Getting to know Virginia and VKL Consulting Group!

Despite our delay in blogging… we are finally back with an interview with Virginia Kinnard Lionberger. Virginia is the owner of VKL Consulting Group and is a true veteran to the industry. Take a peek below for this exclusive and fun interview you can’t get anywhere else!  

Calihan: How did you get started in the wedding planning industry?

VKL: In June 2001 I left corporate America, where I had been an Executive Assistant to C level executives, to start Mane Event, LLC, my first event planning company, planning corporate events.  After that horrible day in Sept. corporate events were few and far between so I decided to go into social and wedding planning and I’m so glad I did because I do love it.

Calihan: What has been your most rewarding event that you have planned so far?

VKL: I became involved with a radio station that was promoting a complimentary wedding for a most deserving couple.  I helped them gather all the vendors and they interviewed hundreds of couples and the couple they chose are two of the most wonderful people I’ve ever met and helping them plan and execute their “perfect” wedding was such an honor. They’ve been married for years now and have several gorgeous children and their wedding remains my most rewarding experience to date.

Calihan: What is the most challenging thing you have ever faced, and how did you solve it?

VKL: One situation comes to mind with clients who wanted a big, Saturday night wedding in Chicago and gave me a total budget that represented approximately half of the amount of money necessary to accomplish their event.  I was not successful convincing them that their budget was insufficient to meet their specifications so instead of trying to put a square peg in a round hole I took them to several venues that their budget would allow and they HATED them!  I’m unsure where they found the money but they did and we kept a close look at all the costs, were very creative in helping them with their décor as well as catering and delivered a lovely, delicious wedding reception in a fabulous Michigan Ave. venue and they were THRILLED.

Calihan: What is the strangest thing someone has requested of you?

VKL: We had an amazing couple several years ago that had a doozy of a request!  The bride grew up in an agrarian Midwestern state and her family has a long-standing wedding tradition that she wanted to follow.  Their tradition is that the oldest unmarried child in the extended family has to dance in a pig trough until it is destroyed.  It was her day and her wish so we found a venue in downtown Chicago that allowed us to honor the family tradition.

Calihan: Do you still have moments from events that you laugh about to this day?

VKL: We were hired for “Day Of” Management for a large, 300 guest “Celebrity” wedding and reception at an iconic Chicago venue.  The wedding ceremony was planned to be outside and there were tornados touching down west of the city just as the bride started to proceed on her father’s arm and the ensuing torrential rain scattered the guests and wedding party before the vows were exchanged.  The Matron of Honor was “developing” the seating chart during cocktails, for which they had prepared framed name cards that were meant to be placed on the dining tables.  Needless to say the frames didn’t make it to the dining tables but we arranged them alphabetically so the guests could collect them as they departed.  However one of the attendants decided to rearrange them so they looked “prettier” and scattered them so badly many people couldn’t find their frames.  After the guests experienced a seating free for all the Bride and Groom decided to dance for an hour as the catering staff stood by waiting to deliver the first course, thank Heaven it wasn’t a frozen dish!  Whenever I see other professionals that were there we laugh like crazy because it seemed like everything that could go wrong did, but the newlyweds were happy which is all that really matters, and nobody blew away in the crazy weather.

Calihan: Can you describe some of the current trends going on in the Chicago area?

VKL: Quite honestly, I don’t follow wedding trends religiously and I’ve never had a couple tell me they want their experience to reflect the latest trends.  I would rather we consult together and let our clients pick the trends they like and that’s what we follow.  But I do like that engaged couples are less encumbered by wedding tradition and protocol, which sets VKL’s creative juices flowing to perfectly individualize their big day.

Calihan: Why do you love working with Calihan Catering?

VKL: Calihan Catering is the perfect combination of talented culinary professionals both in the kitchen as well as the front office.  Their staff has all been with Calihan for years, which speaks volumes in this industry.  John Calihan set the bar very high when he started Calihan Catering and his son Nash and daughter Lee and the wonderful teams they have brought together are maintaining John’s demanding standards for excellence in service and cuisine.  I would recommend Calihan Catering to even the most demanding client who wants an amazing experience for themselves and their guests because I have every confidence that that client will be happily impressed and totally pleased with their Calihan Care!!

Calihan: What is your favorite thing about Gallery 1028?

VKL: Gallery 1028 has been a work in progress for a few years and it’s just getting better and better.  It was always hip and sexy but it is developing its own personality as improvements continue to be made.  The floor is a unique, wooden plank surface that, in combination with the exposed brick knee wall, give the overall space a warm and inviting feel that is very versatile and useable.  The space could go from a country ho down to a chic bridal couture fashion show in a heartbeat.  Combine this lovely space with the culinary delights of Calihan Catering and you’ve got a total WINNER!!  And that’s why I love Gallery 1028!

Calihan: What are some challenges that you commonly face, and how do you overcome them?

VKL: “Day Of” wedding management can be very challenging because, as the professional, you have all the responsibility and none of, or very little of, the input.  You need to manage vendors you haven’t hired and deliver an exquisite experience for people you hardly know.  It is a landscape fraught with potential pitfalls.  Over the years we have developed a bit of a formula to help us be more effective for those clients wanting “Day Of” management.  We have created a very inclusive Client Questionnaire to help us get to know how the clients want their big day to look, feel, cost, sound, taste, etc.  Then we make a point to meet with the clients at least twice before their wedding date to review the questionnaire to see if there have been any changes or new thoughts or ideas.  I prefer having these meetings over a lunch or a dinner so the atmosphere is more relaxing, congenial and social so the likelihood of getting to know each other is greatly improved.  And then we create a very detailed time line that the clients need to review and approve before being distributed to all involved in the moving parts of the wedding and reception.  If the last meeting with the clients can be the timeline review all the better!  With these procedures in place we feel we can deliver excellent service for our “Day Of” clients.

Calihan: When you aren’t planning events, what would someone find you doing?

VKL: In warm months I’m an avid gardener and golfer, and love sitting of the front porch at the end of the day with my husband and perhaps a glass of wine.  In the cold months when there’s snow I love to take the dogs out for a good afternoon of cross country skiing and in the evening sitting in front of a fire with all the animals (2 dogs and 2 cats) and my husband with yet another glass of wine.  I also enjoy watching movies and reading entertaining novels or great cookbooks.   Cooking and eating are passions of all who live here and we love having friends and family over for good food and laughter.

What is one vacation that you have always wanted to go on?

VKL: One word, ALASKA!!!