Please help us welcome Emily Vandevender, Catering Manager for the Four Seasons Hotel Chicago. Emily joins us to talk about the importance of having a wedding planner, even when having a hotel wedding. We have been fortunate enough to work with Emily in many capacities over the last decade and are thrilled to have her as our guest writer this week.
The first (and arguably most important) question has been asked: “will you marry me?” and accepted. This, in turn, leads to more questions – “Where?” “When?” “How much will this cost?!” “Is there anything we’re missing?”
Often the venue search can help you answer those questions. As a catering manager, I find we often conclude an initial site visit by going through the logistical flow, set up, accommodations, availability and pricing associated with hosting an event at our property. Given all of your other questions, you may also be wondering if the catering manager you meet during the site visit will be onsite for your wedding and if you really need a wedding planner.
Personally, I try to be at as many of my weddings as possible. Because we book weddings so far in advance, however, my personal availability may not always align with your big day (I was a bridesmaid in three weddings last year!) Remember that even though important elements of your wedding are being held on our property, we actually only hold a few pieces of the puzzle that is your extraordinary event.
I always like to equate planning a wedding to putting together a puzzle. You have to determine which pieces work best for you and how you want to put them together. Sometimes that puzzle looks exactly like the picture on the box and sometimes, by the end, it becomes a whole new picture. While your catering manager (at a hotel) holds three specific pieces of your puzzle – venue, food and beverage – we can’t necessarily see or manage your entire picture. Fortunately, there is someone who can: a seasoned wedding planner. I cannot stress enough the importance of hiring a professional, seasoned wedding planner!
Every vendor holds a piece of your puzzle and due to their experience and expertise, a wedding planner can work with you to ensure that the decisions made and vendors chosen are a cohesive fit. They help ensure the entire puzzle fits perfectly together and eliminate the risk that you may select pieces that might not fit properly.
A planner will partner you with the perfect vendors
While any catering manager will happy to make suggestions of vendors that know their property well, who they’ve had good experience with, etc. they are not necessarily privy to your total budget – and don’t want to refer vendors that are not your aesthetic or might break the bank. A seasoned planner will schedule a consultation to not only get to know you and your style, but will delve into the “nitty gritty” about your entire vision and price point.
A planner will be responsible for every single aspect of your wedding day
A catering manager’s responsibilities include things that happen on our property and only in direct relation to events happening on our property. Your wedding planner will handle things that happen both on and off the hotel’s property as well as wedding party and family dynamics. For example, if your ceremony is off-site and the trolley is stuck in traffic, your planner will be in constant contact with the driver and can adjust the schedule to accommodate the change. Perhaps you will spend another five minutes with your makeup artist, instead of rushing downstairs and waiting.
A planner is always working on your behalf
All of your vendors should work together but your planner is the decision maker on your behalf. Things do come up that are unexpected. Your planner becomes everyone’s point of contact, as opposed to bothering you. For example, your father would like a little more time before he speaks and we are all happy to accommodate his wish. But this does impact your caterer’s first course or entree service, your emcee announcing him and photography capturing the toast. Therefore, instead of these three vendors all asking you if he is ready, your planner has already confirmed to move forward with cutting the cake first and having your father’s toast after. He gets his extra time, all vendors stay on track and no one is bothering you with questions.
A planner offers a personal touch
One of my personal favorites is that, often, a planner will take the gifts up to your room (catering managers won’t touch your gifts and cards because then the hotel could be liable). This prevents family members having to leave the reception to take gifts to a room or their car and ensures that there is one specific person responsible for the safety of these items. This is just one small way a planner add’s a personal touch.
You are the planner’s main focus
While you, as the client, are my focus that day, the puzzle pieces I am specifically responsible for are the venue, food and beverage – therefore, if our chef has a question and needs me in the kitchen, that’s where I need to be. If your grandma needs special access to an elevator other guests are not using, I should be assisting her – and if I’m assisting her, I’m unfortunately not able to run up to your room and grab the ballet flats you wanted to change into, but have forgotten to bring. A planner will have those extra shoes at the ready. That is one of a million aspects of their job.
Finally, and most importantly, I stress seasoned wedding planner as the person you should hire to help you put your puzzle together. This is because he or she has the relationships and experience to lead you through this process flawlessly. His or her experience and relationships will be more valuable than anything else he or she brings to the table.
As a catering manager, I would love to be your planner and assist with every aspect of this event, but there is someone much more suited to the task: a seasoned wedding planner. They will always be your best resource.
When you asked me, “Is there anything we are missing?” my answer is simple: a seasoned wedding planner.
As Catering Manager for the Four Seasons Hotel Chicago and former Senior Wedding and Social Event Manager for Bon Appetit at the Art Institute of Chicago, Emily Vandevender has nine years of event planning experience and has executed over 500 weddings and special events.
With a degree in Communications, an extensive public speaking background and as a published writer, Emily also founded Toast Points in 2015 to assist with ghost writing and toast whispering needs.
Headshot by Avery House
Featured wedding shot by Fred Fox Studios. Venue, Four Seasons Chicago. Floral and design, Kehoe Designs.