While your wedding is about your love and celebrating the start of your marriage and commitment to one another, you're also hosting a large party too! Thinking about your guest's experience during the planning process can ensure a smooth day where your guests feel taken care of and comfortable, leading to longer lasting party on the dance floor.
Here are my tips and takeaways when considering guest experience:
No one likes being too hot or too cold!
If your wedding is outdoors in the Summer, ensure guests will have adequate shade, and cold water/drinks. You may choose to have large fans on or to give out individual fans if there is a lack of a breeze. Having an airconditioned or indoor area can prevent guests from overheating and give some reprieve from the blazing sun, such as the bathrooms, bar or welcome area.
Shade - If you are renting a tent that will give guests lots of shade to move around in comfortably, as long as it's not clear, which will create a greenhouse making it hotter! Umbrellas and sun sails are amazing for providing shade where needed and can be easily moved & set up. Sun sails diffuse the light which can still allow for brightness in the area, without the heat and harm of direct sunlight.
You might consider placing sunscreen in the bathrooms or on a table for guests if they will be out in the sun for hours.
Warmth - If your wedding is outside during cooler months having portable heaters & blankets available will keep guests warm and comfortable so they are less eager to go into their warm cars. If your wedding is indoors during colder months ensure the venue has adequate heating (most likely issue is barn venues).
From how long your event goes to how long you needs guests attention, timing your day can be a bit of balancing act.
Length of Event
Guests often don't have the stamina for a 12+ hour event. We usually see guests starting to leave around the 8hr mark as their energy dies out. Weddings that are 5 hours or less often feel quite short, guests may feel they didn't get enough time to talk to you and your partner or get their boogie on if dinner takes up a large portion of time. Having your entire event from guest arrival to the end of dancing somewhere in 6-8hr usually means most of the guests are there to the end and the dance floor ends with a bang!
If you and some friends don't think you'll be ready to stop the party plan to move to a bar or club for an after party. This will mean you aren't paying for more time from the venue, DJ and other vendors; additionally, you can have the guests that come to the after party pay for their own drinks to cut down the bar bill.
Guests Attention Span
As much as it would be amazing to have all your guests give a speech or have everyone sign the guest book, your guests might not have the attention span to do all of that.
Try to keep sections of the day where you need all guests to be paying attention and quiet for the most part to a max of 20-30 min. According to recent studies our attention spans are as short as 8 seconds, so refocusing guests back to the activity happening is needed.
You can do this with announcements from the MC or DJ, short speeches and formal dances that have fast turnover to re-engage guests, and music and visuals to aid.
By having the MC or DJ ask guests questions and have them respond it keeps them engaged and focused, use music to pump up the excitement or turn it down to signal they need to be quiet for speeches.
Spotlights, diming the rest of the room and bright eye catching head tables and dance floors help keep guests focused on the activity at hand as their eyes are naturally drawn to the light.
No one likes waiting. If you're guests are waiting in long lines for the ceremony to start, the bar, food, for speeches to commence etc it can cause them to get antsy or annoyed.
Don't put the ceremony start time 15+ min before the actual start time. Guests (especially the older ones) will begin arriving 30 min before the ceremony. If the start time on the invite was fake and the wedding party is running a little behind they could end up waiting an hour or more. If your wedding is outside in the heat and sun this could be dangerous for some older guests and cause them to become overheated. Instead I would put a 'doors open' time about 30 min before ceremony and then state the ceremony will start promptly at your actual ceremony time. I would also recommend having water and shade available for them to wait in before the ceremony to keep everyone comfortable.
Having adequate staff for the bar and catering will prevent long lines and long wait times. Using a ratio of one staff member per 30 guests (1:30) is ideal to have quick bar service and fast table service for plated meals. If you are having a buffet dinner or only beer & wine you may be able to do 1:50 for instead. Ask your venue or staffing vendor how many staff members they will provide for your event, you may want to ask or pay for additional staff to decrease wait times and improve guest experience.
Cocktail hour is usually the busiest time at the bar, having premade cocktails or pre-poured champagne can speed up getting the first round of drinks out and lessen lines.
For dinner service, under 90 min for every guest to be served for a multi course plated meal and 60 min for a buffet is ideal for both guest experience and making the most of your timeline.
Speeches usually happen after dinner and before the formal dances. Waiting until all of your guests have finished dinner is often too long of a pause in events and if you have a buffet some tables may finish 20 min or more before the last table. Instead plan to start speeches after the last table has gone through the buffet or is just about finished. Since the wedding party and immediate families eat first they should all be most of the way done their meal and okay to start. Starting speeches at this time gives your guests something else to do besides sit and listen if the speeches aren't thrilling.
If you are doing a multi course plated meal I would start speeches between the courses as the wedding party & family finish their meal.
If you and your fiance are into it, I love putting the first dance at the end of grand entrance! Guests are already paying attention to you and are super excited to see you enter the wedding. You haven't had too much food or champagne to feel bloated or a bit too tipsy to execute that dip and then it's out of the way and you can relax a little more.
Have adequate bathrooms decreases wait times and lets your guests get back to the party. Having one bathroom per 30 guests usually means there is very little wait time. Ensure there is a handicap or accessible bathrooms for guests who may need it
Your guests are very excited for your wedding, and may have been to several weddings in the past. But every wedding venue and timeline is a bit different and guests don't know the game plan, so your vendors and MC will need to help them out.
Have your officiant let guests know where to go or what's happening at the end of your ceremony and if anyone is needed for photos.
"You may all head to the patio to the right for cocktail hour"
"Immediate family of the couple please stay behind for photos"
When it's time to move guests to the reception area or take their seats, have the DJ or MC make an announcement. If you have a coordinator they can also go around and let guests know to move into the next space.
"If you could please make your way into the ballroom, we'll be ready to start dinner shortly"
Once grand entrance is over have the MC do opening/housekeeping announcements and give guests and idea of what's next and when dinner is.
"I know we're all super excited to eat, first a have a few housekeeping things (info about the bar, bathrooms etc)."
"We're going to get started with dinner in just a few moments, staff will come around and dismiss your table"
Give guests info throughout the night so they know what to expect next and if they have time to get a drink, use the bathroom or talk to the couple.
Your guests need food frequently throughout the event to feel their best and have the energy to boogie on the dance floor.
Aim to feed guests every 2 hours during your event - cocktail hour, dinner, dessert & late night bite. If you're event is 8 hours I suggest doing all four food points, if you have a longer dinner service with a few courses you may be able to skip late night bite. If your wedding is 6 hours you won't need a late night bite.
At the end of the evening (and after several cocktails) helping your guests get home or to their hotel safely is a great way to cap off the guest experience.
As they walk out the door send them off with a gift. I don't mean favors, I think they are one area you can easily cut out of the wedding budget to save money. If it's not edible in the moment it's like to get left behind. With that in mind, setting up any leftover dessert at a table near the exit is a great way to decrease food waste and they get a sweet treat for the ride home! If you want to have edible favors I would place them here too rather than at guest tables as they likely will forget them as they walk from the dancefloor to the exit.
This is also a great place to leave florals such as centerpieces to give guests a bouquet to take home. If they aren't taken home they go in the garbage and they aren't cheap!
If your wedding is in a rural area and many guests have travelled in and are at a hotel getting a shuttle may be worth the cost. If your guests are more local or a bit more spread out you can do uber vouchers where you choose the amount you are willing to cover per ride, the destinations they can go (hotel to venue, just to the venue etc), and the days/times they can redeem it.
More info Here on Uber vouchers.
If you don't have the funds to help pay for their ride home, having someone call several taxis near the end of the night can make the process easier for guests to just walk out and hop in.
Having any important info your guests may want or need for your wedding easily accessible on your website or invite means less questions for you. Some of the info you may want to give guests ahead of time:
- Any important directions if the venue is in a rural or hard to find area
- If the ceremony or wedding will be outside so they can dress accordingly
- If there is a cash bar (ask your venue if there is an ATM onsite too)
- If they are allowed to bring their kids, plus one, young infant etc (and if there is a private area they can use for nursing/ quiet time)
- If the venue and bathrooms are handicap accessible (If they need to go to the back to use the ramp etc)
- If there is a shuttle, uber or other transport available to get home
Overall, think about what you as a guest enjoyed or was annoyed about at previous weddings and events. What would have made your experience better and can you do that for your guests?
Use the Guest Experience Check In worksheet to quickly gauge how much your guests are taken care of for your wedding and areas for improvement.