A Cautionary Tale About Hiring A Terrible Wedding Planner
Four and a half years ago, my partner put a ring on it. Daydreams of wedding scenes from DDLJ, Hum Aapke Hain Kaun, and other quintessential 90’s Bollywood films (yes, I’m old) were quick to follow. We decided to wait a month after getting engaged before we really started planning the wedding, and for those 4 blissful weeks I was on cloud 9. Then, reality set in. And I. Was. Overwhelmed. Sit downs with parents about budget talks. My partner and I bickering with each other about what was important to each of us. Cultural and religious clashes and confusion. The ubiquitous back-and-forth on how many people to invite (my mom wanted everyone she had ever met in her life. My partner and I didn’t even want to invite our relatives). My cloud had burst and I started to realize, Oh, this is what everyone means when they tell you wedding planning is a pain in the ass. To top it all off, my partner and I had just moved back to our home state because I was about to begin grad school at UNC Chapel Hill. And as much as I wanted to plan my wedding MY way, I also wanted to pass my biostats class (hi, I’m miserable at math, nice to meet ya!). Where at first I didn’t even think twice about hiring a wedding planner, after I got the results of my first biostats test at a cool 58/100 I was desperate for someone else to take the lead. September, 2015 – I need a wedding planner. But who can I hire? Do they need to be South Asian? Are there any South Asian planners in NC? Who do I ask for recommendations? Do I just search on Google and pray that someone amazing pops up in the results? My fiancé and I had no idea how to look for a planner. So we started asking our relatives (bad idea). This one name kept popping up from my husband’s family but I immediately shelved it because I have trust issues. But then a couple of vendors mentioned the same name and I figured I may as well give him a chance. So I emailed this wedding planner, whom we shall call B, and set up a time to meet at a local coffee shop. The door opened and we saw this short, well-dressed Indian man walking energetically towards us, arms spread, and a big smile on his face. He sat down and showed us a portfolio of his weddings, impressive pictures with beautiful floral arrangements and colorful décor. I asked questions that I thought were good, like will you help us come up with ways to combine our cultures? Will you take over planning so I can focus on school? Will you give me vendor recommendations? And he responded in that typical Indian fashion of “Sure, sure! I will take care of everything, no problem.” I left the meeting feeling assured and like a weight had been lifted off of my shoulders. My parents, especially my dad, still had their doubts, but I fought for this wedding planner/decorator, B, who was recommended by my partner’s family and vouched for by a couple of vendors. We’re in good hands, I thought. As soon as I got back to my house I emailed over my organized vendor Excel sheet detailing deposit amounts and paid-in-full dates, and emailed him a list of vendors we still needed to hire. And then I got out my biostats notes because, hello, I was failing that pass/fail class. Fast forward to a month later. I had completely checked out from talking to vendors. And then I got an email from one asking us to pay our deposit. I frowned and clicked on the Excel sheet, and sure enough our planner, B, failed to let us know that we had to pay this vendor by the specified date. I contacted my parents and we handled it on our own. A couple of weeks later, I sent an email to B asking a list of questions about vendor recommendations for our wedding in Charlotte, NC. He responded with a list of vendors, including a caterer, who were based in Washington D.C. Um, what? I started to get annoyed. A week after that my partner told me that B called his parents to complain about MY parents, how they were difficult to talk to because they were divorced. Now I was pissed.
It was now January, 2016, and it dawned upon me that I had made a huge mistake. We had paid this man a non-refundable deposit for planning and décor services, and he wasn’t doing his job AT ALL. The more I tried to communicate with him about what I wanted, the more he started to show his true colors. Did I want to meet in person again? I would have to pay for a plane ticket from DC. When, for months, we thought he was based in NC. I emailed him pictures of a modern décor aesthetic I liked for the reception. He emailed me back the same pictures he showed us at our first meeting, which were the complete opposite of the look I was going for. My dad had his own problems with him, and was horrified when B told my dad that he was used to working with weddings that had much larger budgets than ours (how’s that for professionalism?!). I wish I could tell you that this story had a magical ending and that this planner got his shit together, but alas it did not pan out that way. We had several phone conversations with him airing our grievances, on the verge of firing him and eating the 5k he had been paid already, but decided to see it through instead. My trust for him was nonexistent, so I sought out a Charlotte-based florist on my own to get my reception décor made. I leaned heavily on my other wedding vendors who were all FANTASTIC (SO to Hooman of Vesic Photography and Eric at The Westin Charlotte). B was such a dismal addition to our wedding that the co-workers he brought the weekend of didn’t even know our names (“Who are Rajneet and Romil?”). B might as well have been a guest at our wedding rather than the planner. Luckily our venue coordinator, Eric, took control of everything and kept me calm and happy. Why tell you this story? Because I don’t want you to endure what I did – a con artist posing as a wedding planner. While I thought I did everything right, like ask for recommendations, meet the guy in person, ask him questions, I realized after-the-fact what exactly I did wrong.
Asking family members or vendors for recommendations.
I was right to disregard B the first time I heard his name. Especially since a lot of those recommending him didn’t even use him as a wedding planner – they just knew him as a person or heard that he was the guy to use. If you’re going to ask someone for recommendations, ask SEVERAL couples who have used that person before. If you think the recommendations provided by the planner may be biased, ask for the planner’s social media page and reach out to tagged couples/brides on your own. This is a lot easier now with Facebook groups like Little Brown Diary, a group of 20k+ South Asian women in North America. And as far as seeking out recommendations from a vendor, I don’t fault those people in the slightest for passing along his name. From their perspectives the flow of the wedding they had worked with B on previously were seamless and the couples seemed happy with his services. But you don’t want to take a vendor’s word for it, you always want to check with the couple.
Ask the right questions.
Notice a pattern with the way I asked my questions? They were all yes-or-no questions. OF COURSE if you ask any vendor seeking work if they will help with X, Y, or Z, they’re going to say yes! Instead, I should have treated it like a job interview I would go on. I should have asked behavioral questions. I should have presented a scenario and studied his response. I should have given him a vision board and asked how he would make that happen within my budget. I should have gone over the contract with him in detail that night and nitpicked at every word. And I damn sure should have asked for 3 references to speak to before making any kind of decision.
Interview multiple planners.
I talked to one planner and hired him. BIG mistake! I should have interviewed a handful of planners at the very least, and not just South Asian people. Years later, having learned more about the wedding industry, I found out that the best South Asian wedding planners in the area aren’t even South Asian. And that their services are less expensive. I also learned that hiring a wedding planner/decorator combo is a no-no, because those are the 2 biggest services for your wedding – one person cannot effectively do both. Décor will take priority because that’s what your guests will see, that’s the vendor’s calling card. Planning, which is WAY more important, will fall through the cracks. And if you’re busy like I was, you’ll want someone to do they heavy lifting for you leading up to the wedding so can focus on your career or your education.
Do ya damn research and give yourself the time to do it.
The real kicker of my story? Come to find out a month before our wedding, there is another planner in our area that has the same first and last name as B. Their wedding businesses have the same name. Neither had an updated website. Neither had a social media presence. My partner’s parents ran into that other planner, whom we shall call B #2, and asked him how everything was going with our wedding. He assured them it was great and to have us call him – mind you, we NEVER MET THE GUY. Anyways, had I taken the time to do some research to check out the quality of their website, their social proof, see if any online reviews existed, etc., I could have saved myself a lot of grief, stress, and anxiety by staying away from both B’s. Marketing matters. But don’t be swayed by just an IG feed. Look into their website. Check out their Google reviews. How did they respond to the negative reviews? Be a wedding vendor detective. If there’s any good that can come out of the hell that was working with B (who are we kidding, he didn’t do any work) and the money that we wasted on him, it’s that you don’t have to suffer the same fate. Don’t pull a me. Hiring the best wedding vendors doesn’t have to cost you an arm and a leg. But it will cost you time. Do the work up front – give yourself a window at the beginning of your engagement to research and vet your vendors. You’ll be grateful that you did.