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Handling Wedding Disasters Like a Pro - With or Without One

A bride’s most common fear is that disaster will strike on the big day – that something will go irreparably wrong and ruin the day, and this is where wedding planners come in, pre-empting challenges and solving problems as they happen to ensure that the day runs seamlessly and often without the bride even knowing anything went wrong.

We’ve had calls the morning of a wedding saying we need to change venues which means contacting the rain contingency (or finding one if we weren’t involved from the start), contacting and corralling guests, contacting vendors, physically moving set ups, altering timings if need be and a myriad of tiny details that can so easily be forgotten by the bridal couple in the fluster if they’re doing it alone.

We’ve had the Mother-of-the-bride walk in a door clearly labelled as ‘Do not open’ and blow the entire ceremony set-up clear across the room – marriage certificate pressed to the opposite window, rose petals scattered, candles snuffed, delicately detailed styling mussed, just moments before guests were about to enter – and yet the bride didn’t find out until months later when the mother confessed, because with the experience and calm of a planner, you’re able to relax and know it’ll all be taken care of. No guest saw the scene, and in ten minutes, the ceremony set up was back to the former glory of a short time earlier.

We deal with venue managers who micromanage and treat the wedding as a burden and great annoyance, we find replacement vendors when the booked ones cancel last minute (or forget!), we move entire locations when the weather is in a bad mood - disasters come in many forms and whether you have a wedding planner to deal with it for you or you’re doing it yourself, it’s all in how you approach the disaster that dictates how it’ll turn out.

The most recent example was this past weekend where we were asked only to provide day-of-coordination (our Wedding Day Angel package). In this instance, the bridal couple had confirmed all vendors the day before but after the cake had still not arrived at 1pm, we called the vendor to find out how far away it was. The vendor paused a moment and replied ‘It’s not today?’ - she'd written it down as the next week and the clients had indeed reconfirmed the day prior but hadn’t reminded her that it was for the enxt day.

What ensued was a frantic panic on the vendor’s part. She had two hours to deliver a cake that she hadn’t even begun to make and with her level of panic, we weren’t convinced that she could deliver a quality cake in this short of a time.

This is where it’s necessary to snap into Command Mode – we contacted local vendors and our own preferred vendors to see if anyone had what could pass as a three-tier wedding cake that could be decorated within two hours. This was our contingency.

Whether you're using a planner or you're doing it yourself, it's important to:

  • Always have a contact other than the bride for issues (usually the MC or Maid of Honour) – if you present an issue to the bride herself, she’s going to panic and until the issue is resolved (and likely for long after), she’s going to be a big ball of stress, unable to focus on relaxing and enjoying the day. Make sure you have a contact person to act as a proxy for major decisions.

  • Never go to the bride or contact person without options – Going to the bride or contact person with the issue but no solutions isn’t helpful – it puts them in to the aforementioned ball of stress mode and leaves them in a place to manage it. In this particular example, we had three options:

  • A three-tiered cake from a local vendor that could be decorated and delivered before guests arrived for x price although not in the same flavour as the original cake.
  • A dummy cake that can be made to look like the cake for the ceremonial cutting but with individual tier cakes for serving for x price.
  • Having faith that the original cake maker would follow through with the provisio that we didn’t believe that given her state of panic, that the cake would a.) arrive on time and b.) arrive in a state befitting a wedding.

We called the MC (our contact person) and presented the options and she chose to stay with the original cake maker. At this point, it becomes about managing the problem rather than the contingency solution. We were calling for regular updates, asking her point blank if she would be able to deliver because if a vendor is unable to deliver, it’s better for their business to say so and make a recommendation of someone who can rather than deliver a subpar product or service.

The cake was finally delivered at 5:30pm but what arrived was what we had feared – the cake which had been delivered without a box and without restraints had slipped in the car on the drive over leaving the bottom tier half destroyed. The cake maker seemed on the verge of a total breakdown and so it was over to us to manage the situation, manage the cake maker’s stress levels ad engage the venue staff to assist with operation cake repair.

The kitchen whipped up some icing glue and the cakemaker reshaped the tier into a round, filling the centre with straws to keep it together and support the weight of the upper tiers. White buttercream icing was made up and applied and the flowers and greenery were added strategically to hide any flaws. The bottom tier of the cake was mostly inedible but since there was a dessert buffet and two other tiers, there was plenty to go around. The cake was used for the ceremonial cutting where the middle tier was cut for safety and then quickly taken away to be cut and served. After the cake was served, the MC saw our before and after images and was astounded at the dramatic transformation and in how we were able to save the day.

The cake maker, MC and kitchen staff were amazed at our sense of calm and the way we took command of the situation, remarking on it repeatedly but our real test is the bride’s reaction and in this instance, she not only didn’t notice the difference but actually commented on how beautiful the cake looked when it was brought out (on time we might add).

Moral

Don’t panic – nothing is ever truly a disaster – nothing is ever so far gone that it can’t be fixed. Every problem has a solution. Don’t get upset – if you’re all worked up, you’re not going to be able to think clearly and you’re not going to be able to produce an adequate result. As long as you’re able to maintain a clear head with a focus on what needs to be done rather than the gravity of the situation, you’ll be able to see clearly enough to the solution.

Tips:

If you’re doing it yourself, make sure that you:

  • Have a contact person for all vendors that isn’t yourselves
  • Educate your contact person on what to do in a situation where decisions need to be made and what the big priorities are – if your photographer is the big priority, what is the contingency? Versus whether the bride really cares if her cake is banana salted caramel or black forest chocolate inside – this really helps with those last minute switches
  • Make a contingency! Contact additional vendors even once you’ve booked to check their availability and to have them in mind in case the worst happens
  • Reconfirm, reconfirm, reconfirm! Make sure you reconfirm all of your vendors at most one week out from the big day (more if it’s a destination wedding) and reconfirm all details including the type of product / service, the elements of it, the times they’re required, the cost and contingency
  • Read your contract before signing – make sure your vendor contracts have a contingency built in – if the photographer gets sick and can’t make your wedding, is there someone else to take over? Have you seen their work? Do you want them to take over if need be? What is the refund or return procedure? How are you protected if they don’t come through?
  • Get a Wedding WOF – this is a package that some planners offer (see ours here) to review your full wedding plan and identify gaps or issues that we spot or think may arise. This is perfect for those doing it all themselves because it lends a fresh pair of very knowledgeable and experienced eyes to the planning process and reassures you that you’ve not left anything out.

If you have a planner: You’re in a better position than if you’re doing it alone because they will have the right experience, the industry knowledge and contacts as well as the temperament needed to handle high-stress situations but there is a proviso – make sure you choose the right one.

There are a lot of ‘pop-up wedding planners’ around at the moment – people who have planned their own wedding which went off without a hitch who have started their own business because their own wedding was fun to plan but they often don’t have the temperament, and certainly not the knowledge and experience required to handle these kind of situations.

We posted here on choosing your planner – it’s important that you choose someone who you feel can confidently handle anything you throw at them, who isn’t easily shaken and who can take command of a situation (without commanding you).

Read more here for our tips on choosing a planner.

Remember, we also have our free wedding advice service, 'Ask Rhonnie' which we blogged about here where you can write in or call in your wedding planning questions and freakouts to our director, Rhonnie and have them answered either directly or through a blog post to get educated answers from her 16 years of knowledge and experience in the industry.

Ask your questions or send through your planning dramas here!