The Venue Coordinator VS the Day-Of Coordinator

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Recently, I sat down with one of my couples to talk about the logistics of their wedding day. As a photographer, it’s important for us to form a game plan, so we know how and when things should happen on the big day. As I started going through my usual checklist, I noticed a few questions my couple asked that had me puzzled…

“Who should we ask to take care of that?”
“Who should we direct them to?”
“How do we make sure that happens?”

Finally, I asked my couple, “Have you hired a day-of coordinator?”

To which they replied, “Well, the venue has a coordinator on staff and we added that service to our package…”

Then I asked, “So aren’t these things we can ask for them to help arrange?”

They looked at each other quietly and then the bride turned to me sheepishly and said, “Well, they’ve been difficult to work with so far. For example, when we asked if they could hit play on the iPod for our processional music, they told us it was ‘too much responsibility.’ So we basically stopped asking them to do anything.”

© Carly Bish Photography, http://carlybish.com
After that, I began to explain the difference between using a venue’s “inclusive” coordinator versus a day-of coordinator (or DOC, for short) that you bring in yourself. It’s a conversation I’ve had with several couples, usually at the beginning of wedding planning, so they can hopefully avoid this type of situation.So I’ve finally decided to share this knowledge with everyone, because I think it’s important to understand the difference.While this could be considered painting with a broad brush, it has been my overall experience in my nine years of photographing weddings that venue coordinators do not actually coordinate weddings. What they do fabulously is manage the venue, keep the kitchen operating at full capacity, and prevent any rule breaking. And if you’re lucky, they might also help with overall setup and decor. What they generally don’t do is answer all the miscellaneous questions that pop up throughout the day…

What time will the makeup artist arrive?
When and where will the flowers be delivered?
Who will arrange the table settings?
Who will hit “play” on the iPod for our processional? What about the recessional?
Where should the families go for formal pictures? And what time should they arrive?
What time should the DJ announce dinner after the cocktail party?
Who’s going to release tables for dinner?
Who should sit where?
When and where will the other wedding vendors eat?
Who’s going to cut the cake after the bride and groom take the first slice?
When should the DJ open the dance floor?
Who will gather our guests for our sparkler send off?
Who will make sure all our vendors are paid their balances at the end of the night?

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I can tell you right now that a DOC you hire, one that is not contracted through your venue, can and should answer all these questions for you and then some. Why? Because that DOC works for you, not for the venue. Their obligation is to you and no one else. They are on your team and not the venue’s team. And while they will respect the rules and regulations your venue has put in place (because they will review your contract with the venue beforehand, as that is part of their job in taking care of you), they will also do whatever they possibly can to execute your day according to how you dreamed.You don’t have to take my word for it and of course, as in all things, there are exceptions to every rule. But it is my personal experience that venue coordinators are not really coordinators. They’re managers and they’re great at managing! But weddings are unpredictable, fast-paced, chaotic events and like all my couples, each one is unique and comes with special quirks. So if you can hire someone who knows exactly what you want and isn’t afraid to take on an array of uniquely chosen tasks, isn’t that person exactly who you want to coordinate your day?

© Carly Bish Photography, http://carlybish.com Try this… If you’ve opted to use your venue’s coordinator, ask them some poignant questions that will tell you exactly whether or not they will be able to support you in the way you need on the one day you’ll need it most.

Can we email you before our wedding and how long can we expect to wait between responses?
Will you send us a timeline that we can review with you before our wedding?
Will you be there for our rehearsal the day before?
How accessible will you be on the day of our wedding? Will you always be available or where can we find you, if we need you?

And feel free to ask them any of the questions mentioned earlier, as well. Anything really important to you — ask them! And if little red flags start going off in your head, then it might be time to consider hiring a DOC from the outside.

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Lastly, on a personal note, without a DOC, I can tell you that it greatly effects photography. The truth is, when you don’t have a specific person to direct questions or accomplish tasks, the photographer will often get the brunt of those questions and appeals. As one of the few accessible wedding professionals during the event, it’s very easy for guests and venue staff to assume that the photographer should know what, when, where, and how everything is going to get done. But that’s simply not true. Photographers are hired to document the day, as the day flows, and should only be responsible for managing their creative juices and the time they’ve been given. We cannot and should not be responsible for whether your makeup artist shows up on time, if the flowers are the right ones, which side of the ceremony the guests should sit, or who’s going to make sure the cake gets served. But I can tell you that I have been sought after for each of these things and more when there was no DOC to ask for help and the venue coordinator was holed up in the kitchen. And you can bet the photography suffered, as I am always going to do my best to help if I can.
© Carly Bish Photography, http://carlybish.com
So if you’re in the beginning stages of planning your wedding, don’t assume every service your venue suggests to you is the best for you, whether it’s a service they offer or something on their “preferred vendors” list. Do your research and ask your previously married friends. Ask them about their experience and if they would do anything differently. And talk to your photographer! They’re loaded with experience, knowledge, and can tip you off to some of their favorite wedding professionals, ones they know who provide quality service and take excellent care of their clients.

In the end, throwing a wedding requires teamwork. So build your team — one that is truly enthusiastic about every part of who you are and what you’re hoping to experience at your wedding. Begin your marriage journey by surrounding yourself with all those who love and affirm this incredible decision you’re making, including all the people you’ve hired to be there. Because they could turn out to be good friends, too.

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