Buckle in – this is a long one.
I didn’t get into this business because I have Scrooge McDuck dreams of swimming around in a pool of gold coins. As I’ve said on many occasions, there is a difference between the WEDDING INDUSTRIAL COMPLEX and small business owners – like myself – who are just trying to run a tight ship, keep their clients happy, and have enough money to pay their bills, raise their families, and take the occasional vaca. And in most cases, my clients come to me with budgets – small or large – that they need to stay within. And I LOOOOOOVE saving my clients time and money.
Don’t take my word for it.
“Natalie’s experience and relationships with vendors will literally pay for itself.” (Allison, 2015)
“Natalie handled everything, and for the amount of money she saved us in finding us the best deal but still being of good quality, she more than paid for her services.” (Caitlin, 2014)
“Even though we continued to push and stretch the budget, she continues to keep her eye on ways to save and keep us budget-minded…” (Kathryn, 2013)
“Hiring her was easily the smartest money we spent.” (Carolyn, 2013)
“Throughout the process she made suggestions to cut costs and to make things more personal. What she saved us just by a few suggestions actually negated the cost of hiring her.” (Rebecca, 2013)
I am humbled by the kind words my past clients have shared. If you’d like to read more, please visit my marketplace page on The Knot. Which brings me to…
The Knot Wedding Venue Concierge.
I woke up the other day to an email from my marketing partner, TheKnot.com, about a new service they are offering. Free. Wedding. Planning. (Or more specifically, a free personalized service to help couples find wedding venues, arguably the hardest part of any wedding planner’s job). As I’ve previously mentioned, I love nothing more than brides and grooms saving time and money, so I legitimately hope this service is helpful to the people who use it.
I am also skeptical of anything free. (Not to mention I think it’s in poor taste for a company that only exists because of advertising revenue from businesses that provide a service that it now offers for free. They can only offer things for free because wedding planners like myself are already paying for them to keep their lights on, y’know?)
So I did a little investigative work. I used one of my lesser-used email addresses and filled out their questionnaire to see how they’d match me with a venue. I’m not proud that I posed as a bride – I have definitely had other planners pull that same trick on me in the past and it’s super crummy to spend time trying to help someone, only to figure out that they’re just trying to steal your ish. Here are two reasons I don’t feel THAT bad: #1 – This is a free service, right? So I’m not really taking money out of anyone’s pocket. And #2 – it appears they WANT planners (or at least friends of couples) to use this service.
Exhibit A: When you complete their quiz, they offer the option “I’m helping a couple find venue ideas.” Which – as far as I’m concerned – means that this is fair game.
So, now that you know WHAT Venue Concierge is, here is how it works.
First, you fill out a questionnaire. It’s relatively straightforward, asking about your requested wedding date, number of guests you’re inviting, overall wedding budget, locality, and what type of venue you’d like (“Choose only 3” it tells you, then gives you choices like “Barn,” “Garden,” “Ballroom,” “Urban Loft,” etc).
After you fill out the questionnaire, you are directed to a page where you meet your “concierge” (or as I’ll call them “FWP – Free Wedding Planner”). I was matched with a perfectly lovely looking young woman who – from her bio and phone number – I would assume is either in NYC or at least from NYC. (Her most recent job was working at a bridal salon selling gowns… so, y’know, totally qualified to help you find the perfect venue in Philly). The landing page tells you to expect to wait 2 days for your Venue Recommendations and that’s it! Now, we wait.
I was (I guess the word would be “pleasantly”) surprised that my venue recommendations came back 24 hours later. I mean, I don’t have enough fingers or toes to count on the number of times I’ve reached out to venues to find out if they were available and had to wait 24, 48, 72, 96, 120 (you get the point) hours to find out if they were free on my client’s requested date. So kuddos to The Knot for having some sort of secret, back door way to get information faster than I can. But honestly… that’s about the extent of my praise.
For starters, I selected a wedding date that coincides with one of the BIGGEST, MOST ANNOYING, ANNUAL events in Philadelphia, knowing full well that a pregnant Mary Mother of God would have an easier time getting a room at the inn that weekend. My FWP did not point that out to me and – take it from my experience – if I didn’t tell a potential client about that date and then found out they needed 50 hotel rooms, we’d be up a creek without a paddle. My guess is that she either didn’t know (likely) or didn’t care. Why? Because her job is to put you in touch with venues that kick money back to The Knot when you book them. Not to offer advice.
Next, they came at me with 5 venue suggestions, only 2 of which are actually in Center City (one of the criteria is basically “Are you willing to look at a venue that isn’t in the city?” to which I answered “No.”) Much love to the northeast and Mainline, but I have NEVER had a client who specified a city wedding end up choosing something that wasn’t downtown.
Of the 2 venues in Center City, one of them holds a maximum of 75 guests (despite telling my FWP I was inviting 125 guests). Even with a typical 10-15% attrition, 125 invited means 105 attending.
The other Center City venue actually looked like a good fit. It was in the right ‘hood, held the right number of guests, and the price was right. However, I went back through an old email I had from that venue’s manager and the manager had offered my clients a 50% discount on their venue fee (the “member” rate since it’s a private club) because they had a wedding planner. (I’m not saying that sort of thing always happens, but in this instance it did. So… take that for what it’s worth. Which in this case is over $1200.)
Of the other 3 venues they recommended, one of them holds up to 250 guests. Have you ever put 100 people in a room that’s meant to hold 250? It looks like half your wedding guests didn’t show up.
Presumably the FWP will also help set up tours at the venues (but I assume will not actually attend with you) and perhaps she’d come back with some better recommendations after I took those theoretical tours and returned with my complaints. Who knows? But I do know that if I WERE a bride who received these suggestions, I’d spend the next two weeks touring and growing frustrated with venues that were not what I was hoping for.
Added Bonus Complaint: If you book a venue through The Knot Venue Concierge, you receive $27,000 worth of FREE wedding insurance! That sounds like such an awesome deal, and if you are working with a venue that doesn’t REQUIRE insurance and weren’t planning on buying it anyway, it is. But if your venue requires insurance (some, not all, do), they will generally require $1,000,000 worth of insurance. So… open up your wallet.
IN CONCLUSION: I am disappointed that The Knot thinks my job is SO easy that someone in a cubicle with no knowledge of this city or its venues can do it. And I feel bad for couples who are on tight budgets and tight timelines trying to utilize a service that will ultimately take just as much time out of their lives as if they hadn’t used it at all. I really hope some couples benefit from the service, and I really hope some venues get some great clients.
But I’ll be here, with my 2016 The Knot Best of Weddings Award, when all else fails.