Recently I had an experience where I fired my client. We still provided rentals & custom decorating services but declined the day of planning services at the last minute, read more about it here. And when we asked them how it had all gone after the event, everything had gone just ‘perfectly’.
Brides: there are two important lessons to be learned here:
1. Even if everything doesn’t work out exactly as planned, the next day it will still have been one of the best day’s of you and your family’s lives.
2. When your wedding is all said and done – how do you plan to measure your event’s success?
In this client’s defense, I am sure it had, because their value of success was much different than mine. As a party professional, I want you to look good because your party is amazing. Even though I am a professional event designer, I say this wholeheartedly: it is not just about the decorating! The flow, the food service, the timing, the seating, the heating, the power, the toilets, the set up of the slide show, the cocktail hour, the everything matters when throwing an event.
We measure success with specific variables like speed of food service, bottlenecked lines (or lack there of), engagement with the space (are people sticking around, noticing what they are supposed to, finding their way around easily). We know that your photographer and DJ are on a time frame so when the design is unrealistic or doesn’t allow adequate service, we guide you a different direction.
Brides have a tendency to measure things in different ways. There is no right or wrong metric of success, but bear in mind that the long term consequences of what people remember about weddings has a lot to do with how comfortable they felt while they were there.
Real life example January 2015: It was very clear from the beginning that the actual service of the event was the last thing on their minds. By the time they came to me to order the linen, china, chairs, heaters and everything else that one would probably plan first in the party, they had been working on the decorations and the detail work for a year. The actual items needed to serve the guests and make the guests comfortable were not ordered until 5 months prior to the wedding.
(has anyone ever noticed those blogs never actually interview the guests to find out if they enjoyed being dragged to an unmowed, non air conditioned tent in July, in their nice clothes? From experience, I can tell you that they don’t. Why?
Think about it brides. What are you doing when you go to weddings? Noticing every single detail, especially the bad ones. Then you come meet with people like me and tell me everything you didn’t like about your friend’s wedding as you are planning your own.)
Anyway, back to the story, the day prior to the event there were close to 50 friends and family of the bride setting up the event, organizing the flowers, tables, chairs, linen. An undetermined number of other people were working on floral arrangements off site. I had a staff of myself and one other person to finish the back drop for the ceremony and remove the unwanted decorations.
The unheated, uninsulated barn was to be used for the ceremony site, then guests were to go into the heated building next door for cocktails while the room was turned over for the reception. We had a specific design plan that would have allowed a staff of 10 people to turn over the room with preset tables (silverware, napkins, salt/pepper sets, water glasses) to the sides and pipe and drape covering the buffet. This interfered with the brides overall vision for the space.
Under her coordination, she did not preset tables, used 40 of the guests at her wedding plus her and the grooms parents to turn the room over. It took them about 45 minutes, according to the family. The food service area had only one entrance, slowing down the buffet lines.
This party was set for 500 people and there was food for 700 guests. We provided the china and silverware and only 220 sets of silverware were used, 240 water glasses and 240 dinner plates. Approximately 260 sets came back unopened and unused. That means that more than half the guests left before dinner (or they didn’t have a good system for RSVP’s).
Oh, and did I mention -18 degree weather? It was heated with portable propane heaters during the day. According to the client, that heated it up enough in the day and it was great all night long. Guests of the wedding have told me that wasn’t exactly true. This is always a varying opinion, since usually the bridal party is up and moving, engaged with the space. They are not the guests primarily sitting around, catching up with Aunt Doris, so their interpretation of cold is different than the average guest. We had suggested a last minute change into the neighboring building (where the cocktail hour was being held) for the reception and only have the ceremony in the cold area, due to the extremely cold weather, but the bride declined the suggestion.
Which brings me back to the metric for success and how it is interpreted. In my opinion, this event was somewhat of a flop – at least financially. Half of the guests that were planned (and paid for) did not attend and/or stick around. 20 percent of the guests that did stay were used for labor, having to haul tables and chairs in their wedding attire. And the overall feeling from guests that I have spoken to was that it was too cold and the food service was very disorganized. No one can really remember the decor except for vague comments about it being pretty.
The bride and her family were showered with compliments. I am sure pinterest or stylemepretty will love the aesthetics of the event, the rustic barn, the dramatic fabric (we had to be on top of 3 pieces of scaffolding to hang the fabric). And it was a beautiful idea and would have been an event to be envied, if it was during the summer or even fall. The pictures will do the decor justice, they just won’t tell the event’s entire story.