puzzling.org · mary.gardiner.id.au

Thoughts on low hassle wedding planning

This document contains my thoughts on low hassle wedding planning.

Before I start, I'd like to state that there's nothing wrong with putting more work and time into your wedding than I suggest here. An immaculately organised wedding can be a lot of fun. But there might be reasons why you want to organise a wedding in a low hassle way and this document then discusses some choices you could consider, based on my own wedding.

It's also not intended as a passive-aggressive critique of other weddings I've attended, most of which were more formal and probably involved more organisation than mine. I love weddings. They're really happy parties that unite people. This suggests one way of organising them for people who happen to be in a similar situation to the one my husband and I were in.

One of the lowest hassle ways to organise a wedding is to make it only about as complicated as a party you've thrown in the past and enjoyed. Throw that party again and have a marriage ceremony during it. It'll be fun. However, this guide isn't really about that kind of wedding either, although you should consider it. My husband and I wanted to throw a bigger party than we ever had before. Therefore this guide is for the inexperienced giant party thrower who wants to plan a wedding without going crazy.

About my own wedding

My husband and I became engaged in late December 2006. We married in early May 2007, about four and a half months after the engagement. We started organising it in earnest in early February 2007, meaning that we spent about three months planning it. The date and essentials were chosen by mid February. We wanted to have a short engagement because we had been de facto for over seven years and felt that we didn't need a long engagement after that. We both worked or studied full-time throughout the planning and organised the wedding in our spare time.

Our wedding was held on a Sunday morning in Sydney, Australia (the city we lived in) in a harbour-side park and was conducted by a civil celebrant (no religious service). It was followed by a lunch reception with a sit-down three course meal for seventy people, with the guests split about equally between family and friends.

Things to plan

This is a guide to a minimum list of things you should probably plan on including in your day, assuming you have guests beyond very close friends.

  1. a wedding ceremony where some authority figure joins the two of you in marriage
  2. a party afterwards featuring the ceremony guests and sometimes others, and including:
    • food
    • speeches of thanks and praise;
    • letting people gush at you;
    • taking some gifts home; and
    • having fun.

Everyone except the ceremony is totally optional, but if you are having guests, they tend to expect a little recognition of the solemn nature of the event per the above.

Generally speaking, you want to consider a private function, rather than, say, dragging everyone to the nearest bar (unless your friends and the bar regulars are the same people anyway I guess) to give you space to celebrate with your own friends. But again this is optional. We considered (although didn't end up) going to a salsa club after the food (taking preparatory lessons when my husband travels for work a fair bit turned out to be high hassle).

Money

This is not a guide to low cost weddings necessarily. Low cost does not always overlap with low hassle, unless your plans really scale down with your budget. If you're trying to do a sit down meal for 150 people on one third the budget most caterers charge, this will actually be high hassle. That said, since worrying about money is the highest hassle thing of all unless the relationship is on the rocks, I'll share some thoughts.

There are two schools of thought about budget. In both, you choose the rough date of the wedding and figure out how much you can budget (you need a rough date if you have to save for it). You then: either make the guest list and afterwards work out how much you can afford to spend per head; or you decide how much you want to spend per head, get a numbers limit from that, and then make the guest list. This really depends on whether having everyone you want there is most important to you, or having a particular party is most important.

Now, those figures that bridal magazines quote about the average wedding costing twenty or thirty or fifty thousand dollars are probably wrong. Why? Because they get them from surveys of their readers. People who get married at the courthouse with their four best friends to see and who have a barbecue in their backyard afterwards to celebrate don't participate in those polls, because bridal magazines have nothing to say to them. Hence, the numbers are skewed towards people who have the kind of weddings bridal magazines discuss: that is, big expensive ones.

However, you really can spend many thousands just on the less fussy bits of a wedding. How? Well, have you ever taken fifty people out to a restaurant for dinner and paid the entire bill by yourself? No, but you can imagine the expense right? Well, catering a sit-down reception for those same fifty people is at least that expensive. And generally speaking, the bar tab will cost about one third to one half as much again if you have an open tab.

People talking about low cost weddings talk about minimising the cost of the dress, skipping the matching napkins and engraved invitations and so on, and that stuff sure does cost. But really the money is in the wining and dining. To cut lots of money, cut either guest numbers or cost per head. As regards the latter, tea and cake is cheaper than buffets is cheaper than sit down. (As a woman though, I'm obliged to pass on this horror story, in which we learn that a wedding that your family organises for you with free labour is low cost but not necessarily low hassle, at least for them.)

One of the worst pieces of advice I see around is Check out 'quirky' venues like museums, galleries and aquariums! They will be thrilled to do a wedding, and really go all out for a good price! I don't know where these people live, but in Sydney, museums, galleries and aquariums all have dedicated event planners and function spaces, they have preferred caterers, they do weddings all the time, and they charge just as much as any other function venue. It still might be fun, but it's not cheap.

One other thing about money: the wedding surcharge. Many vendors such as hairdressers, florists, cake makers, reception venues and dress shops do charge extra for wedding associated services. You can save some money by buying the same stuff either from a non-wedding vendor or not saying it's for a wedding. As examples, I bought my (green) dress from a place that specialises in generic formal events, I didn't tell my hairdresser what I needed my hair put up for, I bought my bouquet ready-made from a florist the afternoon before the wedding and my reception venue was a place that usually does other parties. You need to be a bit careful with this game though: some places will refuse or withdraw service if they find out it's for a wedding (cue horror stories of limousines refusing to pick up when they see a woman in a white dress) so you probably can't lie to your reception venue for example. You could be a conscientious objector and refuse to deal with venues that charge extra for weddings though. Yes, I know they often do because weddings are such amazing hassle, but yours won't be.

Research and overall planning

Wedding research is a pain in the neck. It's not an industry hugely open to comparison shopping by Internet users. I eventually got fed up with all the call our wedding planner for a customised quote for your needs — half the time they want to meet with you! — and decided that I wouldn't deal with any vendor who didn't have prices and associated details on their website. We ended up backing down just once for the ceremony venue: we had to call the council to find out their site booking fee.

Broadly speaking, you have two options for any given service: a wedding specialist or a general service. Wedding specialists tend to be more expensive for the service, and they always have a bunch of extra charges for things like photography rights. But they also tend to have packages set up with the usual range of options: X amount of time for the ceremony, Y amount of time for photography, a Z meal with this menu. If you're willing to pay for low hassle, and you're OK with a fairly standard day and don't want to have an off-beat wedding that takes it up to the wedding-industrial complex, going to a venue that does weddings a lot and that has an event planner on staff is fairly low hassle, except that you have to manage expectations and make it clear to them that they should take care of deciding the font on the place settings, the colour of the napkins and so on because they're used to clients who want control over all that. Control is high hassle.

General services will generally be cheaper and more flexible about not expecting you to do the 'standard' for your flowers, or photography, or dancing, or table settings, or whatever the hell, but this requires some additional work from you to decide and sometimes specify how you want things to be.

We went with general services by and large, mostly for financial reasons and also because the expectations management of but we don't have a bridal party, but I'm not hiring a car, but we don't need a rehearsal and associated price negotiations gave me a headache.

One final thing: a big problem with weddings is the phenomenon of too much choice. There are, say, fifty to one hundred and fifty white dresses in bridal shops and then you choose the shoes to go with them. There have got to be at least one thousand places in Sydney (no, I exaggerate not at all) that could do a wedding reception. Each of the thousand places could conceivable offer you three menus to choose from. You need to limit your options. Make a list of, say, no more than five to ten candidates for big things like the reception, and choose just from those. For smaller things like invitations and dresses, keep it down to a few shops.

Choosing a city

This is your first big choice: home or away.

Having the wedding near or in your home town is low hassle because you're somewhat familiar with the layout: what is easy to get to, what is hard to get to? Where are the restaurant reviews? The phone calls are local. If you have local friends most guests won't have to travel and you can be a bit more flexible with dates (see below). One disadvantage is that if you want a dedicated week-long party your guests will tend to have their real lives in mind and will escape to them periodically: if they commit to coming away to a wedding on the other hand, they will have nothing to do except party with you.

Depending on family willingness, another fairly low hassle option is to have it in your parents' or another family member's home town and to rely on them at least for on-the-ground info and often for some organisation. This might even be lower hassle for you, but you need to avoid being exploitative about it. Do they really not mind doing that work for you?

Having it in a place where no one is local can be lowish hassle, but the usual low hassle way is to hire a wedding planner and a complete package so that you essentially just turn up and they guide you through it. Trying to plan your own wedding at a remove will be high hassle, and you'll tend to want to do things like try and find larger all-in-one packages for bits of it, rather than do everything separately.

Marrying extremely far away (a 'destination wedding') is touted as low hassle because your guests self-select (only people willing to spend thousands to see you marry of dollars will come). But there are other hassles that replace it. Passports. Visas. Baggage allowances. Making sure that you marry legally in a place that doesn't have the same laws (assuming you care, but people usually do). In many countries this is a pain in the neck, and involves substantial effort including filing paperwork from your home, getting translations done in official places, things like that. Sometimes an on-the-ground wedding planner can have that all in hand. You could also have a small legal wedding at home and an extra-legal wedding ceremony at the location.

Another option, not particularly low hassle but good if you have families that live at opposite ends of the earth, is to have one legal wedding ceremony and multiple receptions, one in each place where a bunch of your loved ones live. This is also the solution if you cannot bear the idea of making vows in front of a huge group: have a private wedding, often far away, and then a larger reception.

Setting a date and venue

As below, the usual minimum legal notice period in Australia is one month out, in some places it's more, and in some places (notably Vegas) no notice is needed. When notice is required, you may need to know your celebrant and possibly venue at the time of giving notice.

That takes care of the government, what about the guests? The typical guideline is to issue invitations about six to eight weeks before the day. The reason for this is actually to be considerate to guests in both directions: too short and the trip is expensive, too long and they feel unable to decline because you gave them so much notice. Leaving room for polite excuses makes everyone happier. You don't shanghai people into attending your wedding. If it's a busy day for people (any public holiday, Valentine's Day, any religious holiday) you can also send out 'pre-invitations' noting the date (called Save The Date cards) as much as a year ahead.

Saturdays are typical wedding days for secular and Christian weddings because they're easy to travel for. You and your guests have Friday evening and Saturday morning to get there, and all day Sunday to get home without having to take time off. This is particularly true for evening receptions. Holiday long weekends are also popular for this reason, but since people plan for them earlier you need to consider notifying them earlier.

The trouble with Saturday, particularly in summer, is that places with the all-in-one packages are generally booked up fairly early, often the winter before. You'll be able to find something on shorter notice, but there's the extra hassle of ringing around and maybe going on waiting lists. (I only ever saw one wedding vendor with updated weekend-by-weekend availability on her website, and she was a photographer, so you won't be able to work this out on the 'net.)

Friday evening weddings share some of the advantages of Saturday, although out-of-town guests will have to take the Friday off, and using Sunday can avoid people taking time off if you have a morning or afternoon party instead of an evening one. If your guests are local and amenable to taking a day off work, weekdays are usually both cheaper and available on shorter notice. If you want a cheaper or shorter notice Saturday, winter is the time to marry. (In Sydney winter is also the sunniest time, so you then just have to worry about getting warm clothes to marry in.) All non-Saturdays will be available on shorter notice than Saturdays.

Before inviting people to an event, you usually need to tell them where to be and how long for. It's also low hassle to make sure the basics are in place before inviting people anyway, so that there's less fretting about only being 'pencilled in' or discovering that such-and-such is closed on holidays.

The crucial early steps are: find a reception venue and their available dates; choose an appropriate date or two from that; match it up with a celebrant who can do that date and then fix the date. Except in the case where your ceremony venue and celebrant are really particular (eg he is your parish priest and you are marrying in your parish church), it will generally be the reception venue that has the most constrained dates, so plan around them. Issue any invites after you have a firm booking with the ceremony venue, the celebrant and the reception venue if there is one.

One thing that would have saved me some hassle: make sure that you have written contracts with all vendors with all dates, times and services noted, and that your contract for the party specifies minimum and maximum guest numbers. If you don't meet a minimum number you will generally have to pay for those empty places, but if you exceed a maximum they might have a fit about fire regulations or chair numbers and actually not be able to get guests in. Our reception venue told us a week out that their minimum was 60, yes, but their maximum was 70, which is an awfully narrow range to hit. We'd sort of assumed that it was maybe about 80. Never assume.

Guest list and invitations

The low hassle cut off point for numbers seems to be around 50 or 60, since it's at that point where a lot of small venues like cafes can no longer fit all the guests, and you have to start looking around for large function rooms. It's a little bit bigger if you want to do a standing reception (cake or cocktails, usually), most places can do 70 or 80. Again, there's nothing wrong with having more people than that, just that you'll have a harder time finding a venue. If you're set on an 'intimate' feel, no more than 30 seems to be the right number.

Once you've sent them, there's no low hassle way to withdraw an invitation, and Save The Date cards count as invitations for this purpose. Get your guest list right before issuing invitations. Withdrawing a wedding invitation is likely to distinctly cool a friendship. The only reason to pull one would be that the friendship has not only cooled on its own, but actually gone actively irretrievably bad. In the event that an invited couple breaks up in the lead up to the wedding, an invite is an invite, just put them on different tables. If one of them doesn't know you all that well, it's up to them to decide whether or not to come.

Frankly, I see these woes as a big argument against the standard issue of Save The Date cards: they just push this problem of determining the guest list forward a year. It's much easier to decide eight weeks out which couples are committed enough for a joint invite, which friends from the gaming club are good friends and so on than it is a year out. Save The Date cards are really newfangled: they've been 'standard' for weddings for no more than about five years. Feel free to skip them, except where the wedding is at a busy time and you really do think people need a year's notice to get it into their calendars. Even then, you could save them for your super-busy or super-close guests and determine the rest of the guest list when the invitations go out.

We sent out what were effectively Save The Date emails to out of town relatives as soon as we picked the date, friends who live in Sydney got notice via their invitations.

You plan on about ten or twenty percent of invitees saying no, apparently. It was about ten percent for us.

The general advice on cutting guest lists seems about right: cut whole groups of people. It's easier not to invite anyone from work than it is to try and specify some more fine-grained rule like only my team or something. Where you do want to slice a group and only invite some of them, it's generally that people you consider friends apart from the activity itself get an invite.

You absolutely must invite both halves of a long term couple. If you don't, you will get that uh... can I bring my partner? call. For our wedding we had a simple rule: if someone had ever been introduced to us by name as a guest's girlfriend or boyfriend (and there had been no breakup since), they got an invite. (There were a few guests forming attachments of unclear nature at the time our invites went out, or who are secretive about who they date, they didn't seem to mind their possibly-partner not getting invited.) Likewise if they were living together, engaged, or married, even if we didn't know one half. If you have friends who have more extended types of arrangements, check Ms Alternative.

You'll usually want surnames for the invitations or place cards. (We had three people called 'Jenny' at our wedding.) It's surprisingly hard to get surnames out of people when inquiring as to the name of their partner whom you also want to invite. I don't have a good solution to this. I guess ask them for Eric's partner's full name or whatever.

It's a good idea to ask everyone invited specifically by name. If you have one guest who will know no one else there and who you really think would do better bringing a friend or a date, just call him or her and ask for the name of the person to invite to come with them. They can explain to their friend that so-and-so has invited them as the other guest's good friend or partner since they don't know anyone at so-and-so's wedding.

The split between family, family friends and friends of the couple is often difficult. When your parents are paying, an even split between people they want invited and people you want invited seems to work for a lot of people, when you're paying and your family is fairly close this is probably still about right, otherwise you can strongly bias towards your preferred guests. If it gets nightmarish, consider two receptions, one to please family, and one to see your friends. However, this usually means that either family or friends have to miss the ceremony.

Extracting RSVPs is high hassle, there's no way around it. Set your RSVP date at least a week before your drop-dead date (usually the date the caterer needs final numbers), ideally more. Have a polite friend or family member (your bridal party if you have one) ring or email around a reminder about the date when it's passed by a few days. This brings in the vast bulk of late RSVPs really quickly. The last two or three may need a personal phone call from you. You will need to check, people who don't think it's necessary to RSVP are often under the impression that you understand that they are very busy and important people and will have allowed for them to just turn up anyway. (No, no one did this to us!)

Pay back your karma debt to the universe by never replying late ever again.

Low hassle ceremonies

About marriages in Australia

I'm inserting this section to explain some of the choices we made. If you're not particularly interested in the legal issues surrounding marriages in Australia, head on down to the next section. If you are interested, please note that this is not legal advice. You can find official advice via the Attorney-General's website. If you're marrying elsewhere, and want the marriage recognised in Australia, see the Department of Foreign Affairs for advice on that.

Legal marriages in Australia need to be solemnised by an authorised celebrant. There are two types: religious and civil.

Religious celebrants are generally ministers (or similar) of a registered religion. Note that ministers aren't automatically also registered religious celebrants, but you won't often find one who isn't. I suspect the religions simply hand over the list of names of ordained folk and the government authorises them automatically, or something like that. If you have a religious ceremony conducted by an authorised religious celebrant, there's no need for any second civil ceremony as in some countries. Your marriage is legally recognised.

About 30% of weddings in Australia are religious at the moment. Anecdotally, this fairly low number is partly because many churches no longer like to marry people who aren't active in their parish. It's hard in particular to convince a Roman Catholic or Anglican minister to marry you for a reason that boils down to churches are pretty and traditional! They are also increasing insisting on a few meetings to discuss your faith, and pre-marriage counselling courses. So, a religious wedding is often high hassle unless you're a regular attendee, particularly if you want anything that's not standard for that religion (such as a Catholic wedding out of doors).

Civil celebrants are the other people who can conduct marriage ceremonies. They can conduct them anywhere in Australia at any time. You still need two witnesses at a minimum. There are about 150 words that are compulsorily inserted into the ceremony (as of 2004, a reminder that marriage is for opposite sex couples is among this compulsory material), the rest is between you and them. They are usually commercial vendors, but in some small country towns the courthouse officials will be registered celebrants. Civil celebrants have no fixed fee, so if you have a price in mind, shop around. You won't have much chance of finding one who will do it cheaper than the registry will though.

Note that unlike in the US in particular it's hard to become ordained in a religion (we don't have mail order churches), and you can't be married by any other person such as a Justice of the Peace or a ship captain or whoever. You also can't become a civil celebrant particularly easily: you need to take a course which costs around $400, and go on a waiting list (that step is being abolished in September 2008). They also refuse registration if they suspect that you're only doing it just for one particular wedding, rather than as an ongoing thing. So if you don't have a suitable celebrant on hand for your wedding, you will generally need to hire one, you won't often be able to get a particular person registered. This annoyed us, we would have liked to have been married by a friend rather than a stranger.

Finally, you usually must file a Notice of Intended Marriage with your celebrant at least one month and a day before your ceremony (ie, if your ceremony is Valentine's Day, February 14, you need to file by January 13). If you were born in Australia the celebrant must see a proper Registry copy of your birth certificate, no other identity document suffices; if you were born elsewhere a passport might be acceptable. Death certificates of or divorce decrees from any previous spouses are needed too. The notice will need to have the date of the ceremony and the name of the celebrant on it (although if the celebrant falls though you can file additional paperwork to change it). Court officials can waive this waiting period for you, but that's high hassle. A low hassle wedding in Australia is planned at least a month in advance, more if you don't have identity documents to hand!

I believe there are arrangements in place to file the Notice in time from overseas, you don't actually need to be resident in Australia to get it all set up.

Civil ceremony options

The lowest hassle option in Australia is a registry or courthouse wedding. These are held in either a registry office in the cities and larger towns or a room of a country courthouse (if you're lucky, nicely done up, but sometimes not). You need two witnesses over the age of 18. Generally, the ceremony is as cheap as the cheapest celebrants or even more so. You will generally have to recite pre-written vows, the ceremony will be quite short, and in most places you can only have a few guests, somewhere between five and twenty. You may need to book further in advance for weekends and also Valentine's Day and public holidays. In Sydney it costs over three hundred dollars to marry at the registry office on a weekend. I suspect it's cheaper elsewhere, but don't expect it to be free.

Another potentially fairly low hassle option for a larger or longer or more personal ceremony is to go with a celebrant who has a fairly cheap package skipping things like rehearsals. Celebrants who offer this will typically cost about the same as the registry offices seem to charge, freeing you up to choose the space and the number of guests, and not have set vows.

I never did solve the problem of finding a pretty place to marry indoors that wasn't a church though. Outdoors is somewhat high hassle because you have to plan against bad weather. Commercial wedding chapels and university halls are very expensive. Community halls are often ugly. I don't have friends or family with convenient old houses, and people who have old mansions are generally well aware of the market rates for marrying in them or on their grounds. We married in a park, and asked the reception venue if we could marry there in the event of rain, which would have been suboptimal since their open area wasn't the most attractive space, but better than being rained on. Parks are pretty low hassle aside from weather issues, with two provisos: one is that you may have to pay a fee for public liability insurance purposes, and the other is that you generally won't be able to reserve the whole park and might have to have your bridal party or family primed to guard your spot for you, or be flexible.

My husband and I found our celebrant on the 'net through Google Ads and met with him a couple of months before the wedding to do the paperwork. He handed us a big folder with different wording for the various bits of the ceremony (we could have also done our own) and we fitted it together like a jigsaw. We didn't have a rehearsal, so the day before the wedding we simply went to the park where the ceremony was going to be with my parents and chose the spot. My husband and his family went an hour early on the day of the ceremony to mind the spot and meet the celebrant. I'd suggest reading your ceremony a couple of times even if not rehearsing though so you remember when you are meant to say things unprompted.

Clothes

I didn't actually ever go near a bridal dress shop, because I'm told they're very high hassle in terms of fending off the bit where they make you try and the most expensive dresses in the shop and do everything they can to convince you that this is the dress you were born to be married in! followed by their enormous lead times in obtaining your dress and their tendency to sell you dresses that need alterations. However, I can't say first hand how true any of this is and suspect strongly it varies by shop.

Another problem specific to me is that I live in a metropolis and don't have a car. Bridal shops don't get their custom from passersby and therefore don't bother with high rent locations in general, which means they are found away from major shopping districts and train stations. So I would have had to hire a car for every dress shopping expedition. My mother also lives far away and I had no bridesmaids, which means that I would have had to either shop alone or shanghai people. (I took my sister on my one attempt to get a dress in Sydney.)

Anyway, I ended up buying my dress ready-to-wear from a formal dress shop in Orange, where my parents live.

One surprisingly high hassle thing about the bride not wearing white is the effect it has on the female guests. They turned out to be really sensitive to the etiquette that one is not meant to wear a colour that matches the bride's dress (this is usually couched in a more limited fashion: don't wear white to weddings). There were lots of tentative phone calls about colours when word got out I wasn't wearing white. I hadn't even thought about it. So if you're not wearing white, put the word out on the street about what colours you are wearing, and also if you don't care about people wearing that colour, say so (although they may avoid it anyway).

My husband didn't want to wear a jacket, and so we marked our dress code as Informal, hoping essentially that men wouldn't feel compelled to wear jackets and be more dressed up than he was. This was also fairly high hassle, because while it actually strictly means men still wear suits, women don't have to wear ankle length (that is, it's the next step down from black tie) we actually didn't mean that, and in any case it was interpreted really widely and some people got upset because they thought that it meant that we weren't allowing them to wear their new pretty dress because we wanted shorts and T-Shirts (ie it was commonly interpreted to mean 'completely casual'). Honestly I have no idea what one is meant to do here, because strictly there is actually no formal way to request that men don't wear jackets; they're always meant to wear them to weddings. I suppose Party dress might work or Before 5 or Cocktail.

Low hassle receptions

In general, the way to do this is to pick the kind of party you want to have, and then go to someone who does that kind of party as a private function. It's much lower hassle to get it done all-in-one than it is to hire tables and chairs from one vendor, tablecloths from another, have florists do flowers for the tables, bring in an outside caterer, get the marquee from someone else and so on. Dancing is, I think, something of a pain to organise outside dedicated reception venues because not a lot of places that serve food also have a regular dancefloor.

When looking around, don't just look for 'wedding reception venues', look for 'private function rooms' and similar. Most restaurants and cafes will close to do a private function, or at least set aside a room for you, especially during the day and if there's enough people and they get enough notice.

This adds to your hassle but reduces it for your guests: if you are having photos done between the ceremony and the reception, organise something for the guests to do. Finger food and drinks at the reception venue is one fairly standard option. Get someone to announce the starting time of the reception (ie, the time when you expect to be there yourself).

Another hassle to plan for is dietary requirements, particularly religious diets (kosher, halal), ethical diets (vegetarianism) and health diets (allergies and such). We sorted this out just by ringing friends who we thought might be vegetarian two weeks before and asking the venue for a vegetarian meal. In countries where vegetarianism and other diets are less common though, you should check at the time of booking.

Also, if you're having young kids, ask about kids' meals, which are often cheaper and usually more palatable for the kids anyway.

If there are tables for guests to sit at, do a seating plan. This is high hassle for you, but it saves the guests some pain; the most common being that there are two or three people there who only know each other, they're last into the reception, and they end up stranded at three separate tables. The next most common is that two people who don't get on end up next to each other. There's no science to the plan, but the guidelines are:

  • people should be on a table with a few other people they know well enough to have a long conversation with;
  • split up people who fight together or who can't have a cordial conversation (ie, no frosty silences) if you can, unless they are actually seeing each other in which case their table unfortunately has to suck it up, yuck;
  • don't split really small groups up (eg your three work buddies), split large groups (like the 15 members of clan X) up around them;
  • people of similar interests go together, failing that, similar ages; and
  • couples go on the same table, although actually traditionally not next to each other (they're meant to see enough of each other already).

We just had table lists, with no individual seats. This seemed to be fine: major clashes of people were avoided by having them on separate tables, but couples and friends could decide to sit together or not.

We didn't have a bridal party so this didn't happen, but it can apparently be rather awful to split the bridal party from their partners who aren't in the party for the whole reception, at least if the partner doesn't really know anyone else there and is seated across the room on the maiden aunts table or something. Invite a few of their friends, or arrange for them to sit with their partner, one or the other.

The extras

We really cut back on this stuff. Here's the stuff that appears in a lot of standard wedding guides that we didn't have:

  • an engagement party;
  • an engagement ring;
  • save the date mail outs;
  • a store registry;
  • something old, something new, something borrowed or something blue (well, I guess my dress was new...)
  • professionally done makeup (my mother did it);
  • a rehearsal or rehearsal dinner;
  • a bridal party (bridesmaids, groomsmen, maid of honour, best man etc etc);
  • a veil;
  • music during the ceremony;
  • any colour theme (oh, except his tie matched my dress);
  • hired cars;
  • a white dress (it was a green ankle length dress);
  • a tux for the groom (he wore a tie and collared shirt);
  • the bit where the bride hides out before the ceremony;
  • a professional photographer (or videographer, but that's less common anyway);
  • DJs or musicians (we gave the reception venue a few CDs);
  • a cake; or
  • dancing.

Do have a think about which traditions or invented rituals of your own will add to your wedding, and which would just be more stuff to organise, particularly when a lot of these vendors will want yet another meeting for a taste-test/viewing/listening/posing preview of the day?

Surrounding parties

This is where a bridal party is handy. They are meant to organise pre-parties for you. It helps if you hand over the sub-list of guests you want to ask to them and probably give them an idea of activities.

The single highest hassle thing about the pre-parties is that some of them (buck's and hen's nights) can sort of push the boundaries of the couple's willingness to marry each other, and in fact I suspect some of the people who organise them see it as a point of honour more than anything to break the match off. You can only really sort this out beforehand with each other, if you are having separate parties and it sounds like the 'traditional elements' (strippers, sometimes with extra services for the soon-to-be-married) are going to be part of the party. It's not cool to do something that your partner would normally feel betrayed by and then face him or her with either an immediate and hugely public decision to call off your wedding the day before it happens or having to deal with it after making marriage vows.

Assuming the whole wild oats thing is sorted out, the next crucial hassle reduction step is to have your all-nighters and any hangovers done with a few days to go before the wedding. Being hungover at your wedding is high hassle. The night before you want a good meal and a good sleep.

Other than infidelity or unexpected piercings or injuries at the pre-parties, the other problem is more or less sheer social fatigue on your part, and organising fatigue on the bridal party's part. Don't party so hard that all your friends are sick of you by the day of the wedding, otherwise, have some fun. This stuff is where you can really cut loose from the script and do some relaxing casual stuff.

A number of weddings I know of have had a bigger after-party after a sit-down reception. We were too introverted to do this ourselves (six hours of celebration in public is good, twelve hours is mind-bending), but the people we know who've had them liked them.

Last modified: 23 May 2007