Hey lovelies! It’s me again with another installment of my Girlfriend’s Guide to Wedding Photography where I give you the 🙌 truth about the ins and outs of planning your wedding from a photographer’s perspective. Today I want to talk about free coordinators, vendor coordinators or any coordinator that isn’t an actual wedding planner by trade. I call these “off-brand” coordinators. These types of coordinators can definitely be an asset but only if used in conjunction with a skilled professional wedding planner. And not used in place of a wedding planner.
I know. I know. You look at your venue and they include an event coordinator or your caterer builds a timeline for you and offers day-of coordination and you think to yourself… “This is AH-MAZE-BALLS, I can have a stress-free day AND save myself some money!”. Except, behind the scenes it’s not and their roles are so much more limited than what a wedding planners is.
Getting to the straight skinny on this… these vendors are not experienced with all the ins and outs of a wedding day and are only expert in their given field. Their number one goal is not to ensure you have an all-around stress-free day but to ensure that all the planning that they take part in works well with their services. I know that sounds harsh… but think about it this way… when faced with a task that directly impacts the off-brand coordinator’s provided service… do you think they are going to side on what’s best for the overall day or the best for their provided service? Here’s an example… photography (you know the record of your day for the next 100 years) is running late because it rained the morning of your weather and you lucked out during cocktail hour with clear skies and an opportunity to do your images outside at the gorgeous location you have chosen. This means the reception will need to start late… a skilled wedding planner would carefully weigh the options, move toasts and ensure that the food is served fresh with a very short delay… skillfully balancing what’s right for both photos and food and the wants of the client. I can speak from experience that caterer coordinator will not make the same decisions and at times refuse to feed the guests ahead of the couple to ensure both the food is served fresh and the couple’s day is documented.
Here’s the truth: There is only one hand-to-God caterer coordinator that I would ever trust 💯 in this area is… Mazzone Catering. Their day-of coordinators know exactly what to do and what not to do. They know how to stay out of photos and they just treat other vendors like they matter. Everyone else… not so much. So if you’ve hired them… I hear angel music in the background and I hope I’m your photographer. I’ve never had one bad experience with Mazzone’s.
However, this is not the case with any other caterer coordinator I’ve ever worked with. These off-brand coordinators are on the top of my list of bad choices to make for added services. The dinner service is the number one issue when it comes to getting through a reception timeline. By utilizing a caterer coordinator you are essentially putting the reins of your wedding train into the hands of the culprit. When timing becomes an issue, do you think they are going to stick with the wedding timeline or preserve the dinner service… yup, the dinner service. They are also usually setting up at the time that an actual planner is doing their job. They are not present for other vendors with issues and honestly don’t usually care if it doesn’t have anything to do with them. Yes, my disdain is showing.
Recently at a wedding I had a caterer coordinator bark at all the guests to move off a patio area and preferably to sit at their tables inside the tent because the bride and groom were about to do a choreographed dance. Then they turned to me and directed me to stand in one spot and not move. Here’s the problems with this… 1. The couple just spent all this money to awe their guests with their sleek dance moves and the coordinator just let everyone know they were trained ahead of time… eliminating the surprise. 2. By having half the guests inside the tent, they were unable to watch the first dance. I mean that’s the whole point of doing the first dance, right? 3. By telling me I couldn’t move during the first dance, they just put the couple’s images at risk of having 50 photos of the back of their heads (because you never really know where the couple is going to be facing with the dance until they start). Meanwhile the seating chart was a mess because the caterer coordinator was too busy “coordinating” all the other vendors instead of making sure their own business was handled.
I’ll leave it at that for caterer coordinators… you get the point. Don’t do it.
DJs are great. I love 99.9% of the DJs I work with. It’s one area of a wedding that couples typically really invest in so I get the pleasure of working with some really great ones who make me feel like dancing (disco reference). The thing is… the great ones would not even think of touching the rest of the wedding day. They have a lot of responsibility on their shoulders and building an entire day timeline or directing other vendors is not where their energy should be. It should be spent getting your guests up and ensuring they have an amazing time on your big day. And to be honest, I have never worked with a DJ coordinator that didn’t get into ALL the photos they could. I know you love your vendors but 40 years from now do you want to reminisce over your wedding photos and see the DJ whose name you can’t remember in all your photos as you wait to walk down the aisle, cut your cake, etc? I don’t think so. The other big downside to DJ coordinators is that they typically aren’t there for the earlier part of your day so if a real timeline issue arises they won’t be there to help.
Here’s a horror story for DJs. I recently was at a wedding where the DJ’s assistant acted as a coordinator for the processional. They stood in a place that was not only in my shot as the bride and her father stood there but also in the background of every shot I took. Or how about the DJ whose timeline included starting three events at exactly the same time that I was leaving. They refused to change the time of the events as it would mess with their playlist. And then I’m the bad guy for sticking to the hours I was hired for, missing events the couple wanted photographed and not staying late for free/asking to be paid for an additional hour. We always work with the DJs reception timeline as the DJ really should be the one directing this but I have never had a DJ not ensure that traditional wedding events took place within the time I’m present for the benefit of the couple.
I always get excited when my couples tell me they have a coordinator. Two seconds later I am deflated when I realize that the coordinator they have named is the venue coordinator. Have I worked with some great venue coordinators… absolutely. More so than any other type of “off brand” coordinator. However, a venue coordinator is not the same as a wedding planner. Their concern is the timing and coordination of events at the venue. They are often not present if the ceremony is at another location. They won’t handle timeline issues or missing vendors. Think caterer or cake not showing up on time… they leave it up to the couple to handle as it doesn’t have anything to do with the venue. There is no buffer for other vendors. I worked with a venue coordinator that actually locked everyone out of the venue so they could finish set up… meanwhile the couple was outside in gale force winds. The couple wasn’t disappointed with the venue for locking the doors but at me because I didn’t come up with an alternative plan for photos as Dorothy and Toto whipped by us. The biggest venue coordinator snafu that I’ve heard about recently was when the coordinator left at the end of their work day… leaving the couple not checked-in to their room and amidst timing issues with other vendors and dinner service. Remember venue coordinators are often hourly wage employees who may or may not be available on a weekend or after 5pm.
Okay, so we can make a mean timeline, style a table so it looks amazing in photos and have buddied up with some of the best vendors in the area but when it comes down to it… we still aren’t planners. Increasingly over the years I find couples are relying more and more on me to help plan their days… from vendor referrals to being the only person that knows how to put on a boutonniere. Photographers are the only one of your vendors that are with you from start to finish… so can we handle obstacles that come up during your day… SURE… But it’s not where our passions lie. We want to be free to document memories (and that’s not just corny sales line) without the stress of worrying about timing and herding 15-20 people from one event to the next. The bottom line is… the more time I’m dealing with the logistics of your wedding day… the less time I’m taking photos. Plus most other vendors will just look at us as “just the photographer” so we carry zero authority whatsoever. I kind of like it that way personally. It adds to being able to be quietly out of the way as I photograph the real moments of your day.
So what can you do?
Hire a professional wedding planner or day-of-coordinator.
- Make sure they specialize in event planning (and it’s not just an off-shoot of their main non-related business). You deserve to have the very best vendors adding to your day.
- Ask them if they will be in person at your event. If they are not going to be in attendance on your big day, request the name, age and experience of the planner who will be. Many planners will hire family members or teens to do day of coordination to save money. While they are trained, they may not have the life experience to handle the pressures of a wedding day. And they would be completely unable to run out and grab extra champagne if it runs out (and this happens more than you think).
- Ask the planner how many events they do per weekend. A good planner will not do more than one event per day unless they have a strong, experienced team. Steer clear of any planning service that contracts for 3-4 events every weekend without a dedicated (over 21) planner in attendance.
To help you get started, here are my two favorite local planners:
Events to a T, Letizia Mastrantoni | www.eventstoat.net | 518.796.3917
Karen & Co Event Planning, Karen Ricci | www.karenandco.pro | 518.857.2189