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

Photograph by David Yellen

What should couples keep in mind throughout the process?
First, budget. It’s critical to identify what you can afford. Be honest. Sure, I may have a background in luxury and high-end planning, but I can accommodate any price point. A couple came to me with a limited budget of around $30K, and we made it work. They knew their priorities: an amazing band and an open bar. So to keep them on budget, we didn’t do the traditional sit-down meal, because it wasn’t important to them. We passed heavy hors d’oeuvres all night instead.

Do you have to come to a planner with a clear vision for the whole day, or at least a big book of ideas?
With a good planner, you should be able to go in with a clean slate and say, “I’m not sure what I want.” By asking you the right questions, she can help draw your vision out. You may be surprised to discover that you have stronger opinions about what you want and don’t want for your wedding than you originally thought.

What’s one thing couples tend to overlook that you urge them to consider?
Lighting, because properly illuminating an event is a tough concept for clients to grasp. They don’t always see the value at first — they’re often focused on flowers or the dress or the cocktail hour. But the right lighting is what gives the event the look and feel you want. Maybe you’re imagining a romantic, candlelit wedding. The fact is, the candles don’t provide that much illumination — it’s the room’s lighting that creates the effect. I show clients before-and-after photos of lighting situations, and then they get it.

What’s one mistake you see over and over at weddings?
Someone, usually the best man, tries to be a standup comic at the wedding reception. If he’s naturally witty, fantastic! But after sitting through dozens of really awkward and off-color best-man speeches, I advise people to read their speech out loud to someone they trust first. The idea is to toast the couple; don’t roast the friend. That means no stories about exes or drunken nights, and no inside jokes. No swear words, no body-part jokes. Also, don’t drink if you’re nervous — hydrate and eat bread. A full stomach is much better at calming your nerves than a shot of vodka.

Tell us about the most unconventional wedding you’ve ever done.
A Halloween wedding, for sure. The couple was obsessed with having a costume ball. The groom was dressed up as a Roman soldier, the bride as a Grecian goddess. They had 70 people in attendance and every person came in costume — we had Louis XIV, Marie Antoinette, mermaids, Disney characters…It was really fun and so visually impressive — the guests were part of the design of the event. Sometimes people get caught up in the vision of a traditional wedding, but this couple went out on a limb and did what was right for them.

Salter Frieze Weddings and Special Events, 445 Marlborough St., Boston, 617-848-9274,