Hiring a wedding planner is no easy task. There’s an overwhelming number of wedding planners and coordinators who pop up on Google and plenty of differences in their services. Some spout specialties, like destination wedding planning, while others list what’s included in wedding planning packages tiered by price. Because being a wedding planner isn’t a regulated industry like being a doctor or lawyer—there’s no degree or overseeing institution that accredits planners—the process is fraught with challenges.
The biggest issue that planners and couples face is that pricing isn’t regulated either. Cheaper isn’t necessarily better, and just because two pros say they offer full-service wedding planning doesn’t mean that they offer all the same services. For some planners, full-service means a few hours of planning help while for others, that number can reach 1,000-plus hours of work to pull off your big day. You can’t blanket compare the costs of two pros without understanding what exactly is included in their interpretation of “full-service.”
To help you get a start, we dug into what full-service wedding planning really means by talking to some top wedding planners in the industry.
It includes help hiring vendors.
Whether or not you have a venue or vendors in mind, a full-service wedding planner will help you book every professional you need for your dream day. They’ll likely point out vendors that you never even thought about, such as a glassware rental company or sari drapers to help your guests get ready for your Hindu ceremony. Even if you’ve already found your venue, your planner will be there to manage the conversations between you and that venue, negotiating rates for things like catering and confirming the timeline to ensure everything goes smoothly. Michelle Rago of Michelle Rago Destinations includes site inspections under the umbrella of hiring vendors, which means she’s on the ground checking out the space and noting any potential logistical issues before you make a final booking. “It’s a critical aspect of the planning process,” she says.
It’s about more than the décor.
Successful wedding planning is about more than just the pretty.
Couples tend to mistake wedding decor for all that a planner does, but it’s really the unseen details that matter most. “Successful wedding planning is about more than just the pretty,” explains Las Vegas-based planner Andrea Eppolito. “It’s about the process and the work we do together.” Planners keep your event running on time, put out fires you didn’t even know started, manage small situations like adjusting the room temperature, and function as the mediator between you and, well, everyone. You should be enjoying your wedding day, not worried about the bartender running out of ice. “Full-service planning means anticipating your every need, but also educating you on the options that exist to create something that speaks to who you are,” she adds.
It goes beyond just the couple.
Of course your planner will be focused on you. But they’ll also ensure your guests will all have a memorable experience, says Troy Williams of Simply Troy in Los Angeles. They’ll brainstorm interactive moments to keep your guests entertained while you take photographs, manage the ease of RSVPs, and have your welcome bags delivered to every guest room at the hotel—any touchpoint that a guest has during your wedding planning process and celebration will be addressed. “It’s really thoughtful to all the details, large and small, for ‘every’ guest's experience,” Williams says.
It goes beyond the wedding day.
With the rise of wedding weekends, the popularity of destination affairs, and an abundance of pre-wedding festivities, full-service planners know they may be tapped to help create dream bridal showers and rehearsal dinners that rival the reception. Williams explained that he often has a conversation with couples about assisting with additional celebrations, including honeymoons, and builds that into the contract. “You need to be clear from the start exactly what events you are hiring for,” he says.
It requires the help of an entire team.
One person can’t do it all when it comes to hosting a wedding, be it you, your mother, or your wedding planner. Truly full-service planners arrive onsite with an entire team. For Rago, that means having staff dedicated to specific areas of expertise, like food and beverage, service, decor, and transportation. Each serves as a point person during the planning process as well as day-of, knowing the nitty-gritty details of what’s been organized to avoid any snafus. That also means she’ll hire onsite producers to build decor or facilities for the celebration, noting that sometimes these staff are onsite for the two weeks leading up to the wedding to complete any installations.
It includes contracts and budgeting.
Not into negotiating fine print? That’s where your full-service wedding planner will come in. “From the onset, we build the master budget and manage the payment schedule,” Rago explains. That includes educating couples about the process and what things cost, since it’s a huge learning curve for most to-be-weds. Plus, some couples may not know the budget at the beginning and that’s okay. “Budget discovery takes time,” Rago notes. “You have never thrown a party of this magnitude before.”
It often includes design and production, too.
For many full-service planners, their services go beyond setting up the logistics of the day. They also serve as event designers and producers, like Rago, who can conceptualize the look and feel of your day then organize the means to build out the vision. Others focus solely on logistics, but partner with an event designer to produce the decor. “It’s important to understand the difference between the art of planning, the art of design, and ultimately, the art of production,” Eppolito explains.
Be clear before hiring a planner where they fall on the spectrum to manage expectations and your budget.
It’s having an ally.
“This person will be a part of your most intimate moments and you want to feel an immediate trust,” Williams says of hiring a planner. “It’s a long journey with a lot of emotions along the way, and having someone talented and fun on your side is crucial.” Your planner will serve as your wedding guru during the planning process and can help mediate situations between families when it comes to decor choices and menu picks. That said, your planner is not a therapist nor is he or she available 24-7 to manage your (or your mother’s) anxiety. “Some couples think they are the only couple you’re working with,” says planner Sonal Shah of SJS Events. That’s obviously not the case. Most industry pros are planning weddings for multiple couples at once. It’s important to understand where to draw the line. Express compassion if they don’t get back to you immediately or can’t resolve an intimate interpersonal familial conflict.
It may still require stand-alone charges for services.
Just because it’s full-service, doesn’t mean that the planner can do everything for you. Some services require additional effort, such as travel planning, tracking guests’ flights, and building custom wedding websites, says Rago. Be clear about what your planner does and does not include under the term full-service. Be okay with additional fees for services that require many more hours of work, such as hiring a developer to code a website or enlisting travel agents to organize guests’ airline itineraries and tourist visas.
It includes getting the little things done.
Full-service means going above and beyond answering any beck and call, like arranging group photos, wake-up calls, and steaming clothes. Eppolito is on-hand from the moment you sign the contract to the day your wedding photo album and final video are delivered, even if that’s weeks after the festivities. Shah has reserved poolside cabanas at 7 a.m., sent texts to wedding party members to ensure they wake up, and even steamed clothes. “It means start to finish,” she says. “You are the glue that holds the entire wedding together.”