We got chatting to the lovely Jess Mithen Lee from Maple Event Group, of Fenix Events and Leonda by the Yarra, and as you might have guessed she sure does know a thing or two about weddings.
Anthony So I’m really interested, you know, firstly, why don’t we start with your role at Maple Event Group? And how your day to day must be, you know, helping brides plan their big day. So tell me a little bit more about what that involves.
Jess Yeah. Sure. So I’ve actually been with Maple Event Group for sort of 5 years now and I started in a sort of sales capacity, so dealing directly with clients and helping them plan their big day or whatever type of event it was. And I’ve actually moved across into a marketing coordination role, which basically means that I get to be at the forefront of research on what’s happening in the industry. What are the biggest trends? What do we need to be on top of? So that we can continue to provide the best options and service to our clients. So it’s a really exciting and slightly more strategic role now that I do.
Anthony For sure. So on a micro level, if you like, when you do meet or in the past when you’ve met couples or even some of your team members, what is it that couples are really concerned about or struggling with initially that then you guide them through and help sort out for them?
Jess So I think one of the biggest things with the Australian wedding industry is that there is just a huge saturation of information out there. There’s a lot, you know, there’s a lot to process. And for most couples, this is the first time they’ve planned, you know, an event of this scale and of this importance. You know, this is a huge thing. It’s a very emotional day. And it’s, you know, ideally the type of day that you only ever do once. So that can be really overwhelming. I think for a lot of people. So really, that’s often what we face. You know, we just face this feeling of overwhelmed. And so it’s our job really to help guide and direct our clients through the information that’s most important to them. And just remind them that really the biggest thing that they need to be on top of is, is what is going to make it special for them as a partnership, as a starting point for the rest of their lives. What’s most important to them? Because whilst lots of other people will have their say in there, they’ll want to be an influencer in how the day goes. At the end of it all, it’s really down to you and your partner and how this is going to affect the right you guys for the rest of your lives.
Anthony For sure. And that’s that’s a really poignant point that you make, is for couples to, you know, meandering around their expectations of the day and then, you know, the rest of their families and juggling that can be tricky for some.
Jess Yes, absolutely.
Anthony You know, and so in some respects, you become someone who helps them through that process, too, don’t you?
Jess Yeah, absolutely. Look, it should be a collaboration as well. It shouldn’t be one person dictating everything because that’s not how it’s going to work. You know, we can’t tell a couple exactly how their day should go and vise versa. We are the experts in the field. So, you know, it’s important that we’re listened to in some respects as well. So, yes, absolutely. It’s all about collaboration.
Anthony For sure. So, alright. You have a couple and you know, you’re working with them. What are some of the questions they ask you about the venue and the logistics of the day?
Jess Yeah, sure. So we get a lot of the same sort of questions and they’re pretty, pretty standard. What you would most think of with regards to any event. What are the capacities that your venue can hold? What are the menu options like, what’s included, what’s not, etc.. But with us, I guess the process I’ve talked about collaboration and then that is a really big part of our process. We actually, you know, don’t just sit down with them and say, look, these are our packages. You know, pick A, B and C. We actually ask what is most important to the couple. And we have what we call vows or commitments, which are three sort of non-negotiables, I guess from the couples side that we will actually include in the booking agreement. So it’s separate to what’s included in a package. And it could be anything from, oh well we need to make sure there’s a really big dance floor or, you know, in our family, it’s a tradition to have port served after dessert. So we want that in our wedding day, whatever it is, we will put that in the booking agreement. Both of us will sign it and we’ll say, we commit to making that happen for you guys. So it’s a really tailored and personal experience.
Anthony Yeah sure, excellent. And you know, you’re happy to really customize the way night takes place by the sounds of it.
Anthony I’m curious to know, Jess, what’s the strangest request you’ve ever had?
Jess Oh, that’s a big one. I’ve been in the industry for a long time, so there’s been there’s been a few few curve balls. What have I had? I did once have a couple who were really, they wanted a sort of cheese station, which they were very, very happy for us to provide the cheeses and etc. But there was a particular platter that had been passed through their family that they were adamant that a particular, you know, there’s a soft cheese had to be served on this platter. But it was really, it was actually really lovely. And, you know, we just sort of, were very careful with it in our kitchen and made sure it had a very special place. But it obviously meant quite a lot to that family. And it was really nice that we were able to include that as part of, you know, part of their day.
Anthony Sure and I guess it’s a reminder that, you know, that there could be any number of things that are important and sentimental to a couple.
Jess That’s it. That’s it. It’s going to vary greatly from one family to the next.
Anthony In terms of food. You know, food is a big deal, isn’t it? What’s your advice for couples when when choosing food?
Jess So I would advise chatting to the venue before you book about whether or not a menu tasting is included. Because I think it’s really important to taste the food, you know. Photos are one thing, and obviously it’s important to have an idea of how something is going to look on the plate. But you know, you need to taste it. You need to know what that’s going to be like. So I think that’s really important. I think it’s really important as well to have a bit of variety and think about the season of your wedding. You know, you might be planning your wedding now, for example, in Spring, but perhaps you’re not going to be getting married until more Winter. And so, you know, the food that people are going to want and that’s going to be in season will vary greatly. So if you have a venue that specializes in I don’t know, a seafood offering, for example, maybe that’s not what people are going to want in the middle of Winter, you know, just being being really aware of that as well.
Anthony And, you know, the number of courses is, you know, by standard, I guess, three. But any other thoughts on that?
Jess Yeah, absolutely. I think I wouldn’t go any less than three. Sometimes people think, oh, well, you know, when I have dinner at home, I don’t have three courses. And that’s absolutely right. But it is a celebration. And we do in Western culture, celebrate through food. So it’s important to have at least three. And I think, you know, think about having something interactive. Think about having a cheese station or perhaps something at the end of the night when everyone’s on the dance floor. We have an option called late night bites. And you know they’re kind of those sort of mini pizzas and burgers and things like that, that can come out right at the end of the night when everyone’s been dancing, they’ve had a few drinks. You know, it kind of fills that need that can sometimes pop up at the end of the night when you get the munchies. So, you know, think about that. Try and be a little bit creative.
Anthony Yeah. Fantastic. In terms of the formalities and the way the order in which they take place, you know, generally we get as a videographer, we get asked this all the time, you know, what’s the best approach? And our advice and I’d be interested to see what your thoughts are. But our advice to them is always intros, you know, sit down and do your entrees, then, you know, roll into speeches, then mains and then first dance and get the party started. That generally really works for us. But what’s your take on it?
Jess We agree. I would advise almost exactly the same thing, to be honest. People at the beginning of the night are expecting to sit down and listen to speeches. They’re more prepared for those formalities. And I think that’s when you get the best attention spans from them. And I think you just don’t want to to leave it too long for those who are speaking, if they feeling a bit nervous and then, you know, don’t want to have too many drinks or anything like that. I think it’s just good to get it out of the way and create a bit of a natural flow for the evening so that once the first dance has happened, it feels very normal for then everyone to get up and dance. And no one has to go and sit back down.
Anthony For sure. And, you know, we’ve seen way too many best men not eat their main meals because they’re just too nervous about these speeches.
Jess Exactly right. Yeah.
Anthony Get them done as soon as you can, and like you said, and rightly so, you will get the best attention from guests if it’s done earlier on. And in one block, I’m not a big fan of the two or three blocks of speeches.
Jess Yeah, I agree. I think, look, it will depend on the family, some families, particularly if there’s, you know, sort of split families. And you need to have, you know, mum and step mum speak or whoever speak it can be challenging to fit it into one block. But where possible, we would always recommend doing it like that as well.
Anthony In terms of the room setup. I know that a lot of couples struggle with this one. You know, who should sit where and how should we set up the room? What are your thoughts on the room set up, particularly in respect to where the dance floor is and, you know, creating that really nice, I guess, atmosphere where people can not only sit down but engage with each other as well?
Jess Yeah, absolutely. Again, that’s something that we will customize per event because it does vary. So again, sort of situations with different family dynamics and where you want people to sit. But we like having a centralized dance floor. I think it creates a really nice feel and flow to the room. And it also creates a natural I mean, sort of depending on the room. At Fenix, our rooms are sort of semicircle in shape and at Leonda they’re more sort of square and rectangular. But it does create having a centralized dance floor. It creates a really natural spot for the head table, which means it’s really visible from all directions. And that’s really important, too, because people want to be looking at you when you know, when people were speaking about you or even just because it’s your big day and people want to, you know, have a look and see how happy you are. So it’s important from visibility perspective that everyone can see the head table and the dance floor.
Anthony Yeah, absolutely. And generally, those that are closest to you, you know, in respect to family, physically sit close to you.
Jess Yeah. That can be the best way to do it. I mean, especially because they’re the ones most likely to be standing up to give a speech and you don’t want them walking right from the back of the room. But also, you know, you want to see them as well. You want to be able to see how they’re night is going as much as they want to see you.
Anthony Yeah. And the other thing, too, is, you know, the dance floor and the dj or band. I’ve seen it a few times where the dj is in a different part of the room to the dance floor. And I think that’s a big, big no no. Because, you know, the entertainers should be right there with people that are cutting up the dance floor. What’s what are your thoughts on that and how do you manage that at the two venues? I mean, you’ve got really great spaces so you can really accommodate that sort of format. But, yeah. What’s your thoughts?
Jess Yeah, no, I agree. I think music is very emotive. Any kind of entertainment is. And if the person in charge of the music, whether it be band or dj, can’t see the reactions that they’re getting from the people listening, then how can they know, you know, how best to move forward or to perform? So, yes, definitely recommend having them in the same space or certainly, you know, well able to view the dance floor.
Anthony Yeah. Excellent. Question here from Adele, actually. You know, there are many ingredients to having a really great night. What do you think they are? What do you think are the key ingredients to making sure you have the best party ever?
Jess So I think that there are two really important things. I might sound vague, but I think it’s easy to remember if there’s only two.
Anthony Okay. I wait in anticipation for this.
Jess The first thing in the lead up to the day. Be as organized as possible.
Jess Think about things far in advance. Have lists. Write it all down. Make sure that all of the work happens before the big day. And the best way to do that is to be organized.
Anthony For sure. And even a week before.
Jess That’s absolutely right. And then the second point is on the night, ignore all of that and be present. Be present in the moment. You know, feel assured that you have already done all of the work and all of the organizing and there’s nothing else for you to do. And this is, you know, this is what you’ve been waiting for. So it’s important to really appreciate it and enjoy the moments. And, you know, don’t fret the small stuff. Just be there and make those happy memories.
Anthony Totally. Totally. Two very good points. The only thing I would add to that is, manage your expectations and, you know, to let the day be as it needs to, you know, as it needs to unfold.
Jess Yes, absolutely.
Anthony Excellent. And just one last question. You know, we’ve been around, Videoboutique, for over 12 years, so we’ve been to Leonda and Fenix many, many times. They’re both great venues. And the two of them are very different. So talk to me about them. You know, what are the special characteristics of both? And what’s the pull for each for each venue do you think?
Jess Yeah, definitely. So I think Leonda by the Yarra is a really classic kind of venue. There is a bit of an historical element there. And it’s very kind of elegant. And I hesitate to use this word, but a slightly more traditional, you know, style and in what it offers. So I think that sort of someone who’s after that style of event is definitely going to be kind of pulled more in that direction. We also have the capacity in the ballroom to host some quite large events.
Anthony It’s a massive room.
Jess Yeah. Yeah. We can do kind of, you know, your 300 or 400 people sort of event. So those couples with really big families or really big communities, they’re definitely going to be looking for a space that can accommodate that and definitely their, you know, some of the biggest clientele at Leonda. Whereas with Fenix, it’s a much more modern venue. And it used to be a restaurant for many years, or primarily a restaurant, I should say for many years. And I think the pool there is far more to do with that. We really see a lot more of the food focused couples coming through. People who really want to be at the forefront of what’s happening in the Melbourne foodie scene. And we do have restaurant quality food there. So I think that’s the sort of difference there.
Anthony Yeah. Excellent. And they’re both by the river, too.
Jess They are, yeah. If you really wanted to you could catch a boat or swim from one to the other.
Anthony You could to.
Jess I don’t recommend it on the night but anyway.
Anthony No not a good idea. Not in your wedding dress for sure.
Jess No, no, yep
Anthony Look, I do want to ask where do you see. You know, what’s the current trend and where do you see reception’s going? I mean, there’s themes, you know, the whole barn thing and that sort of thing. But where do you see it all going?
Jess I think increasingly data tells us that and simply what we’re seeing coming through our doors, tells us that we are starting to move away from a lot of the really old fashioned traditions. I think tradition is still really important. But some of those things that are perhaps not aged as well as other things. You know, they’re starting to disappear and we’re starting to see a lot more of couples organizing the nights or the days themselves rather than being heavily influenced by family, which was very much a thing in the past. And I think that’s really exciting. I think that means we’re going to be seeing, you know, a whole bunch of really new things that we couldn’t even predict. But also, you know, some really unique weddings that are very special to the couple and not just something that’s being done because it was done by an older sibling or a cousin or whatever. You know, we’re really seeing some truly unique and personalized events. And that’s the space we want to be in. They’re the ones that really, really have the strongest and happiest memories.
Anthony On that note. Jess, thank you so much for your time.
Jess You’re so welcome.
Anthony And for your advice. And we really appreciate it. That’s great.
Jess No problems.