My Integrity Pledge

January 11th, 2016
Everyone trusts the vendors when they know they can trust the planner.

Everyone trusts the vendors when they know they can trust the planner.

If you have looked at the page on my website that deals with Money Matters, you might have noticed my integrity pledge there.  It says, “I will never take kickbacks from vendors, because I work for you, not for them. When I recommend vendors, you can be certain that I believe they deliver quality services at reasonable prices. I always pass along vendor discounts to my clients.”  In case you’re not familiar with how this scheme works, let me lay it out for you here.

When I first hung out my (virtual) shingle as an event planner, vendors started getting in touch with me.  They wanted me to refer my clients to them, and, for the privilege, they were willing to pay me–in hard, cold cash–a percentage of what my clients paid them for their work.  I understand that this can be quite a good revenue stream for an event planner, but I am not willing to sell out for the cash.  I always insist that the vendor give my client the equivalent discount, instead. It costs the vendor the same amount and it allows me to offer my clients a little bonus.

Taking the “commission” (as they call it) is a problem because I work for the person who is paying me.  If I were to take both a fee from a client and a payment from a vendor, then I would have two bosses with conflicting interests.  I would lose the ability to help my client stay within their budget, since my own personal interest would be for them to spend more.  I also might be tempted to refer clients to the vendor who offers me the largest percentage, rather than the vendor who does the best work or gives the best value for money.

I heard a very telling story from a woman I know who makes and sells eco-friendly event invitations.  She told me that she had been taking her wares around to various event planners.  She was discussing the commission amount with one planner.  The planner pointed to a wall of invitation sample books and told her that those vendors all offered her a much higher commission.  She clearly expected that this woman would offer her more.  That is a situation that can lead to bidding wars, which can not be good for the planner’s clients.

When I first started out as a planner, I was pretty sure I would never take these kickbacks from vendors.  But the thing that really gave me the resolve came from a very unexpected place.  I took a taxi home from the very first wedding I ever planned and coordinated.  The cab driver was an older gentleman, and we chatted on the way home.  Of course he asked me what I do and where I was coming from.  When I told him that I am a wedding planner, the first thing he said was, “You don’t take those payments from the vendors, do you?”  I assured him that I do not take them.  And I have never been tempted to go back on my word.

A Wedding Under $5K?? Impossible!

April 27th, 2015
A DIY sweet table can keep your costs down.

A DIY sweet table can keep your costs down.

I was part of a conversation among wedding professionals recently discussing the proposition, “Can you have a wedding for 100 guests for under $5,000?”  The overwhelming majority of professionals weighing in on the subject were adamant that it wasn’t possible.  I beg to differ.

I think differently because I ask the question, “What do you mean by ‘a wedding’?”  I agree with my colleagues that if you want to throw a lavish Saturday night party with dinner and dancing for 100 guests, it’s unlikely you can do it on such a limited budget.  But if you want to get married with 100 people present and give them some refreshment afterwards while you greet them, it’s certainly possible.

As I like to remind my clients, in order to get married (at least in the state of Illinois), all you need is a marriage license and someone to sign it.  That can be obtained for under $100.  A Cook County marriage license costs $60 and you can have a friend become ordained for free through an online source such as the Universal Life Church.  Put all the pieces together, and you’re married.

That’s the bare-bones version without any more guests than you can fit in your living room.  If you want to invite 100 people and give them a meal, it will cost a wee bit more, but I believe it can be done for $5,000.  At a restaurant, you could have a breakfast reception at $20 per person.  (We’re up to $2,060, for those who are keeping track.)

If you use only the equipment that comes with the restaurant (linens, dishes, etc.), your only decor costs could be centerpieces for the tables.  Figure 10 centerpieces at $75 each (if you hire a good florist), and we’re at $2,810.

Figure $1,000 for clothing if both spouses are buying all new clothing off the rack, and the total is $3,810.  That leaves close to $2,000 for invitations, postage, cake, favors, etc.

Professional photography is going to be too expensive, as are many other things that are considered necessary for a wedding these days.  Or, you could re-arrange your priorities and put the money toward photographs by spending less on food and centerpieces.  There are many ways to have a wedding on a small budget if you’re creative and keep an open mind.

Restaurant Wedding Receptions

December 1st, 2014
There are restaurants that are suitable for wedding receptions.  Photo by Johnny Knight.

There are restaurants that are suitable for wedding receptions. Photo by Johnny Knight.

Of all the places you could have your wedding reception, do you want to choose to have it at a restaurant?  There are definitely pros and cons.

Of course, first, whether or not this is a good idea depends on what restaurant you choose.  There are some that are very good at this caliber of event.  There are some that don’t have the first idea what is required.

It also depends on your expectations.  If you are having a quiet luncheon for 15 close family members, many restaurants are capable.  If you want a full-blown wedding reception for 150 with a DJ and a dance floor, there are many fewer places that can handle that level of service.

One of the advantages of having your wedding reception at a restaurant is the possibility of saving money.  Restaurants are often a less expensive way to cater a large party.   They rarely have a room charge, or, if they do, it is nominal.  They also provide tables, chairs, linens, dishes, glassware, and silver as part of their package.  Because they own all the furniture and serving pieces, you don’t pay a separate rental rate for them.

What you often give up for the price is the high level of service that most wedding caterers provide.  In my experience, wedding caterers are more responsive than restaurants.  They can also be more flexible.  They are accustomed to working with very demanding clients.  A restaurant may or may not have those qualities.  If you are thinking of having your reception at a restaurant, this would be a good thing to find out before you decide.

I worked on a wedding reception once where the bride didn’t receive any kind of contract or receipt from the restaurant after she made her payment.  It was worrisome because she had specific contracts with all the rest of her vendors.  The restaurant was completely above board and the reception went off without a hitch.  They were just treating her wedding reception the same way they treated all of their reservations.  They didn’t see the need for any more paperwork.  That is not what you’ll find with a full-service caterer.

So, is it a good idea to have your reception at a restaurant?  That’s up to you.  I’ve worked at some wonderful restaurant receptions.  I’ve also seen some of the drawbacks.  Just be sure you know what you’re getting into before you make a commitment.

Announcing 2015 Price Increase

October 6th, 2014
altar-flowers

Photo by Peter Coombs.

I try very hard to keep my prices reasonable, but I will be increasing my prices to keep up with inflation and increased costs starting January 1, 2015.  If you want to book me for next year at this year’s prices, be sure to get in touch with me before the end of this year.  If you hire me by the end of December, I’ll be happy to offer you current prices for any wedding or party in 2015.  Email me now!