Planning a Wedding Your Guests Will Love
I know, I know. It’s your special day, it should be all about you and what you want, right?
Weeeellllll… yes and no. It is your wedding and it should be special for you but when you’re throwing a party for 50-500 people, it needs to be planned for more than just 2 of them.
These are just a few things to think seriously about from your guest’s perspectives before you send out your invites.
What ages will be attending?
While many modern couples are choosing whether or not to plan a child-friendly wedding, they typically forget to plan an elder-friendly wedding. Venues that are difficult to access, programs/seating charts/invitations with too tiny print, lack of shade or warmth at an outdoor ceremony, vague directions to the reception venue, loud music too early in the reception – all of these things can challenge and confound your beloved older guests.
Consider that your senior guests are very likely to arrive early and will need a comfortable spot to sit while they wait for the festivities to begin. If your ceremony space is outdoors, make sure there’s plenty of shade/wind protection or a comfortable spot indoors for folks to gather before heading to their seats. Make sure your DJ knows to keep the music to an ambient volume until folks are ready to dance. At a recent wedding I attended, the music was so loud when I arrived (half an hour before the ceremony was to begin) that I couldn’t make myself heard as I tried to move through the venue to the ceremony area. That may be fine for you and your friends, but it can be hard on Aunt Martha.
Are we really choosing sides?
Strike the old “Bride’s side, Groom’s side” thinking from your mind as soon as possible. I still hear ushers ask guests to choose whom they love more as they enter the ceremony space.
This old custom is a carry-over from the days of blood feuds when weddings were tools to build powerful empires. If one of the participants refused to go through with the ceremony, the clans would be divided by the church aisle and the potential for bloodshed could be lessened. Unless you anticipate a war breaking out between your families direct your ushers to encourage guests to sit where they’d like. There are several cute ways to share this sentiment on signs but my favorite is always, “We’re all family here”.
Make time for your guests
I’ll admit it, I love receiving lines. Guests expect them, they make introductions convenient and they help you spot the guests who skipped the ceremony only to show up for the reception (OK, that last one is silly, but still…).
Receiving lines are falling out of favor. Even the modern variant where the bride and groom return to release the guests one by one is getting a bad rap for being wasteful of precious photo time.
If you choose not to receive your guests’ congratulations directly after the ceremony I can understand that but you must, must, MUST take time out of your reception to thank every single one of your guests personally for attending. There is nothing worse than being invited to a party and having the hosts ignore you all night. I know it’s hard to visit every table instead of eating or dancing or otherwise enjoying your party, but it’s important to your guests and therefore should be important to you as well. That’s why I like receiving lines. You end up saving time and headaches in the long run if you greet your guest as they are leaving the ceremony OR entering the reception (if your timeline allows for this) and you won’t accidentally offend someone you loved enough to invite to your special day.
Food and Drink
I honestly don’t care if you have a cash bar or not. You know your family and friends better than I do and you should know what they expect. I don’t care if you’re serving plated meals at $300 a pop or roasting a pig over a pit. Not my wedding, not my call.
What I do care about are guests who expect one thing and get something else. So whatever you do, make your plans clear upfront and avoid surprises. If you prefer a cash bar (or no bar), put it in the invitation so drinkers can plan to bring cash. These days people expect at least a little accommodation of their dietary needs, but with all the potential allergens and preferences, you may need to be very upfront about what your caterer can and cannot do with your menu. Folks with serious food issues are used to bringing their own meals to events, so if the only vegetarian option is pasta and your vegetarian friend is also allergic to wheat, they’ll appreciate the heads up so they can plan accordingly.
The only cardinal sins are:
1) Not having a free (non-alcoholic) option to drink at cash bars.
Seriously, you invited me to a party, encouraged me to dance and now I have to pay for each soda I order? No fun.
2) Not having enough food.
Marathon cocktail “hours” without enough snacks are torturous affairs. We know you want lots of amazing wedding photos. You deserve them. Just keep us well-stocked with crackers and cheese and fruit in the meantime. Trust me, you do not want to witness the effect that 3 hours of free booze and no food can have on your otherwise normal guests. It isn’t pretty…
Have you considered live-streaming your ceremony so that distant friends and loved ones can witness your wedding without the expense of traveling to it? What was once science-fiction is now surprisingly affordable and increasingly easy to do. This makes an excellent option for couples with loved ones who can’t make the trip for health reasons too.
More and more professional videographers are offering this option to couples. It may require you to choose a venue that offers Internet access, but your thoughtfulness and consideration for those who wouldn’t miss your wedding but can’t afford to attend will be more than worth it in the long run.