The editorial team here at SMP recently had the exciting opportunity to interview planner extraordinaire Becca Atchison, Founding Partner & Creative Director at Rebecca Rose Events. She’s spilling all the details about exactly what it means to be a Luxury Wedding Planner – from their typical clientele and the average cost of their services, to words of advice and questions to ask before signing the dotted line. Keep on reading for everything you’ve been curious to know about the luxury wedding world.
Photography by Olivia Suriano
How would you describe the typical “luxury” bride or groom? What are they looking for?
I hesitate to use the term “luxury” to define or describe any bride or groom, but rather to describe a standard of quality that is important to a couple. We all define luxury in a different way and it’s a relative term. That said, when we say that we offer a service to the luxury market, we generally mean that we’re best suited to serve couples and families who value a planning and design process that is incredibly comprehensive, cohesive, and feels effortless, comfortable, original, and truly elevated from start to finish.
Our clients place a high priority on the guest experience, and while it isn’t always about opulence, there is a mutual understanding that we will create a powerful moment of extravagant celebration in their lives. Luxury is never just about the way a wedding looks, or how much is spent to create a certain look. It’s about the way a wedding is felt, lived, and enjoyed. Therefore, our work is highly tailored to each couple’s unique preferences, personalities, hosting style and sensibility.
A couple who seeks the professional guidance of a luxury wedding planner or designer expects excellence and customization. There is often a greater focus on original artistry. We carefully orchestrate a live event that will be filled to the brim with thoughtful touches that elevate the way their guests encounter that moment of celebration. In our view, it’s important that a luxury wedding should exceed traditional expectations, and bring exceptional hospitality to the forefront.
Photography by Corbin Gurkin
What is the average budget for a luxury wedding?
This can vary tremendously, but it is traditionally accepted that a luxury wedding budget will range from approximately $100k to $500k, and a budget above and beyond $500k are considered “ultra luxury”. Though it’s helpful to have those defining parameters as a starting point in terms of understanding the economic impact of the wedding industry, not every luxury wedding necessarily involves a budget upwards of $100k, and it’s most helpful to consider the investment per guest, rather than an overall figure. Over the course of the pandemic, we saw a renewed focus on creating a luxury experience with a smaller overall headcount. For example, I would argue that a $70k-$80k wedding for 40 guests could be easily be considered a luxury experience, considering that represents an investment of $1,750 to $2,000 per person and is sure to involve an elevated approach to hospitality!
Photography by Olivia Suriano
What are some services that go beyond the typical call to action for a wedding planner that you provide?
It’s a fair baseline expectation that any full-service wedding planner will give professional guidance, help source vendor partners, review contracts, create timelines, coordinate with vendors, and oversee the onsite execution of the wedding. That’s a very simple characterization of a complex process, but that’s what any client should reasonably expect from any full-service wedding planner, even at a low level of experience as a baseline.
A full-service planning approach for a luxury wedding is significantly more involved, and much more often described as a concierge style of service. Our clients invest more, but there is also a much greater return on that investment. In addition to logistical orchestration and event design, we also guide responsible budget stewardship.
Each wedding is different, but in general we know that there are some core elements of our approach that will always exceed the bounds of typical expectations of the average wedding planner. Some examples of this include invitation assembly and mailing, comprehensive RSVP management, creation and maintenance of custom wedding websites, etc. Those aren’t service upgrades that we charge for on an a la carte basis. They’re services we provide to all of our clients as part of our overall process. Our company is unique in that we are a comprehensive planning, design, and production company, so we’re also creating original design plans that encompass in-house fresh floral design and onsite installation, graphic design and print production, etc.
Perhaps one other pronounced difference is that we don’t merely pull from preferred lists of vendors. Each and every time we begin working with new clients, we treat that wedding as the individual project it will be, and we do extensive research and vetting to build a custom team of professionals who will be the very best fit to serve our clients and work together to create a cohesive and wonderful experience. In other words – I’m not going to hand our clients a list of ten photographers and say “pick one”. Instead, I’m going to bring significant time, effort, and expertise to the table and curate no more than two or three selections (sometimes even just one!) that I feel will be the very best options for our clients.
Everything is custom. Every part of our approach is tailored to our clients and their preferences so that we blend our expertise and experience with their wishes and dreams to produce the most exceptional results.
Photography by Heather Beerman
What’s something you wish couples knew when considering hiring a wedding planner?
Comparing wedding planners is not comparing apples to apples! Every company is different. For example, not every wedding planner is a designer, and vice versa. And not every planner who offers event design has an in-house design team. No two planning companies are quite alike, and it’s important to find a person (or team) that you feel a comfortable connection to such that you can see yourself discussing important or sensitive family dynamics, budget goals or concerns, and other details you may not so readily share with even your close friends.
The season of your engagement as you prepare for your wedding is so emotionally significant, and while your wedding celebration should feel personal and joyful, it’s equally important that the planning process leading up to it feels that way too. A planner who has your trust and a good connection with you as a couple, will be able to serve you infinitely better than one who you aren’t able to trust. It’s worth it to spend the time up front really considering the expertise, experience, demeanor, personality, references, portfolio, and conversation/communication style of any planner before hiring one. While pricing is obviously important if you have budget concerns, the adage is true: you will get what you pay for. There is no single more important investment you can possibly make in the success of your wedding and your happiness throughout the process than to select and entrust the right planning team.
Photography by Heather Beerman
What questions should potential couples ask their wedding planner before booking?
Ask about the planner’s processes, and their approach to planning, event design, and onsite coordination. Ask how many people you can expect to work on your wedding day. Ask for references. Don’t be afraid to discuss your expectations and budget parameters candidly. It’s important that you hire a planner who has experience working with the level of financial investment you are preparing to make – whatever it may be, and that works both ways. A planner who typically produces weddings with a $2k+ per person budget is likely not a good fit for a client who has a budget of $700 per person, and vice versa because their knowledge of that level of the market will be lacking.
Photography by Henry Photography
What would be your best piece of advice for couples when it comes to determining their overall wedding budget?
Unless you truly have unlimited resources at your disposal, the healthiest way to determine a budget for your wedding is to enlist the professional expertise of a wedding planner – even if for nothing other than hourly consulting to help you gain a realistic understanding of what your wedding will cost. The next step is to determine a “do not exceed” amount. Whether that amount is $20k, $200k, $500k, or $1 million, this advice remains the same. That doesn’t mean your wedding has to cost every penny of that amount, but it is incredibly helpful to have something to work backwards from. The alternative is to work upwards… with no end in sight until you hit a figure that feels uncomfortable to you. In theory that may not seem that bad, but practically speaking, it’s a recipe for wasting time at best, disappointment or sacrifice in quality at worst, and the need to backpedal. A father of the bride once told me, “you know what a wedding costs”, but the truth is that he may as well have said that I know what a house costs. There is literally an infinite amount of possibilities, and like buying or building a house – a level of budget expectation is critical if you want to avoid costly investment mistakes that you can’t unwind.
Any skilled and experienced planner can offer you estimates and ranges, and help guide wise decision-making when it comes to making choices that align with your financial goals. But no planner can do that without knowing two critical pieces of information: (a) your estimated headcount and your degree of willingness to adjust that count if needed, and (b) your expectation for the budget and/or a do-not-exceed number. Without that information, everything is guesswork done in the dark. Start by thinking through those two questions and then allow a seasoned professional to guide you and present you with realistic options.
Photography by Perry Vaile
What are some of your most memorable wedding day details from past weddings?
Oh goodness, there are so many, and we work very hard to create memorable details at every single wedding throughout the entire event. Sometimes it’s the way the entrée is presented in synchronized fashion. Sometimes it’s the way the lighting is programmed to change at just the right moment to signal a transition for the guests. Sometimes it’s the family recipe we print on a cocktail napkin to share the significance of the hors d’oeuvres being enjoyed.
When we think about wedding day details, we think far beyond the idea of having cute “stuff” for the sake of having stuff. If there’s a print element or floral arrangement, a personalized/monogrammed pillow, a large installation, or anything else of that nature – we want to be sure it is deployed in a way that is thoughtful, cohesive, intentional, and functionally relevant. Stuff is just stuff, but design elements that are created to further a cohesive story are the type of details that make all the difference. Similarly, food and beverage service or live performances that are orchestrated to blend into that story are a game-changer in how a couple, family, or guest experiences a wedding! To us, memorable wedding details are those that are grounded in a cohesive design plan that engages all five senses.
Photography by Ally and Bobby
What should couples know about the fees associated with hiring a luxury wedding planner? What does the typical breakdown of what’s included look like?
Fee structures can vary greatly depending on the location, unique business model, and experience level of the planner, but overall it’s important to understand that a luxury wedding planner’s fees will be – and should be – a significant portion of your budget. In fact, it’s a red flag if you find a wedding planner offering to plan and manage a luxury wedding at a price point that aligns with a planner operating in the average wedding market. While each project is different and there is no way to know at the start of it exactly how many hours we’ll devote to any particular client’s wedding, we know from experience that our time will measure in the hundreds of hours – easily 400-500 – sometimes even before we reach the wedding week. Whether your planner charges a flat fee, or a percentage based fee (set as a percentage of the overall wedding budget), it’s reasonable and prudent to expect the final compensation to align with 15-20% of the overall budget. The industry standard is 18%. That can seem high to some at first, but if you consider the amount of time and responsibility required, you will quickly understand that a planner should cost more than the band, more than the photographer, more than most other vendor services. If you’re hosting a luxury wedding, a planner of the right caliber is a tremendous asset to have in your corner and can help maximize and protect your investment in literally every other facet of the wedding. At the end of the day, no single other vendor or entity will pour more time, thought, expertise, or hard work into your wedding celebration than your planner, and nobody else can possibly be as effective an advocate for you or your overall vision.
Event Planning: Rebecca Rose Events