Learning the Value of a Meeting Planner the Hard Way
By Patti Curran
Just over one year ago, as I sat on the roof of a home in downtown St. Louis watching the July fireworks, a simple question changed my life. As the grand finale lit up the night sky, I turned around and there was my boyfriend of almost five years balancing on one knee on the roof’s crown holding a ring.
I am not one of those girls who started planning her wedding when she was four. However, when I knew that Glenn was the man I was going to marry, some preliminary planning did take place. The date was set before the engagement and I informed my soon to be husband that I needed nine months to plan our special day – which meant a ring needed to be on my finger by mid-July.
Before I entered this industry two years ago, wedding planners were not for the everyday person. They were people who only planned extravagant events for the rich and famous. In fact, the only wedding planner I had seen in action up to that point was Martin Short’s quirky character, Franck Eggelhoffer, in the 1991 motion picture, “Father of the Bride.” Although I have since been enlightened, I felt that I could orchestrate my own wedding without a planner.
SO IT BEGAN
I was still living in the same Catholic parish I grew up in, so deciding on a ceremony location was easy. Two days after the engagement, I had the church booked. The more difficult part was deciding where to have the reception. I wanted something out of the ordinary that our guests would remember.
Glenn has been working at the St. Louis Zoo for more than two years now. Having our reception at the zoo seemed like the obvious answer – too obvious. I thought that people would expect it and therefore I chose to look past the zoo to find someplace that no one would anticipate.
After making more than a dozen phone calls to various galleries, parks and ballrooms, I began to reconsider the zoo. Personally, I only knew a few people who had attended a reception there, so maybe it would be a unique enough venue after all. A couple phone calls later the zoo’s main building, the Living World, was booked for our reception. It is mandatory at the zoo that the in-house catering service as well as their contracted bakery be used. Although some might prefer choices, I was perfectly happy to mark two more items off of my to-do list. The reputation of both the catering service and the bakery put my mind at ease.
The next big to-dos on the list were the photographer and florist. This is where I began to miss having a planner by my side. Not having many recently married friends, I had few referrals and wasn’t familiar with average prices. While I could have called several companies, requested quotes and figured an average on my own, a planner could have answered this for me in a matter of minutes. In this situation, not only would a planner have saved me time, she would have most likely saved us money as well.
Working full-time made planning more difficult. With most vendors working the same hours I did, it was not easy arranging meetings. Because of time constraints, I did not meet with several florists or photographers. Using Missouri Meetings & Events online resource directory, I did my research online, made sure I was confident that the vendor would provide the products and services I wanted and consequently overlooked the price.
Although there is an additional cost to hiring an event planner, the experience and relationships they possess with vendors are invaluable. Planners, having a network of suppliers that they are familiar with, can often reach a better price than an individual going it alone. The money saved by having a planner book services can quickly pay for the planner.
SCHEMING A THEME
Once our vendors were booked, it was time to coordinate the smaller details. I wanted this event to represent both my husband and me. I didn’t want the day to be about just the bride.
When Glenn was three, he told his mother he wanted to be an entomologist. From that day on, he has had a passion for insects. Because this has been a lifelong interest of his, and a unique one at that, I felt it was very important to incorporate insects into the wedding.
Although hereditarily speaking I am only about half Irish, I give 200 percent to my Irish attitude and a theme quickly evolved for the big day – Irish and bugs. An unusual pair, it could have been difficult to plan around this theme. However, I learned that a great color scheme could pull anything together.
Our wedding date was April 21, 2007. I didn’t want to melt in the humid 100-degree heat of a St. Louis summer, but I also wanted trees and flowers to be in bloom. I was especially fond of the blooming purple buds of the red bud tree, which would later inspire the color scheme. With a light hue of purple as the primary color, I chose a mint green to compliment.
Obviously affected by the color scheme were apparel, flowers and linens. For the bridesmaids’ dresses, we chose a flowing hyacinth-colored satin gown. Instead of trying to exactly match the colors of two different fabrics, we chose mint green for the groomsmen’s vests. It was much easier to complement colors rather than force them to be the same.
With the girls’ dresses being a lighter shade of purple, I wanted the bouquets to be a dark bold purple. With such a large demonstration of monochromatic color, we were able break it up with small bursts of green. Green berries were used and to tie into the theme, we also used Bells of Ireland in all of the floral pieces.
One of these lessons I learned while planning this event was that if there are too many random details, the event will feel disconnected – everything should relate. All tying into the color scheme or theme, we employed many smaller details to create a grand event.
Using a custom jeweler, we had the luxury of designing our rings. For my engagement ring, we were inspired by Celtic knotting. For the band, I wanted something simple, as to not to distract from the intricate design of the engagement ring. I chose two simple bands, one to go on either side of the engagement ring. What made the band unique was the Claddagh, an Irish symbol of love, designed on the underside.
For his ring, Glenn knew he wanted something insect-related. The idea of a band with insects sketched into it was broached. However, being in the field of science, he wanted the drawings to be exact scientific representations – a lot to ask of your jeweler. He later decided to replicate a section of a dragonfly’s wing onto the wedding band.
With rectangles being the norm and squares being in fashion, I wanted circles for our invitations. I had never seen circular invitations before, which was great for being unique, but difficult when it came to purchasing them. After searching through numerous catalogs, I chose to design our invitations myself. The invitation was a large purple circle with white type. I designed an image to accompany the type that incorporated shamrocks as well as butterflies. This helped set the theme for our guests months before the wedding.
Unfortunately, few can get away with fitting all necessary information onto one card these days. Instead of stuffing the invitations with separate pieces of paper as though they were an afterthought, I coordinated all the necessary information with matching cards. There were four cards in all, stacked one on top of the other, alternating between purple and green. The inner envelope was a shimmering square mint green pochette and the outer was a purple square envelope. After addressing each one, we sealed the deal with shamrocks – a mint green wax seal with a shamrock protruding from the wax.
The hyacinth dresses and mint green vests tied in to the color scheme. We had four bridesmaids, four groomsmen, two junior bridesmaids, one junior groomsman and a ring bearer and flower girl. The junior bridal party was quite a bit younger than typical junior bridal parties. With the girls being only seven and eight years old, the dresses worn by the bridesmaids were not appropriate. Instead, we found ivory dresses with hyacinth trim. It was a beautiful blend of the flower girl’s dress and the bridesmaids’ dresses.
Since my brother’s wedding nearly 9 years ago, I have wanted a bagpiper at my wedding. As our ceremony ended, the doors burst open and the sound of bagpipes erupted over the guests. The piper met us halfway down the aisle and then led us out of the church. Although the roots of the bagpipes are actually Scottish, I didn’t worry too much about this nuance. Few people are aware of this fact, as there are not many Irish celebrations that do not feature bagpipes.
At most seated receptions where seating assignments are given, people choose to number the table. Since this is the standard, we chose to be more creative. Instead of giving each table a number, we named each table after an insect (or invertebrate in some cases). We provided a floor plan for our guests to help them navigate their way to their tables. We also placed a card on each table that not only had the name of the insect, but a picture as well.
Ideally, we would have given each guest shamrock seeds cleverly packaged in something insect-related. However, I soon learned that shamrocks, in reality, are quite difficult to grow – not the most practical favor. Then I found a Web site that offered small paper butterflies with wildflowers seed woven into them. I was fortunate that these butterflies came in multiple colors, including purple and mint green. Each butterfly was placed in a glassine envelope with a silver label that thanked our guests for sharing such a special day with us. We alternated the two different colored butterflies between place settings.
A Tasty Treat:
Now that the favors were selected, there was one more thing we wanted to add to the tables to stir things up a bit – chocolate covered insects! We knew that most people would not be interested in consuming mealworms and crickets at our reception, so we placed only a few scrumptious bugs at each table. Having something so bizarre stirred several conversations and even a few stomachs.
This was going to be the last big tie-in to the theme. I ordered a lilac-colored cake with green shamrocks growing from the bottom of each layer and white butterflies climbing to the top. Unfortunately, there was more than just chocolate filling the cake; there were also a couple more lessons tucked away inside.
Lesson One: No matter how clear you think you have been with the vendor, always review the details with them one last time near the event. Upon our arrival, I saw an off-white cake with purple flowers and green vines growing from the bottom of each layer. My heart sank, but that’s when lesson two arrived.
Lesson number two: If the guests don’t notice, it’s not that big of a deal. An event is a success if your goals are met. Our goal wasn’t to have a purple cake with green shamrocks and white butterflies. Our goals that day were to get married and for our guests to have a great time. The cake was beautiful and delicious and the guests enjoyed it not knowing it wasn’t what we ordered. We met both of our goals and it was a success.
THE FINAL LESSON
After all was said and done, there was one more lesson to be learned from the day. When you are a bride planning your own wedding, you cannot do everything. Planning everything on my own, I knew who was supposed to be where and when. I knew what the flowers were supposed to look like and who was going to secure the aisle runner. I knew what time everyone’s hair appointment was and when they were supposed to walk down the aisle. The problem – no one else knew.
The day of the wedding was the day I needed a planner the most. Even though I knew how everything was supposed to go, I couldn’t be the one to lead the day’s events. If a minor problem arose, I was the point person. While I was trying to confirm the reception schedule with the DJ, I was informed that there was only one bar open when there should be two. Before introducing the wedding party at the reception, I had to get them lined up in the proper order. When it was time to cut the cake and there were no cutting utensils, I had to track down someone from the catering staff to retrieve them.
While we were very fortunate to have family and friends who were quick on their feet and willing to help, a planner to take care of all of the minor glitches would have relieved a lot of stress. Although every wedding has its snafus, the fewer there are, the better. With a planner, chances are that not only would our guests not have noticed the minor mishaps of the day, we wouldn’t have either.
(Patti Curran is the Associate Editor from St. Louis, Mo.)
Photos courtesy of Burns Photography.