How to Provide Maximum Pampering for Your Guests
Maybe it’s as simple as adding one extra bar or bartender so that your guests always have one of your signature cocktails in hand; or maybe it’s streamlining events into a single location and five-hour window in order to reduce the amount of “dead” time; or maybe it’s really wowing your nearest and dearest with something fun like a tarot card reader at your Hollywood-themed rehearsal dinner. Any and all of these details are putting your guests at the top of your to-do list.
According to Judy Allen, a lifestyle design expert and bestselling author of 10 professional event planning books including, “Your Stress Free Wedding Planner: Experts’ Best Secrets to Creating Your Dream Wedding (Sourcebooks Casablanca, 2004), in the past, wedding-planning focus, especially for larger, staged wedding productions, was on determining the guest list, finding a venue that will accommodate the guest numbers, deciding where guests will be sitting and creating a showy wedding that will stand out from all the others. The bride and groom were often whisked into the church, whisked away for pictures and then, hours later, presented to guests at the wedding reception, leaving very little time for the couple to actually mingle with their attendees.
“But now smaller, more intimate and spiritual weddings are on the rise,” says Allen, “and the emphasis is on more guest inclusion as opposed to planning a wedding show centered only on the bridal couple.”
An easy way to make your wedding more comfortable for your guests (and to allow you time to actually talk to the people who traveled and went to great expense to celebrate with you), is to select a location where you can have the ceremony, photographs and reception all in one place; if you are getting married in a church, try to have the reception within easy walking distance or provide transportation. In fact, even if you have a single location, consider providing transportation from a hotel or two.
“I highly recommend investing in guest shuttles, especially if you have a high percentage of out of town guests,” says Carmen Bailey, a wedding planner with Ella Events Portland in Portland, Ore. Shuttles eliminate the need for rental cars, confusion over directions and parking, and the risk of drinking and driving. Multiple shuttles are ideal so that the elderly and families with young children can leave earlier if they wish.
Bailey’s other tips for making your nuptials easier for your guests include creating welcome bags for the hotel rooms that contain little goodies specific to your hometown, a bottle of water, maps of things to do and a reminder of the schedule of events for the wedding weekend, as well as providing clear direction as the guests move from one event to the next. This direction can be achieved with greeters, ushers, escort cards or signage, if appropriate, such as clearly demarcated restrooms if your wedding is held at an unusual or outdoor venue.
Keeping guest demographics in mind when planning the wedding reception will also help make your wedding more comfortable and guest friendly, adds Allen. For example, if you are planning a standup cocktail reception before the dinner, be sure that scattered seating (a third or more of the guest list numbers) is arranged for your senior guests or those who may be pregnant or have health issues. And, space permitting, request tables that are big enough for 10, but actually set them for eight so that guests of all sizes have ample space at the dinner table.
But once you have all the elements in place to make your guests more comfortable, it’s time to put a smile on their face.
Have a rehearsal-dinner barbeque for everyone invited, suggests Bailey, or offer something more personal and pampering. For one lucky batch of wedding guests that came to Oregon, Bailey helped organize a wedding weekend all-day wine tour with a picnic lunch and a special tour of Powells Books, an independent bookstore and Portland icon.
“Include one wow element that guests will really remember,” agrees Allen. “It doesn’t have to be costly but it should be creative.” At a Cinderella-themed wedding Allen orchestrated, they had a white-chocolate fountain in the shape of a glass slipper, and the wedding favor was a star-shaped cookie “magic wand” with a wish for the guests from the bride and groom attached.
If your budget is tight, skip the cookie but still provide your guests with a heartfelt wish that they can take with them – a simple gesture that shows you are aware that the whole point of throwing a wedding in the first place is to share your happiness and sense of family with those you truly love.