I do not typically write about individual events because I honestly don’t think it is fair to paint such a broad picture of an event, but for one wedding I happened to witness recently, almost everything went wrong! On its face, you might think the venue was to blame, but the following unfortunate events COULD have been prevented, and after I go over all of the things that seemed to go wrong, I’ll tell you how!
As I am writing this blog, Valentine’s Day has just passed, and I was contracted to DJ a multi-night special Valentine’s Day event at The Hills Hotel in Laguna Hills. It was a special package they put together that would include a 4-course gourmet meal, a dance area with a DJ…that was me…and a hotel room with a bottle of champagne to cap the night! (They have these types of creative events on a regular basis and I have DJed them before, so for me to be there on a night where I WASN’T there for a wedding isn’t too out of the ordinary.)
That same night, they had a wedding scheduled. The wedding Ceremony was to start at 4:30 p.m. in the Garnet Gallery, the Cocktail Hour would take place in the bar area next to the Crystal Ballroom immediately following the hour-long Ceremony. At the conclusion of the Cocktail Hour, and after the traditional wedding photos had been taken, the Crystal Ballroom would be opened to the guests for the remainder of the night. On paper, it appeared as if it everything was well-planned out and that the event would go smoothly.
The couple hired a make-up artist, a florist, a band, and a DJ, in addition to booking the venue. The hair and make-up artist was scheduled to arrive at 10:00 a.m. to begin to prepare the Bride for her wedding. Next, the florist was to arrive at noon to begin to decorate the venue, deliver bouquets to the Bridal Party, and to put center pieces on the dining tables in the ballroom. Finally, DJ was to arrive in time to play music for the Ceremony, as well as play during the band’s breaks, and the band was to arrive and be completely set up by 5:45 p.m. so that they would not have to be loading equipment in to the ballroom as guests were coming upstairs. Had each of the vendors followed this timeline, the event would have gone off without issue. Unfortunately, that is perhaps as far from what actually happened as things could possibly get!
At 11:00 a.m., since the make-up artist was already an hour late, the Bride decided to call and find out what time he would arrive. It wasn’t until that time that she was told that he was busy and was not available that day! Being that this was to be the biggest day of her life and that she simply could not go without a make-up artist, a scramble was on! Friends called friends, people called cousins, and eventually someone knew of someone that was a make-up artist and could drive out the same day, for a much higher rate, and take care of the bride. At around 1:00 p.m., the fill-in make-up artist arrived and with regard to hair and make-up, at last, the bride was on her way to being ready for her wedding.
While they were scrambling to find someone to replace the hair and make-up person, noon came and went without flowers. The florist was called and promised that they would be there soon, but at the hours ticked by, the florist was still nowhere to be seen, which meant there were still no flowers in the room where the Ceremony was to be held, the ballroom had not yet begun to be decorated, and neither the Bride nor her Bridesmaids had bouquets to carry as they walked down the aisle.
The wedding was scheduled to start at 4:30 p.m., but at 5:00, the flowers still had yet to arrive. It was at this point that the Bride and hotel staff decided that they would wait just a little but longer, at which point, the bride would have to go without. At around 5:20 p.m., with the flowers still missing, Audrey Mangan, one of the Catering Managers at The Hills Hotel went to the Bride and discussed the fact that at that point, they were already 50 minutes behind starting the Ceremony, and in order to ensure that the food that had been cooking since early in the afternoon to be served at a specific time was still the quality promised to the couple, and so that they would have time for all of the events that were planned for the evening, they should probably get started, florist or no florist. There was something missing, however…a Bride cannot walk down the aisle without a bouquet! Now as I mentioned earlier, this event was right after Valentine’s Day. For Valentine’s Day, Audrey had been given a bouquet of pink tulips, and at that very moment, they were still sitting on her desk. To ensure that the Bride would not walk down the aisle empty-handed, she went to her office, grabbed some ribbon, and wrapped them around her flowers, ran back to the Bride and voila…instant wedding bouquet! So at 5:30 p.m., the wedding finally began!
Remember the band and DJ? I was not supposed to start playing until 6:00 p.m. which, since I only had a single speaker and a sound mixer to set up and plug into my computer, meant I did not need to show up until around 5:00 p.m. As I was pulling into the parking lot and driving up to the loading zone at the hotel, I saw what looked like another DJ getting out of his van. At this point, I didn’t know there was another event going on that day, so I said hello, asked him if he was DJing a wedding that evening, which he confirmed, and went on about my business. Around 5:15, a large box van arrived and began to unload what appeared to be band equipment and speakers.
Despite the obvious lack of decor, fact that it was delayed to provide the florist an opportunity to arrive, though they still hadn’t, and as a result, the Bridesmaids did not have bouquets, the Ceremony itself seemed to go well. Once it finished, the guests began to make their way upstairs to the Cocktail Area next to the Crystal ballroom, but there were still a couple of issues. First, because the florist wasn’t there, the dining tables still lacked centerpieces, and the band that was supposed to be set up and ready to go by 5:30 still wasn’t ready! As the Cocktail Hour progressed, it became clear that, even though the Ceremony began an hour later, which led to pushing the Reception back an hour, the florist was not going to get there in time for guests to take their assigned seats in the ballroom. It was at this point that, once again, Audrey had to come up with something to make sure that, despite the delay, the wedding guests did not notice any problems with the event, so once again, she went to work. If you have never visited The Hills Hotel, the main entrance opens up to a decent-sized, 2-story open lobby, with iron rails running around the second story walkways around the perimeter of the lobby. Between each pillar, and next to the iron rails of the second floor are high top tables with a crystal-studded centerpiece on each. When you walk up to the second floor, there is a bar with a centerpiece, and a number of tables scattered throughout the bar, each containing a centerpiece.
As the time to open to doors to the Crystal Ballroom was steadily approaching, Audrey began to round up the wait staff, and they all began to take the centerpieces off of the tables in the bar and around the perimeter of the walkway and began placing them on the dinner tables so that the room would have SOME sort of decor upon guest arrival. It was only then, around 6:45 p.m., that the DJ and band were finishing their setup, just 5 minutes before the guests were to walk in the door an hour later than scheduled.
The Ceremony was over. Thanks to Audrey, the centerpiece dilemma had been dealt with, and now the guests were sitting at their tables waiting for the Grand Entrance by the wedding party and the Bride and Groom…only, there was a problem.
The DJ/Emcee apparently had not gone over or simply did not know how to conduct a Grand Entrance, so someone had to do it. The only other person at the event capable of such a chore…and as a DJ and Emcee myself I can tell you with absolute certainty that it is the only part of a wedding that still occasionally makes me a bit nervous to get right…was the band, so they went ahead and introduced the wedding party. Unfortunately, however, they were not bilingual and spoke a language that was not understood by about 40% of the guests at the wedding…including a large part of the wedding party!
Around 8:30 p.m., the florist finally showed up with the flowers, but by this time, dinner was in the process of being served, so for them to enter the room and replace the centerpieces would have been an immense distraction for the guests, and they would have inhibited the hotel staff from finishing dinner service, so the decision was made to allow them to place the large bouquets on either side of the ‘Sweetheart Table’, and to deliver the Bride’s bouquet to be thrown during the Bouquet Toss later in the evening. Thanks to the staff at The Hills Hotel, the guests knew nothing of the florist, nor did they learn about the make-up artist that never arrived.
Throughout the evening, I was downstairs in the lounge playing music appropriate to a Valentine’s Day event. After dinner, however, it became hard to hear the music I was playing. It seems that the band, apparently used to only playing outdoors, did not own equipment suited for an indoor ballroom.
Their speakers were approximately 5 feet tall, around 3 feet wide, and about 3 feet deep, and on each side of the stage, they had those speakers stacked 2 by 2. The sound that came out of them was appropriate for a large outdoor concert, but in a venue that seated around 200 people, it seemed as though it would be a little tough to have a conversation, as the bar below the ballroom was vibrating loudly with each low note. They would eventually turn the music down considerably, but not before a large number of guests had either left or come down to the lounge where I was, where they would confirm that they were unable to have a shouting match from three inches away due to the sheer volume of the music. Later that evening, the event would eventually end with the Bride and Groom agreeing to a couple of hours of overtime to compensate for the delays.
Per their protocol, the Bride and Groom were given a list of “Preferred Vendors” by the venue. These are vendors that are familiar to the venue, possess insurance, and have been vetted. As I have mentioned in previous blogs, and as I always suggest, though they highly recommend that a client uses the vendors on their “Preferred Vendor” list, they do not require their clients to hire any one person in particular, nor do they require their clients to go to the expense of hiring a Wedding Coordinator.
In these terms, though they are MUCH more, for this blog, I would consider the hotel itself, or any hotel for that matter, nothing more than a space to have a wedding, not unlike a park, a multi-purpose room at a school, or simply the backyard of a friend or family member. The only thing that distinguishes them from the other type of open venue is the fact that they offer catering, which, should the client so choose, does not have to necessarily be purchased from the hotel. Some hotels provide a coordinator for the event, but that is something that is established and booked months prior to the event so that the coordinator has an opportunity to make contact with the vendors, assist the Bride and Groom with the organization and fluidity of their event, etc. If the client chooses NOT to hire a professional, experienced coordinator, it becomes their responsibility to ensure that they are hiring reputable vendors, to follow up with all of their vendors to ensure that all of their arrival times are correct, to make sure that everyone is paid on-time, that their toasters know when to toast, to coordinate the timing of the meal service with the hotel, and so on.
For this particular event, the Bride and Groom chose to hire outside vendors. It should be said that hiring a vendor that is not on a particular vendor’s “Preferred Vendor List” isn’t all bad…after all, there are a lot of good vendors out there, and some venues make it extremely difficult, despite their experience and expertise, to make their way on to such a list to be given to a client. If you choose to do so, however, it is important not only to look into the particular vendor’s history, testimonials, etc., but to make sure that they are insured as well, as an injury to a guest or damage due to their negligence has the potential to fall back on to the client if they are not adequately insured.
After it was all said and done, a couple of minor things could have prevented the issues at this event from arising. First, hiring a professional coordinator goes a long way toward making sure you don’t have any last-minute panic moments! Second, though you should not be forced to use them, thinking seriously about hiring a vendor that is on multiple “Preferred Vendor Lists”, even they are not on the list at the venue where you are planning to have your event is a very good idea! Third, be sure to ask your venue if an event coordinator is included. Many people assume that the sales person that sold them the package is also a coordinator, or that a coordinator will be provided. In most cases, though they can and will help in a limited capacity if they happen to be at the venue on the date of the event, coordinating an event is not their specialty and there are going to be things that come up for which they are simply not prepared.
***Geoff Maddox has been a professional wedding and event emcee and DJ for over 15 years. He has appeared on TV and has been interviewed by various news outlets about his books and how he helps couples avoid vendor scams and advises them on ways to have their dream wedding without breaking the bank. For more information, he can be reached at http://gmedj.com.