Six Questions to Ask Before Hiring a Wedding Planner or DOC


A mini-compatibility test before you hand over that check

by Meg Keene, CEO & Editor-In-Chief

questions to ask before hiring a wedding planner

If you’ve already hired professional vendors for your wedding, you know that some are easier to gauge than others. Photographers? Well, you should make sure you like their personalities as much as their portfolios, but you can generally get a pretty clear understanding of what the finished product will look like just from their websites alone. Officiants? It’s a little harder to tell if they’ll be great or if they’ll turn into that scene from The Princess Bride, unless you actually, you know, see them perform a ceremony.

Wedding planners and coordinators fall somewhere in the middle, because the job is both visual and logistical. And logistics are hard to showcase on a website. Not everyone has it in the budget or desire for a planner or coordinator (for that, see how to stage-manage your wedding), but if you do you, they can make your wedding smoother and more organized, and in some cases, even save you money. But that doesn’t mean all coordinators and planners are created equally, or that everyone is going to understand and value what you’re trying to do with your wedding. As with any other person you’re hiring to play a key role in your wedding, it’s important that you do some research before you sign a check.

Before you get to the part where you sit down and talk with a prospective planner or coordinator, do your due diligence. Check their website and online reviews, get a feel for who they are and what they do.

Once you’ve done your basic vetting, set up a time to meet in person or have a lengthy chat on the phone (because people’s Internet personalities and real life personalities don’t always match up, y’all). If you’re not sure what kind information you should be asking a prospective planner or coordinator at this point, here are six quick questions that can help you figure out if they will be a good fit for you guys, and your wedding. Think of it as a mini compatibility test:

  • What is their general philosophy about weddings? Most planning professionals make their basic philosophies pretty clear on their websites. If the company’s main focus is creating elaborate floral displays, or renting you the very hippest chairs, that will be obvious. If they take on weddings in a variety of prices points and styles, that will also be clear. If you can’t find someone whose philosophy fits yours locally, remember that most planners love to travel, and will often do so at pretty affordable rates.
  • Do they have a minimum budget that they work with? There are plenty of high-end planners that won’t touch a wedding that costs less than, say, $40,000. You should be looking for a planner that fits your budget goals, not working to make your budget fit your planner.
  • What types of venues do they work in? Coordinating a wedding in the local four-star hotel, and coordinating a wedding on a semi-remote campsite are very different jobs. You want to hire someone with some experience working in venues that are similar to yours.
  • Do they do design? (Do you care?) Some planners are also design professionals, or work closely with a team of people whose job it is to make your wedding look stunning. Some are just logistical pros (who often can recommend independent wedding designers, if that’s something you care about). It’s important to know if your planner is going to be pushing for a visual look, or just helping you stay organized.
  • How do they deal with difficult family members? If you know you’re going to need help with your controlling mother-in-law or your emotionally manipulative dad, check in with anyone you hire about what their approach is for dealing with family issues. You want to make sure that their style will fit your family.
  • Do all their weddings look the same (and have exactly the same vendor list)? Lot’s of planners specialize in a particular type of wedding, that they put together over and over again, with a similar team. If you want a variation of that ballroom wedding or art gallery cocktail party that a planner always throws—then by all means hire them. But if you’re looking to create something different, make sure you hire a planner who can accommodate your vision, instead of just pushing for their own.

If, after meeting with them and running through your questions, you decide they’re a good fit, ask for references from recent clients. Review sites and testimonials pages are helpful in narrowing down your options, but most couples will never leave a negative review about someone who worked on their wedding, unless that person royally messed up. A quick call or email with a recent client will give you a more nuanced understanding of what it’s like to work with the vendor. Are they reliable and punctual, but maybe their bedside manner could use some work? Are they super creative and great with guests, but a little less organized than you’d like? Find out, and decide if you can live with that reality before you book them.

Did you hire a planner or DOC for your wedding? What questions were make or break for you? What do you wish you’d asked?

Meg Keene

Meg is the Founder and EIC of APW. She has written two best selling wedding books: A Practical Wedding and A Practical Wedding Planner. Meg has her BFA in Drama from NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts. She lives in Oakland, CA with her husband and two children. For more than you ever wanted to know about Meg, you can visit MegKeene.com. #NASTY

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  • PracticalPlanner

    Agree with everything above. For us, it was really helpful to email/speak with a wide range of planners early in our process. Not only did it help us pick a planner, but it also helped us decide on aspects of the wedding that were more or less important to us. And absolutely network, network – we found several day-of-coordinators who keep their rates at half the local standard by not doing any advertising – all their clients are strictly by word of mouth. If you are getting married in your home town, post to your high school alumni group on Facebook, have your parents chat with their friends, etc.

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  • Laura

    ask your vendors for recs! we hired a killer dj who we’d seen at a friend’s wedding, then realised he and his wife own an event planning company and she does DOC. met her, loved her, hired her! and this was after interviewing and meeting with several others. obviously our dj is biased (but we think for good reason!) but other vendors will have worked with many planners and DOCs – definitely worth asking them for a name or two.

    also – check who you’re actually getting. we interviewed one planner who was going to ‘oversee the project, but send her intern’ – ie you’re dealing with and getting the intern. what was the discount? NADA – the planner wanted her full price. nope!

  • MABie

    I can’t stand our wedding planner, and I wish I had been much more willing to shop around. These questions are all great, and I wish I had asked ANY of them before booking with her!! My biggest downfall was that I felt overwhelmed by the prospect of planning a wedding, so we booked the first planner we met with, even though I did not think she was a great fit for us. I didn’t think it mattered because I didn’t understand how much a good planner can help you. Oh, how naive I was!

    Hiring her was the biggest mistake we have made with our wedding so far.

    Our planner is accustomed to working with couples who have much larger budgets than we do. (And we have a healthy budget.) She made me think that our wedding was going to be so much more expensive than it is actually going to be. Example: she informed us that it was “not possible” to have a seated, served dinner in Atlanta for less than $100-125 a person. We went home, cried, and budgeted accordingly. We met with all of her favorite vendors and got quotes from them. We received multiple $9,000 quotes for catering for a 50-person wedding. I was completely falling apart because we just couldn’t afford it. We even decided to change our wedding date and decrease our wedding size by about 40% because of it.

    After a while, I started looking around for alternative vendors. I attended Offbeat Bride’s Lovesick Expo and found a great caterer that specializes in small weddings…and is giving us a six-course, seated dinner for $60 a person.

    We have had to find all of vendors without her…which means that planning our wedding has taken twice as long as it should. She has NO IDEA who any of our vendors are, not because they’re completely random or inexperienced, but because they aren’t WIC vendors.

    Do yourself a favor and take the time to find a wedding planner who understands you and the type of wedding you want to have. Please don’t make the same mistake we made! It’s worth it to invest the time in finding the right fit!

    • Nell

      Wow, what an awful experience! Sorry you had to deal with that. Is there a way to get out of your contract with her?

    • Maddie Eisenhart

      I just want to throw this out there…but you can fire vendors. I actually would strongly advocate for cutting your losses if you can, and terminating your contract. You do not want someone you dislike so strongly by your side at your wedding.

    • Save the Date Events

      Absolutely agree! It genuinely hurt to read this. I am so sorry that this was your experience. Shame on her! I hope she is out of business!

  • Nell

    Agree with all of this – particularly about getting references. Our planner’s reference was the person who convinced me that this was a good idea – and she was right!

    Additionally: GET A SAMPLE BUDGET. Knowing that this person can vaguely put together a budget that looks rational for your wedding is crucial. Our sample budget has proven to be pretty on-point. Things have varied a little bit, but there haven’t been any big surprises.

    I’d also say that if, on first meeting, a planner makes you feel MORE stressed not less stressed, they are doing it wrong. Ours asked us about what activities we did together as a couple, how we met, and what we care most about in a wedding. In other words, she focused on us.

  • I love these questions! As a planner I’d love to be asked these questions (and wished more people did. Oh the conversations we would have!)

  • Steve

    I think its also important to plan what pictures you want to take before looking into photographers. For example, at our wedding we wanted to take long exposure pictures using wedding sparklers purchased at http://weddingsparklers.com/. However, when we looked at wedding photographers we realized that some were familiar with good long exposure techniques and others were not. If you’re wishing to take creative photos, it might be smart to mention them to the photographer before you hire to make sure they can confidently capture the moment the way you want it.

  • I am really happy to find these great tips.. Thanks!