Venue coordinator vs. a day-of coordinator: What's the dif!?

July 22 | Guest post by Carly Bish

Remember Carly, the photographer from that wedding Ariel crashed and "How to think like a photographer on your wedding day"? Well, now she's back with her tips for battling the wedding day photobombers…

What's the difference between a venue coordinator vs a day-of coordinator seen on Offbeat Bride
All photos courtesy of Carly Bish Photography

Recently, I sat down with one of my couples to talk about the logistics of their wedding day. As a photographer, it’s important for us to form a game plan, so we know how and when things should happen on the big day. As I started going through my usual checklist, I noticed a few questions my couple asked that had me puzzled…

“Who should we ask to take care of that?”
“Who should we direct them to?”
“How do we make sure that happens?”

Finally, I asked my couple, “Have you hired a day-of coordinator?”

To which they replied, “Well, the venue has a coordinator on staff and we added that service to our package…”

Then I asked, “So aren’t these things we can ask for them to help arrange?”

They looked at each other quietly, and then the bride turned to me sheepishly and said, “Well, they’ve been difficult to work with so far. For example, when we asked if they could hit play on the iPod for our processional music, they told us it was 'too much responsibility.' So we basically stopped asking them to do anything.”

After that, I began to explain the difference between using a venue’s “inclusive” coordinator versus a day-of coordinator (or DOC, for short) that you bring in yourself. It’s a conversation I’ve had with several couples, usually at the beginning of wedding planning, so they can hopefully avoid this type of situation. I thought I'd also share this knowledge with everyone, because I think it’s important to understand the difference.

While this could be considered painting with a broad brush, it has been my overall experience in my nine years of photographing weddings that…

What's the difference between a venue coordinator vs a day-of coordinator seen on Offbeat Bridem

Venue coordinators do not actually coordinate weddings

What they do fabulously is manage the venue, keep the kitchen operating at full capacity, and prevent any rule breaking. And, if you’re lucky, they might also help with overall setup and decor. What they generally don’t do is answer all the miscellaneous questions that pop up throughout the day.

  • What time will the makeup artist arrive?
  • When and where will the flowers be delivered?
  • Who will arrange the table settings?
  • Who will hit “play” on the iPod for our processional? What about the recessional?
  • Where should the families go for formal pictures? And what time should they arrive?
  • What time should the DJ announce dinner after the cocktail party?
  • Who’s going to release tables for dinner?
  • Who should sit where?
  • When and where will the other wedding vendors eat?
  • Who’s going to cut the cake after the bride and groom take the first slice?
  • When should the DJ open the dance floor?
  • Who will gather our guests for our sparkler send off?
  • Who will make sure all our vendors are paid their balances at the end of the night?

I can tell you right now that a DOC you hire — one that is not contracted through your venue — can and should answer all these questions for you and then some. Why?…

What's the difference between a venue coordinator vs a day-of coordinator seen on Offbeat Bride

Because that Day of Coordinator works for you, not for the venue

Their obligation is to you and no one else. They are on your team and not the venue’s team. And while they will respect the rules and regulations your venue has put in place (because they will review your contract with the venue beforehand, as that is part of their job in taking care of you), they will also do whatever they possibly can to execute your day, according to how you dreamed.

You don’t have to take my word for it, and of course, as in all things, there are exceptions to every rule. But it is my personal experience that venue coordinators are not really coordinators. They’re managers, and they’re great at managing! But weddings are unpredictable, fast-paced, chaotic events, and like all my couples, each one is unique and comes with special quirks. So if you can hire someone who knows exactly what you want and isn’t afraid to take on an array of uniquely chosen tasks, isn’t that person exactly who you want to coordinate your day?

What's the difference between a venue coordinator vs a day-of coordinator seen on Offbeat Bride

Questions to ask the venue coordinator

Try this. If you’ve opted to use your venue’s coordinator, ask them some pointed questions that will tell you exactly whether or not they will be able to support you in the way you need on the one day you’ll need it most.

  • Can we email you before our wedding and how long can we expect to wait between responses?
  • Will you send us a timeline that we can review with you before our wedding?
  • Will you be there for our rehearsal the day before?
  • How accessible will you be on the day of our wedding? Will you always be available or where can we find you, if we need you?

And feel free to ask them any of the questions mentioned earlier, as well. Anything really important to you — ask them! And if little red flags start going off in your head, then it might be time to consider hiring a DOC from the outside.

What's the difference between a venue coordinator vs a day-of coordinator seen on Offbeat Bride

Do your research

If you’re in the beginning stages of planning your wedding, don’t assume every service your venue suggests to you is the best for you — whether it’s a service they offer or something on their “preferred vendors” list. Ask your married friends about their wedding experience, and if they would do anything differently.

And talk to your photographer! They’re loaded with experience, knowledge, and can tip you off to some of their favorite wedding professionals, ones they know who provide quality service and take excellent care of their clients.

In the end, throwing a wedding requires teamwork

So build your team — one that is truly enthusiastic about every part of who you are and what you’re hoping to experience at your wedding. Begin your marriage journey by surrounding yourself with all those who love and affirm this incredible decision you’re making, including all the people you’ve hired to be there. Because they could turn out to be good friends, too.

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  1. Maybe it's just me, but a lot of the questions in the first list seem to be more the sort for wedding planners, not for day-of coordinators. I'd expect issues like when the flowers will be delivered, who should sit where, and who will arrange the table settings to all be things that are solidly planned long before the day-of coordinator takes over from whoever was doing the bulk of the planning in the lead-up to the wedding.

    While I would expect a wedding planner to do all these things and much more, I wouldn't expect it of the day-of coordinator. For a day-of coordinator, I'd expect to sit down a week or two before the wedding, go over absolutely everything that's already been planned, and make sure they have all the information so they can be the go-to person on the day of the wedding.

    Here are a few differences I'm envisioning:
    The wedding planner sets the time and location of the formal photos; the day-of coordinator makes sure everyone arrives on time and looking good.

    The wedding planner figures out who's setting up the centerpieces; the day-of coordinator makes sure they're all set up on time and troubleshoots any missing components.

    The wedding planner establishes the wedding day schedule; the day-of coordinator makes sure it's being followed.

    The wedding planner organizes the music playlist; the day-of coordinator presses play on the ipod.

    The wedding planner establishes there will be a sparkler send-off and buys the sparklers; the day-of coordinator hands them out and gets everyone into position.

    Can the wedding planner and the day-of coordinator be the same person? Of course! But I feel in the article there's a conflation of the two, and that can lead to problems when you're looking for a wedding planner and only hiring a day-of coordinator.

    7 agree
    • Great points, Julie! Day Of Coordinators often don't do much of the "planning" per se, except for maybe a couple weeks beforehand when they go over the list of tasks they've been asked to take care of at the wedding. In my experience, most of the weddings I photograph end up choosing a DOC over a Wedding Planner because of budget. And in the few weddings I've worked where they hired a Wedding Planner, that person not only helped plan the wedding, but they also acted as DOC on the day of the event–maybe it's a regional thing, this is just my personal experience. So instead of going further into defining the difference between a Wedding Planner and DOC, I opted to simply stick with a DOC, since DOC's also do *a tad bit* of planning beforehand. But I love all the points you brought up and it's good for couples to know that distinction as well!

      • Indeed! We didn't have a wedding planner; I did pretty much all the planning myself, with the help of my mom, my mother-in-law, and my man of honor. My man of honor acted as the day-of coordinator for me because he had some experience in the wedding planning industry and because he knew exactly what I wanted (having been following the saga throughout the planning process). Worked out great for us, but as with everything wedding planning related, one size never fits all.

  2. As an events manager at an event venue, I salute you for writing this article. The only thing I would disagree on the the whole "team bride" vs. "Team venue" thing; but it is minor. Event managers and coordinators are as much team bride as the catering manager and DJ are etc. I'm not sure why people started thinking that event managers (or coordinators) are actually either wedding planners or day-of-coordinators (as the comment mentioned above- those can be two separate things as well) in disguise, but it is extremely frustrating on all sides. Just like when you call a caterer, you work with someone to book your event, then you usually meet with them to decide the menu and maybe do a tasting. Then either them or a person that has all the correct information manages the kitchen staff on the day if to make sure the catering goes well. It's the same with an event manager and their venue; you call, get a quote, meet with them to see the space, sign a contract, tell them if you want tables and chairs, where they go, and a few other details like if other vendors will be dropping things off and when, and what hours you need to get into the building to get ready, when bar service starts and ends, etc. However, would you ask the catering manager to start your iPod for your ceremony, or ask them to pick up the flowers from the florist? No. Then why would you ask your event manager that? They are the representative of the venue. I am also not sure why the article mentions about "opting for an event coordinator" unless it works differently than most venues I have worked with in the past for the author, the wedding coordinator is the person you have to talk to to book the space; how else would you do that? Talk to the janitor? The bartender? Not sure. Maybe there are venues that are just massive that have tons of them and you can pick who you work with? I'm not sure. However, I have heard of resorts and huge wedding complexes that have in-house wedding planners, but those are pretty rare as far as I am aware.

    1 agrees
    • Thanks, Blondie123! As I said in the article, there are exceptions to every rule. Maybe it's a theme in the region I live, but most venue "coordinators" aren't always up front about their responsibilities on the day of the wedding and they fail to communicate it to the couples that hire them. So my goal in writing the article was that couples who hire their venue's coordinator make sure they know exactly what that person's responsibilities are because what they believe a coordinator ought to do may not fall under the umbrella of a venue coordinator's job. But again, it's very good for couples to know who's responsible for what! Thanks for pointing that out!

  3. I love this Carly!! There really is a distinct difference between venue coordinators and day-of coordinators. Many times the venue coordinator will be the first person to tell you that. For the most part the venue coordinator doesn't manage outside vendors that don't work for the venue. Some venue managers do way more than others, but that will depend on each venue.

    As a day-of coordinator I can say that day-of coordination is way more than just day-of. We have two in-person meetings (one or more at the venue). We really love for our couples to keep us in the loop along the way, so that when the wedding day comes, we know everything about everything. We liken it to "downloading your wedding brain". We also create and manage the timeline. Generally, we come in and really take charge the month before the wedding, reviewing all vendor and venue contracts, contacting vendors about arrival and departure times, sending the timeline to key vendors, and locking down the order and timing of events. We run the rehearsal, then on the wedding day we setup decorations, place flowers, pin boutonniere's, fluff dresses, give pep talks, bring cocktails and water, hold speeches in our bras, bustle dresses, sneak you off to let you pee, grab you when a wedding guest is talking to you too long, refresh your lipstick or grab you a mint…. The list goes on and on but basically we are your personal assistant all while executing your wedding vision.

    In my experience, the venue managers LOVE us, because we make sure everything is on-time, organized, everyone knows when and where they are supposed to be. We take the pressure of of them so they can do what they do best. I really love working with venue coordinators too, because they generally have a great staff and work like a well oiled machine.

    As a coordinator we plan, plan, plan, cross all t's and dot all i's. After all of that planning it is crazy how much we also do on the fly. A great coordinator will be organized and prepared, but they will also be flexible and able to easily adjust and accommodate for the unexpected. After each wedding we work on, I think to myself, "how would they have handled this without us"? And the couple usually doesn't even know about all the little fires we put out along the way!

    If you have a venue coordinator and you are trying to decide if you need a day-of coordinator here is what I recommend… Just get a bid from a day-of coordinator and take it to the venue coordinator and just ask if they will cover all of the responsibilities listed on that bid. If not, then you will at least know where your gaps of coverage are.

  4. I love this Carly!! There really is a distinct difference between venue coordinators and day-of coordinators. Many times the venue coordinator will be the first person to tell you that. For the most part the venue coordinator doesn't manage outside vendors that don't work for the venue. Some venue managers do way more than others, but that will depend on each venue.

    As a day-of coordinator I can say that day-of coordination is way more than just day-of. We have two in-person meetings (one or more at the venue). We really love for our couples to keep us in the loop along the way, so that when the wedding day comes, we know everything about everything. We liken it to "downloading your wedding brain". We also create and manage the timeline. Generally, we come in and really take charge the month before the wedding, reviewing all vendor and venue contracts, contacting vendors about arrival and departure times, sending the timeline to key vendors, and locking down the order and timing of events. We run the rehearsal, then on the wedding day we setup decorations, place flowers, pin boutonniere's, fluff dresses, give pep talks, bring cocktails and water, hold speeches in our bras, bustle dresses, sneak you off to let you pee, grab you when a wedding guest is talking to you too long, refresh your lipstick or grab you a mint…. The list goes on and on but basically we are your personal assistant all while executing your wedding vision.

    In my experience, the venue managers LOVE us, because we make sure everything is on-time, organized, everyone knows when and where they are supposed to be. We take the pressure of of them so they can do what they do best. I really love working with venue coordinators too, because they generally have a great staff and work like a well oiled machine.

    As a coordinator we plan, plan, plan, cross all t's and dot all i's. After all of that planning it is crazy how much we also do on the fly. A great coordinator will be organized and prepared, but they will also be flexible and able to easily adjust and accommodate for the unexpected. After each wedding we work on, I think to myself, "how would they have handled this without us"? And the couple usually doesn't even know about all the little fires we put out along the way!

    If you have a venue coordinator and you are trying to decide if you need a day-of coordinator here is what I recommend… Just get a bid from a day-of coordinator and take it to the venue coordinator and just ask if they will cover all of the responsibilities listed on that bid. If not, then you will at least know where your gaps of coverage are.

    • Thanks for sharing, Jessica! It's true, I think DOCs may as well be called "WOCs" or "MOCs" for week-of-coordinators or month-of-coordinators, since it's rarely ever just ONE DAY of coordinating! Kudos to all planners and coordinators out there who go above and beyond to make sure a couple's wedding day goes off without a hitch! <3

      2 agree
  5. Thanks Carly for this lovely post. I can understand the confusion couples experience during the wedding planning process since this will be the first experience for most people. But thankfully, Carly who is a seasoned and great photographer has attested to the importance of having a day of coordinator.

    As a day of coordinator myself, I see that most couples think they are done planning their wedding once they select a venue, hire a photographer, a video specialist and some of the key vendors. But then they find out roughly a month before the wedding that they have no idea how to tie any loose ends and pull the wedding celebration and entire day together.

    As Carly mentioned earlier, the venue coordinators are really great but have their focus mainly on venue logistics, staffing, table and silverware setup, food, drinks, valet, greeting guests etc. However, I will be surprised to see a venue who will include as part of the venue coordinators responsibilities things like: reviewing all the vendor contracts ahead of time to avoid overtime charges if wedding activities delay, or contact your vendors to remind them of your wedding day, help you prepare a detailed timeline from when hair & make up starts till when the last vendor packs off to leave the venue after the reception ends, and even meets and greets your vendors when they arrive at the venue and show them around.

    Remember, a great coordinator will not just show up on the wedding day, s/he would also need to do some hand holding weeks and days before your wedding to ensure that every possible item has been discussed and planned for. To help clarify also, DOCs are subsets of wedding planners. One of the main difference is that they work with you closer to your big day versus the entire planning period and may charge less.

    Vendors and the venue staff are always extremely happy when great coordinators are on board. We have seen and experienced many weddings and use our experience to troubleshoot yours so you don't have to go through any bad experiences. As Julie mentioned, if you have friends in the wedding industry who know exactly what to do as far as coordinating weddings are concerned, then definitely leverage and use that help. But please do not overwhelm one person because its very involved and you don't want the only memory of that friend to be how s/he was extremely tired or stressed on your wedding day.

    But as always do research and more research if you do decide to hire a day of coordinator. Just ensure they have the experience to back up the title.

    1 agrees
    • Thanks, Ronny! You're right and I think most venue staff absolutely LOVE having a DOC or planner on board for weddings. It takes a true team effort to pull off an amazing day for a couple and it's nice when everyone can get on board! 🙂

  6. As a Venue Coordinator, I am sooo happy that I am seeing more articles like this, explaining the difference between the two.

    Also as a Venue Coordinator, I LOVE day of coordinators. They make everyone's lives easier and they know the business so it's easier for the venue coordinator and day of coordinator to communicate with each other to make sure that the bride and groom are having fun and not dealing with the details on their wedding day.

    I do agree with previous comments that the Venue Coordinator is just as much "team bride" as any other vendor. In many cases I have certainly gone above and beyond for clients who did not want to hire a day of coordinator, but in the end I definitely recommend hiring one. Both you and your venue coordinator will be so much happier.

  7. In my opinion DOC is not represented well. Month of Coordination is more accurate, just because a wedding planner handles hundreds of weddings doesn't mean they can show up and start coordinating a wedding. Most venues don't introduce the venue coordinator until the day of. Wedding planners have an opportunity to connect with a bride and make the event so much more personal.

    • I totally agree with you Gary. I think we need to change the terminology industry wide to Wedding Day Management" rather than Day-of Coordination.

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