As the saying goes, it takes a village to throw a wonderful wedding. But, while you might know the value of a great wedding planner, caterer, and florist—even before you start the planning process—an on-site coordinator remains the unsung hero of your special day. As the point person for your venue, your on-site coordinator is by your side from the moment you select a date and sign on the dotted line.
That said, it can be a little tricky to wrap your head around what they do in the first place. How is an on-site coordinator different from a wedding planner? And, what is this wedding workhorse actually doing to make sure your day goes off without a hitch? Keep reading for the answers to your most burning questions.
What Does an On-Site Coordinator Do?
According to Nicole Clayton, owner of a venue in North Carolina called the Cloth Mill at Eno River, an on-site coordinator’s main job is caring for the venue. “Our focus is on the ‘big picture’ of the wedding planning process and day,” she shares. But, as Clayton points out, this role does a lot more than open the venue’s doors on your big day. From assisting with the event’s floor plans, to managing vendors coming in and out of the premises, to handling the flow of traffic, an on-site coordinator is there to make sure the venue is prepared to host your event.
“There is a lot of work that gets done way before your wedding day happens at the venue,” she adds. “The venue coordinator focuses on making sure the air conditioner is working properly when it's 95 degrees outside. Or, if the outdoor ceremony is going to happen because there is a 40 percent chance of rain possible at the time of the ceremony and we need to set out 150 chairs.”
Since an on-site coordinator is responsible for keeping the venue in tip-top shape, this person will be telling you what you can and cannot do with the space. But, don’t worry: Clayton promises that nobody is trying to ruin your big day by prohibiting open flames or not budging on the end time. “Our venue policies are there because we have the expertise and we know what good and bad things can happen if they are not followed; the safety of you, your guests, and vendors are our number one priority.”
However, it’s important to recognize that your on-site coordinator’s exact duties will vary based on your venue. If you’re getting married at a full-service venue—one with its own kitchen, rentals, and bar packages—your on-site coordinator might be facilitating your tasting or linen selection. But, as a general rule of thumb, your on-site coordinator will handle everything that is directly related to the venue.
How They Different From Wedding Planners
Before opening her namesake wedding planning company, Caitlin McDonald Events, Caitlin Dieni was a venue manager at a Bay Area-based event space called Villa Montalvo. With experience as both an on-site coordinator and a wedding planner, Dieni says that the two roles have fundamentally different roles and priorities. Unlike an on-site coordinator—which is essentially a representative for the venue—a wedding planner is there to execute your vision.
“The distinction between a wedding planner and an on-site venue manager is that their teams and priorities are fundamentally different,” she shares. “A venue manager is to be the venue's advocate, manager and ultimately, a sales representative whereas your planner's role is to be an advocate for the client in all matters and their team solely exists from the client perspective.”
From booking vendors to creating budgets to ensuring your big day runs smoothly and on schedule, a wedding planner’s job is to focus on those tiny details to make your day feel special.
Do I Need Both?
Whether or not you choose to hire a wedding planner ultimately depends on your budget and bandwidth; however, it’s a worthy investment if you can afford it. According to Elizabeth Dunlow, owner of Wedding Planning NC, couples who are having 100 or more guests should seriously consider enlisting a professional.
“On the day of your wedding, you don't want to spend your morning sweating, unloading decor, rearranging furniture, steaming linens, and setting the table place settings,” she shares. “You [also] don't want that responsibility to fall on your family and friends. By hiring a day-of coordinator, you can relax and enjoy every moment of your big day.”
While it is possible for couples to double as wedding planners, Dieni says it’s important to know what you’re signing up for first. “It's important to manage expectations and completely understand your responsibilities versus your vendors,” she shares. “When questions arise, you need to know that those will all come to you and disrupt your day.”
What Makes a Great On-Site Coordinator?
Though an on-site coordinator isn’t as involved with the tiny details as a wedding, it’s important to work with someone who is going to champion your big day. In fact, an on-site coordinator has poor communication skills or an attitude might be a red flag for what’s to come.
“The most important thing to know for brides and grooms is that you should only be hiring vendors and venues with your best interest and vision in mind,” Dieni says. “If your vendors are uninspired or lack the ability to understand your vision, then it's just not a good fit, even if the budget is.”
So, what exactly should you look for in a coordinator? While strong organization and communication skills are key, the best coordinators can deftly bridge the gap between the venue’s offerings and a couple’s needs. “A good coordinator is able to make calm decisions in a stressful environment and will always have their client's best interest in mind,” Dunlow says. “It is crucial that the in-house coordinator and the client have a positive relationship; you definitely need to feel comfortable with them and be certain they will have your back.”