In my lifetime, I have been to over 80 weddings. Either I am popular or people like burning my Saturdays. I doubt it is because they crave my sarcastic Twitter commentaries during the day. This ridiculous track record has afforded me a lot of insight into how a wedding day can be made easier and better. So I thought it only fair enough to share this with the world.
The perfect wedding day
Okay, now the bad news…
A perfect wedding is not achievable. There will always be issues, things you could have done better, things that didn’t go to plan or more ideal weather. So stop shooting for the moon on that one. It can’t be done.
This is merely a series of tips on how to make it the best day it can be. At the end of the day, the most important thing should be that you are a blissfully married couple, taking the first step into your Happily Ever After.
So… shall we begin?
It is your day…
This might seem an obvious one to state and also contradictory to the whole point of this book but the only counsel or opinion that truly matters is your own.
A lot of people will give you suggestions on how to do things. It is always good to seek out ideas but people sometimes have a tendency to want to interfere. There will be those that seem to think they can live out their wedding fantasies through your big day. Do not let them. It is yours. Even if you farm the task out to a wedding planner, stay on top of them and make sure it is exactly what you want.
If someone tries to domineer their way into your wedding day, don’t be afraid to stand up to them or cut them out of the organisation of the big day. It is one of the most stressful things you will do in your life, so anyone who makes it harder is not being a true friend. Everyone should move Heaven and Earth to ensure your day is perfect. Accept nothing less.
Limit your parent’s involvement
Parents will be (hopefully) thrilled at the big day. They will hate me for saying this but more often than not, they are a liability in the planning process of a wedding day. Why? Because they have a different vision to you, when it comes to the ideal wedding day and that lends itself to unnecessary conflict. It is typically driven by the subconscious desire to live the ideal wedding day they missed out on through you.
If they want to pay for a section of the wedding, have them invest in something that you don’t mind them dictating. If they pay for it, they do have a right to dictate what happens with their money. So if the reception is to be done a specific way, have them pay for the wedding car or the invitations. Identify something that is not important and that way, if they want to do something different, it is trivial and it won’t cause an issue.
I have seen countless couples get engaged and then do nothing. Don’t. By making that step, you have put pressure on yourselves to get married, more so than any length of period the relationship has gone. Pick a date and work towards it.
The pressure that comes with being engaged can be somewhat negated by planning your wedding because you pull in the same direction to common goal.
What you will find is that most things you want to book take longer than you realise. We’re talking years in advance in some cases. Get working on it. Besides, if you don’t, why did you get engaged in the first place?!
Consider a Friday
More and more weddings are now taking place on a Friday. There is an even a slight increase in weddings happening on other weekdays. Why? Well, for one, things such as hotels or venues will be cheaper and easier to book.
There are other pros to this choice. It gives you, your families and your guests a longer weekend. Also, if it falls in the football season, no big Premier League games happen on a Friday, so the groom will be happy about that. The only caveat to this idea is that your guests need plenty of notice, so they can get time off work.
Consider an age limit
This is a more controversial consideration, which is also more common, but children under 12 tend to have no idea what is going on. They can become restless if the day goes on for a while. If they are really young, they can become disruptive.
More so, if the reception is going to have booze, children may end up seeing some unsightly behaviour. It is nice to have the kids in attendance but if you allow them to come along, do not expect them to behave or be quiet. Trust me, most parents are stupid enough to think that standing at the back of the chapel or hall with their screaming child is enough. They have no concept that they should step outside, despite it being obvious good manners.
If you want a day without that kind of disruption, express it on the invite with plenty of notice, so babysitters can be arranged. If people are offended, they need to get over themselves.
Facebook the wedding day
Yes, you should send out invites and yes, your guests should note it in their calendars but then I should remember my closest friend’s birthday but I don’t until I look on Facebook. We have become reliant on social networks to run our lives. So make it easier for people.
Set up an event and make it a private event that only you can invite people to. Then if people have any questions, then they can ask there.
It’s your wedding day, not a peace summit
Almost inevitably, there will be someone in your family who you do not get on with. No matter what caused the division, do not use your wedding day as a peace offering. It won’t work. You will be on edge all day, hoping that things don’t blow up. Weddings are not the time or place to heal such wounds. If that family member wants to make peace, it shouldn't take a wedding to provoke it. I have seen the disgruntled family member come to a wedding, have a little too much to drink and then I have been the one escorting them outside. I say escort, the last one I dragged out by their hair and threw them into the street. If you don’t like them, do not invite them.
A wedding doesn't need to cost the Earth
One bride I saw on her happy day was so gorgeous, I offered to kill her new husband and run off with her. I can honestly say that she was the most stunning bride I had seen in the flesh. Her dress was perfection. When I commented on this, she asked me how much I thought it had cost. I guessed a thousand pounds as an arbitrary figure. She then informed me that it had cost just five pounds. She had purchased it off eBay from a bride who realised she wouldn't wear it again. It cost more to get it posted and dry cleaned!
Now, I am not saying that you should start reviewing auction sites for your wedding dress. What I am saying is that your big day can be done a lot cheaper than you think. That doesn’t mean it will feel like a cheap experience, far from it. The bride in question looked a million dollars but it had cost very little with some creative thinking. Call in favours, shop around and be inventive. You can save thousands of pounds by doing so.
Also, don’t use money as an excuse to put off your wedding. Marriage is more important than weddings. Your wedding will be one day. Your marriage will be one lifetime, so remember what’s important.
Pick the Best Man carefully
To the groom, do not instantly assume that your best friend is the ideal Best Man. Nor should you feel that because someone has asked you to be their Best Man that you have to ask the same of them. I’ve been a Best Man five times and unless they do a speech in a barbershop quintet, I would have to hold X Factor style auditions to pick one. Instead, I will pick the best man for the job.
You want someone who will be selfless, do as you ask, advise you but be prepared to go against that if you ask him to. Basically, he is the man you’d go to war with and will definitely remember the rings.
And remember, he has to speak. Make sure his jokes and stories are something the bride’s parents would be okay with hearing.
Pick the Bridesmaids even more carefully
In my experience, picking the Best Man is not the toughest task because most men don’t want to screw up the wedding and overcompensate. Bridesmaids are a little less predictable. Maybe it is because there are more of them but you always seem to get one that thinks that it is her big day too.
If a bridesmaid kicks off about her dress, the order of service, the groomsman she is paired with, etc, be ruthless. Once you make one concession to a bridesmaid, ten more will be demanded in double quick time. It is not her day. If she can’t get that in her head, don’t be afraid to tell her that you will cut her loose. Your wedding day has no room for burdens. Bridesmaids should be there to make life easier.
Seated time, start time
People are rubbish at time keeping. Compensate for this bad habit by stating a seated time and a later start time. So ask people to be seated by 10:15am with the ceremony due to start at 10:30am. People should not be rushing in when the bride shows up. Put the seated time at the top of the invite and put the start time lower down, in smaller text. Trust me, I have never seen anyone walk in late to a wedding that used this trick.
To the Bride, don’t be late
I was told that the Wedding Day is for the Bride and no one else. So therefore, the bride gets to do what she likes on the wedding day. Maybe so but if you want things to go smoothly, you won’t be late or at least, not very late.
Yes, you should be sure that you’re ready and everyone should know it is your day. However, your guests and your groom are sitting in a room waiting for you. They don’t mind a few minutes. If it starts pushing an hour, it becomes antagonising. Restless guests and a stressed groom make a recipe for disaster.
If you’re the kind of bride that is tardy as a habit, you’re going to need a great set of ushers.
This brings me to my next point…
Pick strong ushers
You’ll have a team of them but one of them should be fierce, organised, diplomatic and assertive. He (or she) will be your head usher. They make sure everything at the ceremony runs smoothly. Pick someone you’d have plan the invasion of a small country and he will paper over any cracks.
Do not pick someone under eighteen or weak. They are nothing more than decoration.
Rehearse the ceremony
Some take this part of the preparation as a bit unnecessary because they know how a wedding goes. You’re wrong. If you don’t rehearse, you will make a boob of yourself on the day. Walk it through until you could do it in your sleep. Everyone remembers the screw ups, so don’t make one.
Let your guests know the order of the photos
Use the back of your Order of Service to list the order of the photos you are going to take. Then guests know where to be and when they are free to run off and socialise. Don’t tell them and they will wander around like lost children in a supermarket.
It is also useful for the ushers, who will marshal your guests. Do not send your Best Man to go looking for people to be in photos because he is in most of the photos anyway.
Take the group photo first
When the ceremony is over and you’re taking the photos, do the big group photo first. It is actually the least important photo because it looks like one of those pictures you get at the end of a school year. You don’t really see anyone and it looks more like the middle page of a Where’s Wally book.
Get the group out together, take the photo and then send away anyone who won’t be in future photos. Consider it a whittling exercise. Make sure you have an indoor area with refreshments to lure unneeded people away. By doing this, everyone will have left you alone by the time you come to the photos of just you two. Then you can be less inhibited and self conscious when taking those pictures and they become far more special.
A card box
Make life easy for all concerned. Fashion a nice box with a hole in the top for guests to post cards and place it at the entrance of wherever you have your wedding. If you don’t, guests either hang on to it, not knowing what to do, or they tie up the Best Man or an Usher to collect them.
I’m not a fan of cards in general and use them typically as nice way of presenting the couple with money. I’m not the only one. This is why the box should have a top and a simple slit in it to post the box. You don’t want some pikey reaching in and helping himself to your money.
Hire the wedding car for the entire day
One wedding I attended had the reception at a hotel and with that package came the rental of a classic Rolls Royce with driver. Very nice, you think. That is until you realise that driver had three gigs that day. What it meant was that the wedding I was at was number three on the list. The car arrived over an hour late, due to traffic. The bride was suitably unimpressed and borderline homicidal when he did appear. The driver was just trying to maximise his earnings but that does not matter. He gets plenty of other days to make his pennies. Your wedding day is only going to be on that day and no other day.
The alternative is if a trusted friend has a flash car, ask if they will be the chauffeur for the day. Don’t expect it as a favour and be willing to pay them for their time. Chances are they will see it as their wedding gift to you. Either way, you need to be in total control of your logistical ability throughout the day. Otherwise, your schedule is left at the mercy of someone else.
Hire a proper photographer
The problem with weddings is a budding photographer appears from nowhere and asks if your wedding can be their first job. They will entice you with incentives like they will do it for free or you would be doing them a favour. My suggestion is to politely decline.
I have seen the difference between a keen amateur and a professional. The marked improvement in quality is noticeable when you go with a professional. This doesn’t mean you should go with the most expensive. Check their work thoroughly, especially weddings, to find one that you like. Some will be better at group pictures, some will be more imaginative with their settings and others will be more gifted at capturing moments, instead of poses.
Also the benefit of a professional wedding photographer is they will instinctively help the day run smoothly. It is in their interest for the day to go well and they will have attended a fair few of them, so they know what they are doing.
Make the wedding meal unspillable
I know “unspillable” is not a word but you get the idea. The bride is in a magnificent white dress and the groom in a rented suit. You don’t want to get gravy, salsa or sauce down them. If at all possible, have a meal or buffet that means you the happy couple can eat without turning it into a Daz advert.
And this may seem obvious but once you, the happy couple, are seated at the top table, you shouldn’t have to get up to get your food. It is your magical day; you should be served on by either the venue’s staff or the groomsmen. Any bride will tell you that it is exhausting being in that dress, so make things easier.
Thank you credits
One of the dreariest moments of any wedding is when the groom gets up and gushes about all the people who have made the day special. It is nice to be thanked and get a gift but it ends up absorbing twenty to thirty minutes. And it is anything but absorbing for everyone else!
Consider this trick; a PowerPoint presentation or video that loops over and over with a thank you to the respective people. The best one I saw featured beautiful photos of the happy couple with simple text that said thank you to groups of people. So the parents got one photo, the Best Man and Chief Bridesmaid got another and so on. It is effective and sets a better atmosphere.
Be more creative with your guestbook
If you put a book out and a pen, you will get the most banal collection of messages. Come up with something clever and people will put some thought into what they write. That and more people will leave messages.
I have seen a guestbook that was a large painting of a tree and the guests signed paper leaves. Another one got guests to write a short message on paper sticker stuck to a Duplo brick and then a wall of messages was built. I even went to a wedding where the guestbook was a guitar that everyone could sign. Have a think and even take a look on the internet for ideas. There are plenty of ways to make your guestbook far more interesting.
One of the most frustrating parts of a wedding ceremony is that having gone to a wedding, the guests then spend the ceremony looking at your backs. One very clever move I saw by a couple was to station a large mirror behind the minister conducting the ceremony. In the reflection we could see the happy couple’s faces and their thrill at getting married.
This is only for those who aren’t going to die of embarrassment knowing everyone is looking at them. But it is your wedding day, so what did you expect?!
Have a table plan
Some people have settled for putting names on the table and that is it. That was great for people like me when I was single. I’d go in long before anyone else did and then move the names around, so I was surrounded by the beautiful women and no competition. Whilst the last time I did this resulted in me enjoying myself thoroughly, and pulling, it meant that another table had an awkward time. See, I moved two couples that didn’t like each other next to each other. A blazing row broke out shortly after the speeches and all four were sent home by the chief usher, namely me. It was only after I had firmly asked them to leave that I realised they were meant to be on opposite sides of the room.
So put up a mini map of the venue by the entrance, showing people where they are seated. By putting a table plan out, first, you stop idiots like me causing such a problem. Second, you help people find their table, rather than having them wander around the room, checking every seat for their name. The best way to keep your guests under control at the reception is to get them seated. Putting up a table plan will get them seated quicker. Then get your ushers to get the guests to enter by table, not like a stampede!
Things will go wrong on your wedding day. Someone will say something that will make you cringe. No matter what you do, you cannot avoid that something will not go to plan. Instead of letting it spoil your day, laugh about it.
Most mistakes in weddings are funny little moments that people will remember but if you brush them off at the time, they will be engulfed in the opinion that the day went well. So be quick to laugh things off on the day. Let the groomsmen do the stressing and running around.
Do not have the stag/hen party near the wedding
This should be glaringly obvious but I am amazed at the amount of times one or both of the happy couple decide that two days before the wedding is an ideal time to have these parties. It isn’t. The build up to the big day should be kept as clear as possible. The closest I would suggest that these parties should be is two weeks before the big day, if not a month.
These parties are traditional but they do ask for trouble. Have the Best Man and the Maid of Honour keep them as simple as possible. I’ve had to organise a few and there is nothing wrong with a day out paintballing or a night of bowling and a curry.
And under no circumstances do something you wouldn’t be comfortable doing if your partner was there. Social networks have a way of getting pictures of you doing your worst and then getting tagged. Even worse, some idiot will mention the ugly incident at the wedding too.
# your wedding
More and more people are using Twitter these days. A lot of your guests will take photos with their phones and tweet about it. Even I have done a few comedy commentaries on Twitter. Make it an online memory book by asking people to post a consistent hash tag. Keep it short and simple. Post it near the entrance and after your wedding day, you can look on Twitter and relive your big day easily.
Plus it will save you having to put those disposable cameras on tables at the reception. In case you didn’t know, most of those pictures end up being stupid photos of the guests trying to be funny.
One irritating part of a wedding day for the guests is the sitting or standing around waiting for you to finish whatever you’re doing (photos, signing the register, etc.). One brilliant idea to quell such boredom was to have a magician go around the guests. Not a tacky children’s entertainer but a street magician in a suit.
It can be anything but some kind of original entertainment or distraction buys you a lot of time and favour with your guests. Yes, your guests should be patient with you but throwing them a bone does no harm.
It doesn’t have to be a magician. Music, a short film, table games where the reception is to be held. Anything that keeps them entertained will work.
Set the standard
There does seem to be a worrying trend at weddings. It is where people try to do something modern. They end up using Gangnam Style as the bridal march or having a mechanical Rodeo Bull at the reception. If you really want to do that, fine, but it does bring a fresh problem.
You set the standard of your wedding day. If you set a silly or boisterous tone, that is how your guests will be. So be aware that your choices will have a big hand in how your guests will behave. You have been warned.
Do not have the game on
Some people feel an obligation to put a TV on if there is a big football match on. Do not do it. All the men will cluster around it and you’ll not see them again for two hours. Either that or you’ll hear their “banter” from the other side of the planet. Football and weddings do not mix.
If the groom wants the footy on during the wedding day, pick another date. Or another groom.
The reception doesn’t have to be a meal
This suggestion may be met by some with the reaction “Well duh!” and others will say “It doesn’t?!” The meal idea is the simplest and the most conducive to listening to speeches. The problem you will find is you’re stuck at the top table and it will be a long time before you get to interact with your guests again.
One brilliant idea took the reception and turned a hall into a funfair, with various game stalls stationed around the room. Not only was it far more fun than a meal, the bride and groom got to spend the afternoon with their guests. They had fun and they didn’t have to sit up front, like they were trophies perched on a mantelpiece!
After a long day, you might want to just sit down and have a meal after the wedding but don’t be constrained by tradition or simple ideas.
I have seen couple after couple pretend that they love taking a little piece of material and stuffing it with tiny sweets a hundred times over. You don’t have to do that.
An easier trick is to do something where the guests create their own favours. One way this can be done is by putting out a pick and mix sweet station. Guests could take a small bag and stuff them full of sweets. All that left the couple to do was nip down to a cash and carry and buy a few boxes of sweets and bags. Job done.
Not only does it save a lot of time, it saves a lot of hassle too. Anyone who is planning a wedding will appreciate that.
Other options include making a charitable donation, key chains or even the coasters for the guest’s drinks. There are infinitely easier alternatives out there and certainly more memorable ones too.
The Gift List
Let me tell you what happens. You, the bride, drag your poor groom to be around a store, picking things you want and then not buying a thing. You compile a list and then throw it out to the guests. Half will look at said list and less will buy something off it.
I have heard a sound argument that a wedding gift should be equal to or greater than the money spent on the guest. That doesn’t happen in reality. Generally the cheaper items are bought and the happy couple then parade around that store again and buy what they need.
Save yourselves the hassle. Make it a diplomatic request to restrict the gifts to cash or gift vouchers to a specific store. Make sure it is a store you will spend ALL the vouchers in. I have no doubt IKEA are making a fortune out of unused wedding gift vouchers.
The sneakiest effort was made by a couple who put a big jar out with the words “Wedding Donations” on it. They then filled it with ten and twenty pound notes and had an usher keep an eye on the jar. They made a lot of money as people thought that they didn’t want to be the Scrooge and most of the guests dropped a nice, crisp tenner into the jar too. That jar was full by the end of the night and probably needed to be picked up by Securicor.
It is just one day...
After it all, as magical or disastrous as it may be, remember, it is an important day but it isn't the day that defines you as a couple. That will be the next day and the day after. Weddings are wonderful but marriage is special. The only thing that is more important than what you have done is what you do next.
To all couples whose nuptials are pending, I wish you the very best in your union.