By ALEXANDRA MATZKO

Initially, hiring a wedding planner was never in the cards for me.

I’ve seen that movie, and it doesn’t work out so hot for the bride. Kidding aside, having a wedding day so complicated that it requires a professional to manage it made me feel like the event would become too over-the-top. Surely cutting a cake, eating a buffet dinner, and tossing my bouquet couldn’t be that complex. Right?

Oh, how very wrong I was.

I don’t think everyone needs a planner from the moment she is engaged, but I cannot more highly recommend a planner for the day-of. I even dare to say that I insist you get one. Trust me — you will not regret it.

We were fortunate in that our two venues had planners available. For the rehearsal dinner and wedding ceremony, we had the capable and incredible guidance of Marne Price from Christ United Methodist Church in Franklin. For the reception, I had the pleasure of working with Beth Anderson from the Richland Country Club.

Top Things I Learned from My Wedding Ceremony Coordinator:

Be firm with the wedding party about the start of the rehearsal dinner.

Hindsight is 20/20, and a planner is full of it. This isn’t her first rodeo! Marne opened my eyes to potential obstacles I would never have considered. One thing she stressed was that I create wiggle room for the arrival of our wedding party to the rehearsal dinner. Since the wedding practice round comes right before an organized dinner, it’s really important to make sure the dinner doesn’t get delayed, especially because food is most likely getting delivered. All of our incredible party arrived perfectly on time.

Allow for one hour of downtime between taking bridal party pictures and the start of the wedding ceremony.

I’ve got to tip my hat to models – taking pictures is exhausting. My groom and I saw each other before the ceremony, and we made our wedding party traipse around in the July heat for a solid hour to capture moments of the day. It was key to allow for an hour of buffer time to cool down and relax after taking photos and before the ceremony got under way. Waiting in our girls area before the ceremony was the most nerve-wracking part of the day, but it was also great to share quiet moment with my best friends and family. It would have been a lot more stressful to transition immediately from picture-taking into full on bride-mode.

Have a place to hide away right after the ceremony is over.

On this day, you and your new husband are the centers of attention. If you remain visible post exchanging of vows, people are going to want to talk to you. A lot. Talking to you will prevent them from making their merry way over to your reception venue for drinks and hors d’oeuvres. Marne directed us to a church quiet room where we could regroup and and celebrate after our church exit. This quiet room also offered a view into the church, so we could watch our guests through a one-way window. It was great and kept the flow of the day going.

A receiving line isn’t always practical.

My mom and I had it in our heads to have a receiving line right after the ceremony. However, when we started to talk timing and logistics with Marne, we realized that a line can take up to 45 minutes. Then, we’d still have to take family pictures! A receiving line would’ve added another hour to the time between the ceremony and the reception.  Having a coordinator walk us through the nitty gritty of the timetable showed us some flaws in our plans that we would not have otherwise considered.

Forewarn family and friends about pictures after the ceremony.

Both of our families had plans to take the traditional big, group photos after the ceremony. I never considered having to warn people beforehand! Make sure you do this. Otherwise, your great aunt Myrtle will happily wander off to the amazingness of your reception none the wiser.

Top Things I Learned from My Reception Coordinator:

Map out a schedule beforehand.

My mother is nothing if not detail-oriented. She created four separate documents to outline our schedule for the Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday leading up to the wedding and for the wedding itself. With a concrete order of events in hand, a coordinator can look it over and easily add suggestions. Beth really helped us nail down the order of the buffet, the cake cutting, the first dances, and the speeches. With her guidance, she was able to identify where we might be over or underestimating time needed. With her expertise, it all flowed seamlessly.

Organize an awesome cocktail hour that doesn’t last a lot more than an hour.

Cocktail hour is important. Though budget has to be kept in mind, it is a good investment to make sure your guests are offered some sort of food and beverage between the ceremony and your arrival at the reception. Also, make sure to watch your time. I’ve been to weddings where cocktail hour drags on, and it’s such a lull in the evening to be waiting and waiting for the bridal party to finally show up to keep the festivities going. Try to keep the time as close to an hour as possible.

Allow ample time for guests to eat or navigate the buffet.

My mom and I blocked out 30 minutes for our guests to get through the buffet, and Beth assured us that it takes at least 45 minutes for 120 people to get food and get seated. Don’t underestimate time. It’s a lot easier to deal with a little extra wiggle room than to feel like you’re rushing from one thing to another with no time to spare.

Don’t open up the photo booth right away.

Guests are excited and curious to check out all that your wedding has to offer. If you open up your photo booth before dinner, speeches, and cake cutting, there’s a good chance that many attendees will be entertained by taking pictures and miss all of these main moments. We opened up our booth after speeches were made, and that worked out perfectly.

Stage a fake exit.

A good number of guests leave around 10 p.m., so filming a grand exit early is key. Leaving your wedding won’t feel as momentous with only those who party hardy flanking your side and guest numbers have dwindled. Have your DJ announce and emphasize a fake exit around 9 p.m. or so, and you won’t regret it. We got an amazing shot of us walking through our line of guests – they waved flags and cheered and the line looked really full and fun. It was an awesome moment!

So many guests commented afterwards on how smoothly the whole affair ran, and they were so right. I could let loose and fully enjoy the day, while all of the hard work and best-laid plans came to fruition. A planner helps you from the morning through to the very end of the night. She can pick up the bridal party’s flowers, she will let you know when it’s time to cut the cake, and she will let you know when to have your first dance as husband and wife. Having a planner felt like I was in a dream, flitting from one fun thing to the next. I didn’t have to worry about a thing. It wasn’t up to me or to a family member to chase down a missing vendor or coordinate a decorator for the cake. My aunt didn’t have to wait for flowers to arrive or get the guests seated. All of our guests could just enjoy themselves.

After my priorities of a great venue, a great videographer and photographer, and an awesome DJ, I would rank a day-of coordinator as a top-five must have. Let someone else sweat the small stuff and keep everything in line. It’s your time to get married, celebrate and kick back with all of your friends, your loved ones, and your new spouse.