As a wedding venue owner I have always delighted in these extra-special days and rejoiced on behalf of my ‘unofficial god-daughter’ brides. For most people this is naturally the first time they have organised a wedding but as a glinty eyed wedding organiser I know that planning is vital to create the perfect day – for ‘better or worse’ and certainly for ‘richer or poorer’!
The major components of the day such as date and venue are often the easiest – it is the less obvious details such as timing, the seating plan and consideration for other cultures which need some thoughtful preparation to make the day flow effortlessly and with what I call ‘pace’. You are, after all, gathering together people who may not have seen each other for a long time and many who will not know each other at all!
DO WE HAVE TO ASK. If parents are paying for the wedding they may use the occasion to tick off their own social commitments, whilst the bride and groom naturally feel it is ‘their’ day and complain that they don’t even know some of their parents ‘must haves’. Everyone has to compromise, so make an A and a B list and send the invitations out to the A list early so that the B listers are not aware of being used to fill in! Take heart that up to one third of invitees usually can’t accept.
If the bride and groom decide on a church service, it’s a good idea to keep a few programmes from previous weddings for them to use as a skeleton. For the day itself make sure that enough pews (or seats for a civil ceremony) are reserved for family, godparents etc. and the ushers each given a list of these. Like the bride’s father, small children cannot understand what all the fuss is about so brief ushers to ask parents to remove any child that threatens the serenity of these most solemn moments.
TIMING IS ALL. Weddings, despite your best calculations, take on a momentum of their own. It takes at least half-an-hour, for instance, from the first announcement of dinner for your guests to look remotely like taking their seats. Somehow that first clarion call to the feast serves only to energise your guests into forming new and deeply interesting conversational groups until, having networked, they move – slowly – in an agreeably amorphous mass to your carefully displayed seating plan which they scrutinise in minute detail.
Don’t string out the day with too much standing around. It ’s a long day and people get to a stage when they want to sit down. Work out your timetable backwards from 11.00 pm when your more grown-up guests and people with baby sitting commitments will want to call it a day. Remember also that whilst you and the family are smiling for the camera your guests, conveniently forgetting about their two glasses of Pinot Grigio at lunch, are tucking into champagne and it’s still only 5.00 o’clock!
PHOTOGRAPHY…. Do appoint an efficient member of the family or a friend who knows both sides and can marshal them to the right place before they’ve wandered off to socialize. Give them a list of all the various groups you wish to be photographed (this can be more sensitive than you think when step families are involved). Start with the largest group and reduce down to the couple alone. Don’t be conned into expensive white albums that they will never look at again.
Whether shot by an expert or a talented friend, a video of the day will bring tears to the eyes of every mother! More importantly it is an irreplaceable and living record of family and friends at various stages of their lives and who may not be here when your grandchildren are growing up. One can only imagine, 200 years hence, the reactions of one’s descendants to our taste in the bride’s home or the clothes we wore – but what a legacy.
SITTETH ON THE RIGHT HAND. Of all the taxing tasks associated with the great day none is more important than the seating plan. If ever there was a good maxim it is ‘Never mix the generations’. Quite frankly, un-marrieds are simply not interested in making conversation to Granny and certainly not to ‘just marrieds’ who only want to talk babies, or indeed the next generation who only want to talk about careers, schools and holidays – anyone over 50 you can safely seat together!
Another golden rule is never to seat husbands and wives next to each other. They are there to sing for their supper not sit in a silent comfort zone! Teen-agers are a law unto themselves and should be accommodated on a table of their own so that they can slip out for nefarious activities (or wotevva). Though fashionable, round tables do limit conversation to either side. I use oval or oblong tables which allow guests to chat across the table as well.If you decide on rectangular tables, do remember to place someone at each end.
Make an early start on the seating plan by writing a name label for each accepting guest (red ink for women and blue for men). Make a cup of strong coffee and lay them out on a spare bed or table with all the blue labels on the left and all red on the right. Start with your top table and consider not having a single line top table – it is a little old-fashioned and a conversational nightmare! Arrange the chosen labels in a rough circle of 8, 9 or 10 and continue with all the rest of the tables – trying to give everyone a bit of variety on each side. This is a location to which you will return time and again – often in the middle of the night – as you struggle to find the right combination of dinner partners. Moving one guest to a more suitable table results in an epic search to find the perfect replacement for their now vacant seat and on and on!
ARE YOU SITTING COMFORTABLY. Nobody completely succeeds in limiting the speeches and the worst offenders are the fathers. Listening to the childish exploits and educational milestones of the blushing bride for more than ten minutes turns into a marathon of cocked heads and glazed eyes. Limit everyone to ten minutes and remind them not to go too far! Try to do the speeches when guests are sitting down – standing still in high heels at the end of a long reception comes perilously near to torture. Older friends are often quite thankful not to be invited to stay on for the meal if you explain that this part of the day is really for the young.
FONDEST FAREWELLS. Saying goodbye to your children can be very emotional and it is a lovely idea to arrange an informal family lunch locally the next day – a lovely end to the festivities and a chance to have an amusing post mortem. In the same way, I think we are the only country I know who mostly don’t organize a brief get-together for the immediate families to meet the evening before . This need only be a brief drink but is enormous fun . All the planning is over and everyone wants and needs to have an anticipatory toast to the happy morrow.
Finally – don’t watch that wedding video unless alone with a strong drink!