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 We would redesign her concierge company’s outdated website and, in exchange, she would help us with various pre-wedding things, like helping us negotiate prices with caterers.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!
It stinks that you had such a horrible planner experience. It sounds like that woman had no business planning any type of event – but especially a wedding! Unfortunately, it sounds like she had her own motives when it came to you booking certain vendors. I can honestly say that 9 out of 10 professional (not just anyone) wedding planners will NOT take kick-backs from their preferred vendors. The reason we have preferred vendors is because we know they will work with us – no matter what our client’s budget.
Hm, I’m torn here. I mean, as I see it there might have been a mismatch of expectations here. A coordinator coordinates, she’s not a server, restocker, and decorator. Just a coordinator.
So she should be following your instructions to the letter, and making sure i’s get dotted and t’s get crossed. Now, the bit about her not following your timeline well and not making sure vendors got paid, yeah, that’s understandable, but not refilling food items? That’s a food server’s job or the job of other folks you delegate – that’s not really a coordinator job. The coordinator is supposed to, as far as I know, just make sure everything is happening, not do it herself. You know, coordinate.
It sounds like you did a lot of the coordinating work, and then expected her to do the manual labor and grunt work. That might not have been what she expected. I don’t actually know if you guys outlined your expectations of her clearly or not.
It does sound like her tastes and decisions didn’t match yours and by the time you were approaching your wedding, you just plain didn’t trust her to do anything or make good decisions for you. So you didn’t want her for anything BUT the grunt work. But that’s probably not what she expected. I think at that point you should have fired her and just enlisted friends or family to help out with the grunt work.
I think you’re right that someone who is really organized and capable and has a solid idea of what they want and where they can get it probably does not need to hire a planner/coordinator/concierge. I think there is some value in enlisting someone to make sure details are taken care of on the day of, not because you should sit back and relax, but because if you don’t have someone helping out, on your side, in on your plan, then you’re a bit on your own when things fall apart, and that could ruin your day, and force you to focus on dotting i’s instead of hugging grandparents.
Just some thoughts.
Wow. I really hope most wedding planners aren’t like that, but it sounds like you may have just gotten caught up with a bad one. Particularly someone who had their own vision for your day. Unless you’re having a really BIG, detailed wedding, I never really saw the point of a coordinator anyway. I planned my wedding without one and it went just fine. That being said, I have some really great friends who took a lot of responsibility to make sure things ran smoothly. It really could go either way using friends as well.
I see Libby’s point with some of the things like making sure the drinks are refilled. If you had caterers then it would have been their job, but it would have been her job to make sure that they’re doing it. If she was well aware of the tasks that were being asked of her and agreed to do it, then she should have done it without complaint.
I’m a wedding planner/coordinator and I must defend the industry to a degree.
To the Melissa and all future brides: 1) Get everything in writing – even if it’s a trade of services or even if it’s a friend providing a service for you. Did you do that Melissa? Having a contract will spell out exactly everything you expect from each other. 2) Wedding planners are a good resource for vendors, yes, but if you do not like a vendor he/she recommends, you can – and should – say NO! You have every right to. 3) She was a concierge service NOT a wedding coordinator! Big difference. Neighborhood parties are NOT weddings. Another case to say no. You have every right to fire a coordinator if you feel that you are not seeing eye-to-eye or their professionalism is lacking. As you said, “Sometimes personalities just clash.” Do not stay in an arrangement/partnership with a vendor if you feel like you’re not being listened to. (I wished you would’ve fired her and called me. I would’ve done your wedding just to help you out. I’m sorry. I should’ve offered that because it was very clear she was not doing a good job.)
In hindsight, Melissa, you should’ve arranged to do her website AFTER the wedding. She got the better end of the deal, definitely. A contract with her might’ve solved that. (Again, I’m assuming you didn’t have one since you said it was a trade of services.)
A coordinator worth his/her own salt will recommend some vendors to you, put you in direct contact with them so you can talk to them about your wishes, and then leave the final decision up to you. Sometimes the bride will come up with a vendor on her own – again it’s about what SHE wants and who SHE likes. The bride has every right to book who she wants, regardless of what we think. That also doesn’t mean that the coordinator hasn’t done her job in finding you one – we don’t know EVERYBODY! I’ve met new vendors through brides who are just as professional as vendors I know and recommend. This industry is HUGE!
To the lady who acted as Day-Of Coordinator: SHAME on YOU! I know there are two sides to every story. However, I have followed Melissa through her wedding planning and it seems very clear that you weren’t listening to her and that you were in way over your head. You had an assistant and things still went like this?? Your actions and treatment of Melissa has put us coordinators in a bad light. It’s hard enough earning the trust of a bride without stories like this popping up. It’s very hurtful to all of us when coordinators are not professional. And in this day in age, with so much technology at our fingertips, it will take no time at all for THIS story to go viral among the brides on Twitter and Facebook making it that much harder for the rest of us. I think you should take heed to what it can do to *your* reputation. Word-of-Mouth is powerful.
Also, Melissa, you had a bad experience with one – ONE – coordinator. Please do not judge the entire lot of us who are very professional, who care about brides and work closely with them, do our best to make their dreams come true, and who have built a reputation of excellence just because we have the title “wedding coordinator.” Yes, you could’ve done set up and clean up for yourselves on your wedding day. But you didn’t want to do that so you hired someone to do that for you. She *did* set up everything according to your specifications, your ideas, but that is what a Day-Of Coordinator does. She doesn’t design, she doesn’t come up with ideas on decorating. She is responsible for carrying out your vision for your wedding day so that everything is just as you pictured. She is a logistics person. She is a coordinator of wedding vendors, and a manager of time and of people. She trouble-shoots when necessary and she sees that everything runs smoothly.
Bottom line, Melissa…you can be the best organizer, best designer, have the clearest vision, be a great communicator, but you can’t be in two places at once on your wedding day. You can’t be the stage manager AND the star of the show at the same time. That’s why I started my business…so that brides would have a trusted friend, someone who is experienced, reliable, organized, and able to take the reins of their wedding day and make the magic happen without stressing themselves out the day-of trying to get everything done. I believe it’s that important to have that on your wedding day.
I read too many of your posts today and I confused this one with another one. I read back and saw that your coordinator didn’t do the things you asked her to do and to set up. She also missed the no-brainers like the marriage license and vendor payments. She dropped the ball big time! Even with an assistant! Amazing. So I correct myself when I said that she set up things according to your wishes. What I should’ve said is that is what a day-of coordinator is *supposed* to do when I was discussing what a day-of coordinator generally does. He/she is supposed to set up your room and decor according to what you’ve planned together. The greatest compliment a planner/coordinator can get is a gasp when the bride walks in to her venue and she says, “It’s better than I imagined!” I love to hear that! That’s when I know I’ve done my job. I’m sorry you hated your coordinator…but we’re NOT all like that. I promise! 😉
Thank you for writing this — I’m about 4.5 months away from my wedding and everyone has been telling me to get a coordinator. While I think they would be useful for some people, I really just don’t get it. The list of items that I’ve seen most coordinators cover are the simplest tasks like “ensure bridal party knows what time to get ready”. REALLY? After my fiancé and I looked over the list, I was like, “Is this a joke?” I really haven’t seen the point of them and I’m glad to see that someone else feels that way. This makes me feel a lot better about not wasting the $500-to-$1000 for one!!