Combined our two Wedding Planners, Debbie and Davis, have planned and executed over 1000 weddings. They have seen it all and have many funnies for a book they should write one day but they also have some tips to share to help you with planning your special celebration.
HAVE AN ASSIGNED SEAT FOR EVERYONE!
- Open seating is much more successful in your mind than in reality for several reasons. Believe it or not, your guests would prefer to have some direction on where to sit. There’s no need to assign the actual physical seat of each guest, you can simply assign them a table and they can pick whichever seat they want.
- Human nature is not to sit right next to others in social/public situations, so tables end up with empty seats here and there; then when a couple needs to find 2 seats together, they can’t find them and end up splitting up, asking the service staff or planner to add seating or, perhaps worse, they take it upon themselves to move chairs and place settings from one table to another (que the crickets).
- A common misconception is that assigning seats will force guests to park it and stay planted in their seats all night, however it’s more of a way to designate a location for someone’s belongings and give them a seat during the meal. After that, everyone is up and dancing anyway!
- Even if you don’t have awkward family dynamics or sensitivities, assigned seats is a great way to put certain people together and mix up your crowd. Plus, who doesn’t love all the creative and unique designs for printed items these days.
FISH, CHICKEN OR VEGETARIAN YOUR FINAL GUEST LIST!
- Excel! If you are familiar with Microsoft Excel, you probably already have your guest list in this format for planning purposes. When you finalize the attendees for your big day, simply delete those who are not coming and send to your planner. Here are a few key points to remember:
- Don’t forget to include yourselves in the final count! After all, you are the most important people in the room!
- Separate your guests so that each line contains just 1 guest name (not the couple) and a column for entrée selection if you’re offering a choice of. This way it’s easy to tally meal choices/total guarantees, and can assist in food service.
- Include at least the first and last names of your guests, and be sure to denote children or underage teens in attendance.
- Include a “notes” column to share important details (i.e. food allergies, high chair/booster seat needs) with your venue team.
- When assigning seats, be sure to not exceed the maximum number of seats per table for guest’s comfort.
CHEERS- CREATING YOUR BAR
- Beer: Select no more than 5-6 beers and no less than 2 for your guests to choose from. The best variety includes 1-2 Domestic Beers, 1-2 Import Beers, and 1-2 Craft/Local beers.
- Wine: Select 2 red wines, 2 white wines, and 1 sparkling or blush wine.
- Liquor: Select 1 brand of each type of liquor (i.e. 1 vodka, 1 whiskey, 1 gin, 1 rum, etc.). And do NOT request shots to be served, as this will not only significantly increase your bar bill but also cause serious overconsumption and intoxication (most venues,including ours, don’t even offer them!).
- Signature Drinks: These can be a fun, easy way to customize your reception! They can either be color-coordinated or theme-coordinated to match the vision of your wedding, or tell a story about the couple. They can be creatively named and presented at the bar, or even butler passed to alleviate any line that may build at the bar upon beginning cocktail hour. Depending on the recipe of the cocktail, you may decide to offer them at cocktail hour only (once people have 1 or 2 of your “Delicious Debbie’s” they will probably want to move on to their own drink of choice), which can serve as a nice cost-cutter, too.
- If you don’t want to offer a specific cocktail as the “signature drink”, a nice touch is to have a sign at the bar that tells your guests what “the bride recommends” and what “the groom recommends” on the bar menu (i.e. the bride recommends the sparkling rose, and the groom recommends a rum and coke).
- If you have a heavy drinking crowd that prefers one type of alcohol over others, tell your planner! They will customize their bar consumption estimate accordingly, and plan for the right quantity of each brew to be set on the bar that night.
- Even if you don’t drink it yourself, that doesn’t mean that others don’t enjoy it. It gives your guests a wonderful impression to offer a variety of options at the bar. This is one area of expertise your planner will be well-versed in, so rely on their guidance and judgement.
TIPS FOR A SUCCESSFUL TIMELINE
- If you want a lot of pictures, we recommend having a First Look and Pre-ceremony pictures to alleviate the amount of time it will take for post-ceremony photos.
- The sunset time on your wedding day will also play an important role in the timeline, so be sure to check it before crafting the ideal order of operations.
- When getting married at the beach, another important timeline factor is the tides. If you have 150 people and you’re getting married on the actual beach, you want to avoid high tide so you have the maximum amount of beach available.
- Ceremonies typically last no more than 20 minutes these days, so it’s safe to allot 30 minutes for the ceremony since, let’s face it, if you’re running behind on your wedding day it will be during the pre-ceremony prep time!
- The cocktail hour is truly 1 hour long and should not extend much past this, in order to avoid over consumption at the bar and stalling the energy built during your ceremony. Activities like lawn games can also help keep your guests engaged and having fun!
- When planning the reception timeline, we strongly prefer to gather your guests to do the “formalities” together twice, once at the beginning of dinner and once right at the end before dancing really kicks off! The smoothest order is to kick off your reception with introductions and go right into the bride and groom’s first dance. It’s been a while since your guests have seen a special moment so this is a nice time to incorporate the VIPs. Then it makes sense to do all the dances together, so next up is the Father Daughter and Mother Son dances. The pre-dinner activities will end with a welcome (from the FOB or bride and groom, thanking everyone for coming and to enjoy their evening) and a blessing if you prefer. (Contrary to what your DJ may tell you, the special dances/parent dances DO NOT kick off the guest dancing portion of the night, it’s not inviting for them to join you and they will know when to dance later).
- After dinner, and before everyone breaks to mingle and dance, it’s best to plan for the toasts and cake cutting. That will give your service staff time to butler pass the champagne and keeps everyone engaged. What pairs best with Champagne? Cake! Then the cake cutting will provide the perfect ending to a delicious meal and it’s done before grandma wants to head out J
- Toasts: Avoid long-winded, super personal speeches with inside jokes that not everyone will understand; those are best done at the rehearsal dinner for a more intimate crowd. Ideally 2-3 toasts are given at this time, typically by the best man and maid/matron of honor.
- Later in the night is best for the bouquet toss and garter toss, as these can be more spontaneous and fun moments. You’ll need some single ladies and gents to ensure this moment is a photo-op success. Also, don’t feel bad skipping it if you don’t want to toss anything!
- A fun farewell is truly the cherry on top of the perfect night. Some fun ideas include: fabric streamer wands, glow sticks, American flags, and colored smoke bombs (look them up – they are beautiful and unique!!).
AND OTHER THINGS WE HAVE LEARNED…..
- If you want to have a makeshift photobooth/photo backdrop at your reception, we recommend placing a sign out so your guests know what it is and how to use it to its fullest potential. Then you can ensure you’ll get the best photos ever! And be sure to make this activity a noticeable statement: putting a camera on a table with some props in front of a blank wall will cause your guests to miss it.
- Include local destinations for dining and activities on your wedding website, especially for destination weddings, so your guests stay entertained during their stay.
- There IS a magic time to end the reception: on the back side of the energy peak when everyone’s having a great time, but before they ask “what’s next?” Also keep in mind that you want enough folks there at the end for a special farewell/exit, so you don’t want to wait until you have 5 people left to say goodbye. No wedding (including ceremony and reception) should exceed 6 hours in duration. The minimum recommended for an ideal evening event is 4 hours.
- Weddings are adult events and can often be tainted by the cry of an innocent child in the middle of ceremonial vows or an emotional toast. As much as we love kids, there is a time and a place for their presence. Narrowing it down to just the flower girl and ring bearer is a wise choice. We recommend arranging for them to be picked up after the ceremony, so those parents can kick back and enjoy the night. The best way to sell it to your friends and family who have young kids: you don’t want to be babysitting all night distracted by kids during a fun party! By leaving your kids behind, you can enjoy the night MUCH more than if they tagged along.
- If you haven’t spoken to them in at least 2 years, cut them off your guest list! This is not a time to feel guilty or make amends.You’re not an expert wedding planner and that’s ok!! (We would be concerned if you were, as this isn’t an industry for repeats – at least not at the same venue). Ask questions, dig deep on the details if they’re important to you, request advice from your planner (and please take it, they have good intentions and have seen it go terribly wrong before) and don’t be afraid to speak up for what you want.
- Don’t forget to go on a date with your S.O. every so often throughout the planning. process, if not regularly. Take time to re-center and remember why you’re doing all of this in the first place. Trust us, it makes for a happy bride and groom!
- In our experience, the happiest couples are those with a 4-8 month engagement. It’s not so quick that you can’t focus on what you want and feel rushed, but it’s not too long that it causes you to pull your hair out you’re so excited on your wedding day. Those with too long of a planning timeline lose excitement along the way and “just want it to be done already!”.
- Please be sure to eat and drink something while you get ready on the big day. Nerves will be high and you may not want to, but it will set you up for success. Plenty of water and vitamin-rich snacks like bananas and almonds are the key to staying cool, calm and collected, ready for a night you’ll never forget!
- Not a fan of dancing in front of people? Or nervous about getting emotional during your special dances? Let your DJ/band leader and/or Planner know ahead of time that you’d like to dance for just a minute or so of the selected song, not the whole 4 minutes. They will fade in/out and no one will ever know!
- Getting married on the beach is a beautiful and unforgettable way to tie the knot. A small but significant detail you may not think of when planning is how to remove sand from your guests’ feet after the ceremony (especially for those ladies in heels). We recommend providing some large/wide paint brushes for when they get off the beach to dry-wipe their feet off with, instead of getting them wet with water and having to dry them off. Cute and practical!
- Don’t overspend on the pretty things and leave little room in your budget for a nice meal. Making food and beverage cuts can damage the overall impression of your wedding, and it’s been proven that your guests will talk about food and beverage first before the silver embossed thank you cards or customized cocktail napkins.
- Wondering how many people to plan for at the After Party? After assessing your guest list ratio of young folks vs. older guests, a good range to expect is 60-80% of the total guest count. It’s always better to have some extra food for hungry folks who may not have prioritized eating at your reception, plus it’s been a few hours, than to run out of food as the last impression. After all, alcohol is being served and you need to think about keeping your guests safe with food in their bellies!
- Don’t just “Reserve” the front row of seats at your ceremony site – some family members will not know if they are a part of this ambiguous group or not. Let us know ahead of time exactly who is included in these seats and even request name tags for specific seats so there’s no guess work during the processional.
- Assign a point of contact for the night, other than yourselves. Your planner will know when to approach you, but typically things can be handled without interrupting you on such a special night. For example, when the photographer needs your Uncle Chip for a picture and he can’t be found, it’s helpful to have a family representative handy to find him more quickly than your planner would. This person is also helpful when packing up your items at the end of the night to ensure you get your belongings.
- If something is important to you, discuss it with your planner in advance of the wedding so they are on the same page with you and can suggest the best plan of action. They are responsible for orchestrating the event and can make your dreams a reality, or suggest a better alternative that’s more successful from their experience. Don’t be shy! We don’t know how to make a wish come true if you don’t share it with us.