A Guide for Engaged Couples from an Industry Insider
It’s hard to pin down exactly how I became a wedding coordinator, but here’s what happened…
I was working for a catering company. I was new-ish, and just starting to get the better gigs – working in the client’s home with a few other staffers, increasing the likelihood of a good tip. I remember watching my co-workers handle a situation where the client was in a terrible mood from the moment we arrived, and complained about everything, including the cocktail napkins we had brought, saying, “These aren’t fit to use as toilet paper! What are we going to do?!” before opening a drawer full of her own fancy cocktail napkins. I watched how the chef, a notoriously calm dude, kept a steady gaze, didn’t interrupt. It didn’t help, but it didn’t make things worse. I watched as the other server grabbed a bottle of Grey Goose from the freezer, winking at me. Within half an hour, the client was soothed, and by the end of the evening, we had gotten her on our side. I remember she said, “It’s not how you start, it’s how you finish,” and that she tipped us handsomely.
It was in these intimate environments that I developed a skill for dealing with demanding, anxious, and frazzled clients. I relied on an even tone, and found empathy for people who wanted things “just-so”. I also fostered infinite patience for people who are not related to me. It was in part because of this skillset that I caught the attention of the coordinators with whom we worked, who are some of the most demanding, perfectionist, and sharp-eyed people you’ll ever encounter. I started assisting on their weddings, and of course, landed the highly un-coveted role as “bridal party handler.”
Let me tell you about the worst bride I ever met. I was warned I would have to corral her often, as she was notoriously bad at being on time. I was also quickly made aware of how incredibly vain she was and noted that whenever she saw an opportunity to be photographed, she would halt all progress. I had to get real with the photographer at one point: “Please, can you just go down to the car or she will never leave this apartment.” I begged. As her handler, all I had to do was get her to the ceremony on time, and after that, stick by her in case she needed anything. What she decided she needed was for someone to hold her train so that it wouldn’t hit the floor for the entire cocktail hour as she greeted her guests, many of whom were her new husband’s wealthy friends and business contacts. All of them gave me apologetic looks, and I did my best to keep a straight face as I inwardly rolled my eyes and giggled at how pretentious this woman was, and how bad a job she was doing of impressing those people she so badly wanted to woo.
Listen. You don’t want to be that person. This day is about you, and everyone knows it. You’ll be the center of attention no matter what, so it’s best if when eyes are on you, you’re the picture of serenity, and that you and your partner are the archetypes of love. Take it from me, the ringer they bring in when people are being difficult. Becoming a “zilla” is totally preventable. Here’s how.
GET YOUR GUEST LIST IN ORDER
Before you do anything else – before you check out venues or start crowdsourcing the best caterer, tailor, florist, and photographer – nail down who you want at your shindig. If you’re on the fence about whether you’re having a destination, intimate, or larger wedding, the guest list will help you nail that down. It will also get the ball rolling for a talk about the bridal party.
If your parents are helping you pay for the wedding (or paying for it entirely), they may feel that gives them carte blanche to invite all of their friends. This is a touchy subject but I’m going to bite the bullet: it’s your wedding. Try to set yourself up for success, which means no resentment towards your in-laws. My husband and I both have huge families and lots of close friends who live all over the world – the result of having lived together for a year in his native Paris. Our venue had a cap of 140 guests and both sides of parents had certain friends they had to invite, so we made a rule: we only wanted people in the room who love us (and we didn’t want to have to be fake-nice to anyone). It was a challenge, but I eventually whittled my parents’ lists down to a minimum of strangers. I’m happy to say there were just two couples at my wedding whom neither I nor my husband had ever met before.
If you have guests who’ll need to travel, a save-the-date minimum six months before the wedding is necessary. You can send this by email or even call them. If a guest is really important to you, don’t make them wait for the formal invitation.
Your guest list and your parents’ lists will also get the ball rolling to talk about your budget, and on that note, I need you to listen very carefully. Do us all a favour and…
BE WILLING TO PAY FULL PRICE
We all know that when suppliers hear the word “wedding” they jack up the price. A good coordinator will be able to tell you what a fair price is and get it for you. Coordinators have relationships with suppliers and while you will only get married once, they are the ones giving those suppliers repeat business. I won’t allow someone to gouge you for candles, for example, because I know where the supplier orders them and you can too.
Equally, as a coordinator, it is not worth it for me to damage my relationship with a supplier by insisting on a discount for you. If you aren’t using a coordinator, or if you have some friends in the business, you may want to try to nickel and dime them so that you can stay within your budget, but I sincerely beg you not to do this. It’s nearly always true that you get what you pay for, and on this all-important day, it’s at best not ideal and potentially catastrophic to have people on site who feel like they are doing you a favour by showing up. Just think about how you feel when you’re working overtime for free. Ever heard the expression, “they can’t complain”? Yeah. That’s you, on your wedding day, when the bar service shows up without bussers because your buddy owns the company, and his very limited staff left a huge mess and the venue charges you a $1000 clean-up fee. Pony up.
I’ve also had super easy clients who pay me upfront and even tip me in advance. I was so concerned that they would feel they had overpaid me that I kept my assistant a little longer and shared the wealth, and had no qualms about springing for little extras, like the long BBQ lighters we need to light floating candles. Be generous with people, and they will be generous with you. I try to charge fairly, and I will go above and beyond for my clients.
Conversely, clients who nickel and dime their suppliers leave them saying (how many times have I heard this?) “I’m not making any money on this gig.” This translates to cutting staff earlier than they should be (meaning no one is left to serve dessert or tidy up), annoyance about your last-minute requests (and you will have some!), and a general unwillingness to negotiate or throw in a few extras. I’m not saying you can’t call your coordinator as much as you need to, but take care with your tone and their time. I often joke that 90% of my job is being nice to people, because I will inevitably ask someone to do something that is outside their job description during the event, and I want their answer to be, “For you, Carrie-Ann, it would be my pleasure” and not “that’s not my job”. It could be as simple as asking the photographer to help me move the cake, or the caterer to set aside the vases for the florist. It’s just easier to get shit done if people don’t fucking hate you. (Remember: yelling at the caterer before they have served the first course never ends well.) People love a reason to gossip, so don’t give them one.
Re-work your budget so that you can pay people what they deserve, and don’t forget to tip. And then set aside even more money.
SET ASIDE AN EMERGENCY BUDGET
Give yourself a buffer so that you can throw money at a problem. Depending on the scale of your event, that could be $500 or $5000. Take the price of your wedding dress or custom suit: that is how much you need in your emergency fund. No, not your “oh let’s blow the budget and spring for a band” fund… your “it’s the week before my wedding and something went terribly wrong” fund. Note the distinction. In a perfect world, you won’t spend that money and you can put it towards the honeymoon. But something probably will go wrong, so on that note…
KNOW THAT SOMETHING WILL GO WRONG AND GET OKAY WITH IT
It’s important to accept, starting right now, that something won’t go the way you planned it. Your miniature-vase-place-card-holders may not arrive in time, or your dress might not fit because the store didn’t warn you that they were going out of business and your last alteration was three months before your wedding day. I had one bride who told me she’d freak if a baby cried while she was walking down the aisle, and I said, “Get okay with it babe, cause it’s gonna happen.” I can do a lot for you but I cannot control a crying baby. Or a power outage (although I do have something in my back pocket for that one). Or the groom dislocating his shoulder mid-hora. Or your officiant mispronouncing your name throughout the ceremony.
TRIPLE-CHECK-IN ON YOUR OFFICIANT
Traditional officiants perform a massive amount of weddings and other rituals, which means that, yes, they know what they are doing, but it also means that sometimes one event blends into the other. This can and does lead to them forgetting to mention something significant, or blindsiding you by turning your atheist ceremony super-religious (yup, that’s exactly what happened at my own wedding). Take the time to send them an email a few days before your wedding to remind them what is most important to you for the ceremony.
Here’s a sample email, based on one sent by a very organized bride I worked with last season after I told her some of my horror stories:
I just wanted to confirm everything with you for the wedding which is this coming Sunday!
Date: Sunday, June 10, 2019
Location: Ristorante Beatrice – 1504 Sherbrooke Street West
We will do a quick rehearsal at around 4 with the procession and then proceed with the Ketubah signing for 4:30pm
Ketubah: Provided by you!
We have the chuppah ordered, kosher white wine, wine glass and all other necessary items on our list!
Recap of family members:
Maid of Honour
If you are unsure of any details or want more information please free to email, text, or call me!
Thank you and looking forward to seeing you Sunday!
It’s really common nowadays, especially for secular weddings, to have a friend officiate the marriage. It’s a lovely way to add a personal and whimsical touch, but it has its own pitfalls. For example, someone who has never performed a ceremony might take it too seriously, and really milk their time with the microphone. (This is most common with MC’s, and I have nearly had words with an MC who would. Not. Stop. Talking. Every time he went to introduce a speech, he made a speech to introduce the speech. Too many speeches.) If it’s a friend, they may want to surprise you, and surprised you will be when they ask you to produce your handwritten vows that you don’t recall agreeing to write. And speaking of speaking…
REMIND YOUR SPEAKERS TO KEEP IT SHORT
Be careful who you invite to speak, including your above-mentioned MC, and be careful to remind them that shorter is sweeter. What do they want to say to you and 200 of your closest friends? Let’s get to dancing! Asking a trusted friend or family member to look over your parents’ speeches for too-embarrassing moments (like the time you stuffed your bra with tissues and then passed it out when someone sneezed) or lengthy stories that don’t lead anywhere.
Anything over three minutes can and should be said in a letter and there does not need to be an embarrassing slide show to go along with it. Your coordinator can protect you from unscheduled speeches, and then you don’t have to be the bad guy. If guests approach you and ask to speak (because I have told them I am not handing over the mic without your permission), just blame the “timeline” and admit it: you’re not in charge. Let go. Trust me to run it, and I will protect you from your friends who over-enjoyed the open bar. And that brings me to my final piece of advice – even if you’re simply getting married at city hall proceeded by an intimate dinner at a swanky restaurant…
HIRE A PLANNER
The most organized, efficient, best person to ever plan their own wedding still needs at a minimum a day-of coordinator, or they won’t be able to relax and enjoy the day. Think about it: you spent all of this time and effort and money to have a memorable day, and when it’s all over, you feel empty because you didn’t get to look your partner in the eye and celebrate it. You were stressed and lost your temper (and yelled at the groom during the main course so that when my boss asked me if the couple had eaten and could we start speeches I had to say, “No, they haven’t eaten yet… because the bride is browbeating the groom at the head table where they are seated with both of their families.”). You were busy worrying and not busy getting your guests on the dance floor by being on the dance floor. Your energy sets the tone of the event, and if you don’t have fun, neither will your guests. Make memories and let someone else worry about the timeline.
Your planner can also help you avoid logistical nightmares, like the bride I had who was determined to avoid rental fees by buying absolutely every item that went on her tabletop so she could try to sell it after. Or the panic of how last-minute some suppliers can be (they’ll know who to trust to pull it off, even if it’s last minute because surprise, you didn’t realize you picked Grand Prix weekend to get married).
A good planner will talk you out of doing things that will only stress you out, like insisting on a pre-ceremony sound bath and wishes on feathers and a silent meditative walk through the woods or having an outdoor ceremony in November. They’ll also remind you to enjoy your day, and let you make memories with your new husband or wife and see how much fun all your friends are having. Bottom line: your guests will have fun if you’re having fun.
A good planner will give you the benefit of their experience. In all likelihood, you haven’t done this before, and you don’t plan to be doing it again. Find someone who knows what’s up that you can trust to take the reigns, and it will be so much easier to be nice. As one planner I know often says, “Nice brides get nice weather.” She’s wrong, of course – we can’t control the weather… but we can control how nice a day you have. You catch more flies with honey.
Carrie-Ann Kloda is a wedding planner, a writer, and a yoga teacher. You can see her writing at heycarrieannk.com, take her class at Yoga Vieux Montreal, or contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org. Now booking for 2019 and 2020 seasons.
All photos – Steve Gerrard Photography