This is a bit of a complicated topic.
I can’t speak for all planners, and I certainly don’t have inside information as to how other planners operate, but I’ve been asked this question a lot, particularly lately.
In fact, I’ve had quite a few non-client brides reach out to me because they’re feeling overwhelmed with the planning process, not hearing back from their planner when they email them, or if they do, only vague answers, not having regular communication or not having the vendors they want booked in. I’ve even had some saying they had to find and book in their own venues and vendors because their planners just haven’t been responsive.
My heart goes out to these brides-to-be as this planning journey can be stressful at times, yes, but it should also be exciting and fun and ultimately get you in the mood for your big day.
These stand-alone occurrences are also not representative of our whole industry.
One thing I’ll mention before I proceed with this post, is that planners are very busy. Each planner will have their own database of clients for the year, and how many or how little they take will often dictate how responsive they are because it'll be a reflection of their workload.
Also, remember – we are human. We also have families, days off, and sick days so cannot be there for you all the time. We are your planners, not your personal assistant on-call 24/7.
In saying this though, I do not think it is unreasonable to expect timely replies and reassurances during work hours throughout the entire planning process, from start to finish.
Some planners work beyond those designated work hours, some stick to their hours strictly, and that is a personal choice they have the right to make. It's up to you as the client to choose a planner who's communication style is in line with your own.
For all of the brides and grooms out there wondering what they should expect and what they should not expect, do keep in mind I’m writing this from my perspective as a planner, and how my company Plan A operates. This is not a global guideline and should be taken as suggestion not hard fact.
This is an opinion piece, and in no way how every planner should or will operate.
In the section where I write about what not to expect, this is not to say that that planners don’t do these things, but it’s more that some may and some may not, so it’s something not to expect but if they do it, take it as a bonus!
I'll also take a moment now, to define what a wedding planner does - in my eyes anyway.
A wedding planner is someone you engage to handle the entire planning and logistics of your big day. They are responsible for your venue, vendors and execution of your event or wedding. As such, you hire them so that you don't have to deal with the nitty-gritty of the planning process, communicating with them to express your needs and desires for your day, and let them handle making the relevant arrangements.
Some clients prefer to handle some aspects on their own others want their planner to handle it all. So this really depends on you and the arrangement you have with your planner.
A planner is NOT a coordinator. A coordinator is the person on the day who ensure the the actual day unfolds the way you and your planner have organized it to. Some planners wear both hats, some have two departments for this. Same goes for styling and stylists.
What you should expect:
Planning a wedding is daunting enough amidst the excitement. There are so many moving parts. So when you’re planning a destination wedding, you have the added stress of the wedding being overseas and all the extra elements that come with that such as flights, accommodation bookings before and after the wedding, transport, language and cultural barriers, consideration of extras for your guests such as nannies, drivers, medical facilities…the list goes on.
To ease your mind, your planner should be replying to you in a timely manner to soothe your mind and help you understand all of the above so you can give the relevant information to your invitees. Waiting around for a reply can be frustrating and make you second guess your choices. You shouldn’t have to be waiting weeks to get answers about simple things like vendor choice or availability.
If you don’t hear from your planner for lengths of time regularly, don’t feel bad about following up until you get your answers. It’ll feel annoying, but the whole point of having a planner is so that you don’t have to do things yourself!
You should be given a variety of options for your big day.
This includes options of locations, venues, suppliers and vendors.
Be wary of anyone who selects vendors for you without giving you a choice.
Your planner should be neutral, and have no ulterior motive for suggesting certain vendors or venues over others.
The exception of course are venues which have f&b or wedding packages as mandatory parts of their conditions to having your event there.
Oftentimes, your planner will suggest certain vendors based on your needs and budget. But they should also give you other options because despite you giving your budget restrictions, only you know if you are willing to extend that budget or not, meaning you have the right to see what else is out there that may suit your needs better.
You may find what your planner has chosen for you is spot on. And usually this is the case.
However, being given options of what else is out there is paramount in my opinion to help you feel secure in the choices you’ve made because you’ll have a point of comparison.
If you’ve paid for the services of a planner, they should be available for you when you need them.
Granted, as with any business, you’re expected to make an appointment for phone calls or Zooms because we also have super busy schedules and are managing weddings and events for many other couples. Our days include emails, phone calls, meetings with venues, other couples, vendors, and of course, events.
As mentioned above, emails should be an easy thing to get a prompt response from, but your planner should also be accessible to you via other means of communication.
During your initial meeting with your prospective planner, before any money has been paid, make sure you have a clear understanding of what forms of communication they use with their clients and how regularly you can expect them to communicate with you. Some planners work on your plans from the very beginning, others will not start until much closer to the date because they are focusing on events occurring before yours.
Clearing this up from the beginning can avoid any disappointment and frustration in the future when you know what to expect from day dot, and help you choose a planner who's planning style suits your personality and needs.
Tastings, trials and site visits
I always advise my clients to come check out venues, vendors and have trials and tastings before the big day.
What may look amazing on paper (or website) could be the total opposite in real life. Likewise, what you may not have considered an option, may blow you away when you see it in person.
If you’re able to come to your destination wedding location prior to the wedding, your planner should be on top of handling all the vendors and venues you want to see.
This helps you feel reassured, address any issues early on so that they don’t occur on your special day and have you heading home feeling excited and knowing what to expect.
If you know what you want, and which vendor or supplier you want it from, voice this and have your planner lock them in right away. If you are unsure still of what you want, then have your planner give you options so that you can choose.
Either way, once you know, you should get confirmation from your planner as soon as you've made your decision as to whether your vendor/supplier was available, and if they were, that the items or services you requested have been locked in. In the case that your vendor/supplier wasn't available, then your planner should give you alternative options or find the same options elsewhere to lock in and let you know. This saves you from wondering or stressing if things have been done.
It's easy for planners not to give constant updates to their clients for every little detail. You have hired us to handle your day, and thats exactly what we do. We often do this on autopilot and once the item is locked in, we move onto the next item. When we know what you want, we make sure it happens. Not all planners feel the need to report every detail back.
You see, in our eyes, we expect you trust us implicitly to handle your dreams, so don't always feel the need to report back to you for something that's been done as you wanted because after all, you expect it anyway so in our minds, it's a given we'll make it happen. If you're a details person though, this can be anxiety inducing because you want to know its been done, so make sure you ask for reassurance from your planner that what you've asked for has in fact been cemented.
Runsheets and Layouts
All venues require runsheets and layouts of your big day prior to your day eventuating.
YOU should also have copies of this.
Your planner should be giving you a clear indication of when things will happen and where things will happen.
This should be given early enough in the planning process so that you can add, remove, or change whatever you like (provided its possible/allowed) so the day truly reflects you.
I can guarantee plans will change a million times before the big day, so having these earlier rather than later will really help you with your organization and peace of mind during the planning process.
What you should not expect:
Someone you can call any time
Yes your planner is organizing your whole day but, also remember they are also organizing dozens of other events for their other clients.
You cannot just call whenever you want, because they may be in a meeting, on a food tasting or site visit with another client, or they may be executing an event during that time.
Your planner IS there for you, but just as you wouldn’t waltz into the dentist or hairdresser and say you want the treatment or service then and there (you'd be told you need to make a prior appointment), neither can you do that with your planner.
We are, at the end of the day, a business, and as such require appointments to take your calls. This is to ensure you have our full undivided attention and there will be no other interruptions.
You would hate it if your planner was meeting with you then abruptly left to take a call from another client, so don’t do it to others.
Transfers and accommodation for all your guests
Some planners do this, some don’t.
If your guests are staying at a resort, often their airport transfers are included in the resorts services.
If your guests are staying at a villa or Airbnb, they may not, and will require a driver to help them with airport transfers.
Whatever the case may be, it’s best to find out early on if your planner offers Guest Management too or not. If not, do they offer it for an extra fee?
It’s a LOT of extra work on top of planning a wedding so best to know this from the beginning so that you can inform your guests of what to expect early on so they can make the appropriate arrangements.
Management of RSVPs
Similarly to guest management, this is a service that is not always included with all planners.
Let your planner know from the beginning if this is what you expect so you can transfer the names of all your guests, dietary requirements or restrictions, and any other details that your planner would need to know.
Keep in mind a strict cut off date for RSVP’s needs to be enforced as this will greatly affect your catering, bar, flatware and furniture orders for the big day. Having less than expected after the RSVP cut off date will result in you having to pay for those not attending anyway, and anyone RSVPing late will result in you having to pay extra at the end - and who wants to deal with payments on or on the day after your wedding?
Either way it costs to not have this properly managed so ensure this is organized and understood early on with your planner as to who will manage this.
This is such an important and detailed aspect of your wedding, so make sure the task is delegated to one person because as they say, too many cooks in the kitchen…
Creation of your wedding website
This is often very personal and more often than not, the couple's like to do this themselves.
And because there are so many wedding website platforms out there, typically your planner does not handle this.
However there have been clients who do require this.
Unless you are expecting your planner to handle your invitations, all signage and RSVPs, and would therefore be handling the fonts, style and color scheme for your wedding, it doesn’t make much sense for them to create your website which could be totally unaligned with the rest of your planning.
You can most certainly ask your planner for advice of what to include in your website, but apart from that, this is not a service included in planning that I see very often. You may want to enlist the help of a stylist if you require this.
Fighting on your behalf
Yes, you are our priorities, and we do everything we can to ensure you have a smooth planning process and a magical day.
However just as important to us are our relationships with the venues and vendors/suppliers. Without them, your big day would literally not be able to happen. They are often the unsung heroes of events and our relationships with them are paramount to ensuring you get the day you want.
Each will have their own sets of terms and conditions which they are well within their right to have. Just because it's "not how it would be where I come from", doesn't mean they can't and won't stand by their clauses. Remember, you're having a destination wedding. It will not be like how things are at home, and you will need to keep that in mind during the whole planning process.
Your planner will be able to negotiate for you up to a certain point. But if what you're asking is at risk of jeopardizing long-standing business relationships, you may find your planner will simply say no.
Many of your vendors are small, locally run businesses, so trying to haggle on pricing with them will have a far bigger impact on them than you. Equally, for foreign run businesses, just to operate, the costs of licensing and registrations of companies are beyond astronomical so asking for discounts will only get you so far.
Sure you could get a bouquet for $20...but don't expect it to be the same as the one you used for your inspo on Pinterest which in all reality would probably cost upwards of $250.
Remember, you get what you pay for, and this applies to everyone you hire for your wedding.
Organizing your pre and post events
Welcome drinks/dinners before your wedding and recovery days after your wedding are super common with destination events.
Having all your guests fly over for your big day is a lot of effort on their behalf. I mean of course they want to be there on your special day, but it’s also an expensive endeavor for them with flights, accommodation, food, shopping and all the rest that comes with destination weddings for guests. This is why many couples ensure that their guests are not coming for just one day, but give them a fun filled full on experience over several days.
These extra days come with a whole lot of other planning.
Although not as intense as a wedding, they still require venues, f&b, décor, music and all the rest of it.
Due to the involvement of it all, many clients hope their planner can assist with this part too.
Find out early on if your planner charges extra fees for this because they see it as an extra event, or if they’re happy to make the arrangements free of charge.
If they don’t include it, make sure you get a planner who is on top of your wedding and is prompt and responsive so you can focus on the planning of your secondary events.
If they do include it, just sit back and enjoy the ride!
So there you have it, my view on what you should expect from your planner.
Keep in mind though, as mentioned earlier, this is just a guide, based on my own personal views and don't equate to what is expected industry wide.
I may have many other planners agree and many other disagree with what I've written. And that’s okay, because we all run our businesses differently so it’s only natural to have different inclusions, exclusions and methods of operating.
In my mind though, whether its for planning a wedding, or operating any other business, choose the one who is transparent, communicative, and accessible. A company with a team who listens and caters to your needs for your day and during the lead up.
If you’re not feeling heard, speak up.
This is your special day, don’t let it be any less than that.