I hope you are ready for a short and sweet – yet, very important – post today about planning a wedding in the Washington DC area. I’ve heard this piece of wedding planning advice over and over again from wedding vendors in all categories and it is time to put it out there: There is a huge difference between a wedding planner and a venue coordinator or catering manager who works at your wedding location.


Photo Credit:Timmester Photography; from Kate and Dennis’ wedding in Alexandria

Not too long ago, I was at a wedding planning advice session at Washington DC area stationery boutique, The Dandelion Patch, and the topic of wedding planner vs. venue coordinators came up. Every wedding planner and every venue manager at the event agreed wholeheartedly on this point and wished that couples knew this information about planning a wedding in the Washington DC area. Knowing who does what on your wedding day is a critical issue to having a smooth, stress-free wedding day. Let me explain a little bit more…

The on-staff coordinator who works at your wedding location (sometimes called a catering manager, if you are at a hotel or similar type property) is not your wedding planner. They are knowledgeable about planning weddings because they are intimately involved with weddings on a daily basis, but they are not your full, partial or day-of wedding planner. They don’t work directly for you like a wedding planner does. They work for the venue. The venue is their employer, not you. They will not support you on your wedding day in the way that a wedding planner will be there to support your wedding.

What does this mean for your wedding? It means that if you want a wedding planner, hire a wedding planner. Don’t rely on the venue coordinator or the catering manager to be your wedding planner. Just because they seem like they can do it – they may even say that they can do it – this doesn’t mean that they can, will or should be your wedding planner. Furthermore, having your venue coordinator moonlight as your wedding planner as a way to save money is not wise. You are better served finding other areas to cut the wedding budget. (Read here for a few ideas for saving money on a DC area wedding.)

A venue coordinator can make helpful recommendations in advance of your wedding, especially when it comes to making suggestions for other vendors like DJs or photographers who they have worked with in the past. They can help you out with rental selections, maybe they even have access to items like chairs or tables. They can give you logistical ideas for things that work well at their venue like where to put the cake. But, on the day of your wedding, their priority is their venue. They need to be at the venue to do their job making sure the venue functions properly. And, that’s how it should be. You don’t want your venue coordinator distracted with things like helping you find your friends for group photos. You want them managing the venue’s needs.

Different from the venue coordinator, a wedding planner is there for you. Their number one priority is you and they work for you. Wedding planners will immediately handle issues such as the buses not arriving and your guests being stranded. A venue coordinator is not responsible for solving this problem, but your wedding planner is – and they will. Your dress rips, your brother is sick, the cocktail hour musician is late, these are all issues that will be handled by your wedding planner. While these issues are going on, your venue coordinator will be busy at the location, making sure that everything is running smoothly over there with their staff, food and beverage. 

Venue coordinators and catering managers know a lot of about weddings because they are involved in weddings all the time, but they aren’t wedding planners. They don’t necessarily know about things like wedding invitation wording or ceremony seating or how to navigate budgeting issues between family members, nor is it their job to know these things for you. Do not expect your catering manager to be your wedding planner and do not be fooled by a venue coordinator who over promises what they can and will do for you on your wedding day. If you want or need a wedding planner, hire a wedding planner.

So, that’s my advice for planning a wedding in the DC area! Don’t forget you can use our DMV wedding vendor guide to find a wedding location in the DC area and a wedding planner. Again, special thanks to The Dandelion Patch for hosting me and giving me a chance to learn so much about planning a wedding in the DC area.

Be sure to check out all of the other DC area wedding advice that we have put together for you or look through our list of the best Washington DC area wedding vendors!

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