3 Ways to Create an Authentically Guest-Centered Wedding

August 2, 2017

Julie Cate Photography

Figuring out how to have a guest-centered wedding can either get lost in the to-do list, or in the assumption that the to-do list will take care of the guests’ needs.

But thinking through these 3 simple ideas will allow your guests to feel loved, well-taken care of, full of food, and inspired about life, love, and relationships.

A story to begin.

We were shuttled through vineyard country and on long, windy roads to get to the venue of one of my favorite weddings. This time I was a guest. When we arrived, we were invited onto a long pathway covered in greenery in addition to the fir trees that filled the air above us. There were glasses of juice to greet us as we admired the setting and flowers and chose our seats. During cocktail hour, in addition to hors d’oevres, signature drinks and a small pond to walk around, the bride and groom had put together posters with different statistics of the wedding planning process (they were both in the science/medicine field). They had a map of where invitations were sent and a graph of how close to the wedding each guest sent their RSVP in correlation with their age, and we spent time delighted at where we fell in the graphs while getting to know a little about the couple’s planning process, how they brought their fields of study into regular life, where most of their friends were, and how different generations responded to the request to RSVP. After dinner and during the dancing portion of the night, an enormous platter piled with different cheeses and crackers was brought out. When it was finally time to go, I left feeling loved, well taken care of, full of food, and inspired about life, love, and relationships.

But how do you plan for that?

If this feels overwhelming at all, here’s how I break down and anticipate the needs of guests in 3 simple steps when I’m planning a wedding:

Julie Cate Photography

1. How can I meet the physical needs of my guests? How can I add delight? 

  • Make sure there are bathrooms (and enough of them) readily available. In some situations (usually where the outdoor setting is amazing), that means trucking in bathrooms yourself.
  • Feed them and offer them drinks again and again. Refreshment on arrival immediately helps get even the most cynical of guests who are wary of the longness of the day on your side. Good food and drink during cocktail hour. Good food and drink during dinner. Good food and drink during dessert. And during other activities that may be in between.
  • Allow the rhythm of the day to encourage movement. This could include time in the beautiful setting for guests to walk around the grounds and enjoy them. This could mean starting toasts after dinner when hunger is satisfied and guests are well-fed and watered instead of before, when most thoughts are anticipating the food. Have different seating areas with different kinds of furniture that guests can feel comfortable in and enjoy a change. 
  • Go over the playlist with the DJ. Your goal is to figure out how to get the most people dancing. You’ll know the style of music your guests will dance to more than your DJ. Definitely account for what different generations would dance to, but also choose the style and genre carefully. If you don’t, DJs often switch to default, which means the YMCA or the Cha Cha song instead the songs you grew up belting together at sleepovers, in the dorms, watching your parents dance to, or last weekend when you went dancing.
Julie Cate Photography

2. How can I meet the needs of the minds of my guest? How can I add meaning and delight?

  • Find ways for the guests to get to know you. Before the wedding, many of the guests won’t truly know you as a couple and many likely won’t know one half of the couple. Even if many of them do, there’s a lot they don’t know. Find ways for them to get to know you, whether it be in the vows, the toasts, writing something for guests to read in the program, making charts or showing pictures, tell them stories they’ll remember. Let them see the beauty of the relationship you’ve created. Help them leave the wedding remembering not just the delicious food or decorations, but the lingering beautiful feeling that it was all in celebration of the goodness of love and relationships in general and yours specifically.
  • Create spaces that encourage good conversation. To be the host of so many guests means that you can’t engage each of them individually the whole night. So you want to cultivate an environment that allows guests to engage each other. Keep this in mind when creating a seating chart. Also, look for ways to bring in comfortable furniture and arrange the furniture that encourage comfortable conversation. Couches and armchairs are great for this.
Julie Cate Photography

3. Find ways for the guests to have more access to you.

One of the hardest things on the wedding day is that everyone you love most in the world is there. And there are too many for you to really spend one on one time with. But here are some ways that you can authentically connect with each one of your guests.

  • Greet guests personally. This doesn’t mean hosting a line. This means greeting guests at their dinner tables or making sure to reach out to them throughout the afternoon and evening. Sometimes it can feel overwhelming to think about the schedule or if everything’s being taken care of or where you need to be next, but honestly, where you need to be is with your guest.
  • Host a brunch the morning after the wedding. All of the people you wish you could’ve talked to more will be there. You can actually have a conversation with them that lasts for more than a few minutes.
  • Come up with ways to connect that match your love language. If it’s words of affirmation, write a few notes at different stages of the day to help them feel like you’re there with them and that you really care about them. If it’s gift-giving, use your natural skills to create a gift that really means something. If it’s physical touch, hug them when you greet them. Choose furniture that feels comfortable, and give them plenty of opportunities to dance. If you communicate well through song or dance or art, figure out a way to share that too. Here’s the best part of this: your guests will feel more connected to you and you’ll feel more connected to your guests. You’ll be showing your love for them in the way you authentically show love. 

When taking all of this into account, your guests will leave a little changed for the better. But it does take a heck of a lot of strategic planning to pull this off. That’s totally my thing. To see if we would be a good fit or if you’d like some direction, contact me here.

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