Planning a wedding comes with a whole new set of vocabulary, and words you thought you understood suddenly take on entirely new meanings. One of the biggest distinctions that a bride needs to figure out is what, exactly, the difference is between a wedding planner, a wedding designer, and a wedding coordinator. And who better to ask than the professionals themselves?
Read on for a breakdown of what each different wedding pro does, from the professionals themselves.
Wedding planners are all about the logistics, from vendor referrals and contract negotiation to day-of execution of your vision. "Planners take the guesswork out of the process, making planning a wedding as seamless and smooth as possible," says Renny Pedersen, owner and creative director of Bliss Weddings & Events. "A planner will keep track of your budget and handle the logistics. This is a skill that many can learn, but only the best planners have the years of experience and credentials that set them above the rest."
Some planners also provide design or styling services, helping with the creative specifics of your wedding day while others opt to leave those details to a wedding designer—which means you'll need to hire two professionals to create the day you've dreamed of. Be sure to discuss whether your planner offers design services beforehand.
Wedding Planner Duties
- Provides vendor referrals and negotiates contracts; schedules and attends all vendor meetings.
- Creates detailed timelines and floor plans.
- Helps determine and manage your budget.
- Attends site tours and menu tastings.
- Brainstorms style ideas and coordinates design details.
- Coordinates hotel room blocks and transportation.
- Manages the rehearsal.
- Oversees everything on the wedding day (makes sure everyone adheres to the timeline, handles snafus, manages vendors, and executes your vision on-site).
Hire a Wedding Planner If...
- You have the budget for it.
- You want the least possible amount of wedding-related stress.
- You have no free time because of a demanding job.
- You have no clue where to start when it comes to planning, and your organizational skills aren't the greatest.
- You have a very short time frame for planning.
- You're throwing a destination wedding and/or a wedding weekend involving multiple events.
- You're hosting your wedding in an unusual space (read: not a hotel, restaurant, or banquet hall).
A wedding designer's role is purely aesthetic and doesn't include things like contract negotiations or attending appointments alongside the bride. "We specialize in design, consulting on everything from floor plans and lighting design to the flowers, furniture, linens, and attire," says Tracy Taylor Ward, president and principal designer of Tracy Taylor Ward Design. "We help with the decisions that will give your event a cohesive, stylish, and sophisticated look."
The ability to design an event and create an atmosphere is a unique and rare talent. "It's more than choosing linens and chairs," says Pedersen. "A designer has an artistic eye that allows them to conceptualize the whole event and truly transform a space."
Wedding Designer Duties
- Creates the wedding's design concept.
- Provides color palette guidance.
- Oversees the decor budget and vendors (florist, rentals, lighting, stationery).
- Sources special props and equipment.
- Attends a site visit to visualize where you want everything to go, devise a layout, and identify potential problems.
- Creates detailed floor plans.
- Ensures all of the decor elements are in place on-site at the wedding.
Hire a Wedding Designer If...
- The decor is the most important element of the wedding for you.
- You're confident in your organizational and logistical skills, but your creative skills are lacking.
- You're trying to pull off a very specific theme or you have a million wedding style ideas that you can't narrow down.
A wedding coordinator is logistically focused but on a shorter timeline than a planner. They usually begin helping you prepare a month before the wedding and function as the point person on the wedding day. They will confirm vendor contracts and create a day-of timeline, as well as make sure things like payments and guest counts are in order, but won't be involved in the earlier planning phases or keeping track of your budget.
"Part of their job is to coordinate everything involved on the day of the event, from load-in and load-out to ensuring that everyone is on schedule," says Pedersen.
Coordinators make sure everything you've done up until they take over is in good shape. "Hiring a coordinator to take over the month before your wedding gives them time to tweak any details and follow up on loose ends," says event planner Andie Cuttiford. Everything is in order, nothing is forgotten, and you're free to enjoy your wedding day.
Wedding Coordinator Duties
- Meets with you four to eight weeks before the wedding to get a handle on what you've planned thus far.
- Checks in with your vendors to review the signed contracts and confirm logistics.
- Creates detailed timelines and floor plans.
- Completes a final walk-through of the ceremony and reception sites.
- Addresses any overlooked details (such as forgetting to hire a coat check attendant).
- Manages the rehearsal.
- Oversees everything on the wedding day.
Hire a Wedding Coordinator If...
- You want to play an active role in planning your wedding but would like someone to take care of the last-minute details and make sure you haven't missed anything.
- You're extremely organized and detail-oriented.
- You don't have the budget for a full-service wedding planner.
A Few Key Things To Keep In Mind
Whether you hire a wedding planner, designer, or coordinator, here are a few tips to help the process go as smoothly as possible.
1. Book Ahead of Time
It's best to secure these professionals as soon as you know your wedding date—even if they aren't getting involved until the month before. This tactic also can help you get the most for your money. "If a couple books us early, we're happy to provide them with our list of performance-driven vendor recommendations," says Anna Leath of Just About Married in New York City.
2. Consider the Cost
Planners tell us that, for the most part, full-service wedding production and design runs approximately 15 to 20 percent of the total wedding cost, depending on the planner's experience, what region of the U.S. they're based in, and how much time your wedding demands. A wedding director generally will cost at least 25 percent of what a full-service planner would charge (so if the total package is $10,000, you can expect to pay $2,500 for a limited-service package). You probably can expect to pay between $2,000 and $6,000 for a qualified wedding director and $8,000 and $30,000 for a wedding planner or designer.
3. Vet Your Pros
There's no license or certification required to practice wedding planning—and while belonging to an organization like the Association of Bridal Consultants, the Association of Certified Professional Wedding Consultants, or the Wedding Industry Professionals Association is an indicator of experience, it's not the only one. Talent speaks for itself via photos on the planner's company website or blog.
As with all the pros you hire, always read reviews and politely ask for references from other vendors and couples.
4. Always Put Someone in Charge of Day-Of Tasks
Someone—not you—needs to make sure the wedding day itself runs smoothly and that everything you've planned is executed properly. But what if a professional wedding planner is not in your budget? While most venue coordinators and catering managers are happy to handle basic on-site logistics and simple setups—like arranging escort cards on a table or placing menu cards on each plate—keep in mind that their allegiance ultimately is to their employer, not you (meaning they're making sure the food is served on time, not that the DJ is playing the right songs or that there are enough pens for the guestbook).
"It would be unfair to expect your vendors to handle tasks they weren't hired for, but it's helpful to tell them that you don't have a planner and won't be securing one," says Joyce Scardina Becker of Events of Distinction in San Francisco and Los Angeles. "The most professional people certainly will do as much as they can for you."
The best option is to ask a responsible, trusted friend to handle a few important tasks, like managing the timeline or handling any snafus that arise with vendors, and then to thank the person with a gift card to a store that they like. "But you have to be really understanding that this is not the person's profession—don't expect everything to be perfect," says Leath.