To choose the wedding planner who is best for you, ask candidates these important questions…

What types of weddings do you typically handle? To find out whether the planner’s expertise fits your needs, ask about previous clients’ typical number of guests, budget (both the average and range), venues and level of formality. And keep in mind that interviewing a wedding-planner candidate is like having a first date. The information you get is important—but so is the chemistry between the two of you. You want someone who listens to you, gives detailed responses and will be enjoyable to work with over the coming months.

What services do you provide? Full-service planners may manage everything from hiring the vendors (such as caterers, musicians, limousines, etc.) to arranging the order of participants in the receiving line. Others leave some of the tasks in your hands. Talk about your needs and preferences with the candidate—and watch for any signs of dissatisfaction with what you are describing, because you don’t want to hire a wedding planner who feels that her role is too small or too large.

What are your fees? Fees vary widely according to the services provided and the region where the wedding is held. Fees can be impacted by the time of year as well—you may get better prices during a quieter season (late fall and winter) when the planner may not be as booked. Fees can run anywhere from $500 to $10,000 or more. The fee for a full-service planner often works out to about 10% of the total wedding budget. However: It is best to choose a planner who charges a flat fee, not a percentage of your overall budget. This eliminates any possible incentive to increase expenditures to earn a higher fee.

How long have you been in the business? There is no right or wrong answer to this question. Although many customers assume that highly experienced planners are best, this often is not the case because relative newcomers may offer unsurpassed attention, dedication and enthusiasm. In fact, wedding planners with, say, three to five years’ experience often are excellent choices for smaller weddings (60 or fewer people). If a candidate is relatively new to the business, ask about previous careers. Many planners have experience working for hotels and wedding venues and already are familiar with what needs to be done. Interestingly, I’ve found that many retired teachers make great wedding planners. Their people skills and attentiveness to detail are valuable traits for the job.

Do you work on more than one wedding for the same weekend? The preferred answer here is “no.”

What problems have you encountered with previous weddings both before and during the wedding day, and how did you solve them? The response will help you assess a planner’s resources. Both external resources (for example, having a cadre of substitute vendors to call upon) and internal ones (the ability to stay calm in a crisis) are important. Candidates who are relatively new to the profession can cite problem-solving experience in other situations.

How can you help me stay within my budget? Wedding-planner clients are surrounded by powerful temptations to overspend—perhaps by adding to the guest list, upgrading the menu when not really needed or following the latest high-end decorating trend. Defusing some of these impulses diplomatically is part of the planner’s role. Ask for specific examples of how a candidate has helped other clients fend off impulse spending and stay within budget.

May I contact several of your recent clients? The answer must, of course, be “yes.” When you talk with previous clients, ask whether the planner stayed within the schedule and budget, what problems occurred and what was done especially well.

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