Ask The Experts: The Party Maven

Organizing a wedding is often a pain in the you-know-what. Spare yourself the drama by choosing a planner who'll throw you the party of a lifetime — and maybe even save you a little cash along the way.

party planner

Planner Tamar Salter Frieze always knows how to get a party started; Photograph by David Yellen

TAMAR SALTER FRIEZE HAD A CALLING, LITERALLY. While she’d planned events during internships as a student at Boston College and went on to work for such companies as Hopple Popple event planners, she was seriously considering a master’s in publishing. That’s when opportunity rang, in the form of an old college friend seeking Salter Frieze’s help planning her wedding at the Four Seasons. She said sure, and had a blast. Then another call came. And another. Here, the über-event planner shares her insights on making the most of your big day.

A lot of brides write off event planners as an unnecessary expense, thinking they can do it all on their own. Any word about the cost of hiring one?
You can spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on a wedding and have it look like nothing much, or you can spend your money thoughtfully under the guidance of a seasoned planner, and it can look amazing. In the end, good planners pay for themselves by making sure you stay within your budget. They can help you figure out where money is best spent, and they frequently save their clients a bundle by negotiating the best deals for them. That said, a planner generally shouldn’t cost more than 10 percent of your overall budget. Some charge a percentage; I charge a set fee.

What does a planner know that a bride doesn’t?
How to handle the logistics. While your vision is critical, the practical matters are just as important. You may like a venue, but will you be able to fit 150 people plus tables, chairs, and a band in the room? Will the hotel charge more than the estimate for food and beverage? Why are Crane & Co. invitations double the cost of William Arthur invitations? Why do I need to hire a fire marshal? A planner can answer all of these questions. She also knows (before anyone else) what new venues will be available in 2011, what hotels are opening, and what restaurants are starting a catering business.

Okay, we’re sold. So what should brides look for when hiring one?
It requires a high level of service — everyone needs to feel taken care of. Brides and grooms often meet with a planner during off-hours (I’ve even had 11 p.m. phone conferences), and good planners will accommodate that. A strong Web presence is also important; the planner’s site should show the work she’s done. But be sure to find someone with experience — just because she did her own wedding does not make her a wedding planner. Finally, before you commit, meet the planner face to face. You’re going to spend a lot of time with this person, so you want to make sure all the personalities match.

What are some red flags?
You want a planner with an extensive network and plenty of resources. If a planner says she only works with this florist or that photographer, it makes me think she only has experience with that one vendor — or she’s getting a kickback. A planner should never limit the vendors a client can work with. Some caterers, for instance, may be amazing, but not the right fit for your wedding.