Over the top emerald green and gold ballroom wedding ceremony featuring a hanging glass installation over the dance floor
THE HUNT

How to Find the Perfect Wedding Planner

Your Wedding MVP
BY DAISY MELAMED SANDERS / 12 27 21

You’re engaged—so exciting!—and now it’s time to make some decisions about wedding planning. Lots of decisions. So many decisions that it can feel a little bit overwhelming. But rather than go-it alone, your very first decision should be whether to hire a wedding planner, and if so, who that planner is going to be.

In fact, hiring a wedding planner (or wedding coordinator, but we’ll get to that in a bit) is one of the most important decisions you’ll make about your big day, and lots of factors go into it. But first, a little background.

What does a wedding planner do? He or she can be one of the most valuable team members you’ll work with, and can support you as you navigate all the elements of your nuptials, including the overall wedding design, coming up with a wedding theme, hiring other vendors like the caterer, photographer and florist, and so much more. Some will even help you find your dream dress. “Planning a wedding can feel daunting and it is hard to figure out where to start for many people,” says Melanie Zelnick of San-Francisco-based Glow Events. “If you begin the journey with a planner, you will have a road map to the planning process and assistance for choosing the rest of your vendor team.”

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Meg Messina
See more from Kara and Stacy's classic wedding
Meg Messina

If you’re on the fence about whether you need to hire a wedding planner, consider this: You simply will not have the time (or energy) to worry about all of the many logistics and day-of preparations that go into your wedding day. From setting the tables to making sure the AV system is set up for your DJ or wedding band, there is a laundry list of set-up to-do’s that you will need to delegate. So whether you choose to go with a full-service planner or just a day-of wedding coordinator who executes your vision, having expert guidance and support—much like a team captain who pulls everything together—is always a wise decision. 

But finding the right wedding planner for your needs can also be a daunting task. We’ve broken down some of the key factors to think about as you research and meet with potential wedding planners, and to help you navigate your choices.

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Sylvie Gil

1. Be Upfront About the Wedding Budget

As you wade into the wedding-planning waters, it’s first important to have an upfront and honest conversation with your fiancé and, if applicable, your families, about the budget. It can be an awkward conversation to have, but is essential to figure out from the get go. Who’s paying for what? And when? Wedding planning is anxiety-inducing enough, and having the answers to these questions will alleviate at least one contributor. “Hiring a planner and experienced vendor team from the very beginning can help you navigate how to use your budget wisely for the greatest result,” advises wedding photographer Rebecca Marie. “Often, the venue dictates so many budgetary items (whether or not you need rentals like tables and chairs, what caterers you may be able to work with, etc.) that it will determine a lot of your decisions and investments. Working with a seasoned team of experts will make the process more manageable."

But coming up with a wedding budget—and how much of it to allocate towards a wedding planner—can be challenging when you have no idea what realistic costs are. And why would you? You’ve probably never planned a wedding before! As a helpful benchmark, the average wedding in 2019 in the US cost $28,000—but there are many factors that can scale your wedding cost significantly up or down, particularly your location (a wedding planner in Nebraska is likely to cost significantly less than a wedding planner in New York.) There are even websites that can help you estimate how much your dream wedding will cost according to your specific parameters, so that you can plan accordingly.

But even understanding what a “budget” actually includes can be a grey area. “Couples mistake the ‘party budget’ for the ‘overall budget,’” shares top wedding planner Calder Clark. “When professionals are talking about the overall number they aren’t typically including ancillary retail purchases (custom robes, elegant earrings, fab bowties) so make sure you’re clear about what your budget includes and what it doesn’t.”

After you’ve firmed up those numbers, you can start to work a planner into the conversation. Are you more comfortable paying a flat fee, an hourly rate, or a percentage of the overall cost of the event? Are you willing to pay more for a bigger firm that has lots of hands on deck or would you prefer to pay a single planner to do the bulk of the work? Will they need transportation and lodging to your wedding destination? Your answers will determine how much a wedding planner will cost you—it can range anywhere from $1,000 up to $5,000 or more.

Whatever your preferences, remember that a wedding planner can often help you budget more efficiently and even save money by negotiating contracts on your behalf, and suggesting the absolute highest quality vendors that fit within your budget—invaluable insights that only a real professional with years of experience and a trusted network can provide. Not to mention the number of hours of your life you get back that would have been spent doing exhaustive research that could never quite compare to the wisdom of an industry veteran.

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Ryan Ray
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Rebecca Marie Photography

2. Define What Wedding Planning Services You Need

If you’ve concluded that you do indeed want to enlist the help of professional wedding planning services in some form, it’s time to drill down to the details and think about exactly what type of help you’re looking for. There are generally three types of wedding planning professionals: 

All-Encompassing Wedding Planners

If you’re interested in full-service planning, including design and day-of services, contract negotiation, logistical oversight—a planner who offers a full package is best for you. He or she is involved from the beginning of the planning process, and can help you formulate the design so that there’s a cohesive look and theme throughout the event (and can even assist with other weekend gatherings, like the welcome party and after-party if desired). Think of this role like a quarterback that runs the show from start to finish: from the moment your guests arrive at the hotel to the gift bags you send them home with. And while this type of detailed, thorough planning service costs more than bringing in someone just for the day-of logistics, when you compare it to what would otherwise be hundreds of hours of your time spent over the months leading up to your wedding—on top of the added stress—it may be well worth the investment.

In-House Wedding Planners

If you’re getting married at a hotel, resort, country club, or traditional event space, your venue may offer an in-house wedding planner who will be your point person throughout the planning process. While they’re typically less involved than an independent, full-service person you select and hire yourself, in-house planners have the advantage of being intimately familiar with the space, its capabilities, and, if applicable, the catering offered at the venue, making them uniquely qualified to guide you through each little nuance of the options your wedding venue offers. In-house planners are likely to assist with basic room layout and design and can help you conceptualize how the event will run, plus overseeing any and all day-of logistics, from setting tables to sound checks with your band or DJ. However it’s good to know that, even though they may be involved in the months leading up to the big day, they will likely not help with any of the planning that extends beyond the venue itself, like wedding invitations or setting up dress appointments. 

Day-Of Wedding Coordinators

For couples who are up to the task of handling the design and concept by themselves up until the walk down the aisle, but need someone to execute their vision on the actual wedding day, a day-of coordinator is the least extensive wedding planning option. This person won’t have a hand in planning the details in advance, but is typically brought in in the final weeks leading up to the wedding to oversee the logistics, vendor arrivals, deliveries, and ceremony and reception setup. Consider a day of coordinator like a soldier who will execute on your orders and make sure it all runs smoothly.

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Rene Zadori

3. Find Your Perfect Match

Once you’ve figured out what type of planning services will best suit your needs, it’s time to pick the specific planner or planners to work with. This is the fun part! 

Discover Your Options

Where, exactly, do you start looking for wedding planners? A Google search will turn up an overwhelming amount of options without much context. Instead, a good first step is to ask friends who are married (and whose opinions you trust) if they were happy with their wedding planners and would recommend them. Alternatively, if you know where you want to get married, you can ask your venue of choice if they have any planners (external or in-house) whom they recommend or work with often.

If you don’t have married friends to ask, or a wedding venue in mind, fear not! We’ve spent nearly a decade building relationships with some of the best wedding planners in the business, located all over the world, and our directory of trusted professionals is a great place to start your search. Browse wedding planners in your area—or the area you’re thinking of getting married, if that’s not the same—and see photos of their work. Or, start by looking through our library of wedding galleries—many of which were designed by wedding planners who will gladly travel just about anywhere—see which wedding designs speak to you, then get in touch with the planners who made them come to life.  

Since your planner will be involved in so much of the ideation as well as the execution of your event, it’s ideal to bring one on as early as possible. “The recommendation would be at least a year before your wedding date, but most couples are booking their planner a year and a half out,” advises New York wedding planner José Rolón. If you’re already passed the 365-day-countdown mark, don’t panic. Just plan on coming up with a longer list of wedding planners you could be happy with, since your first choice may not be available. 

Narrow Down Your Choices

Once you have a short list of candidates, spend some time combing through to pick the few you want to interview. Look at images of weddings they’ve done in the past to make sure you like their vision and style; speak to any friends who recommended them to ask for specifics on how they operate. Consider if you’re attracted to planners who operate on an individual basis, or if you’re more drawn to larger planning shops that have lots of team members and assistants. Now’s your time to do your background research.

Ask the Right Questions

To make the most of your interview with those few key candidates, it helps to be prepared and have a list of questions to ask potential wedding planners. Sure, you’re sussing out their personalities to see who will be the best match with yours and your fiance’s, but you’ll also want to inquire about their experiences with weddings of similar scope and style, how they manage all the various elements, how large the team is, and what they’re willing to do for you. Has the planner done a wedding at your venue before? (It can help if they’re familiar with the space and acquainted with the team at the property.) Will he or she help with the after-party, or does that fall out of the scope of work? What about assisting with booking hotel room blocks for out of town guests and transporting them to the ceremony location? Make sure you’re covering your bases so nothing is a surprise. “Don’t jump the gun and hire specific vendors too quickly,” warns Cassy Anderson of Cassy Rose Events. “Do your homework to really find experts who are the best fit for your personality, style and budget.” It’s also perfectly reasonable to ask for a few past client references if you weren’t already referred by one—no one knows how planners operate better than couples who've worked with them in the past!

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K.R. Moreno
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Eileen Meny

Choosing the right wedding planner is important, but remember, it’s your voice that matters—it’s your day, and the wedding planner or coordinator is there to help you and make sure your vision comes to life. Be thoughtful and purposeful and be sure to trust your gut. Happy planning!