of people, and they can just view it whenever they want to see the updates. There’s no e-mailing attachments back and forth or anything. We offered to share ALL of our documents with her, but nope, she asked that everything be e-mailed, as an attachment. I would explain to her that she could view the document in Google Docs and then download a local copy, but she would just say something to the effect of, “yeah, I’m just not familiar with it.” Well, give it a try dammit. You’re making your client’s life more difficult asking her to do extra tasks that she wouldn’t otherwise be doing.
- She didn’t hang up our family wedding photos. This was actually something that bothers me a LOT. Ken and I spent a lot of time tracking down wedding photos of our parents, grandparents, and even great grandparents. I even found a photograph of my great-great-grandparents’ 50th Wedding Anniversary Gala! We scanned them in and had them professionally printed on 11×17 Lustre paper. The fucking coordinator never put them out!
- She didn’t make sure vendors got their checks
- She didn’t set up heaters where I wanted them
- She didn’t put wine or beer keg in mess hall. We were having our reception in a pavilion, but there was also an indoor location about 200 feet away from the pavilion, called the Mess Hall. I had left her specific instructions to leave 6 bottles of wine, one beer keg, and some two liters of soda, along with cups and a corkscrew, in the Mess Hall. We had told our guests that if it got too chilly in the pavilion, they could feel free to venture over to the Mess Hall and warm up and that there would be some drinks and games in there. Well, she didn’t leave any wine, beer, or soda in the Mess Hall.
- She Didn’t make sure things were being refilled (cider, s’mores, etc.)
- She didn’t make sure pastor gave blessing (on our timeline)
- She didn’t make sure pastor signed wedding license or got his check
A few days after the wedding, we e-mailed her to thank her for making the venue look so great. Then we offered just a few items of constructive criticism that she should consider when coordinating other weddings. This was her exact response:
I’m glad you were mostly pleased with our work. I know you may not realize, but we worked extremely physically hard. The three of us could barely move on Saturday. I actually had to cancel another job I had scheduled. We really should have called it a night and suggested others be hired to clean up, but when you asked on Thursday night for us to stay longer on Friday, we decided to do it. It was very rough working outside in the cold all day and I believe my team and I did an outstanding job considering the time limits and the amount of work we were given. We appreciate constructive criticism, but [my assistant] and I have done events for years.
Not even a discussion of the specific items we called out as constructive criticisms. Nope. She apparently knows what she’s doing.
Fuck. That. Shit.
The thing that annoys me the most about the entire situation is that we had to pay her for those day-of-coordinator tasks. Our initial barter agreement seemed like such a good one at the time. We were having such a difficult time planning our wedding and we figured we were going to need as much help as we could get. So the fact that she could help us with all of that and we would just have to redesign her website, it sounded like a great deal.
But then we ended up never using her for that stuff because she was so useless and we ended up getting the hang of it, especially after we found our perfect venue, more than 3 months after our engagement! And then we still had to pay her for the day-of tasks. It was basically like we had to redesign her website and get nothing in return. I realize that this is a risk one takes when doing some sort of barter agreement, but I was SO BITTER and ANGRY that we had to pay her. Especially since she did so many things wrong on our wedding day. I’m torn on whether it was a worthwhile investment. Sure, she set up the venue on the day of the wedding and put everything in the van after the wedding, but couldn’t we have done that ourselves? Everything was according to our instructions, so it’s not even like we relied on her aesthetic. Everything from the cake table arrangement to the centerpiece and table number arrangements, and the hot beverages bar setup. All our ideas.
So, live and learn, future brides! If you’re organized and willing to do a bit of work on your wedding day, you don’t need one!