Labor of Love: Greatest Expectations, Rehearsal + Wedding

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Heather Vickery, the Owner and Event Director of Greatest Expectations is alert and calm, qualities which are central to how she executes events that are both well-run, beautiful, and full of heart. For this project of shadowing wedding professionals as they go about their work, I was curious about what the day of the wedding was like for a planner. I wanted to see what happens behind the scenes after the consultations, tastings, walk-throughs, all emails exchanged, and the timeline set.

I followed Heather and her team at three different events: one of the first wedding expos in the city specifically tailored to same-sex couples, and the rehearsal dinner and wedding of a couple who also happened to have their wedding at the Chicago History Museum.

There are many different levels of planning that a couple getting married can look for, from full planning and design to month-of planning and coordination on the wedding day. ("Day-of" coordination is sometimes referred to, but is really a misnomer because no planner just shows up on the day of a wedding cold and says, "I'll take it from here!"). When a couple hires a planner for full planning services, like Heather provided for the wedding I shadowed, they are employing their planner's knowledge of the caterers, venues, photographers, production companies, florists, DJs, bakers, and a wide range of companies. A full-service planner makes recommendations or will set up consultations with their clients and acts as the hub of communication between the couple and all their vendors.

On the day of the rehearsal dinner and wedding Heather and her team had many roles. One was stage managing. Heather created the master timeline, and much like a stage manager check-ins with all the principal players, Heather and her team shepherded and troubleshot when necessary to make sure all the vendors, wedding party, and guests stayed on the timeline in spite of many of possible diversions, not the least of which is out-of-town guests dealing with the obstacles of Chicago traffic. Heather's calmness was immensely helpful in troubleshooting; she was so calmly focused on finding solutions that the problems seemed expected, and hardly a problem at all.

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A planner is the keeper of the knowledge, most importantly the knowledge of where and when all the people and things go. Not only does the planner know the floor plan and when a table is out of place, but all the little things, like making sure the cake topper brought by the maid of honor makes it to the person setting up the cake, or the photo from the bride's mother makes it to the escort card table. The planner tells the wedding party exactly how to line up and makes sure that the right seats are reserved for their clients' grandparents.

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What that means in practice is that when any member of the wedding party or a vendor had a question they knew who to go to to get their question answered. Heather placed herself in a central location, and addressed all the questions right away. Just that role alone put so many people at ease. When something required more attention, she would delegate it to her staff, and she would be available again.

Along with responding to questions and requests, another main role of a planner is to actively watch everything that is happening. When the lighting technician needed to know exactly what hue was right for the room, he consulted with Heather on adjustments. When the cake table looked uneven, Heather noticed it and made sure it was adjusted. She saw when a linen was backwards, and made sure that it was placed correctly. She saw when the ceremony chairs needed to be moved a few inches.

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A couple getting married makes mountains of decisions about their wedding, but they are not available on the day of their wedding to play a large part in the managing of the event. With her own expertise and her knowledge of her client's decisions, Heather acted as a surrogate and advocate for her clients' decisions.

One thing that was apparent from watching Heather and her team was that even at the most efficient level of work, all of the parts to setting up and managing a wedding take a lot of people a lot of time. An escort card table appears to be a simple thing. The cards are printed with each guest's name and assigned table. They need to be placed in alphabetical order so the guests can find their name. But if there is any discrepancy anywhere along the way to a list that has no doubt been changed many times--say a name is printed twice with different tables--then the list must be consulted and adjustments must be made. On average, it takes two very quick people one hour to completely set up an escort card table.

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While planning and executing all the work necessary for a wedding shares many aspects of planning any kind of large event, a wedding planner has the added role of being an emotionally invested and central witness to her clients' rite of passage. Heather has a big open heart and it's clear how much she cares about her clients.

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