By Richard Darvas
June 7, 2010 (San Diego’s East County) -- During separate interviews with East County Magazine, four prominent San Diego wedding planners round out our wedding series to discuss dos and don’ts, tips, trends and even a funny story or two. Despite the fact that each exudes a youthful radiance, they possess a combined 22 years of total experience within the wedding industry. Bliss Events’ Rachel Welland, Le Chic Wedding Consulting’s Wynn Austin, Red Letter Days Events’ Rebecca Gaffney and The Party Link’s Roxi Link share insights into the start-to-finish process.
EAST COUNTY MAGAZINE: Do you plan many weddings in East County?
Rachel Welland: I have done a couple East County weddings. I plan all over San Diego County—from Carlsbad to El Cajon and down to Chula Vista.
Wynn Austin: I haven’t, but of course I’m open to it.
Roxi Link: I have done several weddings in the area. I'd like to do more! I live in the area, and it's important to me to present more options to my clients.
Rebecca Gaffney: We’ve done a lot of work in Rancho Bernardo and Poway. We’re absolutely open to traveling anywhere.
ECM: When planning a wedding, what do couples disagree about most?
RW: In my experience the most difficult part of planning is the guest list. It usually involves cutting down the guest list. Almost everybody has to do that; and sometimes that can possible spark some disagreements. Once couples move past that, most of the time the rest of the planning is smooth sailing.
WA: Couples mostly disagree about the money and style. Usually the bride wants to go all out on the décor and stuff, and the groom wants to spend the budget…something like a $4,000 videographer and all the technolo
RL: Budget. They disagree about budget. But most of the time they’ve spoken about that beforehand; they spoken with their parents if they’re involved. And they have some kind of consensus. Because before we can even start working out a wedding, we talk about what sort of venues you are interested in. And then I get a sense of what kind of budget we’re working with.
RG: The thing that causes the most conversation is attendance, basically the size of the wedding. That automatically yields a conversation about budget. Design and things like that aren’t usually very much of a conversation. They usually have a good idea what they like.
ECM: Of all the vendors—from florists to photographers and everywhere between—which is the hardest to choose?
RW: People tend to really be particular about photography. It’s something that a lot of people find extremely important. The photos are what last a lifetime, besides memories. Everything else, there tends to be less hassle involved, or less time involved in the selection process. Couples spend the most money on food and beverage.
WA: Typically it’s the venue. Couples just get overwhelmed with where to have their wedding. San Diego has so many venues; you can have any kind of style. You can have your downtown/ urban, estate wedding out in East County, coastal, or garden.
RL: I think the venue is the most difficult—after that the music. They have a lot of trouble deciding between a DJ and a band—if a band is worth the extra money. I think it’s really important that they interview people in person…to know that the person can do it the way they want it done.
RG: My business partner and I believe that it’s a case-by-case basis, but it really depends on who’s going to be the best personality fit for them. Sometimes photography can be a very personal touch. That person’s going to be with you all day long. You want to make sure you’re comfortable with them.
ECM: “Bridezilla” is a relative new term to enter the public lexicon. In fact, there’s a cable TV show of the same name. Do some brides-to-be really lose their minds?
RW: I’m sure they do. I’ve been really lucky; I haven’t had any bridezillas. I’ve had really great clients. I’ve definitely heard horror
stories from other vendors. Brides may get upset because it’s a really stress-induced time. Most people have full-time jobs; they’re spending a lot of money; there’s a lot of pressure involved. They’re getting comments from all directions. Sometimes it can get a little crazy.
WA: They do, but I really try to avoid working with brides like that. But you know, sometimes they’re very nice, and next thing you know they turn into a bridezilla on their wedding day. They get so excited that they lose the whole point of getting married. Or they get really drunk. Very drunk.
RL: Very rarely. The mothers of the brides are usually nervous or uptight because they want everything to go right for their kids. One of the main reasons you need a coordinator is so that, as a bride, you can figure “I can be stress-free; I can relax because Roxi,” or whoever, “is taking care of the details.” And the devil’s in the details. So if you know somebody else is taking care of the details—somebody’s making sure your band’s set up, your florals are out, your favors, someone’s standing with you when you walk down the aisle to cue you out—you don’t worry so much.
RG: I think that because of how stressful this situation can be, it’s understandable that there are concerns that pop up. But we’ve been blessed to not work with anybody who’s been inappropriate to that level on their wedding day.
ECM: Are videographers popular?
RW: Maybe half of my clients get videographers. It just depends on their preference. To some people it’s really important to be able to view the actual live action and hear the voices, see the movement during the wedding.
WA: Videographers are always booked very last minute on a whim. It’s at a frantic stage. For some reason brides don’t see the need for videography. It’s not high on the list as far as being important until the very end. Someone talks to them and says “Oh, I love my video,” or “I just watched my video.” I really try to talk them into it, even if they just videotape the ceremony. Because the day goes by so fast, they don’t typically remember what happened, or what they look like or anything because they’re so nervous.
ECM: How hands on are most men during this process?
RW: Probably about half the grooms are involved. Sometimes he really just wants to let his fiancée enjoy the planning. He knows that it means a lot to her. Personally, I like when the groom’s involved. It’s their wedding; it’s about the two of them. I think it’s sweet; I think it’s special. And it helps the bride feel comfortable with her decisions to know that he’s onboard.
WA: Lately I’ve been seeing men be very involved—everything from their first marriage to a second marriage. It’s been more of a joint effort. I think it’s geared more toward folding both personalities in now. It could be because a lot of brides and grooms are paying their own way. That could be a major factor.
RL: Some are very hands-on; some really enjoy the process. Others pretty much have nothing to do with it. I would say there are more of those, but some men really enjoy it. I think it’s very cool.
RG: Speaking specifically to our clientele, our couples put in a team effort. Very rarely do we see men who are hands-off on the planning. We also handle same-sex civil ceremonies.
ECM: Do you have any tips, dos and don’ts, for women entering this process?
RW: Hire a coordinator. It can save people money in the end to have a professional who’s guiding them through the process. Most vendors will tell you that weddings go better with coordinators and the brides are less stressed. The second do would be to make it about yourselves, involving personal touches. Making this wedding feel almost branded. The next do would be to delegate tasks. The last do is to prioritize vendors at the very beginning. The first don’t is to not lose sight of the purpose of the event. It’s to celebrate the marriage of two people. Don’t try to please everyone. Also, don’t let it take over your life. One tip I give couples is to plan a date night, and not talk about the wedding during the evening.
WA: The biggest tip is, for someone that doesn’t know where to begin, to hire a wedding planner to help them start the whole process. Once they start looking at magazines, they get really overwhelmed. There’s a wealth of information; there’s a million vendors for every category. Work with people that you really enjoy working with and you feel connected to. They’ll understand your vision. Don’t put your guests to work. When you work with people that should be guests, it’s easy for them to lose themselves in the party. You might not get the pictures you want or you might not have your future mother-in-law in pictures. Guests don’t enjoy that.
RL: A general tip would be to hire a wedding planner early. No matter who you are and what your budget is, you need someone to guide you through the entire process. That’s something we do for a living. They need to depend on a coordinator, to make sure everything is on time and done in a timely manner. It’s all about planning and not waiting until the last minute. Preparation, in a word.
RG: The most helpful thing is to sit down with your partner and be really clear about the intention of the day. Be very clear in communicating at the onset about the goal of the wedding day. So then it’s easier for the coordinator and vendors to deliver on that vision. Tips for men are to be supportive and involved. Your input is equally as important; make sure your voice is heard. When making vendor selections, you want to do your due diligence. You want everything put in writing and a contract signed, even if you’re not exchanging money.
ECM: What’s the funniest story or anecdote you can recall from your experience as a wedding planner?
WA: Oh my gosh! The drunk one was pretty funny. She was a very sweet bride; she was older, like in her 40’s. So I was really shocked when she showed up to the ceremony over half an hour late. And it was an outdoor wedding in May. She had the guests show up half an hour before the original time because she was afraid they’d be late. And then she was late. So they were sitting out in the sun for an hour and a half. By the time she came to the venue, all her makeup was disheveled, her hair had no more curls. She was pretty wasted. So she walked down the aisle and totally missed the aisle and went over to the side. A groomsman had to come up and tell her to the walk back and down the aisle. I’m standing on the sidelines closing my eyes, like “Oh my god!” I just couldn’t believe it.
RL: I just remember one wedding, an outdoor wedding, the bride had hired a catering company that I wasn’t familiar with but had talked to, of course, beforehand. They were setting up the bar and getting everything ready. As the whole bridal party was coming from the service into the reception, there’s no food. There are no hors d'oeuvres that are supposed to be served at that moment. (It was a long walk down to where we were; we were outside.) And as they’re coming down, the catering company roars up to the front of the place, screeches down the place, runs out with all the hors d'oeuvres. We help them plate everything. And by the time all the guests reached the reception, we’re all just standing there with hors d'oeuvres and cocktails like nothing happened.
RG: We did an awesome three-day wedding weekend in Temecula for two stand-up comedians out of New York City. The wife is also an actress. They turned their rehearsal dinner into a toast and roast, and a stand-up comedy night. They delivered a bunch of jeers and roasts for the wedding party, and then everybody turned the tables on them. It was hysterical. Their reception basically became one practical joke after another.
ECM: Is there a single detail of a woman’s wedding about which she is typically unwilling to compromise?
RW: I like to advise my clients to see each other before the ceremony and get a lot of their formal photos done. If they do that they’re able to attend their cocktail hour and spend time with their guests. A lot of times that’s when the bride and groom put their foot down to uphold tradition, to see each other for the very first time down the aisle. And that’s fine with me; I don’t try to talk them out of it.
WA: Usually the one thing they don’t want to compromise about is the photography. They definitely want someone to be able to capture their wedding. That’s always a priority.
RL: Her dress for one. A lot of times it’s food, but it’s really important for a bride to look a certain way. The way you want to look on your wedding.
RG: Again, it’s a case-by-case thing, but what you wear on the wedding day is a very personal decision. Or maybe even a specific flower. If there was a flower that meant a lot to say her mother or grandmother growing up, maybe something along those lines. People are usually pretty open to whatever’s going to work the best given the scenario.
ECM: Do you do many theme weddings?
RW: My weddings are usually not themed, but usually a certain style.
WA: I don’t do a lot, but I really encourage it. That’s really the way to get a lot of personality into the wedding and a lot of special details to make it stand out. But brides like to stick to colors. I do have one 4th of July themed wedding coming up, so we’re doing bright red and having sparklers and stuff, but nothing too cheesy.
RL: Not a lot, unless you consider color a theme. A lot of times we go with a color, where we carry through a color or design from the invitations to the menus to the linens, all the way through the wedding so there’s some continuity to it. I did a rainforest wedding. That was fun.
RG: Not a whole lot. In some cases there’s something thematic. We’re doing a wedding right now for a couple that is huge Raiders’ fans. So they’re “save the date” and wedding cake are both appropriating the Raiders’ logo. Or even just incorporating wedding colors.
ECM: In your experience, how much does a wedding cost in total?
RW: Nationwide the average wedding cost, for about 150 guests, is in the high 20’s. In San Diego I would expect that would be higher because the cost of living is higher.
WA: A lower budget would be $15,000-$20,000.
RL: You know that’s one of the first questions that the bride and groom ask me. And it’s almost impossible to answer, for a lot of reasons. One, there’s a huge difference in weddings. They’ll go anywhere from $5,000 to hundreds of thousands of dollars.
RG: If you’re looking at a wedding that’s going to be any more than 15 people, you really need a good $15,000 just to be practical. Our most expensive was roughly $500,000.
ECM: In your opinion, is it worth it to go into debt to pay for the wedding of one’s dreams?
RW: In my personal opinion maybe it is, but not a ridiculous amount of debt. The majority of my clients spend within their means. Nowadays the budget is paid by a few different sources.
WA: You’re talking to someone who used to be in finance [as an investment banker]. If it’s something that’s manageable, something that they can pay off within a few years it’s worth it to a certain degree. But if they’re having a hardship and they’re spending $100,000, I don’t think that that’s wise. It is a once-in-a-lifetime event.
RL: For the most part, I don’t think people overspend too much. That’s a tricky question. Couples have to decide what’s important to them.
Le Chic Wedding Consulting
Red Letter Days Events
Rebecca Gaffney and Mia Saling
The Party Link