Hosting your own Wedding

October 1, 2005

Your wedding may be the biggest party you'll ever throw, but you can still make each guest feel appreciated and pampered.

As the youngest of three sisters from Dallas, I was expected, when I finally met my match, to host a Texas-sized blowout worthy to be my parent's grand finale in nuptial throwing. Instead, ever the black sheep, I threatened to elope. But when the perfect man came along, my southern instincts got the better of me, and I couldn't resist having a 300-person destination wedding on an island: something in line with both my parents' wishes and my own. Despite the event's size, I was determined to make it feel intimate and unique for our guest - and to enjoy it along with them.

I also learned the lesson that most bridges learn: I was not armed with years of practice in hosting huge events. Few experiences prepare any of us for the convergence of hundreds of family members and friends in one place, the logistics of entertaining them and the challenge of helping them feel comfortable and happy. Here, assembled with the help of other brides and advice from professionals, are my best suggestions for being a great hostess as well as an organized bride.


KEEP YOUR GUESTS INFORMED

Unlike other party invites, to which an air of mystery adds excitement, invitations to a wedding must enlighten, I had wanted to send an elegant card that read simply "save the date: July 19, Sally & Christopher, Nantucket." But adding travel details ensured that most of our faraway friends actually made the trek. Ann David, a partner in David Reinhardt Events, in New York, says giving specific information also spares the bride and groom the aggravation of having to answer endless last-minute phone calls." If the invitation says "black tie optional, you're going to get a million questions," she advises. "Let people know what to expect."

Being told the time of the ceremony, the dress code, whether dates are welcome and other particulars will help your guest plan. If the rehearsal dinner is for family only, they'll have to make dinner reservation for that night. If children aren't allowed at the ceremony, they'll have to hire babysitters.

Be explicit in your save-the-date card or letter. Include airline schedules, hotel phone numbers, weather information and, best of all, the name and number of your wedding coordinator. We sent our save-the-date letter shortly after we got engages (seven months before our wedding) to let our guest's excitement build and to give them plenty of time to make travel arrangements and reservations.

Give directions. Don't risk having your guests become lost in unfamiliar territory. Provide clear directions and maps to help them navigate. Even better, supply local transportation if the wedding site is difficult to find.


LESSEN YOUR LOAD

Just as pulling off successful dinner party is difficult if you're trapped in the kitchen, being a gracious hostess at your wedding is possible only if you are free of responsibilities when the week and the day arrive. Having a wedding coordinator oversee the logistics helps immensely. Jeffrey Best, a Los Angeles - based event planner who has orchestrated the weddings of Courteney Cox and David Arquette, Debra Messing and Daniel Zelman and other celebrity couples, points out that people often hire him so they can place their emotional investment in one person instead of many. "Then they can really enjoy their wedding, while I worry about the florist who didn't get the bouquets right or the bandleader who wants more money for an extra half hour," he says.

Don't be afraid to delegate. If you don't have a coordinator for the day of the wedding, assign a point person at the reception venue who can take the reins. Ask a bridesmaid of a family member to help with such tasks as distributing tips.


PUT YOURSELF IN YOUR GUESTS' SHOES

We've all been to weddings where hours passed without our seeing morsel of food or where we couldn't make ourselves heard above a deafening band. According to Nicky Reinhard, of David Reinhard Events, starting the ceremony on time, keeping the cocktail interval to an hour and making sure the dinner music isn't too loud are the three keys to the success of her company's wedding.

Anticipate guests' needs. Consider the points at which guests may get hungry or thirty an plan to provide snacks or drinks then, suggest activities for their free time, allow for downtime between events, and stock the bathrooms with amenity baskets for beauty emergencies. Hailey Lustig, who was married at a children's summer camp in Ontario that her parents run, wanted all her guests to feel catered to. To cool them down after the ceremony, helpers passed out iced towels. Late at night, after the guests had danced their fill, waiters served grilled cheese sandwiches and s'mores on silver trays. "The goal was to keep everyone in high spirits," she explains.


GIVE WELCOME BAGS

Welcome bags are a delightful way to make people feel cared for and to introduce them to a few local specialties. Our bags, which were waiting for our guests when they checked in to their hotels, included two bottles of Nantucket Nectars and beach towel embroidered with a map of Nantucket and our initials. We also had bound sets of cute cards printed with information about, and direction to, each of the weekend's festivities. That way guests could tear out individual cards and bring them along to the corresponding events. One card described the island's various beaches and gave the phone numbers of gold clubs, bicycle shops, taxis and hairdressers. The dining card revealed our favorite items on the menus at several local restaurants. We chose simple paper gift bags, but some brides have special totes made for the occasion. Vineyard Vines, for instance will customize bags. To have a set of information cards designed, try the Printery (516-922-3250), a chic custom stationer in Oyster Bay, New York, or Ellen Weldon Design (212-925-4483) in New York City.


ONLY CONNECT

Thoughtful touches will make your guests feel appreciated, particularly if you aren't able to spend as much time with them as you'd like. My husband and I wrote a note to each of our 300 guests and included it in the table-assignment envelope. We wanted to let everyone know why he or she was special to us. "It's not about getting $1,000 bottles of wine," says Jeffrey Best. "It's about connecting with the people who are there."

Involve your guests. Best relates that one couple's rings were passed around the church during their ceremony so each guest could "bless" the symbols of their vows.

Help your guests meet one another. Adjust the size of the tables to make conversing easy. "Try square tables for eight instead of using huge rounds," suggests Best.

Give yourself time to greet your guests. Have prewedding gathering just for out-of-town guests so you can spend time with the people you don't see regularly.


LET IT GO

However carefully you plan, a few mishaps are bound to occur. Melissa Roza, whose Nashville company, Chateau Weddings, plans nuptials in Italy and France for American couples, says that being a good bride - and a good hostess - hinges on the attitude you have when things go awry. She remembers a bride in Rome who stayed calm even when zipper ripped out of her dress two minutes before she walked down the aisle. "She could have been upset, but she decided it would all work out," Roza says. "We sewed it back up, and no one was the wiser."

Being a consummate hostess at your wedding means being able to relax and have a ball. With all the planning behind you and the groom in front of you, the rest is icing on the cake.

The fest of the wedding planners in this story range from $5,000 to $75,000.

Jeffrey Best, Best Events: 323.857.5577.

Ann David/Nicky Reinhard, David Reinhard Events: 212.535.1520: www.davidreinhard.com

Melissa Roza, Chateau Wedding: 615.591.0975, www.chateauweddings.com


TIPS FROM AN EXPERT

"It's easy to get caught up in your own expectations," says Charlotte Ford, author of 21st-Century Etiquette. "But even thought it's your wedding, you've invited people and you still have the responsibility of being a gracious hostess."

Here is her advice for brides:
 

    1. "Avoid two-hour cocktail receptions. Going on too long tends to lead to drunkenness or boredom."

    2. "Pay attention to the seating to ensure that your guests are as comfortable as possible."

    3. "Be sure to have a variety of food choices so that everyone will have something they enjoy."

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