Wedding Planner’s Lessons

We’ve all heard the phrase; “Learn something new everyday.” But you don’t quite realize the intensity of the phrase until you are amidst a situation that could have turned out better, where you know you’ll find yourself again, and you are literally writing down a synopsis of it in your journal at midnight (so that you don’t forget what it was you learned, the next day, when your feet ache less).

Mistakes are a part of life, often times they are minor and relatively pain-free but with enough impact to guide you moving forward. In Wedding Planning, mistakes are not usually forgiving, the room for error is, well, ideally, none. Yet, listening to advice based on other people’s mistakes is not usually something most people do. Why? I think it’s natural for us to believe we are “different” and thus the mistake someone else made isn’t going to apply to us for any given reason. But we are often wrong. I wonder if life ever laughs out loud at us…

Oh, right, that laughter would be the “mistake” huh?

I admit I’ve done it, more than once…assumed that a decision I’ve made was bullet-proof only to have it blow up in my face. Le sigh, lesson learned, the next time hopefully it wont be as big of a blast… I say next time, because odds are that it will happen again, and I will be better prepared.

Enough pseudo-philosophy though, the real reason for this post is to share with you a couple lessons learned from the last few weddings I’ve done in hopes to guide you away from similar predicaments, it is after all called Wedding Planning for a reason right?

Let’s start with getting married at a public place. If you choose a venue that is public, not only do you have to accept the fact there will be on-lookers marveling at the beauty of your flowers, ceremony set-up, your dress, and even taking pictures in YOUR beautifully decorated altar before you walk down the isle, but you also have to know that there is legally NOTHING that can prevent the public from doing any of the above. While a sweet smile and batting of the eyelashes typically works to shoo away looky-loos, the fact of the matter remains that a convoy of beach cruisers could cut you off as pachabel in D is playing and you are making your way to your beloved.

WPL (Wedding Planner’s Lesson): Thoroughly educate clients about the pros & cons of having a wedding at a public place. For this client, budget was a major concern and the ability to use a city beach for their ceremony fit the restrictions of that budget perfectly, but the anxiety my client experienced upon realizing how many people had gathered to stare at her walk down the sand (donning their beach best mind you)– I was heart broken for her. I saw her eyes well-up because this was not the moment she had envisioned in her mind all these months of planning. I wished I could have blocked the people from her sight, put groom-goggles on her… something, anything for her to lose focus on what surrounded her. But alas, I couldn’t. Some may say I can’t possibly prepare anyone for the variety of emotions and reactions they will experience on their wedding day, and it’s true, but now you’ve got the picture of what another client experienced by being married out in one of the beautiful open spaces San Diego has to offer. It is up to you to decide if paying for essentially, privacy, is worth it to you, and if so… how much?

The second scenario I’d like to share is one of a two-hour long formal dinner. Two hours may not seem like very long for a formal, three-course dinner with an intermezzo, but when your reception is only four hours long with no option to extend, you’ve now spent half your time sitting and eating with little time to mingle with your guests, dance, or go through the rest of the formalities you planned on incorporating (cake cutting, garter/bouquet toss, dancing with parents, etc.) smoothly… now you’ll have to rush through them.

Yowza! Time truly does fly when you’re having fun… except for when you aren’t because you’re waiting around to be served your food- which is your guest’s perspective of this looong formal meal. Did I mention we only had 75 people? Double Yowza!

For this instance, budget was also a factor. The catering staff was only hired with bare minimum staff to cut back on some of the costs, without affecting the desired menu. The caterer did advise we change the menu instead of cutting back to minimal staff, but ultimately the client decided otherwise, and thus the four-hour reception turned into 45 minutes of open dancing, plus an increased cost for the photographer who had to stay an extra hour to cover the remaining events that didn’t happen at the estimated time… for the guests were barely being served the second course when toasts where supposed to have been starting. Not to mention a whole lot of cake went to waste because nobody wanted to eat cake right after dinner…

WPL: There are various different options here that could have made a difference. The first would have happened during the planning stages- Which is to come up with a preliminary reception timeline that the caterer can evaluate (from the food service stand point) during negotiations, this will allow the client to make an educated decision on menu and realistic service staff needed for desired results (a dinner service that isn’t 2 hours long). Even if the client changes their mind about the inclusions of formalities to the event later, the core of the reception (the meal) will be executed efficiently. If the client hires me after the caterer has been contracted, then make reviewing the catering contract a priority before anything else so that potential problems can be addressed early on (and thus allocating budget appropriately).

The second option, which would help avoid dragging out  the dinner & formalities, would be to conduct some of the formalities between courses, say do the toasts between clearing of the first course and serving of the second (although the time it takes to pour champagne needs to be taken into account), then maybe do the father-daughter dance during the intermezzo… Last-minute decisions made under pressure are never fun, especially when for months a client has had a specific picture in their mind, and I certainly don’t enjoy having them go through the “let’s make this decision quick” process. But perhaps it would have helped? Perhaps not? I mean we could have had issues with the photo/video team not being able to eat and cover the formalities as well (since they usually eat at the same time the couple eats).

While there are many more factors that lead to the above scenarios and the percentage of my responsibility in each is up for debate, the ultimate goal is to assure I am learning and continually refining my processes. Sure, every situation is unique, but no matter how many times I do a wedding or how long I’ve been doing them, room for growth always abounds, I’d be in denial if I thought otherwise. I hope you have learned something too.




  1. Meaghan Schmaltz says:

    Great post Brenda. I so appreciate your ability to be candid. I’ll be adding these WPL’s to my mental check list for my future events!

  2. I think I’m going to need to start a checklist! Such good points, though, seriously. Thank you for sharing! 🙂 And for admitting that everyone makes mistakes 😉 You rock!!!

  3. Well done, Brenda. We never seem to run out of “Lessons Learned”. It’s a great category for every business owner’s journal!

  4. Courtney Tibbets says:

    Great post, as always! I like the idea of a preliminary timeline with the caterer.

  5. Audrey Mac says:

    Brenda, it seems wedding planning is always a work in progress. I don’t envy you that, but I do envy all that you have left your formal brides. A sense that someone is on their side and, when something (inevitably) veers from the planned vision, you bring prespective (i.e. groom-goggles). I think my wedding taught me at the least “there should always be clearly posted information during open bar” and at the most “if you have doubts, decide not to have one” =) C’est la vie.

  6. Great Post!!!!! Very helpful tips

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