Since we started designing wedding invitations and stationery 5 years ago (and attending our fair share of weddings!), we've learned a boatload about what to do (and what not to do!) to make a wedding successful. Weddings take time, tenacity, and (sometimes!) tears (not to mention the cash-ola!), so we thought we'd impart a few of our hard-earned lessons to you, dear reader.
1. DO think carefully about transitions. Transitional periods during the wedding are the most common source of guest discomfort and confusion. The ceremony's over, but no one's sure how to get to the reception. Cocktail hour has been going on for 2 hours plus, and no one knows when they're supposed to sit down. You get the picture. Make sure that someone has thought through all the logistics of getting guests from Point A to Point B throughout your day. Then, appoint your wedding planner and/or ushers and bridesmaids to spread the word so guests know where to go and when.
2. DO have someone with a discerning editorial eye edit all speeches. All told, speeches should last no more than about 45 minutes. More than that, and your guests will start getting listless, unless the speeches possess a Tina Fey-level of wit and wisdom (which, alas, they seldom do!).
3. DO be considerate of elderly guests. Time the wedding so that silver tops can comfortably make their exit before about 10 p.m. Thus, most traditional aspects of the wedding (speeches, first dance, cake cutting, plus a few dances for all guests), which matter disproportionately to the older generation, should be "done and dusted" (as they say in England!) by about 10. Consider having an after-party either at the reception site or a smaller venue for the younger generation.
4. DO send save-the-dates. These can be sent via snail mail or e-mail, but they're a thoughtful courtesy to guests (particularly those who are traveling and/or may be on a budget and wishing to book early).
5. DO provide out-of-town guests with a welcome basket or folder. This should include details about all wedding weekend events, a map/directions and information about transportation that will be provided, and ideas for extra activities. A thoughtful gift, doesn't hurt, either!
6. DO seriously consider hiring a wedding planner. Planning a wedding is a major undertaking, with myriad details to consider - more than the normal person will anticipate! Consider hiring a seasoned professional to help you stay organized and, most importantly, be your advocate on the day of the wedding (e.g. so that you're not signing vendor contracts and writing checks right before your ceremony). Note that a "day-of" wedding planner rarely exists, though many planners may offer this as a budget option. Most of the logistical details need to be planned before the wedding day (e.g. seating assignments, ceremony timing, etc.) - if the planner has no idea about any of these details, they'll only end up asking questions of -- guess who? -- YOU! Which kind of defeats the purpose.
7. DO plan the photo shoot carefully. Work with your photographer to plan a detailed shot list (e.g. mother of the bride and bride, bride's best college friends, etc.) and make sure that guests know that they're expected to be at a certain place at a particular time. There's nothing worse than guests waiting around while the wedding party finishes their photos (e.g. searching for Uncle Roger, who is busy flirting with aforementioned best college friends).
8. DO make long bus rides comfortable for your guests. Consider serving beverages (e.g. champagne!) on the bus if the ride is going to be more than 10 minutes. Keep the party alive!
9. DO ask guests in advance where they are staying and when they are arriving and departing. The RSVP card is a great place to do this. Makes planning additional events and transportation much easier and alerts you to potential guest needs.
10. DO pay close attention to selecting your caterer and the cuisine. The caterer calls the shots on the day of the wedding - they control the timing of events and are at the top of the pecking order over all your other vendors. You don't have to break the bank, but make sure you like their food (go ahead and defy guests' expectations that wedding food is always bland and overcooked!), and above all make sure you trust them to get the job done. A strong work ethic, roll-up-the-sleeves chutzpah, and a can-do attitude is what you want in a caterer.
1. DON'T assume the venue catering manager is going to act as your event planner. Their job is to represent the venue, not necessarily to advocate for your needs. See our suggestion above about hiring a wedding planner!
2. DON'T assume your guests will know what to do, even if you included an itinerary with their invitation. Designate a point person on the day of the wedding to direct guests to the appropriate locations as needed.
3. DON'T use your wedding as an opportunity to force guests guests to mingle or make new friends. It's much more comfortable for guests to sit with people they know, which will contribute to a more celebratory mood. If you are assigning seating, seat couples together and/or with people with whom they have something in common. Seat people with members of their own generation (who wants to be self-conscious about how much booze they're consuming with elderly aunts looking on!?)
4. DON'T drag the wedding on and on. The total event, from start to finish shouldn't be longer than 6 to 7 hours. It may be your special day, but be respectful of your guests; socializing, even if it is in honor of someone they love dearly, can be exhausting, so quit while you're ahead so everyone leaves happy, not tired.
5. DON'T force your guests to wear unusual attire. It's fine to specify attire that most people would have in their wardrobe, but anything that needs to be rented or custom ordered should be verboten. A wedding is supposed to be a party, not a source of stress or undue anxiety for your guests. However, if your wedding is in a particular type of venue that may imply a specific type of attire (e.g. beach), be explicit in letting your guests know.
6. DON'T have a paid bar (unless you're in Ireland, where apparently if you have an open bar, the venue will be destroyed and you'll be driven to bankruptcy!). There's no bigger bummer than being told you need to pay for your next cocktail. No one will be disappointed if you only offer wine and/or beer and champagne. To help save on alcohol costs, keep the cocktail reception short (see DO #1)!
7. DON'T only cater your music to one age group. Choose a few songs that will appeal to the older generations, particularly early in the night (younger generations can appreciate it "ironically"). Grandpa doesn't want to dance to Gold Digger.
8. DON'T play Gold Digger at your wedding. Granted, it's a great song, but highly inappropriate at your nuptials: I ain't sayin' she's a gold digga; but she ain't messin'...holla "we want pre-nup!" You get the picture.
9. DON'T forget accoustics. Whether it be the ceremony or the reception, people want to hear what's going on. If you're getting married on a windy hill, make sure there's a micophone (guests want to hear the vows). Likewise, make sure that there is a good sound system at the reception and encourage speakers to test it out in advance (e.g. during cocktail hour) or ask your DJ to test the system. Remind speakers to hold the mike up to their mouths and project, whether they're weeping or not.
10. DON'T try to be a sexy bride. Remember that multiple generations will be witnessing the occasion, and the tradition is to be beautiful and "virginal." This doesn't mean long sleeves and no cleavage, but leave a little to the imagination. Feel free to indulge in sexy lingerie under the dress (Agent Provacateur is our favorite!), which is reserved for your husband-to-be, not your mother's bridge partner.
Photo from Sarah and Matt Adler's lovely and well-planned wedding, courtesy of Julie Mikos.