Planning an Event to Remember

Jessica Salerno
Guests at Amanda and Scott Hicks' reception were able to relax around a fire pit in the evening.

Yes, your wedding is your day, but that doesn't mean you should ignore the comfort and convenience of your guests. After all, you've asked your closest family and friends to spend the day celebrating with you; you'll want them to enjoy themselves. But how can you make sure they have a great time? There are plenty of ways to keep guests happy and ensure they're still talking about your big day years later.

Kick off the weekend by welcoming any out-of-town guests with goodie bags, says Jamie Rapavy of Columbus Bride & Groom. Stock it with small snacks, toiletries and something connected to the city or you as a couple.

“Sometimes our couples will block a small banquet room or hospitality room or meeting room [in their hotel] where they have snacks and beverages guests can go grab, and it's really nice,” says Rapavy.

If it fits in your budget, she also suggests paying for a transportation service for your guests. This could be anything from ensuring they have someone picking them up from the airport to a venue-to-hotel shuttle after the reception. When guests don't have to worry about navigating a new city, they won't feel as stressed out about finding parking or making the festivities on time. And it's a great way to ensure guests who have had one drink too many are safe on their way home.

You'll probably have an idea of what Mother Nature has planned once wedding week arrives, so think about how the weather will affect your guests. Those leaving a ceremony or reception during rain will appreciate umbrellas by the door, or bottles of water and sunglasses during a warm outdoor event, Rapavy says.

When it comes to cocktail hour, take the timing literally. “Guests get very restless, and an hour is a lot,” she advises.

Ashley Stephan of Ashley Stephan Weddings & Events suggests having servers roaming the crowd with signature drinks and champagne, in addition to the bar service. “It helps eliminate the frustration of waiting at a long line,” she says.

When it comes to music, it's important to remember all the different tastes in the room. Stephan says the older folks will enjoy listening to classic tunes, while the younger crowd will want to hear more current music—but it is possible to strike the right balance.

“It's a good conversation to have with your DJ or band, and they'll know the songs that will get everybody on the dance floor,” she says.

Stephan also advises making sure the dance floor is the appropriate size for the crowd. If it's too big, it will seem empty, and too small can lead to overcrowding and some people not having space to dance at all.

Plan the timeline for your evening beforehand to make sure it's not too crammed or too spaced out, Stephan adds. You want to keep your guests' attention without overwhelming them.

Rapavy advises keeping the bar in the same room as the rest of the reception, since people tend to congregate around it. This ensures that your guests aren't split up.

When selecting the meal, pick some dishes that you and your future spouse love, while also selecting some well-known crowd pleasers to ensure the meal will appeal to a large and diverse crowd.

Rapavy says a great option for weddings with children is to serve a specific children's meal, setting it out on a buffet that sits a lower to the ground to match the little ones' height. To keep the young kids occupied—read: quiet—during speeches, set out some coloring books, activity kits and crayons at their tables.

Make sure any planned activities, like the cake cutting, first dance, parent/child dances and bouquet and garter tosses, are done by 9 p.m., so older folks who head home early get to see everything, says Rapavy.

Late-night bites are a guaranteed crowd-pleaser, according to Jody Unger of Heritage Golf Club.

“We have some fun late-night bites that are available, and those are your after-dinner snacks to customize,” she says. Check with your caterer to see if they're able to offer a late-night option, or consider planning to order food for delivery—if your venue allows it—before the reception ends.

“It's just all about the flow and timing, because I think the things people remember about the reception is the entertainment, music and the food,” Stephan says. “You want them walking away thinking that was such a great time.”