Your wedding is about you and your fiancé getting married and sharing your love and commitment with those around you. However, I personally feel that my guests’ enjoyment is paramount to that experience. That’s why it’s important to me to thank them for their support and ensure that I do everything in my power to make sure they have a fabulous time. With that in mind, here are the most common gripes I’ve heard throughout the years (and how to pre-empt them).
1. An inconvenient date.
Think it over before asking guests to forfeit spending Christmas or the Super Bowlwith their loved ones to celebrate with you. Hosting during a holiday may disrupt traditions they’d prefer not to miss, and in the case of a sporting event, you may find that guests are MIA because they’re sneaking off to catch the score or watch it on a nearby TV.
How to deal: If you’re considering wedding at a potentially sticky time of year, check in with your closest loved ones to see if they already have set plans or would be open to attending. Some events may be easier to pull off than others (e.g. I’m getting married on Labor Day). In some cases, like Halloween, there is no other option if you’re planning on throwing a full-out themed bash, so just shrug off the complainers! Also, guests may be more inclined to consider attending if they knew about the date for months in advance, so the sooner you send out that save-the-date, the better. It’s also a good idea to check your local events calendar to ensure your big day doesn’t compete with a parade or other large-scale community event (Meet this couple who got an impromptu visit from Mr. Obama!).
2. Invitation confusion.
There is nothing more frustrating than when a guest assumes they’re receiving a plus-one you had no intention of inviting (we meet again, random bar hookup #22). This can happen even if you address the wedding invitations using proper etiquette.
How to deal: Don’t dodge the question—it will only make things more awkward. I’d recommend addressing the miscommunication kindly. Please don’t tell someone who thought their children could come that you “can’t have them there because weddings with kids are tacky” (true story). Avoid confusion by writing the names of the guests you want to invite on the response card and having them check off a “will attend” or “will not attend” box.
3. Seating snafus.
After the victory of compiling (and finalizing) your guest list comes the challenge of seating arrangements. It’s part art, part science: Who will combust next to whom or become fast friends?
How to deal: If your guests’ elbows touch and they can’t easily move in between tables, you’ve probably crammed too many of them in one spot. Also keep centerpieces at a conversation-friendly height (no one wants to stare into an orchid all night). If you’re having a hard time divvying a group of friends or family members equally, try to seat guests within the same vicinity so that they can lean over and “awww” together during the first dance instead of texting across the room.
4. Pulling out the wallet.
How much do guests dislike cash bars? Just watch wedding planner David Tutera’s reaction when we asked him about them and see for yourself.
How to deal: All the pros are in agreement that cash bars are a major no-no. You’d never ask a guest to pay for a drink in your own home, so why should the wedding be any different? However, that doesn’t mean you have to fork over the cash for an open bar if you can’t afford it. Tutera recommends serving a limited selection of wine, beer and champagne or a couple of signature drinks.
5. Climate crisis.
Every frequent wedding-goer has experienced an event that was either scorching or freezing cold. Subjecting guests to extreme weather conditions will severely cramp their style.
How to deal: You can’t help it if a weather emergency happens on your wedding day. However, there are small, fun measures you can take to ensure that guests are comfortable, beyond the obvious (plenty of shade and heat). Some ideas I love: double-duty fans that serve as programs for summer weddings and gifting your bridesmaids a shawl or faux fur wrap for winter weddings.
6. Inedible food (or lack thereof).
When I was no older than eight or nine, I went to a family party that I’ll never forget. But it wasn’t the bride’s poufy princess dress or the heartfelt recitation of vows that I remember most. It was the McDonald’s my cousin Vinny and I were allowed to eat afterwards, gleefully dipping fries into ketchup in the back of the car (because the food at the reception was so terrible).
How to deal: No bride wants to give her guests a stomachache—arrange for a food tasting before you carefully plan your menu. Not even spectacular décor can compensate for rubbery chicken or blink-and-you’ll-miss-it shrimp. Ask about food allergies or dietary requirements ahead of time. It’s also important to make sure they don’t run out of food at the cocktail hour. If you’re only having dessert or some light nibbles, that’s fine, but please mention it to your guests (especially if you’re having the party during mealtime).
7. Never-ending toasts or photo montages.
I wanted to sink into the floor at one wedding I attended where the Best Man’s speech was so long-winded that the chorus of “boos” was deafening. Add a couple of glasses of champagne to the mix and you’ve got a recipe for disaster.
How to deal: Let the toastees know in advance that you don’t want them to stress about writing a novel of a speech, so the cheat sheet version will do just fine. Your DJ can signal a musical cue if it’s time to wrap things up, just like the Oscars. If you’re the one giving the toast, follow these easy speech pointers.
8. DJ, please stop the music.
I’ve heard complaints about weddings where the thump-thumping of techno music began the second that the couple walked through the door and didn’t end until the cake-cutting. (Grandma was afraid to step foot on the dance floor, lest she get clocked in the head by a stray fist pump.) At another wedding, the music was so loud that my mom escaped to the bathroom to rest her pounding head, only to find a group of other guests camped out there for the same reason.
How to deal: During your cocktail hour and dinner, play music that’s low enough so that guests can hear each other without having to scream. Pump up the volume when it’s appropriate, and don’t seat any elderly guests right next to the speakers. Conversely, nothing is more awkward than being at a wedding where no one wants to get up and dance. If a song or genre just isn’t working, ask your band or DJ to switch gears. Have fun with it: Once guests see your best Gangnam-style impression, they’ll want to join in, too
9. Disorganization to the max.
I once attended a wedding where the cocktail hour became two-and-a-half hours long because the bride and groom wanted more photos in the moonlight. Imagine the look on guests’ faces when we finally sat down to our seats and waited another hour and a half before dinner was served.
How to deal: If you’re unable to hold the ceremony and reception within two hours of each other (guilty as charged), make other accomodations for your guests. For example, my reception site has a waiting area where drinks and light refreshments will be served for early birds. If your reception/ceremony space is sprawled out, consider using sign posts to direct guests to necessary landmarks, like the dance floor and bathroom.
10. Ungracious hosts.
“We only saw the bride when she walked down the aisle!” or “It’s been a year and I still haven’t received a thank-you card!”
How to deal: Sound familiar? You don’t have to hold up the wedding by having a receiving line. I love it when brides go from table to table to thank each person. It doesn’t have to take long—even just a quick “hi and bye” makes me feel happy and appreciated.
No matter how tempting it is to scrap the thank-you cards (who has the hand stamina for that?) guests will notice if you don’t send one. Split the duties with your husband and break it up into manageable chunks so that it doesn’t seem so overwhelming anymore. Note to self: Heed own advice next year at around this time…