Several months ago I was visiting a venue with one of our couples. While we were waiting for the venue coordinator to arrive, some other people walked over and one said to me, "Excuse me, are you a wedding planner?" I confirmed that I was, and the woman who'd asked introduced her family (it was her and her husband touring the venue with their daughter, who was thinking of marrying there herself), then asked this question: "We're concerned about our guests not being in the right place at the right time. How do you get that many people to go from one place to another when you want them to?"
I answered her as best I could in a short amount of time, but as I was driving home that afternoon I was still thinking about our conversation. That mom asked a really good question. Guest management is one of those things that wedding planners think about a lot without realizing that we're thinking about it. It's just part of the DNA of an event for us. But for couples or families planning a wedding? Probably not so much.
So how do you get your guests from Point A to Point B? Here are the techniques we use most often, along with when and where we like to use them:
in person guidance
This is just what it sounds like: Give some people (probably your ushers) the job of telling guests where to go (nicely, of course!). Plan for this by selecting people in advance who you know are good with people, and make sure they have all the information they need; i.e., knowledge of important things like restroom and parking details, as well as familiarity with whatever information they're sharing with your guests. They should also have your wedding planner's number in case they need to text a quick question. This is ideal for:
- Greeting guests as they arrive
- Guiding guests to the location of your big getaway as they leave the reception and giving them petals or a sparkler or whatever else they need
Signage isn't necessarily that great at getting your guests to migrate from one part of your venue to another, but I'm still mentioning it here because it's such a good way to communicate small bits of information to your guests. We also love signage because it's a good way to carry the aesthetic of your wedding throughout the day: Coordinate your fonts and materials with your invitation suite and you magically create a feeling of continuity. Be sure your signs are legible, concise, and reasonably conspicuous. Signage is ideal for areas that guests will be accessing throughout the day, and where it would be impractical to station someone for in-person guidance. Some examples are:
- Your escort card table
- Your guestbook table
- Your gift and card table
- The bar, especially if you're offering a small menu of signature drinks
- Your wedding favor display
- Your candy bar
- Your photobooth
controlling access to the space
Sometimes getting your crowd of guests from one place to another is as easy as controlling access to the space. How do you do that? Simply by opening or closing doors, dividers, or curtains. Don't have any of those things? You can often create your own with clever use of pipe and drape. Your guests will usually gravitate out of the space they're in and into the newly opened space with little prompting; however, if you want to get them moving right away, then it's easy enough to pair the flinging open of the doors with a short announcement that it's now time for the next thing to happen. We use this for:
- Moving guests into the ceremony space when they've been mingling in an anteroom
- Transitioning from the cocktail hour to the reception
- Moving from dinner to dancing, if those are in separate spaces
making one space more interesting than another
Sometimes you want people to move from one space to another but you want it to happen organically, without a big flourish of activity or an actual announcement. The best way I know of making that happen is to make the location to which you want people to move more interesting to them than the location where they already are. How do you do that? Well, you know your guests -- give 'em something they want: A newly opened bar; some entertainment, musical or otherwise; an amazing dessert buffet; games on the lawn... Make the target location enticing and your guests will start heading toward it. If there are any stragglers you need to get out of a space, then you can have your wedding planner or a member of the venue's staff quietly let those few people know that the party is now moving to a new location. We like this for:
- Guiding guests to the cocktail hour after the reception
- Encouraging guests to get up and socialize after dinner
announcements from the band or dj
There are times when the best way to get your guests going is to make an amplified announcement, and the right person to do that is your DJ or someone from the band. We like to keep this to a minimum because it can be a little jarring if it's not done well, but this type of announcement does have its place. It's unrealistic to expect your guests to pay attention to one lone announcement, so for the really important stuff, arrange to have your message shared at least three times. For example, if you're announcing last call at the bar, then have your band leader announce it every other song or so for the 15 - 20 minutes prior to the bar's closing time. We reserve this for announcements that are best heard by everyone in attendance simultaneously, like:
- Letting guests know the bar will be closing soon
- Alerting guests to small ceremonies like the cake cutting
- Letting guests know your big sendoff is coming up
So how do you incorporate this kind of guest management into planning your wedding? Well, you'll need to sit down with your wedding day itinerary and find all the places where your guests will be transitioning from place or activity to another, then plan for some kind of guidance to be available at that time. If your plan involves action on someone's part (like if you're stationing an usher to guide your guests, or if you're asking your DJ to make an announcement) then actually add that to your itinerary with the time at which it needs to happen.
Guests who know what's going on are more relaxed and able to have fun than guests who are wondering if they're in the right place, so just consider this whole issue of guest management part of being hospitable. And as always if you have questions, ask your wedding planner! We're always happy to help iron out these all-important little details.