by Shelby Ferguson
Wedding season is quickly approaching and whether you’re newly engaged or gearing up to get married a few short months from now, you might be thinking that you could use a little extra help planning the details to make the day absolutely perfect, especially those of you planning from afar. But how do you know what services you really need to hire? What’s the difference between a venue coordinator, a wedding coordinator, and a full service wedding planner?
At your wedding venue there is more than likely a person there with the title Event Planner or Wedding Coordinator. This person works for the venue. They manage every party, event, and dinner that is hosted in their facility. They know common room layouts, timing in the kitchen, and pretty much have your wedding down to assembly line science. They work with the chef, the bartenders, and the service staff making sure that their facilities looks spic and span and service is top notch. This ensures that their venue looks great, receives rave reviews, and you’re a happily married couple at the end of the night.
Now here’s where things get a little fuzzy. Each venue is a little different so this is a generalized statement (as is some of the above, since not all venues have their own in-house catering). When you meet with the venue for the very first time, most likely you toured the property/event space, asked lots of questions, were given a packet of information, and perhaps even a list of preferred vendors. You were probably told that they’d help you set up (if they have time), you can decorate the day before (if there isn’t another event booked), and they will help with all aspects of the event – which you assumed to mean directing vendors and guests and completing set-up (if they’re scheduled to work during those arrival/set-up times).
Here’s what they might not be telling you. Turnover in the hospitality industry is extremely high; the Venue Coordinator you originally booked with at your venue might not be the same Venue Coordinator that actually runs your event. Did all of your notes get transferred? And can the new coordinator make sense of them? Ask your Venue Coordinator if they’re actually on-site during the event. A surprising number do not actually work weekends and just leave notes in the hands of their Banquet Captains. Again, is the Banquet Captain provided with all the details about your wedding?
Day – of Coordinator
There’s a sentence up there says “help with all aspects of the event” – but what it really should say is “help with all aspects of the event happening within their facility." Because that’s the truth. While there is absolutely nothing wrong with that, it’s simply that stepping outside of their event space is not part of their job description.
The independent Day-of Coordinator that you hire is going to be your right hand man and make the wedding day happen – hopefully on schedule too. They work solely for you. Your Day-of Coordinator will help you with anything you need from the moment you get out of bed on your wedding day until the moment your head hits the pillow again as a married woman. If your transportation doesn’t arrive, she may jump in her Tahoe and go pick up the wedding party. If your photographer doesn’t show up, she’ll go to her list of contacts and find a backup, ASAP! You can go to your Day-of Coordinator with questions regarding timelines, etiquette, vendor referrals, and difference of opinions with your new mother-in-law.
If you should happen to host your wedding at a location that does not have a coordinator on-site at all then I dare say you NEED to hire someone. Full disclosure, I really hate the term Day-of Coordinator and think that title of Wedding Manger is much more appropriate. Leaving a rental company to show up at an empty space to set up chairs is a nightmare. Just expecting that the DJ or band will know where they should set up is asking too much. Oh the chaos guests could arrive and see! You need someone to manage all these different moving pieces.
Full Service Wedding Planner
Just as a Day-of Coordinator works only for you, so does a Full Service Wedding Planner. While they will do everything that a Coordinator does, they go so much further above and beyond just the management of an event, usually working with their clients from the very beginning (or near to) of the planning process.
Think of them as a tour guide for the wedding day who lends a hand through every step of the planning process. They will be guiding you through the entire scope of the project, from the venue search, design, logistics, securing vendors, coordination of the wedding day, organizing of all the lovely details, and more. When you work with a planner, you can be as involved or as distanced as you like during the preparation process, knowing your wedding is in expert hands. From the moment he says “Will you?” until after you’ve said “I do,” and the last candle has been blown out, they’ll be there every step of the way, guiding, assisting, and ensuring that this is a party that no one is likely to forget.
While naturally this seems like a plug for my own services, I’m trying to be as unbiased as possible and I understand that each and every wedding has different needs. Some couples love to be involved and look at the logistics as a fun puzzle while other are completely overwhelmed. Know the strengths of each vendor and evaluate accordingly. I have been both a venue coordinator at a private club, as well as offer Day-Of coordination and Full Wedding Planning services to my clients, so I have experience in all three realms. I will be the first to tell you that there isn’t a one size fits all plan for every celebration – it’s all as individual as each love story and each person plays their own vital part in making the wedding day come to life.
Shelby is lead wedding planner, artistic director and floral heart behind The Day's Design. She delights in celebrating romantic, natural and fancy free occasions throughout Northern & West Michigan. When she's away from her design work, you'll find her at home with her hubby and two beautiful baby girls, daydreaming along the shores of Lake Michigan, strolling through local antique stores, picking wildflowers or blogging more about wedding and life adventures at The Day's Dream blog.