Get Help From Ja’el Mendez on How to Plan a Perfect Wedding Day

Are you planning a wedding? If so, congratulations! This can be an exciting time in your life. However, it can also be stressful. That’s why it’s important to have a plan and to follow that plan. 

When it comes to planning a wedding, we can easily become overwhelmed and miss important details. Hiring a professional wedding planner is a great way to get help with organizing your special day so that you can feel in control and can relax knowing everything will go according to plan.

In this episode, we will have Ja’el Mendez of Coordinated Collective who knows how stressful the task of wedding planning can be and she is here to offer valuable advice and provide information on how to make the perfect event. With her assistance, you’ll be able to create an unforgettable wedding day.


Gillian de Souza: Hello, folks! Gillian again with DC Weddings with Gillian. Today, if you are the couple planning your own wedding, stay tuned. We have Ja’el Mendez of the Coordinated Collective, and she is here to give you tips, tricks, and special information about you planning your own wedding. Here we go.

Hello, folks! Gillian de Souza again with Caribbean Caterers and DC Weddings with Gillian. Welcome! And welcome with me Ja’el Mendez of the Coordinated Collective. Hi, Ja’el!

Ja’el Mendez: Hi, Gillian! How are you this evening? 

Gillian de Souza: Wonderful, thank you. It is such a pleasure to talk with you today, and I am excited because you are going to tell our brides and grooms all about how they can plan their wedding themselves.

Your slogan is you are “For the couples planning their own wedding.” 

Ja’el Mendez: That’s right. 

Gillian de Souza: And being in this industry for as long as I have, even though you plan your own wedding, you’re a super planner, you’re super organized, you’ve done many family weddings and that kind of thing, and you can get a lot of things done.

But what do you do when you are getting dressed on your wedding day or even that week of, the month of the wedding, when you have all of these things to do? Do you not wanna pass that pressure off to someone else? 

Ja’el Mendez: Exactly.

Gillian de Souza: Not be you Ja’el. 

Ja’el Mendez: That could be me or any of the ladies on my team. Absolutely.

Gillian de Souza: Very good. So tell us about you and the ladies on your team.

Ja’el Mendez: Absolutely. So my name is Ja’el Mendez. I’m the co-founder of the Coordinated Collective. I have a team of 11 lovely women. 

Gillian de Souza: Wow. 

Ja’el Mendez: We offer everything in the realm of events, but we found our niche in day-of coordination. 

Gillian de Souza: Very good. So help the listener understand the difference between day-of coordination and really is that just the day-of, or something more than the day-of? And just the position that with full service coordination. 

Ja’el Mendez: Absolutely. So I think a couple of the terms that our industry uses throughout is full planning, partial planning, day-of coordination, which is now some people like to call wedding day management. I still say day-of coordination because that’s what my clients and potential clients understand. So for our services, we begin working with our clients as soon as they book. Sometimes we get brides who have very clear picture of what they’re going to do. A year out, they have all of their vendors ready. We don’t need to talk until at, least eight weeks before the wedding day.

So we offer our services and a couple of some planning documents and tools to kind of guide them along the process, remind them of things that they could be missing, and then at that eight week mark, we jump in to provide the necessary communication, vendor synchronization and in-person meetings that we feel really, really help with the cohesive big picture and small details of wedding planning.

So it truly depends upon the company when you’ll start that one-on-one work. But for us, we begin as soon as you signed with unlimited emails, we offer the initial planning call which is typically when you hired all of your vendors. And then at that eight week mark, we began with an in-person meeting, such as the walkthrough, which is with the catering team, the venue manager, the couple and yourself.

Then we have a wedding rehearsal, typically the night before the wedding, and then a full eight hours on the day-of. So really day-of coordination when you’re thinking about all that goes into it is. Managing the vendors, understanding the timeline, making sure that you are responsible for the setup and the layout of the space, understanding transportation, logistics, managing the bridal party, the wedding party, excuse me. Cause it’s not just the bridal party, there are grooms people as well. Managing family dynamics, making sure that your guests understand the different transitions between the ceremony, cocktail hour, the reception, there’s so many different nuances and day-of coordination really has that piece of it from full planning and partial. 

So really the main difference between full planning, partial planning and day of coordination is you are hiring your vendors versus a full planner, they’ll do all of that for you. You give them a budget and they hire everyone and do everything under the sun. For us, we kind of let you take the reins for that.

You know what you want, you know the budget. We don’t wanna help you manage your money. That is not our wheelhouse. But we do wanna save you some money. So we’ll offer you different tips, tricks and strategies. Some like to call DIY elements, right? To kind of help you bring the cost down. One of the benefits of my company is that all of my ladies, we all have full time jobs.

So everyone understands what it was like living in DC without having a decent living wage. Now, with our full-time responsibilities, we all have collectively experience in event and non-profit management, protocol and logistics and hospitality services. So with that myriad of experience, each of my ladies offers a different perspective of, “Oh, you can probably take this out of your catering proposal. For example, if you weren’t having a champagne toast. We don’t need to add champagne flutes.”

So we are able to review contracts and proposals and kind of pull out key things that some caterers may forget, or just thinking that, “Oh, the client will want that.” When indeed, after talking to us, they realize that they don’t.

Gillian de Souza: Fantastic! You have just said a mouthful. 

Ja’el Mendez: I know. I’m so sorry. I’m still talking. 

Gillian de Souza: No, but it’s great. Cause I think — so let me just say again, people think, and this is a myth that we like to dispel with our brides and grooms, that I’m sure you may have encountered because this is in your wheelhouse, that they think a day-of coordinator is that day-of, that one day.

And so we explained there is absolutely nobody that could come in on your day-of and understand your needs, and get this event done for you to your satisfaction. 

Ja’el Mendez: Absolutely. 

Gillian de Souza: I was trying to busily write, but I couldn’t even get all of it done. And I know this stuff, but you talk about vendor coordination, timeline preparation, set up, transportation, logistics, bridal party. Listen, managing a bridal party, I see it all the time.

You just can’t even corra these 12 people to do what you wish them to do. 

Ja’el Mendez: On the rehearsal, when I’m meeting everyone in the wedding party, I say, “Look, on the wedding day, I may forget your name, but I know theirs, so you all are gonna be my cats and I am responsible for hurting you.”

Gillian de Souza: Absolutely. I see it all the time. Also, the reason why I see it as a caterer all the time is cause it slows down the rest of the program. 

Ja’el Mendez: Exactly.

Gillian de Souza: Right? Right at the beginning of the program, it slows down the program so that everything else runs late after that. 

Ja’el Mendez: Exactly.

Gillian de Souza: And I’ve seen it too many times. But people think about the value of a wedding planner. I told this story once. I had a bride who come to me and say that she didn’t think she needed a wedding planner because her sister’s wedding had a wedding planner and everything ran so smoothly that she didn’t see what the wedding planner had to do. I said that’s because she had a great wedding planner — 

Ja’el Mendez: Exactly. 

Gillian de Souza: — who to coordinated all the aspects so that they just came together on the day, and it’s like that duck in the water. If there was anything going on, it happened behind the scenes and on the front of the house you saw none of it. That means you had the best planner, not that you didn’t need one.

Ja’el Mendez: Exactly. Cause I’m sure something went wrong, went left that you wouldn’t known because you have a fantastic planner.

Gillian de Souza: The hundreds of events that I have done, I can’t tell you that there was one that didn’t have a hiccup. There’s always a hiccup.

Ja’el Mendez: There’s always a hiccup. Small, big hiccup. But truly Gillian, and you know, when you’re working with professionals, it’s how did they handle and manage that hiccup?

Gillian de Souza: Absolutely. So you know the hiccup is gonna happen. You know that with all of your planning, all of the efforts that you made to dot all the i’s and cross all the t’s, something is going to come up. How do we then balance that off with knowing what the client would want us to do in that moment because we don’t have access to ask a question?

Knowing how making a decision is not going to affect the other vendors when you make that decision and that things are gonna come off smoothly, and that’s the benefit of having your planner not just on the day of, but understanding what you needed, what your intention was for the day, pulling all of your vendors together to make that happen, and we don’t have a do-over. We have to do the right the first time, every time. 

Ja’el Mendez: Exactly, and I think one of the questions that I get asked from potential clients is, “Well, how do you manage that?” And it’s like, there’s no exact answer. There’s no cookie cutter, copy and paste, but we rely on our experience and the number of years that we’ve been doing this.

One, we work with professionals. So you have to trust that you’ve hired the right person to execute your big day. And I tell all of my clients that it’s really nice that you have a friend who’s a DJ or a cousin who was a photographer, but if they have never shot a wedding before, they’re not gonna be able to receive my feedback when I’m trying to manage a hiccup.

You also have to think about hiccups, especially in this area with climate change, weather related situations. The first week of October I had a wedding at a hurricane. Talking to all of the vendors, the night before, the morning of to make sure that the tent company pulled their flaps down to make sure that we had enough flooring so that the guests would get wet, making sure that their shoes wouldn’t fall through and see through the grass. All of those things. Your cousin, your friend, they wouldn’t have known to do that. 

Gillian de Souza: Absolutely. I mean, we have stories, don’t we? And I remember we had a hurricane wedding too in early October, and it was open air in a place that you have to cancel the event if the weather was still there.

And talk about being able, ensuring that you have a bad weather plan as long as you have anything outside. People say rain plan, but it’s not only rain, it could be excessive heat, it could be cicadas. 

Ja’el Mendez: Exactly. Oh, cicadas. 

Gillian de Souza: Been there, done that at least twice. 

Ja’el Mendez: Right. Right.

Gillian de Souza: So in any event, any eventuality we have to be there. So now, let’s talk about what then is the couple’s responsibility in this situation when you are coming in at six weeks? So they have to have all their vendors. So take it away. Tell someone listening, what do I expect you to do? What am I, the planner going to do?

Ja’el Mendez: Absolutely. As I mentioned before, it really does depend on when the clients come to us seeking our help. So we do get some clients who are like “Ja’el, I am super type A, I have all of this ready. My wedding is a year from now.” I also have clients who say, “Ja’el, I drop the ball. My wedding is a month from now.” 

Before you come to me, I need all of your vendors hired, or at least in some sort of consultation. So really that means the big three, your venue, your catering team, and your photographer. Those are the three vendors that I deem the most important. And I’ll throw in florist as well, just because depending upon who you wanna work with and your vision, that can fluctuate your entire, entire desire for your dream. 

So, as you know, DC has a variety of different weather circumstances. Some clients don’t like to get married in the hot, swampy heat, other summers of DC and then everyone loves October, pending there’s no hurricane. So really we wanna make sure that your date is not gonna change, cuz that’ll determine if we are available or not.

Gillian de Souza: Fantastic! So you heard and hear folks, if you do nothing else, you’ve got to get your venue, you’ve got to get your caterer, you’ve got to get your photographer and then you can talk to Ja’el about anything else. 

Ja’el Mendez: Exactly. And honestly, if you don’t have those things, I’m happy to give you my list of amazing friends. I have a list of folks that I work with in the DC area on a routine basis, and I love working with them. So if you need help looking for some of those people, those professionals I mentioned before, I can pass along their contact information as well. So again, when we start working together, we provide our clients access to a virtual wedding portal, which is something that we just rolled out this year that really talks about the cohesiveness that I mentioned earlier of wedding planning. 

So the big, big picture details, all the way down to the small details. That wedding portal is a Google sheet and it has a number of different tabs that kind of like help the clients go through and say, okay, I add this, so let me check this off. All right, now I need to start thinking about this. 

So I think having access to those types of resources along with a way to reach out to vendors in the area who would also match your price point, right? It’s just helpful. That’s when you can contact to me. 

Gillian de Souza: Fantastic! So now tell me about that virtual wedding portal. That sounds great. So if I’m a bride, I get my own personalized portal. 

Ja’el Mendez: You get your own Google Drive folder. Google is completely accessible. It really runs the world. And we find that even for the most non savvy, technological friendly person, they’re able to use it. In this drive, we have the virtual wedding portal, which is a Google sheet. A really, really nice Google sheet that has a number of different tabs.

So the first tab is going to be vendor contact information. As you know, sometimes when you’re talking to your vendors, there is someone who drafts your sales agreement versus someone else who does your day-of service. Some of the videos that we work with in the DC area require that all of your vendors have a COI, a certificate of insurance. So this document also tracks that. 

And then one thing that is apparently new to some couples is that they didn’t know that they had to feed the team that works their wedding day. So I provided a column so that we can track vendor meals and dietary restrictions because I’m gonna make sure that my vendors eat. And I’m not talking a little box sandwich. I’m talking about a hot meat, veg start and dessert . 

Gillian de Souza: Let me take a side note there. One of the things that Caribbean Caterers does is make sure all our vendors eat. It’s a Caribbean thing. You don’t come to a Caribbean business home pass through the house at dinner time and don’t eat, right?

Even if somebody — the share what’s on their plate. Everybody in the house eats. 

Ja’el Mendez: I love it. I love it. Thank you for doing that. I don’t work with them anymore, but some caterers, they’re like, “Well, that a couple didn’t pay for it.”

And I was like, “Well, why didn’t you say something?” Like, we have to eat. We’ve been here for eight hours, just as long as you have. 

Gillian de Souza: Fantastic! And so we do get that question from couples all the time, because I guess they’re doing due diligence and seeing online or wherever their checklist is that they should do that.

So they ask us about vendor meal, but we put it right into their contract that they have really three options. They can do nothing and don’t feed their vendors, which we don’t recommend. We feed the vendors not as a guest because your guest cost is going to have all of the staff serving, all of the china stuff.

We feed the vendors only at the cost of the meal that you purchase. So the vendors are eating the same meal that you’re getting for your guests, but we serve them in the back of the house. We serve them in the kitchen, on disposable plate at their own schedule because the photographer or videographer may not be eating when you’re having a meal because you may be taking photos, or the coordinator team might need to eat before, or some most likely eat at the end. So we hold it for them for later. So we do that because we understand that even for our team, you don’t want your team to pass out while they’re working your event. 

Ja’el Mendez: You dont! You don’t! I know we’re superheroes, but we’re not that good.

Gillian de Souza: We make sure they stay hydrated, especially in the summertime as well. 

Ja’el Mendez: Absolutely. And I appreciate that. But sometimes I think us as industry professionals, we think, “Okay, you’re here for a job. Yes, you are. But we are also still human. And at the end of this event, we are going to go home already tired. We do not need to be dehydrated and hungry. 

Gillian de Souza: Yes, I agree. I agree. So back to this Google sheet. I’m gonna keep you on track, which is what your Google sheet is gonna keep them. Cause this is what happens to the couples. They get sidetracked with other things that are happening in their life or anthing about the wedding that they really probably don’t need to pay attention to. And so you — 

Ja’el Mendez: Or they’re looking at their interest board and they’re like, let me add this. So again, on the vendor tab, it kind of highlights all of the different vendors that you could see at a traditional Western wedding. So Western American, right? The next tab is gonna be the draft day of timeline. We offer them three different nuances of a timeline to choose from.

So before that initial planning call meeting with your lead coordinator, right at the eight week mark, or when you’ve hired all your vendors and you need some guidance on what to do next, we ask them to choose a timeline. The three different options are, one with a first look, one without a first look, and then the last is if the ceremony and the reception are in two different locations.

In those three different options, we provide all of the different transitions. So, wedding party arrival, hair and makeup, photography, videography, when vendor loading begins, all the different main transitions of a wedding day that you can expect and what that timing looks like. And so they can kind of see like, “Oh, this makes a lot of sense.”

So I’m gonna put my dress on here. We line up there, we do this, we do that. And during that planning meeting, we fill in the gaps. So like, inserting specific locations so your photographer knows I’m getting ready at this hotel room, and this is the hotel room number. The videographer is actually meeting at the venue because their contract is for six hours, not eight hours.

The catering team, the DJ and the planning team are gonna all arrive at the venue at the same time because industry standard is to arrive two hours before a load in. So walking them through all the different behind the scene pieces, they see that up front. They see the value in, “Oh, wow. I’m so glad I hired this team because I wasn’t aware. I had no prior knowledge that this is actually what happens on a wedding day.”

Small details such as, when and who’s going to bustle your dress? When are you going to get a bite to eat before greeting your guests at cocktail hours? What songs are you coming out to? How many parent dances? How many toast? The persons who are giving toasts. What table numbers? What tables are they sitting at? 

All of that information is important because what you are not going to do during your wedding day is say, “Oh, Aunt Sally is over here”, and pointing, right? I will know that location because I’ve introduced myself to Aunt Sally. I know that she’s giving a toast and I’m bringing the microphone to her and telling her where to stand so the photographer and the videographer can capture her in the best light.

So you have the memory of Aunt Sally looking at you, not dropping the mic, having a glass ready and not off in the bathroom somewhere. All of those things are so important because it keeps everything flowing. 

Gillian de Souza: Fantastic! Fantastic! 

Ja’el Mendez: There’s more, Gillian. There’s more. 

Gillian de Souza: No, Please gimme more. So, couples listening, listen up. Listen to Ja’el talking about all the things that you — I am sure you’re going like, “Oh my gosh, I didn’t know it was all that.” but now that you’re hearing it is like, “That makes sense.” So please, Ja’el, tell them more. 

Ja’el Mendez: The next couple of tabs in the wedding portal, final menu selection, and I know you’ll like this one, Gillian.

So a lot of times a couple will have their tasting, which is the meeting where they’re choosing all the foods that will be present on their wedding day. A lot of the times that meeting was maybe a year, eight months, six months, depends on the caterer, depends on your availability. Sometimes I do have clients who have moved out of the area and they’re traveling in for their wedding. So they forget, what’s gonna be the first course? What’s gonna be my entree? What’s gonna be the specialty cocktail, and what are the ingredients in that? So this tab really highlights — this is the last touchpoint that you have with your caterer, and it is your responsibility to fill it in. But it is also my responsibility that when I see the food, drinks that out, I can make sure that I’ve seen all of your appetizers pass. I’ve seen the pre plated salad. I’ve seen the different allergies and other sensitivities marked clearly. I can go through and check those off. And the best part about this is that I like to highlight the couple’s beverage choice.

 Some of my couples, they say, “Ja’el for dinner, I want this. For the cake, I want this. For the rest of the night, I want this.” And I say, “Absolutely.” if you don’t have your own butler from the caterer, then I will make sure that someone from my staff takes care of you.

Gillian de Souza: Fantastic! This is so great and so important because we have over the years perfected some things that help brides and grooms stay on track with their catering. And one of them is their menu review. We do a menu review, we do a final menu review at the one month mark. They get a reminder at the two months mark.

Another reminder to make the appointment at the six week mark, and by that one month mark, they would’ve had the menu review with Chef to go over and make sure every aspect. The same thing that you’re asking them to do. 

Ja’el Mendez: Gillian, I love that. I love that, especially because sometimes when you have that tasting prior to your RSVPs coming in, you don’t know what allergies you have present.

So you’re picking something that someone in your immediate family cannot eat. And without that menu review, we’re gonna have an issue come wedding day. I can have as many hiccups in the world, but I do not want a client to not have anything to eat, like a wedding guest did not have anything to eat.

Gillian de Souza: Absolutely. Or have something that they were allergic to and the ambulance has to pull up at your wedding.

Ja’el Mendez: Exactly, exactly, exactly. So having that menu review, having this final menu selection has definitely just helped — could be my need to know it all or my desire for control. But the control is good because I can help point out things. It’s important. 

Gillian de Souza: Yes. And it’s important. 

Ja’el Mendez: The next tab I think would also be helpful for the caterer, which we’ve included in our wedding portal is a seating expo chart. The caterer, which some of our clients do not know, the caterer is responsible for setting up the chairs and tables at your reception. We make it pretty, but they make sure that you have a plate, some cutlery and glassware. 

So we need to know, how many people are sitting at each table? What the dietary restrictions are at each table? And how many people ordered the chicken? We need to know. 

Gillian de Souza: Listen, I am so glad you bring that up, especially when there is not a planner, that’s the thing we pull teeth with our clients for, because typically they don’t know until the last minute because people are still RSVP way too late.

So this is how I tell people so that they sit down and do it. So think about if you have auntie sitting on table five, but you forget and you didn’t move people around, and you have table five set for eight people, but you have already placed nine people, including auntie, and auntie gets in table five and eight people are sitting on the table and there’s not a ninth seat and auntie’s standing around trying to figure out.

Now I have to ask the coordinator. Now I have to figure out where to put it. Its disruptive. It’s just ugly because — 

Ja’el Mendez: There’s too many apologies. Exactly. That one mis detail.

Gillian de Souza: One mis detail that we very easily can fix, if you would give me that information. But, when you get to the week of your wedding, there is so much going on. People think they can do all of this stuff, but families in town, something went wrong with a dress, a bridesmaid dropped out. That’s the new latest thing. 

Ja’el Mendez: Oh, and Covid. We’ve had so many cancellations due to Covid, due to sicknesses. So, absolutely, absolutely. And you don’t wanna do that the week of your wedding. Why not send that email to your coordinator? Why not have that person carry on the stream of information, the stream of communication? And let all the necessary parties know. 

Gillian de Souza: The minute people see and give them a reason as to why it’s important, they’ll get it done or they’ll pass it off.

But if you’ll see the importance of it, then it drops to the bottom of your to-do list and it just doesn’t get done. But it’s vitally important. 

Well, my dear, oh my gosh, I can continue talking to you. We’re way over time at this time, but that’s because we’ve had such a great conversation.

We know that there is more great stuff that our couples would love to know, but I totally appreciate your wealth of knowledge. I appreciate your heart for your customers because it is only because of that, that you will go through the thought process that it would take to have this online portal to keep your clients in check.

Ja’el Mendez: Exactly. I make sure they understand. It’s their responsibility and I’m the one to hold them accountable. 

Gillian de Souza: Yes. And then they can very easily see at one time how much work is there. So you don’t have to get overwhelmed, you just have to buy what you can chew in that six weeks that they’re with you and just get it done.

Just clip it off, clip it off, clip it off. That is really great. And I applaud and your team of ladies for getting that done for your clients. And so couples, you heard it here. If you are the couple planning your own wedding, we are here to say that is something that’s very doable.

But there’s a point at which you need to give it over to a professional who can bring it to the finish line for you so that you can enjoy the journey, so that you can get to your wedding day that you’re not stressed and looking bags under eyes like I have now.

And so, I would like Ja’el for you to think of one thing or more than one, how many ever things you would like the couples to hear as to why they think they should hire you for the couple that must have to plan their own wedding. Give them one. 

Ja’el Mendez: A good tip or strategy is I like to say, have really meaningful conversations with the vendor team that you plan on hiring.

If you don’t feel that connection, if you don’t feel like that person will take care of you, understand family dynamics, be the one to offer a calm presence and remind you that you hired them for a reason, then you should look somewhere else. If you don’t feel that initial vibe, then it’s not there. You don’t have to force it.

But we love working with couples who have big ideas, who have small ideas, who are still trying to pull the pieces together. No matter where you are in the planning process, we are here to help you. I tell all of our potential clients, no one should go broke planning a wedding, and you can do this. You’ve done the hard work. You’ve done it.

You’ve hired an amazing vendor team. So let me do the work and pull together the communication. Let me take the reins and pass it off to my wonderful team of women who are just experienced enough to really help you through the navigation process, through contracts and proposals. There are things that you know about weddings and there are things that you don’t. So let the professionals do their job.

Gillian de Souza: Fantastic! Well, Ja’el, I know we can continue talking for another hour, so we may have to do a part two. 

Ja’el Mendez: I’m happy to talk to you. I can talk to you for years! Gillian, thank you so much for offering this space. I really appreciate it. 

Gillian de Souza: You are very welcome and thank you for giving our couples a lot to think about so that they can make the best decisions for themselves.

Ja’el Mendez: Yes, exactly. Exactly. The best decision. I love that.

Gillian de Souza: Well, thank you, thank you, thank you Ja’el. Thank you audience. We have come to the end of another session. I know it was very helpful to you all. So stay tuned as we get ready for another DC Weddings with Gillian. Have a great night!

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