Wedding Planning 101

Anyone who has ever taken on the planning and coordination of a wedding will tell you it’s not a simple task. There are so many decisions to be made, vendors to work with, timelines to construct, and details to be attended to. It can easily be hundreds of hours of work.

For those brave souls who have taken on this task themselves and been successful, they either had:

  • A solid game plan and maybe a touch of O.C.D.
  • An amazing support team to delegate tasks to
  • Or they knew magic

The number one priority item I work with all couples, even before they book with me, is the timeline. I want them to realize how much time is involved and needed for the photography, as well as the ceremony, greeting line, reception festivities, etc. It helps me understand how much photography coverage they’ll need. And it helps them understand what the day involves and all the details they have to keep track of while they’re planning.

Timelines are key for a successful wedding day. The couples who have opted to have a wedding coordinator help with the heavy lifting (either the whole planning operation or maybe the day of coordination) tend to have it a little easier.

When I see a couple has a coordinator in charge, I breathe a little sigh of relief because I know I have a point person to collaborate with on the timeline because they know when certain vendors will need access to areas of the venue I may want to use for portraits. Or we can work together to find the best flow for the ceremony to reception period.

One of these coordinators who I’ve worked with a bit is Diana Ithomitis from Agape Events. With her clipboard full of wedding info and emergency pack filled with everything a wedding party could need in an emergency, Diana has coordinated over 100 weddings. She knows the in’s and out’s of planning and coordinating a wedding. So I tapped her brain for some insight on what it takes to be successful in her field of expertise.

Question — What is the most asked question you receive from couples?

Answer — I’m asked all too often, “What will the day look like, how long do we need for x, y, z?”

There are a lot of variables that play into a successful and smooth timeline. Hiring a day of coordinator is a sure way to address any confusion. The reasonable fee you pay for someone to have eyes and ears on everything will go far in removing stress from family and friends, not to mention anxious grooms and busy brides who are busy ya know, getting married.

When thinking about your wedding day, and how long to plan, be sure to consult your photographer. How long do they want built in for a first sight, bridal party photos, and family portraits? This can depend on how many people are in your bridal party, and how organized your extended family will be.

JEROME’S INPUT — I like to take the approach of adding in some cushion when it comes to the portraits. I schedule about 90 minutes for the first look then the bride and groom portraits, followed by an hour for the wedding party, and end with an hour of family formals. Does it take that long for each one? Not typically. Bigger groups tend to take more time. But for the average wedding with three to five bridesmaids and groomsmen, and the normal mix of immediate family, I usually have about 10 to 15 minutes to spare for each session. I’d much rather plan with some cushion built in than have everything planned down to the minute and be delayed and then the timeline begins to crumble.

Another vendor to bring into the timeline discussion is your caterer. They will help you estimate the time it will take your guests to get through the buffet, eat, enjoy dessert, and be ready to get to the dance floor. These questions depend on your guest count, food service style, and menu.

As for the party part, plan enough time to get your groove on (if that’s your thing) but not so long that you tucker out and just want to head to bed. Plan a get away for the new Mr. and Mrs. about 4-5 hours after the ceremony starts. This typically gives time for lots of fun and not so long that the crowd dwindles.

JEROME’S INPUT — Staying all the way through the reception is one of those details you need to discuss with your fiancé, coordinator and photographer. If you have a photographer that offers an hourly rate, and you have a reception that goes from 7 p.m. until midnight, that could add a little more than you have budgeted.

Feeling overwhelmed? Remember, you can hire a vendor to direct and assist with timeline, decor set up, clean up, and managing all of your amazing vendors.

Question — What can you expect to spend on a day of coordinator?

Answer — A professional planner will charge $900 to $1,500 for 10 to 14 hours of service. This usually includes a site visit to your venue, rehearsal coordination, and wedding day. Remember you get what you pay for! A well meaning aunt or girl friend might want the job, but an experienced vendor is worth their weight in gold. The ability to juggle, stay clam, and meet needs you don’t even know you have yet will be truly what you look back on and say “best money spent.”

Question — How many hours of work goes into planning a wedding from beginning to end for full service and a day of service?

Answer — Full service wedding planning can take up to 20 hours a week, for five to six months. I’d estimate 450-550 hours. Day of Services where the client plans their own event and I come in to execute is about 20-24 hours total, including the site visit, details communication meeting, rehearsal, and wedding day.

Question — What tends to take the most time in the coordination/planning business?

Answer — I spend most of my time assisting bride’s with making decisions. It can be challenging to take the world of Pinterest and fit every idea into a budget. It means minimizing sometimes, adjusting, and often accepting what is the most important. This applies from the first vendor selection a client makes all the way down to the paper the program is printed on, and I cannot make decisions for my clients. So, helping with advice and direction is where I spend most of my time.

Question — What trends are you seeing in the wedding industry and is that making it more or less difficult for couples who are planning on their own?

Answer — A huge trend has been back yard, do-it-yourself events. This is less difficult many times because it can be more cost effective, however it can be very challenging because there are so many details when hosting the party and being the ones celebrating. It often puts a lot of responsibility on the parents, or property owners, and friends and family – where as a hired wedding venue has staff and set up/clean up services built in.

Question — When digital photography truly hit its stride among professional wedding photographers about 10 years ago, digital files were the main focus. There is now a resurgence of having tangible items (albums and prints) from weddings as well as the image files. In the same way with so many planning tools now online, do you see the industry focusing on collaboration with real, life coordinators who can offer unique experiences or ideas for weddings?

Answer — Yes, for sure. An online tool can definitely be helpful and a great place to start. However, a professional coordinator can offer specific advice about your area. Also as a real life person, we planners know our vendors! We can tell you who is amazing, who is inexpensive, and who will make or break your event. What you are paying for is our experience. We can forward think what your guests will need and what will make their party the best, as we’ve done literally hundreds of events. I tell my clients that I will always offer my personal opinion, advice about what I have seen work and not work in the past, and then I will execute whatever they decide to the best of my ability.

Question — How do you work with wedding photographers and how does this benefit the couples you work with?

Answer — Photographers, DJ’s, and coordinators — we are the team that makes any event flow. We work together to manage the timeline, order of events, and the comfort and joy of the couple celebrating. By being the in charge person, I as a coordinator, am the eyes and ears on everything. I manage the details so the photographer can do what he or she is paid to do — take beautiful images. Same for the DJ. I organize the couples’ grand entrance, being sure the photographer gets the best shot possible, so that the DJ can engage the guests and announce the new Mr. & Mrs. while playing the perfect entrance song. I free up the other vendors to do what they are talented to do (take photos, play music, etc.) and they aren’t left looking for the toss bouquet or telling the bride, yes she can have a bathroom break!

JEROME’S INPUT — When it comes to receptions, once again, working with the coordinator and couple is key to ensuring they are getting the look they want. Big, dark skies, or the underside of white tents, don’t add a lot of detail for reception images. Try to run strings of bistro lights, Chinese lanterns, Edison bulbs or something to help break up the blankness. This also helps light up tables and the dance floor too.

Question — If someone is brave enough to go at it on their own, what’s the one piece of advice you have for them?

Answer — Planning: Pick three items that are super important and focus on getting what you really want, spend money on those top three things. Then let the other necessities of a wedding take a back seat. Spend less of your time, energy, and money on them.

Day of advice: Plan as much of your wedding day out as you can, and be sure to communicate that plan to someone who will take over the day of the wedding. You don’t want to be the person everyone asks for things on your own wedding day. It will stress you out.