Abby McAfee Daigle, Wedding Planner
Born and raised in Austin, Daigle has helped pour champagne, choose flowers, taste cake, and pick color schemes for more than one hundred brides. Her family owns and runs a wedding and event facility in Austin.
I’ve been working at Barr Mansion since they would let me. I started when I was just tiny and my dad would give me a penny for every cigarette butt I picked up off the ground after parties. Then, when I was still really young, I waited tables. I could only carry one plate at a time. I carried them back to the kitchen, I washed dishes. I had a different perspective on weddings than most little girls, because I was around them so much. I’ve probably seen 2,500 weddings in my lifetime, you know? So my idea was a little bit more realistic.
My parents bought Barr Mansion originally just to live in. It’s a Victorian house that was built in 1898, and when they purchased it, it was kind of falling apart. It needed so many renovations that they decided, “You know what, this house needs a job of some sort to support itself.” So they bounced around a few ideas: bed-and-breakfast, events, that kind of thing. Ultimately, people just wanted to get married there. I loved the family business, so after college, I thought, “Why don’t I just do this?” My dad had always been the wedding planner, so I shadowed him when I was first starting out, and he gave me lots of advice. I love my job, though I do miss out on things like football games and barbecues with my friends. If I could make weddings, for some reason, happen Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, I would.
I coordinate the wedding. I don’t do all of them myself—we have three wedding coordinators—but I do mostly Sunday weddings. And then I also do all the flowers. We have at least one planning meeting, where I take a client through every detail, from bouquets and flower girls to centerpieces and candles, and then we’ll have a floral meeting. I’ve got a ton of flower pictures for clients to flip through, and they’ll pick out something from those, or they’ll bring their own pictures, or I’ll draw something and we’ll come up with it together. I love doing the flowers because it allows me to be creative in a way that I’m not normally, beyond the usual “this table goes here with this linen.” It lets me get outside the office and do something with my hands.
Since we’re a certified organic event facility, a lot of our clients want organically and locally grown flowers. Some don’t care about that, they’re just focused on the color. Like, it has to be this shade of peach. It’s very specific. Other times people are just like, “I trust you. This is basically what I want, so just go with it.” I love that. Usually the groom doesn’t come to the floral meeting—it’s the bride, a friend, her mom. But every once in a while, you’ll get a groom who is really involved, who just really cares where the tables are set up or what the timeline is. I always think it’s doubly funny when he’s into the flowers.
I have about a hundred clients at a time. We probably average about two weddings per weekend, with spring and fall being busiest. People typically plan their wedding a year to a year and a half in advance. It’s a lot of phone calls, a lot of e-mails. You have to naturally be okay with the fact that somebody’s going to change her mind a thousand times about one little detail. I check my e-mail at ten o’clock at night, I check it when I wake up—every five minutes. If it’s about your wedding and you’re not getting a response quickly, then that’s not good. Brides want answers and they want them quickly.
On the actual day, I’m not running around picking up dresses or anything like that. I review all my notes for the setup and what needs to happen. Once the bride gets there, my job is pretty much troubleshooting. I have an emergency kit of things—even after 25 years of doing weddings, you never know what people are going to ask for. When the ceremony is about to begin, I help pin on boutonnieres and corsages. I tell the ushers when to start seating people, about five minutes beforehand. And then usually the ceremony starts when you usher in the parents and grandparents. I line everybody up and make sure they know where they’re supposed to sit. Make sure the bride’s ready to go. Everyone’s all set and in their places, and then I get everybody down the aisle. Then it’s up to the minister.
We’ll do a cocktail reception of some sort or go straight to a dinner reception. I keep the staff busy busing tables and keeping food stocked and the restrooms clean. There’s a timeline that I make sure happens: that the food goes out when we plan, that the cake-cutting happens at the right moment. Organization is key. You have to make sure you get every little thing right. Most brides, they’re not extremely detail oriented, but for the ones that are, if there is a petal out of place, it is not okay. You also just have to be a people person and be able to mix with all types, because basically, you’re keeping people feeling like everything’s under control. And if it’s not, you have to appear like everything is.
It’s something about weddings—failing is just not an option. There’s always little things that happen, but if you’re good at what you do, the bride and groom don’t even know about it. We’ve never had a disaster. But I do remember one wedding where, during the reception, a police helicopter landed because they were on a manhunt in the area. From the air, they were thinking, “Oh, there’s a lawn we can land on,” because we have a big, beautiful lawn where we do ceremonies. So they landed in the middle of the party! At that point, you have to just laugh. Because what can you do? You can’t keep helicopters from coming down and landing on your lawn. Luckily it wasn’t during the ceremony.
Once the bride and groom leave, that’s the end of the party. They run down the walkway and we throw something at them—you know, rose petals or bubbles. I’m there right before they get into their getaway car. I’m the last one to say bye to them, really, and usually at that point they are almost in tears with how happy they are. For a wedding planner, to have the bride give you a hug and tear up, I mean, I’m crying. That is the best thing that could happen. You know if you’ve done your job well by the end of the night.