April 15, 2003
This post was originally an email message sent to two friends who were getting married a few months after us. The email got forwarded around and eventually I started receiving email about it from people I didn't know. Anyway now it's here on the web for anyone who might find it useful.
I know I was probably too casual about planning our wedding. I didn't really focus until the last couple of weeks and then I suffered for my lack of prep. So my soon-to-be-married friends, a few words of practical advice while it's still fresh in my head.
Write up a detailed minute-by-minute plan. You should do this months in advance. Try to mentally walk through the day and see if it makes sense and if you are allowing enough time for everything. We had sort of casually written up a plan, but a more detailed plan would have caught lots of mistakes.
Let people in your wedding party know the plan and delegate. Even if your wedding is not terribly logistically complicated make sure people know what they are supposed to be doing and where they are supposed to be. The biggest source of problems in our wedding and others I've been in, is people not knowing what is going on. Don’t let your groomsmen sit around doing nothing. Give them jobs.
Have backup plans in case things go wrong, because, inevitably, something will go wrong. Study the worst case scenarios. The temperature unexpectedly dropped 40 degrees the day of our wedding, luckily we already had a plan for this, even though everyone told us it was unnecessary. Half our guests who were to be sitting outside had to be moved inside... luckily we had thought about this, if we had to figure this out the day of the wedding I might have had a coronary. The backup plan saved us. This happened any number of times.
Look at family photos beforehand and make sure you know the names of all those distant cousins. They take offense when you forget.
If you are traveling bring any medicines you might need, back up contact lenses, and so on. Having what you might need is much easier than running out to a pharmacy. When Jenn got sick, luckily I had everything I needed already available including the mobile number of a doctor.
If you are leaving home a few days in advance give a friend a key to your house in case you forget something. We did not do this and our friends had to break into the house through a 2nd story window.
Try to do something special for people who make the extra long haul. We had a few guests who really traveled very far to be with us (Japan, India, Argentina) and we made sure hang out with them individually. We were told by each of these guests that our efforts made the trip worthwhile. Target these people beforehand, and set aside time for them.
If you are staying apart from your bride, get her flowers for the first morning you are apart. She’ll like this. I actually recommend staying apart even if you live together. You cover more ground and you can avoid lots of minutia. Let her hang out with her family and friends.
Everything you leave up to someone else, will be done in a way you do not expect. Sometimes this is good. Sometimes this is terrible. If you care about something specific, spell out what you want in the clearest possible manner.
You should be in wedding mode now. Yes now. You have no idea how fast the whole thing will sneak up on you. It’s all annoying. Nothing will be exactly as you want it. You have better things to do and you will spend much more money than you ever thought was possible. Deal with it. The more you do early, the less panicked you will feel when the day approaches and the more you will be able to actually enjoy yourself.
If you can, set up a simple website. This really helps everyone know what’s going on and saves you from redundant questions. Also there is usually lots of info on the web that you can link to to make people’s lives easier (photos, maps, tourist info). I've left ours up here: http://www.mexicanpictures.com/wedding. If you don't know how to set up a site, use a service like: http://www.theweddingtracker.com/
If your wedding is someplace unfamiliar to most of the guests, let them know where to go and what to do.
Work with the hotels to find out where everyone is staying. It helps to have a master list of guests. Make sure to distribute these lists amongst your wedding party so that everybody can find each other.
If you have friends who are breaking the bank getting to your wedding, try to find a place for them to stay.
People seem to like it if you call them to check in... even if it’s just for a minute or two. The truth is you won’t be able to talk to most of the people at your wedding, so a bit a phone time is important.
Breakfasts are a good time to catch people at the hotels. Don’t sleep in. Work the breakfast tables. At your wedding, you are the celebrity.
If you have tourist info for your guests, the hotels can help distribute it. Note that people who travel like to take a look around. Give them a few options and they will almost certainly do them.
People want to give you gifts. Often the first wedding question people ask is "where are you registered". Let everyone know where you are registered early as you will receive many if not most of your gifts well before the wedding (we were surprised by this). Also give people plenty of options, some people thought our registry was too small and sent us 'off the registry' things we didn't really need. If people are going to spend the money they might as well get you something you like. Think about a gift certificate option. Some people find this a bit crass, but many people thanked us and said it was the simplest way to give gifts.
Some people might give you cash on the night of the wedding (this was the preferred gift of most of our Mexican and Korean families). If the groom’s tux doesn’t have an inner pocket, find someone you trust to keep track of it all. Also, at least in my case, it was important to have a notepad to keep track of who gave what (some people like my uncle Pilo just gave me a stack of bills without an envelope).
You should have thank you cards bought/printed before the wedding so that you are ready with them afterwards. Writing all the thank yous is a big job in and of itself. We were horribly unorganized about this.If your parents invite people to the wedding make sure you get lists of who they invited along with all their addresses.
We made the most mistakes with photography. This was our major disappointment wedding-wise.
Give the photographer a primer on who is who. We failed to do this and got lot's of pictures of 2nd cousins, but very few of our beloved aunts and uncles. This was crushing.
Give the photographer specific shot lists. We failed to tell the photographer to take all encompassing general pictures of the rooms nor did we tell him to do exterior shots of the church/location. Consequently we don't have big overview pictures & these are sorely missed. Also tell the photographer to take detail shots of the food, the flowers and so on. Again we did not and were disappointed.
If you do the camera-on-the-table thing and happen to have ethnic relatives who do not know that they are supposed to leave the cameras, leave instructions otherwise the cameras will walk.
If your wedding is at night or indoors, black and white is much more forgiving than color.
If your photographer uses a flash, make sure he bounces it or softens it.
If there is a particular angle at which you look terrible, tell the photographer. I can have a double chin. this looks awful in photos taken from down low. I forgot to tell the photographer about this and now have tons of church pictures taken from exactly the wrong angle.
If you take posed photographs before the service, you will have more time to enjoy the reception. Also if your wedding is at night, this gives you a chance to have some daytime photos.
Make sure everybody knows the photo schedule. I have no photos of my Aunts and Uncles because they were misinformed of the time.
Posed photos always take much longer than you think they will take--especially if you are outside and the light is not cooperating. This is where a real wedding photographer is worth his weight in gold. They can do in 30 minutes what it takes a non-pro 2 hours to do.
Same prep rules for the video guys if you have them. We felt like video was cheesy, but now in retrospect we like having it.
Also if you want the the video guys to talk to people, tell them to do so. Interviews are often the best parts of the tape. Have them do interviews before people get too sauced up.
Forgoing video guys and giving a camcorders to friends will ensure shaky often underexposed video. Just say no.
Pictures help the florists. Make sure your bride gets pictures of stuff similar to what she wants to the florists as early as possible. Have them make samples of everything. Have someone check out the work well beforehand, but also send someone the day before the wedding. If the flowers are screwed up your bride is going to be unhappy.
If your vendors can find a way to screw you, they will. Drinks are often the easiest way to pad the bill. Make sure to check every loophole in the contract. This was our one big extra expense because we were not thorough enough about the contract and left some holes open.
Spell out how you want the food/drinks presented or it will be wrong/bad.
Specify. Specify. Specify. Give the guys song lists. They’ll go off and do something weird anyway, but the clearer you are, the less likely you will be surprised.
The speeches at our rehearsal dinner were very nice, but afterwards many people said they wanted to say something but didn’t for one reason or another. Other people said they were unprepared. I have since learned what I should have done:
1. Make sure your best man knows well in advance what the order of events is.
2. Give the best man ground rules depending on the crowd so that he can let everyone know what the deal is.. In Ted’s wedding for example, everyone was told to keep the stories clean so as to not offend Madeline’s family. For the most part it worked. If you want your best man to be an axe man for people who go on too long, let him know... again spell things out. Everyone has different expectations.
3. Have your best man seek out people who are likely to speak and ask them beforehand if they want to say something. This:
a) allows them to prepare and
b) gives the best man a general idea of who is going to speak so he doesn’t seem lost out there.
4. You (groom) prepare what you are going to say beforehand, don't wing it.
Try to set aside some time on the night of the rehearsal dinner to hang out with your friends. Your family might try to stop this (or you might feel like you have too much to do), but if you don’t go out, you’ll regret it afterwards.
People get very hung up on boy/girl boy/girl arrangements, but we found that people thanked us when we sat friends together irregardless of the "proper" arrangements. IE My college buddies sat together, my LA friends sat together, etc. Don't waste time trying to get people from different spheres to hang out with each other. Remember weddings are also are a chance for your friends who are friends to connect with each other.
Having a free for all as we did at the reception ends up splitting up people who want to sit together, also it potentially isolates people you want to honor. Despite the headaches involved, if possible, have assigned seating! At the very least (even if you don't assign specific seats) put them at a specific table.
Note you can solve lots of seating problems by not having tables that are all the same size. Ask your venue if they can accommodate this and if they can be flexible at the last minute.
Very large round tables of 12 or more are lousy because they are so big that nobody can really talk.
Always allow for wildcards and have a few blank seats or flexible tables in case someone unexpected shows up.
If you are going to do namecards I’d suggest getting them all done well in advance of the wedding even if you don’t have confirmations from people. This just makes things easier, trust me. It’s easier to play with seating when the names are on the cards than on paper lists. Also make sure to have someone double and triple check the spellings. Old friends get offended when their names are misspelled.
Many many seating problems are solved by having long interlocking tables (we did this at our reception). This way one table can blend into another. You can keep groups together and still have them mingle with other groups. Also black and white pictures of the long tables have a nice old fashioned feel to them.
Make sure the programs are there early! Our programs weren’t there until the last minute.
The priest should have a program well in advance (ours obviously did not and was totally lost).
The groom should arrive fairly early to greet people.
Make sure you know who is getting you, your groomsmen, your bride, and her posse to the church.
If you have a Catholic service, don’t sweat all the details they warn you about beforehand. The priest basically does everything. You just sit/stand there. In Mexico we had the advantage of being lassoed together.
Make sure to spell out the music... (in our wedding things went horribly awry anyway-think synthesizer , but we did try).
Stick around for a few minutes afterwards. We ran off quickly and regretted it.
If it’s a Catholic wedding make sure someone is tasked with picking up the paperwork at the end.
When you arrive at the reception you’ll probably be feeling pretty good. Smile and have a good time. Everyone is going to want to touch you and talk to you. You can’t talk to everyone. Keep moving. It’s ok to split up as you move through the room as you cover more ground this way, but don't spend too much time apart or people will talk.
Learn the first dance a well in advance. Take lessons if you must. A good dance is a real showstopper. I had to be dragged to class kicking and screaming, but I did go. While I managed to forget everything when the moment came (I forgot literally everything it was as if my feet were made of concrete.) Still, the 4 or 5 lessons we had taken gave me some sense memory and kept me plowing through. Without the practice I would have been doomed. People didn’t seem to notice and we got lots of compliments despite my fecklessness.
We both stayed very sober during the reception (neither of us had a single drink)... afterwards we both felt like this was a good thing as we were able to absorb much more and stay alert throughout. At least for us we wanted our brains clear and on "record" during the whole thing. The truth is we didn’t need drinks to feel good.
Have someone prepare the room you’ll be sleeping in on your wedding night so that it is not a mess when you get back from the reception. Someone did this for us...It was great to go back to the cleaned/packed room all decorated with candles and stuff.
Just say no to rose petals on the bed. They make stain, are hard to brush away, and nobody wants roses petals stuck to their ass.
Have a friend take all the stuff back home that you won’t need on the honeymoon.
We had a fantastic reception band. One thing they did (which I would have never approved if I had known about it beforehand), that was use props. Sounds super cheesy but it was great... hats, sparklers, balloons. I know it sounds god awful, but he it was Mexico... At some point the evening things went all Felliniesque.
Spell out how long the music should go on for... otherwise at 2 in the morning you will have guys in the band trying to extort a few thousand dollars from you.
Don’t take a cell phone.
Don’t take a computer.
Don’t tell people where you’ll be staying.
Buy your film in advance (especially if you shoot black and white).
Just be mellow, relax, and try not to go broke.