My venue has a wedding co-ordinator - do I really need a wedding planner?
If you are asking yourself that question then read on!
Part I - on the day wedding co-ordination and management.
As wedding season is now underway, I thought it might be interesting for couples to have an insight into what I actually do behind the scenes at a wedding, particularly if the venue states that they offer in house wedding co-ordination so couples wonder if they need me as well. If you are in any doubt as to whether you need me and your venue co-ordinator, read on and then ask your venue contact if their service is as comprehensive as mine!
Of course, every wedding is different and has its own unique requirements, but I thought I’d lay down an overview of some of my regular responsibilities. Being a wedding planner requires not only a mix of creativity and meticulous organisational skills but also the ability to remain calm under pressure and to be able to think on your feet. Despite best laid plans, things happen and its a highly emotionally charged day, for the wider party as well as the couple themselves. I spend a lot of time before the wedding day and on the day itself checking my schedule, anticipating the flow, prompting people ahead of time and predicting what could go wrong and how to avoid it! For on the day co-ordination, my presence is efficient, meticulous and discreet - I hope not to be noticed yet am always standing closely by, within a glance of my couple, so they can catch my eye within a second if there is anything at all that they need.
Naturally, when the wedding day itself dawns, it is the end of a profound journey for my couples and I, the culmination of months and months of meetings, arrangements, logistics and details. I may have had a number of meetings at the venue (or the site if it’s a marquee wedding) with various suppliers as well as the couple of course, to walk it all through and discuss the vision, I will have attended the floral consultation, the menu tasting, the cake consultation and sometimes also been wedding dress shopping! We’ll have had meetings at their home, in hotels, in restaurants, where ever is convenient, to discuss each element of the day and how the day flows and I will have kept copious notes from every meeting with every decision and action point fully minuted. I will have drawn up a detailed schedule which has been shared with the couple and each and every supplier, as well as checking and double checking each detail of the final order and timings with each supplier over the phone to ensure no detail has been missed. I will have prepared my planner’s 'emergency tool kit' so that whatever eventuality may occur on the day, I have a ‘fix it’ to hand, whether it be a micro screwdriver for fixing loose spectacles, gaffer tape for keeping cables tidy, a calligraphy pen for notices (chalk and ink!), spare false eyelashes, deodorant for the best man nervous about his speech, suncream in case anyone needs it or white tailors’ chalk for toning down any spills on the wedding dress – and that’s just a few!
So the day dawns and I set off early (having checked the route already for roadworks / closures etc) , always allowing an additional 30 minutes – I absolutely hate being late! I tend to arrive in my ‘civvies’ for set up and then change later into my more formal attire before guests arrive.
I walk around the site ensuring that nothing has changed since we were last there and that everything is clean, tidy and orderly and then I check in with the venue managers – they may well have set some of the furniture out already, or otherwise we await the arrival of the caterers. I then spend the next couple of hours checking in with each and every supplier when they arrive and answer any queries they have about exact positioning and details. I double check the number and exact location of all the extra tables that we need – in addition to poseur tables and dining tables there may well be requirements for tables for presents, a post box for cards, a guest book, a polaroid camera and props, the cake, a memory table, a table for sweeties … and they need to be in certain places by certain specific times of the day. I also check the room where the registrars will meet with the couple just to ensure there is a jug of water and glasses in there and that the furniture is set out neatly.
Around this time, I await the texts from the make up artist and hairdressing team to say that they have arrived with the bride and that preparations are underway!
Catering, production and floristry are the longest set ups so while all this is going on I tend to prepare for the ceremony – I check the lighting and the temperature of the room (if inside), ensure the chairs are lined up ‘exactly so’ (I cannot bear chairs out of alignment!), set out the reserved seats, put copies of the readings on the chairs for the readers, put out the welcome signage, set aside the orders of service ready for the Ushers and prepare the confetti baskets. I check that there are chairs set out for the ceremony musicians and that they have bottled water and glasses as well as water and glasses on the Registrar’s table. If we’re having microphones for the ceremony, we sound check them and check the spare too! Once the flowers are installed, I often text a picture of the set up to my bride so she knows how things are coming along!
Once the wedding breakfast tables are up in another area, I focus on this room – ensuring the tablecloths are exactly symmetrical both sides (can’t bear a wonky seam or an uneven hem!), checking the napkins are folded exactly as they should be, setting up the table plan/s, setting out the menu cards and guest ‘placement’ exactly as per the table plan and ensuring that the tables are styled exactly as the bride and I have discussed, with all the details exactly as she wanted them. I usually have photos to refer to that I took at the tasting or the tableware meeting so I can ensure that they look exactly as agreed. I make sure that guests are seated exactly in the location on each table that we have discussed - with those guests who they want facing the top table or with their back to the windows etc. I then catch up with the caterers so they know where any family VIPs are sitting (if not on top table) and if there have been any last minute amends, I make sure that this has been communicated to the team running the day. I also make sure that the tables are set out exactly as we have agreed – couples often have a very specific vision of how they want the tables spaced and although I will have discussed this with the caterer and sent a plan across, sometimes the team actually setting the tables out don’t adhere exactly to it, so I need to make sure they are perfectly set out before they are laid and flowered!
Mid to late morning comes around fast and this is when the cake usually arrives so I meet the cake maker and show them exactly where we are going to install it. If fresh flowers are to be used on the cake then I introduce the cake maker to the florist and they work together to style it beautifully. I double check the cake knife has been supplied and the check plan for collecting the cake stand and knife the following day – it will need to be stored in a secure location overnight so we agree with the venue where this will be.
This is also the time when the ceremony musicians arrive so I meet them, show them to their green room and show them the performance location. I give them some background information on the couple and we confirm, as per the schedule they’ve already seen, the exact time when the need to be on standby at the performance location and the cue to start the arrival of the bridal party ‘walk in’ music. I usually get changed around this time so I am looking a little more presentable!
I’ve usually had a text from the photographer and videographer so I know that they are on site with the groom and ushers before then moving on to the bride to capture her preparations. Later, I check in with the chief bridesmaid to see how things are going and if they are running to time as well as checking with the wedding party chauffeurs to ensure they are on standby where they are required.
The second shooter (photographer) is often on site at this time so I show them around and ensure they capture all the design features and little personal details the couple and I have incorporated into the décor before guests arrive and obscure the potential for clear, clean shots! This could be a clear shot of the ceremony room all set with pretty chairs and florals, for example or the bar all set up with beautiful glasses, the poseur tables and styled furniture or little signs or personal photos the couple have given me to set out.
As the final hour to the ceremony counts down, the Groom and his Ushers arrive on site and prepare to welcome guests. I familiarise them with the seating plan for the ceremony (the reserved seats and if we are following bride / groom sides or not) and brief the ushers abut logistical questions like where the bathrooms and cloakrooms are, in case they are asked by guests, and answer any questions they might have about the ceremony. Other than that, I just keep them calm and light-hearted! If the florist has departed then I light any candles or lanterns (if they are not already) and ensure that the musicians are in situ and playing light background music as guests start to arrive and take their seats. If I know that I have to dash off after the ceremony, I say goodbye and thank you to the musicians and let them know that I won’t be around afterwards but that we’ll catch up on the phone the following day. The Ushers and I then keep a particular eye out for VIP family members or elderly guests and greet them and assist them accordingly.
The groom is soon led off to meet with the Registrars (if a civil ceremony) and around this time the main photographer arrives on site which signals that the bride is due to arrive shortly. If time, we touch base again about how we’re going to stage manage the key moments – the confetti shot, the arrival of the couple into dinner, the cutting of the cake, the first dance and any special night time shots they might want.
When I see the bridal car arriving, I always get a heart flutter and can’t wait to see her in her gown. It’s such a privilege to see her before the groom and guests do and I never forget that. Often I’ve prepared a separate room for her which I lead her to at this point, where she can wait momentarily, and take a few minutes to prepare – a final juj of make-up, a tweak of her veil and a few deep breaths. Sometimes my brides need me to look after their hand bag or make up bag, so I store that securely.
I take great care to ensure that the bride and groom’s paths do not cross around this time and depending on the layout of the venue, we plan this part of the day with great care accordingly! Once the bride is in with the Registrar, I let the groom know that she has arrived and check that the photographer/s and videographer are in position (they always are, but I still check!). After she has seen the registrar, I check that the bride has moved her engagement ring to her right hand and that everyone knows the order that the bridal party are entering and exiting the ceremony and which side everyone stands on!
The registrar returns to the ceremony room and awaits the signal that the bride is ready to make her entrance, at which point the bride’s ‘arrival’ music is played – a very emotional moment all round!
I love to stay in the ceremony and witness my couple saying their vows but depending on the wedding, sometimes I need to shoot off and get prepared for the next stage of the day.
As soon as the ceremony is under way, my next duty is to advise the caterers and reception musicians that they have approx. 35 minutes during which to make their final preparations. I then double check all the set up arrangements – the bar is fully set up, the drinks are chilled enough, the waiting staff are smart and neat, that the flowers are looking perfect still, that cloths on the poseur tables are still immaculate and that the reception musicians are in situ and on standby. This is also the time that any walkabout entertainers for the reception such as magicians or childrens’ entertainers are on site so I catch up with them and show them around.
After the ceremony, there is naturally much joy and elation as well as a palpaple sense of ‘détente’; I encourage my couples to take a few moments at this point to just ‘be’ while their guests exit behind them and the photographer and I set up the confetti shot with the ushers handing out the cones – meanwhile ensuring that the videographer is right there and ready too and all VIP guest and little bridesmaids are rounded up and ready!
As guests make their way to the drinks reception, my priority is to ensure that everybody is served quickly and efficiently and that anybody with a special request or query about the day (there is always one!) is assisted promptly. I keep an eye that the food is being circulated to all guests, especially those furthest from where the food is coming from, and I clear any empty glasses that I see. I also keep an eye on my couple to ensure that their glasses are never empty (they are always too busy chatting to get refills) and I also regularly take them soft drinks while they are chatting and I often offer to go to the bar for guests to get them a fresh glass of something which they always appreciate!
During the drinks reception, I keep an eye on the photographer and how long they’d like to spend with the couple, and compare this to the schedule – if we are running late at all then I advise the caterers accordingly. I also ensure that the photographer and videographer have captured the wedding breakfast tables all set up and the wedding cake. Towards the end of the drinks reception I ask to see if the best man or one of the ushers would like to sound check the speech mics (if using) and after that I invite my couple into the main dining space for a ‘first look’ so they can drink it all in for a moment on their own -the combination of the venue setting, the atmospheric lighting, the tables and chairs, the table linen, the flowers, the tableware, the stationery, the cake, the personal details …. It’s a lot to take in to see the vision come to life and it is often a breathtaking experience. Once they are happy that everything is perfect, I let them know that we’ll be making the call for dinner in a few moments so they should take a few quiet moments to themselves and I’ll come and collect them once everybody has found their seats.
The next part of the day requires plenty of planning and forethought – seating the guests and the arrival of the newlyweds! Once the call for dinner has been made, guests naturally look at the table plan and I also assist them to find their table in the room. Quite often they have queries about the menu, if they have special dietary requirements, as they are keen to establish that the message they gave on their RSVP has in fact reached us – I can then assure them that it has, or on the off chance that we have a ‘surprise’ dietary requirement, I can advise the caterers and see what we can do! I ensure that the photographer and videographer are in the room ready to capture the couple arriving and if they have walk in music, then I ensure that the sound engineer has his finger on the button ready to play and that the Best Man is ready to announce their arrival! I then go and find my couple and prepare them for their entrance then cue the sound engineer and the Best Man with a nod – such a joyful moment!
Once they have taken their seats, the banqueting manager is in charge but I keep a discreet eye on proceedings – to ensure efficient and prompt service for the filling of wine and water glasses and the serving of each course. I also keep an alert eye out for guests who may be (unsuccessfully) trying to catch the attention of a member of waiting staff and who might need some assistance.
With regard to speeches and the cutting of the cake, these are both moveable feasts these days – speeches may take place before, during or after the meal and the cutting of the cake may form part of the speeches or the end of dinner or could be immediately prior to the first dance. Either way, I always let the wedding party know regularly about the time line and how far off the speeches we are so they are mentally prepared and I’m on hand with the mic if they want to use one. I’ve also ensured that every guest has a full glass of bubbly in front of them ready for toasts and that any gifts to be given to the wedding party are easily on hand! When the cake is due to be cut, I have made sure that the cake knife is there and that the couple know exactly which tier to cut into depending on the design of your cake, this can be a crucial fact!)
and which hands to hold the knife in! I’ve also ensured that the photographer and videographer are on standby just prior to both these.
By the time main course has gone down, this is usually when outmess is served to the team – videographers, photographers, musicians, me, and anyone else on the behind the scenes’ team. It’s usually the first time I have sat down since leaving home that morning! I never stop for long though as this is the time that the band usually arrive and need to load in ready for the dancing and the production team may well be busy re-setting the reception room with evening lighting, sound kit, a dance floor and additional styling so I need to be on hand. I meet the band and show then their green room, I introduce them to the production manager then they load in and sound check.
I keep an eye on the proceedings during dinner so that the band know if we are on schedule or if we are running early or late. The band usually need backstage hospitality so I ensure they have everything they need in terms of food and drink before heading back to the guests. I stay in regular contact with the green room or sound check (depending on the timings of the day) and give the band accurate countdowns until they are on - 30 mins, 15 mins, 5 mins etc. There is nothing worse than transitions during the day not being seamless!
As pudding and coffee is served and dinner draws to a close, I check that the late night bar area is all set up and re-stocked, that any mixologists booked are ready, and that the band have completed their sound check and are on standby then I advise my couple that it will soon be time to invite guests through to an adjacent space for the first dance, also making sure the photographer and videographer are ready. Guests then slowly move through and await the arrival of the newlyweds. I ensure that the couple are ready (they sometimes want a few minutes to prepare privately) and ensure that the DJ or sound engineer is ready to play the track, check the lighting engineer is ready for the lighting change, then I cue them all. Some of my couples have really gone to town on the first dance with rehearsed routines which are always such fun to watch and guests always really enjoy this moment!
After the first dance and when the band's first set is underway, I check the their green room to ensure there is nothing else required in there and touch base with the photographer and videographer about timings and how we are doing in terms of when they are due to depart – sometimes there is one final ‘moment’ to manage, such as a sparkler send off during the band’s break so if we are running really late, this can have an impact on their contracted timings. If there is late night food during the band’s break and after the ‘sparkler moment’, I double check the set up for this and that everyone is ready and on standby. I always have a copy of the band’s set list to hand so when we are approaching the final song of the first set, I let everyone know that guests will soon be piling back into the bar!
After their break, then it’s the band’s second set, or possibly a DJ who takes over from the band until the end, this is when I start to relax! My final duties are to check any transport arrangements and to plan the final 'wrap up' – if coaches have been arranged for guests then I go out and say hi to the driver/s and I check that the bridal car is there ready for their exit at the very end. I also touch base with the caterers to get an indication of drinks consumption just so I have an idea of what to expect when the final reconciliation comes through and check the arrangements for any presents that have been brought – sometimes they are stored overnight at the venue to be collected the next day, or I might have already couriered them to the couple’s hotel earlier in the day, or I give them to the driver of their car just before they depart. There are also usually a number of other items to be kept securely for the couple – it might be that they want to keep the welcome sign and table plans and will collect the following day, or if the bride has given me a spare pair of shoes or her make up bag then I gather all those items up too and pass them to the driver.
As the last song comes to an end, it’s time for the guests and I to say our farewells to my couple, after what has no doubt been an incredible and emotional day.
Having waved them off and ensured the guests are all on their way home too, all that’s then left to do is to check that the band have packed up and left the dressing room tidy and I touch base one last time with all suppliers left on site – some who have been with me all day, like the banqueting manager and production manager, and others who have returned for the late night pack down like the furniture crew and the florists - and to share with them the highlights of the day and my gratitude to them for making the day so perfect.
I never feel tired at this point – I might have done a 20 hour day but I’m still on a high after an amazing day and I drive back reliving all the amazing moments from the day that were unique to that particular couple and ones that I will never forget.
I do love my job!
Photography credit: Claire Graham Photography