I spent 8 hours shadowing a wedding planner — from chandeliers to roof leaks to pillows, here’s what her job is like

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It was super chaotic — but she stayed calm the whole time.
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Shana Lebowitz/Business Insider

About a year ago, Melissa McNeeley got a call from two women who were getting married and wanted her to help plan their wedding.

The couple (who preferred to remain anonymous) said, “I do” on Saturday, June 17. I spent the eight hours leading up to the ceremony shadowing McNeeley as she orchestrated the setup and dealt with last-minute crises. McNeeley stayed for more than 13 hours, and didn’t head home until about 10:45 p.m. – which is typical for her on a wedding day.

The 150-person wedding took place at Dobbin St, a hip event space in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. Ultimately, the whole affair cost upwards of $100,000.

Though I’d been to a bunch of weddings, I didn’t realize just how many moving pieces are involved in the preparation. Throughout the day, McNeeley and her assistants directed florists, catering staff, and a furniture-rental crew until everything looked absolutely perfect.

I couldn’t believe how calm McNeeley stayed the whole time – even when the ceiling started leaking. I asked her how she managed it, and she told me: “I’ve done this a million times.”


This is Melissa McNeeley. She’s been in the wedding-planning business for a decade, and she’s worked on some high-profile weddings for people including actors Steve Martin and Jim Parsons.

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Courtesy of Melissa McNeeley

Find out more about her business here.


On the day of her most recent event, I met McNeeley at Dobbin St just before 9:30 a.m. She greeted me with a big hug.

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The main entrance to Dobbin St, which opened just last year.
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Shana Lebowitz/Business Insider

McNeeley and I walked inside and saw the empty reception room. It was the calm before the storm.

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Shana Lebowitz/Business Insider

McNeeley got to work right away. Here she is unpacking cardboard cutouts of dinosaurs. The unofficial wedding theme was “Jurassic Park meets Golden Girls.”

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Shana Lebowitz/Business Insider

At about 9:45 a.m., the rental company arrived with chairs and tables. Here they are, stacked in the truck.

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Shana Lebowitz/Business Insider

“We have a little bit of a challenge,” McNeeley told someone on her team. The rental company had brought the wrong size tables. McNeeley sent them back to get the right ones. Here she is using her phone and laptop to deal with the situation.

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Shana Lebowitz/Business Insider

McNeeley “obsesses” over some stuff — like picking vintage stamps for a client’s invitations — but says “it’s pretty fun.” Here are a bunch of cake toppers she chose for the wedding.

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Shana Lebowitz/Business Insider

Around 11 a.m., Melissa’s new assistant, Arielle, arrived. The two of them started setting up some of the tables. In total, McNeeley’s team includes four other people, plus a few freelancers.

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The florist arrived with vibrant flowers and lush plants.

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Shana Lebowitz/Business Insider

Arielle spent the bulk of the day setting up and alphabetizing the seating cards and party favors: custom mugs with fake tattoos inside.

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Shana Lebowitz/Business Insider

Just before noon, it started pouring. That didn’t stop the team from going to the roof and building a tent and a huppah (a canopy for the couple used in a Jewish wedding).

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Shana Lebowitz/Business Insider

Another mini-snafu: The roof started leaking. McNeeley and her team arranged a few buckets to catch the raindrops.

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Shana Lebowitz/Business Insider

The rest of the team worked on hanging floral “chandeliers” from the ceiling. It took them a few tries to throw a sandbag over the rafters — I ducked out of the way.

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Shana Lebowitz/Business Insider

McNeeley looked at the first hanging chandelier and said: “It’s perfect!” (Phew!) Here she is snapping her own photo.

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Shana Lebowitz/Business Insider

McNeeley started folding napkins for the reception. But her team was running out of time. “Family photos start here at 3,” McNeeley told the room. “Is that a joke?!” someone responded. “I’ll tell them to stall,” McNeeley said.

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Shana Lebowitz/Business Insider

Around 3 p.m., it stopped raining. McNeeley (who changed into a dress) started sprucing up the patio area with a couch and tropical-looking pillows.

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Shana Lebowitz/Business Insider

I headed upstairs with McNeeley and we checked out the progress on the tent and huppah.

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Shana Lebowitz/Business Insider

About an hour before guests were due to arrive, Ariel (who’d also changed into a dress) put the final touches on the seating cards and party favors.

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Shana Lebowitz/Business Insider

By the time the brides arrived, everything was perfect. McNeeley told me her best piece of advice for couples planning a wedding is to “go with your gut and don’t ask too many different people for their opinions. Just listen to what feels good to you and your spouse-to-be.”

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Courtesy of Melissa McNeeley