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10 Things Event Planners Won’t Say Event Planners Won’t Tell You

By Jim Rendon

1. “You have more leeway than you think.”

From the years of the dot-com boom till the housing bust, Americans went on a party spree. From 1999 to 2007 the average cost of a wedding climbed from $18,900 to nearly $30,000, according to research firm The Wedding Report. But it wasn’t just about nuptials—more people hired planners for sweet 16s, bar mitzvahs, reunions and anniversaries. But in the wake of the recession, with many folks still struggling to right their finances, the party may be over. In 2009 the cost of the average wedding cratered at $19,500; in early 2010, it rose to $23,867—still far off its high. “The last 24 months have been very challenging,” says David M. Wood, president of the Association of Bridal Consultants.

As a result, many event planners have had to adapt, by bending over backward for today’s cost-conscious customer. Meredith Park, director of sales and event management at Central Park Events in Portland, Ore., offers a range of services and prices, from coordinating on just the day of an event for $750 to full wedding planning, starting at $1,500. In fact, today’s clients can ask for just about any level of service they want. “Everything is negotiable,” Park says.

2. “If I don’t like you, I’ll charge you more…”

Most planners offer a free consult to give you a chance to get to know them and what they offer. But they’re also sizing you up. For planners, time is money; clients who change their mind a lot or lack a clear vision can eat up profit. Planners want to find out whether you’ll be easy to work with; if the first meeting doesn’t go well, it’s a red flag, says Andrea Lyons, owner of All About Presentation, in Richmond, Va.

And if you come off as someone who will be tough to work with? Lyons knows planners who charge a “headache fee” of up to 20 percent to help absorb the extra cost of such clients. Others build limits into their contract. After working with one needy bride, Sonya Scott, owner of A Perfect Day, in Knoxville, Tenn., decided to cap the number of meetings with all her clients. Planner Steve DeAngelo of DeAngelo’s Catering and Events in Tigard, Ore., says he and others in the area sometimes limit the number of hours spent on an event, above which the client pays extra. “You have to protect yourself from a high-maintenance client,” he says.

3. “…but if I like you, I’ll go the extra mile.”

Planners often work with people at their worst; reality shows that celebrate pathologically demanding brides haven’t made it any easier. “[WEtv’s] Bridezilla does a disservice to the profession,” says Lyons. (The show’s producers declined to comment.) Candice Benson, owner of The Finishing Touch in Millburn, N.J., says she and the planners she knows have seen clients become increasingly rude in recent years. In some cases, says Fetu Escoto, owner of Starstruck Event Planning, in Prescott, Ariz., “I can’t even fathom where the disrespect comes from.” As a result, planners really appreciate respectful clients and will often go out of their way to make their event special. Fred Fogg, venue manager at the Crystal Plaza in Livingston, N.J., says when planners ask for something for a good client, he’ll throw in an extra cocktail station, ice carving or even a raw bar free of charge.

4. “Read the fine print—no, really.”

When planning a big event, you’re likely to sign multiple contracts: with the planner, caterers, venue operator and florists. In each case, it’s important to take time to really understand what these contracts say. For starters, make sure you know your deadlines. For example, many firms that do custom invitations will stop work if you miss a payment. “You always have to ask when things are due, what is the last possible date you can get something to a vendor and what happens if you are late,” says Lyons. Also, know the upshot of making changes. How much more will it cost to add 50 guests? If the event runs over by an hour?

Same goes for your planner’s contract. Some charge a percentage of total costs; others charge a flat fee. If your event involves travel, find out what the planner charges for travel or lodging. Some may build in a gratuity; are you okay with the amount? And think worst-case scenario: Confirm your planner has insurance and a backup plan in case he can’t make your event. “Just about anything can go wrong,” says DeAngelo.