The Wedding Coordinator
We chat to Francesca Fennell about the role that can make or break a big day
Hospitality is based around trust, care, and quality, and in no area of the industry is this truer than weddings. Hotel & Restaurant Times was delighted to meet with Francesca Fennell, the Wedding and Events Manager at the Pillo Hotel Ashbourne in Co. Meath, to gain insight into all things wedding at the Hotel. We chatted to Francesca about her approach to creating a dream wedding as the Hotel’s Wedding Coordinator, from the initial meeting, to the planning, to the day itself; the importance of having a solid team you can rely on; and what led her to take this path in the industry.
On a practical level, Francesca describes her role as Wedding Coordinator as “a Jack of all trades.” She deals with the initial enquiry, meets the couple when they come in, shows them around the venue, and discusses packages and offers bespoke options, if necessary. “I’m pretty much with the bride and groom from planning stages until I hand over the wedding to the operations team,” she tells us.
We asked Francesca to tell us a bit more about the beginning stages of booking a wedding at the Pillo Hotel Ashbourne. What makes couples decide it’s the hotel for their big day? According to Francesca the decision to book hinges heavily on two things: emotions and trust.
“I believe you can’t sell a wedding venue,” she says. “Whether or not a couple is going to book happens within the first few seconds, as soon as they drive into the car park or walk into the reception area. Couples get a feel for the place immediately. There is no selling. It’s all about emotions. I also know pretty much straight away if a couple is going to book with us or not.” “Making that decision to book is based on how couples feel”, Francesca says, “and those initial positive feelings often come from how well the team comes across and how they treat prospective couples.”
“A lot of couples I meet will say we went to this or that venue and we knew it wasn’t for us because we weren’t greeted in a polite way. It’s sad to think, but there are many hotels who have put themselves on a pedestal and decide their clientele dresses a certain way, talks a certain way, has a certain salary and budget, and if a couple doesn’t fit into these parameters, they’re not for them. We don’t do that here.”
She emphasises that going on that journey with couples is a privilege that shouldn’t be taken lightly. Couples are allowing you into their lives, she says, and whether it’s a wedding for 15 or 350, regardless of cost it’s an honour to be chosen as the host of someone’s special day.
“Brides and grooms want to know they’re in good hands, and they want to know they’re loved and cared for. That might sound corny, but this is their big day, so trust and building a relationship is essential. Apart from the venue of their dreams they want someone who is going to be real and honest with them. They don’t want to be sold everything under the moon by a venue that’s just in it to make money. They want someone to listen to what they want and deliver it. They want someone they can rely on to get back to them as soon as possible if they have a question instead of being passed on and passed on.”
Francesca tells us this personal touch makes all the difference. “The majority of couples have my mobile number and they email me at all times under the sun and I feel like they’re my friends. We’ve broken the ice, we know each other personalities, so it’s quite personal, it’s a relationship.”
According to Francesca, this trust springs from another key ingredient: authenticity.
“Here at the Pillo Hotel, General Manager Darrell Penney loves to see people do well,” she tells us. “He will let you do your thing. He has high standards, but he is very open to people putting their own slant and personalities on their position, and I think that’s why I’ve been so successful on my role here. I’m encouraged to be me, and if you’re not letting your personality shine through, people will pick up on it, particularly brides and grooms. If you’re being fake from the initial enquiry stages they’re going to know straight away, and think, this is not the person I could trust and work with.”
A wedding happens in just one day, but the planning can take months and even years. It’s so important to look at the whole booking almost holistically – it’s not just about the end goal, the journey is equally important.
Francesca agrees. “It’s really important to me that my couples enjoy the planning stages as much as the wedding day itself,” she says. “It should be an enjoyable experience. It should never be stressful or cause anxiety, aside from the usual little blips like the table plan. I want there to be a bit of banter along the way so it’s not just cold or clinical or matter-of-fact.”
Flexibility is also crucial throughout the planning stages, and the ability to, quite literally, think on your feet. Having a solid team to rely on is an essential ingredient in planning a successful wedding.
Attention to detail is key, she says, and General Manager Darrell and Deputy Manager Andre Konings are also on hand during the planning stages and on the wedding day itself to lend a hand and ensure everything is running smoothly. It’s a family affair too, because Francesca’s father Jeremy works in the Hotel as a Banqueting Porter, and Darrell’s son Aaron is one of the youngest members of the team.
“It’s just lovely to have a core group you can rely on,” says Francesca. “We’re really popular as a wedding venue purely because of word of mouth and referrals, and that’s down to the team.”
Francesca is clearly passionate about her role, so we wanted to delve into her path into the industry. What brought her to the Pillo Hotel Ashbourne?
Prior to working in hospitality, she was in the fitness and leisure industry. She was passionate about health and fitness, and so by working in it felt she had lost her hobby. “I wanted a career change to get my hobby back,” she says, “so I applied for position in the Glenside Hotel in Drogheda and even though I had no experience I hit it off with Ronan McAuley, the owner. He took a massive gamble on me. I started as Sales and Marketing executive and assisted the Wedding Coordinator. They were the happiest years of my life there and I knew hospitality was what I wanted to do.”
“I got the stage when I wanted to put my own spin on weddings and there was a position here at the Pillo, and again, Darrell took a gamble on me, and I haven’t looked back. It’s been the best thing that’s ever happened to me.”
Francesca tells us she learned an important lesson from her first hospitality role, and it’s one that has stayed with her throughout her career. “Ronan was an incredible mentor and he always said, ‘You should always try to do the right thing,’ and I always try to apply that. The best reward you’ll ever get is a customer coming back to you, not an award. That’s your true measure of customer service and how you treat people. You see so many hotels constantly trying to generate new business and they’re pumping loads of money into advertising and their online spend. Just look after people, and business will come back.”
She ends on an uplifting note: “I’m a firm believer in karma, doing the right thing, putting good out there and it’ll come back, and it does, it comes back in trumps.”