Questions to ask a wedding coordinator

The other day I was on the phone with a bride who'd called to get some information about wedding coordinators. At the beginning of our conversation, she confided that she's really not ready to make a decision about hiring anyone yet, and I could hear the frustration in her voice when she said that she doesn't even know what questions to ask when interviewing a prospective wedding coordinator. I've been thinking about this bride and her predicament a lot over the past few days. She's not unique in her frustration, and I know this is something brides (and grooms) face with many of their wedding-related purchases. Ideally, you only make decisions about wedding vendors once in your life. How can you be expected to know how to hire the best professionals in your area when you have no experience working with any of them?

I thought I'd put together a list of questions I would ask prospective wedding coordinators if I were hiring one, and I hope this will be helpful to some of you out there who are in the throes of wedding planning. I'm sure each of you will have additional questions based on your individual situations, but I think getting answers to these questions should provide you with a good foundation of information on which to base your decision about which coordinator is right for you:

Tell me about your experience coordinating weddings. I've seen a similar question, "How long have you been in business?", suggested on a few other lists of questions, but I think an open-ended invitation to talk about past experience will give you more valuable information. I know wonderful wedding coordinators who've been in business for a decade or more; however, I also know very talented wedding coordinators who are new business owners but have been coordinating events in the corporate world or on an amateur basis for years. Learn about your prospective planners' backgrounds, then make a decision about which background sounds like the best fit for you and your event.

Are you licensed and insured? You should be sure that your wedding coordinator is both licensed and insured. The license part is easy to understand: Obtaining and maintaining a business license is a legal requirement in most localities, and it's just a basic part of being a professional business owner. Even the newest startup business should be licensed before accepting its first client.

You may wonder why insurance is so vital, and the answer is twofold: First, it's a basic mark of professionalism. It may not be legally required, but professionaly, it's every bit as important as a business license. No person who's serious about their business will neglect to obtain appropriate insurance for their company. From a more practical standpoint, many venues won't do business with vendors who aren't insured. There's no point contracting with a wedding coordinator who may not be able to coordinate your wedding.

Describe a typical relationship with a client. Ask your planner how he or she prefers to work, and how the two of you will work together. How often will you meet? How frequently will you "meet" by telephone? Some of this will be detailed in the information about the package you're thinking of purchasing; some of it you may need to ask about. You should also ask which tools your planner prefers to use. Some coordinators set up virtual offices to which both they and their clients have access; some coordinators provide customized planning binders to their clients; some coordinators provide tools as their clients need them; some use a combination of these or have a totally different working style. There's no right answer here, but you should find a coordinator with whose work and communication styles you're comfortable.

Is this your full-time job? Some wedding coordinators work full-time on weddings and have no other job. Other wedding coordinators work at another job during the day, then devote their evenings and weekends to wedding planning. Both types of planners can provide you with a beautiful and well-choreographed event. In deciding your preference, think about your own schedule and how you need to interface with your coordinator. Will it be more convenient for you to work with your coordinator during traditional working hours, or will you be comfortable working primarily on evenings and weekends? Here again, there's no right answer: Choose the option that works best for you.

What's your backup plan? Things happen, and every good coordinator should have a backup plan in place. Of course your coordinator will want to be, and will plan to be, at your wedding. But what happens if he or she is ill, has a family emergency, or is otherwise incapacitated? Many coordinators will have a trusted assistant who can step in and take over if necessary. Some coordinators maintain close contacts with other professional coordinators in their area and call on them in case of emergency. However your coordinator chooses to address this, make sure there's a plan in place and that you have confidence in it.

How do you charge? This really should be clearly laid out for you by the coordinator, but if it isn't, then be sure to ask. Some coordinators charge a flat rate based on the amount of work they are contracted to perform; some charge a percentage of the total wedding budget; some charge by the hour. Most coordinators use some combination of these. Be sure you know how your total fee will be determined, and what that fee includes. Also ask how you will be charged if you need to request additional services after you've signed your contract.

Of course you will have other questions depending on the details of your event and your priorities, but you should at least get answers to these basic questions. And bear in mind that there's no one wedding coordinator who's perfect for everyone. You will be working more closely with this wedding vendor than with any other professional prior to and on the day of your wedding, so be sure you feel confident in whomever you choose and that your personalities work well together.