It’s a Wedding. What Could Possibly Go Wrong?

In a word: Everything. From hurricanes to vanishing photographers, these real wedding disasters are perfect lessons in how the best laid plans can still go awry. Find out what wedding planners do when the worst-case scenario happens.


It’s a Wedding. What Could Possibly Go Wrong?

In a word: Everything. From hurricanes to vanishing photographers, these real wedding disasters are perfect lessons in how the best laid plans can still go awry. Find out what wedding planners do when the worst-case scenario happens.


It’s a Wedding. What Could Possibly Go Wrong?

In a word: Everything. From hurricanes to vanishing photographers, these real wedding disasters are perfect lessons in how the best laid plans can still go awry. Find out what wedding planners do when the worst-case scenario happens.


The night before her wedding, Cathi Stier dropped off supplies at the country club where she would marry her fiancé, Mike, in an elegant garden ceremony.


Out of nowhere, she caught a whiff of an unmistakable stench in the air.

“In the darkness, I realized the lawn had been cut and they’d spread fertilizer,” she remembers. “Manure covered the lawn.”

The club’s maintenance crew scrambled to clean up and cover the freshly fertilized grass with artificial turf, but it wasn’t much of an improvement. “It looks awful in our pictures,” Stier says.

The couple made the best of it. “I wore white cowboy boots under my dress,” she says.

Of all the things that can go wrong at a wedding, Stier never imagined the lawn would cause problems. But that’s how weddings are. No matter how well planned, manure happens. These real-life wedding misadventures — and the advice from brides, grooms and wedding planners who lived through them — may help other couples avoid (or conquer) similar disasters.

The photographer was charming, but the photos were a no-show.

There were no red flags when Liz Ranfeld met her sister Sara’s wedding photographer. He was recommended by a relative, he was friendly, and he had an amazing portfolio and website with client testimonials, says Ranfeld.

So it was a complete shock when it took months of Ranfeld hounding the photographer before Ranfeld was able to get even a few photos from the wedding. And, she later learned, he stiffed at least 15 other couples that wedding season. Ranfeld now believes the website testimonials were fake. In hindsight, she says, they should have hired someone with a more established reputation.

when the happy couple

HIRES A NO-SHOW PHOTOGRAPHER, CATERER, DJ OR FLORIST.
 

WHAT WOULD A WEDDING PLANNER DO?

Research a wedding vendor as carefully as you would a building contractor, plumber or roofer. Before handing over a hefty deposit, call several references, check Better Business Bureau ratings and online reviews, and look beyond a portfolio showcasing their best work.

“Don’t always rely on online reviews,” says Long Island, New York wedding planner Rebecca Sundin. “Have friends or acquaintances used that vendor? What do they say about them privately, not in a public online forum? Maybe your photographer has worked with the videographer you’re thinking of hiring — ask what they think.”

The restaurant canceled the wedding two days before — and charged $11,000.

Bobbi Palmer didn’t bother to check reviews — she knew she wanted to be married in the best restaurant in her Southern California town.

“It had a gorgeous 360-degree view of the ocean and our sparkling downtown,” she says.

But, looking back, she says there were early signs that should’ve convinced her to find another venue. On a busy night, the restaurant refused to let the couple and their photographer conduct a walk-through of the space. The restaurant’s wedding planner often was unavailable. “But we were so dazzled by the venue we ignored the red flags.”

When the restaurant’s wedding planner was a no-show for a scheduled, pre-wedding walk-through, Palmer complained.

“The next day — Thursday, before our Saturday wedding — I got a call from the general manager, cussing at me for upsetting his staff,” she says. He said he was canceling her wedding.

She spent a half hour trying to change his mind. His reply: “I can cancel it at any time — and that includes as you’re walking down the aisle.”

With that, Palmer told him she accepted his cancellation and hung up. Minus a venue and a band, with less than 48 hours to go, she found another venue and pulled off the wedding without another hitch.

“Many people in our city came to our rescue,” she says. “We had a spectacular wedding with a jazz quartet at another venue.”

But the restaurant tried to charge her $11,000, “saying we cancelled,” she says. After a lawsuit, which took two years to wend its way through the courts, Palmer won a settlement of $20,000. 

when the happy couple

HAS A MAJOR FALLING OUT WITH A VENDOR BEFORE THE WEDDING DAY.
 

WHAT WOULD A WEDDING PLANNER DO?

When a vendors and a couple have a conflict, Sundin steps in to defuse the tension and bring the conversation back to business. Emotions run high around weddings, and minor problems can snowball quickly if communication unravels, she says. Any neutral third party who can speak for the bride and groom may be able to smooth things over. “Taking the emotions out of it and guiding everyone to focus on the bigger picture helps calm things down,” Sundin says.

Despite the lawsuit, Palmer thinks they lucked out. “Given how rude and disinterested they were, I can only imagine what might have happened the day of the wedding if we’d somehow managed to work things out.” 

"Our tent blew into the ocean."

Weather is always a wild card — and can prove harrowing if the wedding is outdoors.

Deborah McCoy, a wedding planner and president of the American Academy of Wedding Professionals, still rues the day she agreed to the tent the bride wanted on a South Florida beach, complete with floor, altar, seating and flowers.

Bad weather was brewing. “My gut was telling me not to.” But McCoy went along.

“That morning, a storm blew up of mini-hurricane proportions,” says McCoy. “At 10:30, I got a call from the frantic mother of the bride, who told me the tent had blown into the ocean and was not recoverable.” 

The bride was inconsolable.

Luckily, McCoy had a backup plan: She’d booked a small meeting house on the property in case of bad weather. Emergency calls brought her decorators, florists and other vendors, who turned it into a wedding wonderland, she says.

When the bride caught her first glimpse, she burst into tears again — the happy kind.

when the happy couple

INSISTS ON A TENT AND OUTDOOR WEDDING
 

WHAT WOULD A WEDDING PLANNER DO?

The thing about tented weddings? “They’re the most expensive, hands down,” says Birmingham, Alabama wedding planner Becky Baker.

On top of the hazards rain brings (slippery walkways, wet dance floors, shorted-out equipment), factor in backup accessories and tents to cover walkways to restrooms and peripheral space like bars or reception areas. Baker also makes sure to have a plan B: “We usually rent another venue close by for the day of the wedding.”

To avoid the last-minute scramble, wedding planners also try to make the final call on indoor vs. tented wedding several days before. For a Saturday wedding, Sundin and Baker both look at the forecast on Monday and make the final call by 5:00 p.m. on Tuesday. “Anytime there’s a 40 percent chance of rain or higher, we start talking plan B,” says Sundin.

“All of a sudden, everyone was yelling, ‘Fire!’”

The wedding in rural Maine had a rustic feel and involved amateur pyrotechnics.

“At one point, a few of the bride and groom’s friends put on a fireworks show,” says Lindsey Pollock, a friend of the bride. Guests, including young children, played with sparklers.

“All of sudden people around us start running around and yelling, ‘Fire!’” A dumpster by a very old wooden barn was burning. 

“People were carrying water in makeshift buckets from ice tubs, pots from the kitchen, you name it,” Pollock recalls. But the fire raged on.

One of the property owners raced in with a fire extinguisher, saving the night — and the barn.

when the happy couple

UNKNOWINGLY ENGINEERS THE DISASTER.
 

WHAT WOULD A WEDDING PLANNER DO?

Unlike brides, who see beautiful pictures of fireworks and sparkler exits on wedding inspiration boards, wedding planners like Baker see chaos.

“Let’s serve drinks for four hours, then let them play with fire. Sparklers will be the death of me.”

If a client insists on a sparkler exit, Bakers makes sure there are no crafty “Take One” signs on a bucket full of sparklers by the dance floor. She delegates one assistant to handing one sparkler to each adult guest when they’re lined up outside. “This prevents rowdy guests from taking a handful and keeps them out of the hands of kids.”

And if there’s a guest or two with a history of hijacking festivities or making trouble, wedding planners want to know ahead of time who to keep an eye on, like the rude, aggressive groomsman who harassed Sundin’s staff and other vendors at one memorable wedding. “The bride had warned us about him, so we knew to keep an eye out. He was still a jerk, but we managed him well enough that he didn’t cause a scene.” A trusted guest or bridesmaid, the venue manager or a bartender can run the same interference if they know who to look out for and who shouldn’t be over-served at the bar.

They spent their wedding night tracking down the keys to the car.

With her trademark precision, Joyce Baird choreographed each step of her wedding day. First, she and Roger married in a church in La Jolla, California; then, they hosted a reception at a swanky banquet hall at a marina, a 20-minute drive away. At the end of the night, they made a dramatic exit by boat to a hotel on nearby Mission Bay.

Only after they arrived at their hotel did Roger realize his car keys were missing. They were in his tuxedo pants, which had been given to a friend to return. Locked inside the car: Roger and Joyce’s suitcases, packed for their honeymoon in Hawaii.

The key design made the car virtually impossible to break into, and the couple spent their wedding night calling family, friends and locksmiths, and looking in vain for the spare key. “We flew to Hawaii without sleep — or the suitcases,” Baird says.

when the happy couple

FORGETS A MAJOR DETAIL
 

WHAT WOULD A WEDDING PLANNER DO?

They’ve seen it happen countless times: even the best-organized and well-planned wedding stirs up a flurry of activity that’s hard to imagine — much less anticipate. Things get lost. Details are forgotten. Car keys end up hours away in a pair of tuxedo pants.

“Many wedding-day issues stem from brides and grooms not understanding how long things take,” says Sundin. Wedding planners know to build in extra time for everything from unexpected traffic to last-minute makeup touchups. Padding time in the day’s schedule can also create unexpected moments of downtime to relax and think.

Baker also tells her brides and grooms to stash personal items — wallet, ID, cell phone, keys — in a secure bag and delegate someone in the wedding party, a family member or the venue manager to find a safe place for them at the venue. “Chances are, you won’t need those things once the festivities start,” she says.

No power, no water, no gas, no food. Total catastrophe.

Adriana Santiago’s fiancé was granted his visa to come to her home in Puerto Rico the very day Hurricane Maria pummeled the island.

“Right after Maria, the airport was inoperable, so he came to us about two weeks later, in the middle of the crisis. No power, no water, no gas, no food. Total catastrophe.”

Santiago and her partner, who lived in Spain, had already been separated for a year and a half. The clock was ticking on his three-month fiancé visa.

The couple had planned to hold their ceremony and sunset picnic at a seaside fort in San Juan. But on their wedding day, the city was still being slammed by rain. They needed a new plan, fast.

So they scoured Old San Juan — still barely functional — for a venue.

“My fiancé and I drove there in the rain, no street lights at all, everything flooded,” Santiago says. “I started walking around until I found an open restaurant and asked if I could have my guests over. I couldn’t believe it when they said yes.”

Santiago texted the address to guests and crossed her fingers. Not only did they show up — the wedding arrived with them.

“They brought presents, a cake, champagne, the picnic and decorations,” she says. “My friend even had them change the music to our playlist.”

The day before, Santiago had verged on a meltdown, unable to locate fresh flowers and a house with power where she could style her hair. In the end, she realized her relative good fortune.

“I just said, ‘You know what? We are in the middle of a crisis, people are suffering or fleeing by the thousands, and I’m happy my family is finally together.’”

when the happy couple

FACES A MAJOR WEDDING MELTDOWN.
 

WHAT WOULD A WEDDING PLANNER DO?

Weddings can go off the rails, but at the end of the day, the only thing that matters is the “I do,” says Sundin. “No matter how many things go wrong, remember the reason for the day.” So you develop a preemptive strategy to curtail unruly relatives. The photographer flakes or the cake gets dropped. Or maybe someone has to escort guests to the tent under an umbrella because it’s pouring rain. “Your guests will still have a great time and you’ll end the day married and with a lifetime of memories.”

Planning a wedding?

The average cost of a wedding in the U.S. in 2018: $24,723. —The Wedding Report


Written by

Katie McCarthy

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