Do you need a wedding planner?
To be honest, I could argue both sides of the spectrum for you, but my conclusion is the same. In Italy, you should budget for a planner. However, there are a few important things to consider when deciding if this is the route you want to take.
So first of all, why do I think you need a wedding planner is necessary for an Italian wedding (if you don't live there)?
- In Italy, not only is there a language barrier, but the currency is different, the contracts are different, the taxes and laws and marriage paperwork are all different from the US. You can read as much as you want online but it is hard to have an exhaustive understanding of every cultural and customary nuance of a place you do not live. If nothing else, wedding planners provide this peace of mind that everything is legally and monetarily sound with your planning.
- If you won't be near the site during the planning process, you need some boots on the ground. You can get an answer from someone in person in 30 seconds that would take 3 weeks via e-mail.
- Sometimes vendors aren't receptive or responsive to either non-Italian speakers or non-locals. Planners know how to talk to vendors, know how to workaround some of their limitations, get the paperwork done, and process the payment to them more easily. For the Italian vendors, we paid our wedding planner and they organized the payment schedule and they paid the vendors, which made it a lot easier on us.
- You'll be paying the price of a day-of coordinator regardless, and the planners (that I spoke to) build that in. I don't see how anyone doesn't have a coordinator in general for weddings, I didn't even get to the church on time with one, so forgive me if this is too much of an assumption. However, I do think somehow you need someone not involved with the wedding who knows the venues to tell you and your guests where to go when, to move along the cocktail hour, reception, dessert, dances, etc. so each component has enough time and the event flows. May as well kill 2 birds with a planner and coordinator!
However, manage your expectations.
I don't want to generalize, but when examining the scope of work of the wedding planners in Italy, I did not feel like they covered as broad of a spectrum task-wise as the planners in the states. Maybe I've watched one too many wedding related RomComs, but weddings in the U.S. are all about the BRIDE -- her wishes are all that matters and they go to whatever lengths to make them happen. My experience was not like this. I felt like I would ask for things, and then pretty much be told they couldn't do it or they'd tell me how to do it myself. My other incorrect expectation was that I'd describe my vision and then have the planner get creative about how to make it happen, even if it wasn't easy or cheap or convenient. I kind of come from the camp of 'if there's a will there's a way,' and especially in the service/hospitality industry, I was very unfamiliar with being told no, or feeling like a request of mine was a complete dead end. To be fair, the scope was probably in the contract; I just expected them to go above and beyond for me, but more often than not, I felt they were annoyed with me. Not every place in the world treats weddings as a big to-do with the bride as the focal point, and my educated guess is that my Americanized wedding view made me appear high maintenance. Point being, planners are important and I would do it again, but don't expect to get out of planning.
my biggest piece of advice?
That said, since I wasn't getting much back creatively at times, and it would take a long time for questions to get answered (especially when there's an off season), all I could do was be organized. I suggest making a Google shared spreadsheet with each question or request in a row, have each vendor or planner or family member who owns the task in a column, and write their response where relevant (you'll be able to download my template soon!) If your planner is willing to share the spreadsheet with you, you'll avoid many wires getting crossed because people forget what they tell you in passing (and seem to change their minds often), so this method encourages consistency and transparency. If they aren't as tech-savvy, or seem to think the level of detail and paper trail you'd prefer is out of scope, write every important takeaway from calls in a follow-up email with action items, assigned persons, and deadlines. I know this may seem like overkill; but my BIGGEST takeaway from wedding planning (even with a wedding planner) is that MY organization was paramount. You can't rely on the planner, venues, or vendors to have your function top of mind; you're somewhat of a a blip on their radar until the day arrives. If you take control and you own the process, you'll avoid a lot of disappointment. I couldn't even get people to read my emails, much less my mind.
I think you need a planner logistically, and if you're lucky, you'll get one creatively. But don't be disappointed if you still have to do a lot of work. At first, I thought all I'd have to do is show up, and I'd arrive to a beautifully curated event that was created for me after providing a few adjectives to my planner, so my first problem was in misaligned expectations. However, If you want a wedding in a box and don't care a lot about details, you may not have to lift a finger; perhaps I was too picky and created my own chaos! But at the end of the day, the only person who understands your taste is you, so be detailed, be organized, and be reasonable about the amount of work someone can dedicate to you relative to the amount you're paying them. You're the bride, the boss, the creative director, and if you can stay organized, you'll have a blast doing it.