When it comes to priorities for your wedding, guest experience should rank very high. If it doesn’t, Annie Lee, wedding planner and founder of Plannie.com, says an elopement could be a better alternative for you; after all, ensuring your guests are taken care of might mean some of your own preferences have to take a back seat, and that's not always the right solution for every couple. In fact, experts agree that finding the sweet spot that keeps guests happy while not compromising on the couples’ vision can be a tough balance to strike. And though it's impossible to ensure everyone is happy at all times—especially at a wedding—you should be to at least ensure everyone is comfortable. “Guests are the priority of your wedding in my mind,” says Fallon Carter of Fallon Carter Events. “Yes, there’s food and beverage and music and dress and décor—but what is all of that without guests? When they're happy you're happy.”
Meet the Expert
- Annie Lee is a wedding planner and founder of Plannie.com.
- Fallon Carter is the founder of the full-service wedding planning company Fallon Carter Events.
- Betsy and Elyse Dawn are the co-founders of The Wedding Planning Guide.
If taking care of your guests is a top priority, Carter says to ask yourself, “How can I be hospitable to every guest that's walking through the door? Try to understand the experience from start to finish. From the save-the-date to the transportation, where are the touch points where you can sprinkle in love, hospitality, and a little surprise and delight?”
Ahead, see 15 ways—both big and small—that you can prioritize your guests throughout your wedding journey.
Select a Convenient Date and Time
Choosing the date and time of your wedding is pretty much the first step in planning, and it’s one of your earliest opportunities to prioritize your guests. As soon as you have the date nailed down, Carter says to get those save-the-date cards in the mail. The more time guests have to plan, the better. She also advises laying out expectations early: Will this be a full-weekend of events or just one day? If it’s a weekday wedding, will guests have to take time off work? Lee suggests a later start time if possible for Friday weddings so that guests aren’t rushing to get ready and then getting stuck in rush hour traffic. As for dates, think about the pros and cons of a holiday weekend wedding. Another detail to note is big events on the same day as your wedding. “If you're getting married in a bigger city, try to avoid days of big festivals or Taylor Swift's next tour, if possible!” says Betsy Dawn of The Wedding Planning Guide.
For destination weddings, Lee suggests thinking about peak and off-peak seasons and how that will impact the cost of travel. Of course, you don’t want to be in the Dominican Republic during hurricane season, but it's likely best to avoid spring break week, as well.
Consider Religious Dates
In the same vein as time and date, Lee reminds couples to be mindful of different religious calendars. Avoid hosting a wedding on the high holidays of major religions, especially if you know you have guests who observe them.
Have Good Communication
Planners agree that one of the simplest ways you can show your guests courtesy is to simply communicate with them so that they have enough time to make arrangements for travel or time off work, to save up money if they need to, and to choose an outfit. For a local wedding, a save-the-date followed by an invitation and a website link should suffice. After all, you don’t want to overdo it, planners warn. “Do not send a monthly newsletter. Your guests love you but no one wants a play by play account of your wedding planning progress,” says Lee.
Load your website with all the information your guests will need to know. “Be sure to have that created early and include the link on your save-the-dates and invitations. Include tips like anticipated heavy traffic, long walks, or a reminder that guests will walk through grass,” suggests Betsy Dawn. If there are any last-minute changes that arise, consider a social media post and a text out to family and friends so they can spread the word.
For a destination wedding, a little more communication will be necessary, and Carter even suggests putting guests in touch with a travel concierge who can answer questions for them throughout planning and booking. “We like to send an email out to guests six months before an international destination wedding to make sure everyone checks to see that their passports will not expire and that they have four pages empty. It's a requirement and passport renewals take time,” shares Lee. “We have had heartbreaking moments where guests were denied at the airport, so now we do it as a precautionary PSA.”
Arrange Airport Transportation
If some or all of your guests will be flying to your wedding destination, it's an extremely kind gesture to arrange airport transportation, says Carter. Many hotels offer free airport shuttles that you can organize for your guests. If paid transportation is a necessity and you don’t want to foot the bill, at minimum provide links to reputable ones for your guests—especially in a foreign country. “When they walk out [of the airport] and see their name, they are immediately put at ease knowing they are in the right place,” Carter says. “Traveling itself is so stressful…someone should welcome them, put them on a bus, and give them water and a towel.”
Provide Ceremony and Reception Transportation
“Think about any space that has long walks from parking. We have had guests with this situation who hired pedi-cabs for guests; that was a great solution,” shares Betsy Dawn. Buses, golf carts, and trolleys are all great options for getting guests from point A to point B on your wedding day. What you don’t want to ever do is leave guests in a situation where they are forced to walk a long distance in uncomfortable shoes. And don’t forget that some people, like those who are older or have different abilities, may not be able to walk far. (If you are having a unique wedding that requires some physical activity, like one at a National Park, that should be clearly communicated from the beginning.)
“If your ceremony and reception are in two separate places, keep them close together,” adds Elyse Dawn, also of The Wedding Planning Guide. “Anything over a 20 min drive is not just a hassle for guests, but for you, too.”
Help With Temperature Control
If there’s one thing you absolutely can’t control on your wedding day, it’s the weather—but you can prepare for it. If you're having an outdoor ceremony or reception, planners agree that it’s critical to make arrangements for all kinds of weather. “The physical discomfort of being too hot, too cold, wet, or windy is the worst situation you can put your guests in! At the core, it's like not taking care of your guests’ safety,” says Lee.
Some thoughtful things to have ready for guests include parasols and sunglasses for summer weddings, heel protectors for grassy areas, and blankets or space heaters in the fall or winter. You should also be prepared with heaters or fans for a tent and air conditioning for an indoor summer wedding. And don’t seat your guests in direct sunlight in the summer without some sort of shade maker.
Plan for Rain
Perhaps the biggest enemy of an outdoor wedding is precipitation. “If it's raining, even a little, enact your rain plan,” says Betsy Dawn. As heartbreaking as it may be to not have the outdoor wedding of your dreams, wet guests do not typically make for happy guests, so erect the tent or move indoors! Betsy Dawn also suggests having umbrellas handy for a tent wedding as guests will have to walk outside to get to the restrooms or back to their cars. Speaking of tents in the rain, “only do a tent in an area with really really good drainage,” she warns. “We've seen weddings with puddles throughout the tent or super soft ground from rain leading up to the wedding, not necessarily from rain that day. It just turns grassy areas to mud when they are walked on.”
Personalize Favors and Amenities
As far as favors for your guests go, Carter says ditch the tchotchkes. A handwritten letter paired with a sweet treat is her go-to gift. If your guest list is too large to do that, consider another simple yet personalized option like a small bottle of champagne or their favorite beverage with their name on it—something showing “they’re not just one of many,” she says.
Welcome bags at the hotel, amenities like first-aid and sewing kits in the restrooms, a basket of slippers or flip flops by the dance floor, and blankets are some other examples of details that show you’re thinking about your guests’ comfort.
Consider Dietary Restrictions
The term "wedding meal" may conjure up visions of classic chicken, beef, or fish options, but venues and caterers have really upped the ante on wedding cuisine these days. So, there is no reason not to offer a delicious vegetarian, vegan, or gluten-free meal option. Carter says that’s very important in making all your guests feel included. “The last thing, as a vegan, you want is a salad when everyone has sirloin and potatoes,” she says. Carter also advises that the couple taste test every meal they plan to serve. “Taste the vegan meal. If you don't like it, they, won’t either.”
Provide Enough Food and Drink
Not only should you have a variety of food available, but you should also have enough food available. “Leaving guests hungry or thirsty is not a sign of a good host,” says Lee. Make sure there is access to water at all times and also that the bar is sufficiently stocked all night. Don’t skimp on appetizers at the cocktail hour, and Betsy Dawn reminds that late-night snacks are always a hit.
Create an Inclusive Space
There are all kinds of ways you can make sure your space is ADA (Adults with Disabilities Act) compliant and accessible for people of all abilities. One simple way to do this is to make sure you have enough seating throughout the event. Planners note that while cocktail hour is usually a standing event, you should think of putting out some chairs or seating areas for those who cannot stand for long periods of time or so that guests in wheelchairs can easily converse with others. It’s also a good idea to have seating near the dance floor so that anyone who can’t be out there cutting a rug can still feel like they are a part of it all.
Make the Event Parent-Friendly
Think about parents when planning your wedding. If children are not invited, Carter recommends having a babysitter available at your hotel room block for anyone who needed to travel with little ones; if they are invited, on-site offerings that will give adults a break are always thoughtful. Last but not least, a nursing space is a thoughtful touch if you know you have new moms coming.
Plan Activities at a Destination Wedding
“I love destinations off the beaten path…you can offer interesting experiences,” says Carter. “Lean into it.” What she means is, if you’re inviting your guests to travel to a different country for a few days or longer, don’t just plan the wedding day. Use your website to get guests excited about new cultural experiences and fun excursions they can do while they’re there. After all, a destination wedding also serves as a vacation for guests. Organize a tour or a boat ride, go enjoy some traditional music, or meet at authentic restaurants for meals.
Provide a Clear Seating Chart
Some people don’t believe in seating charts, but planners do. From a practical standpoint, Betsy Dawn says a good seating chart and table placement allows for good flow in a space, and Carter adds that it can put guests at ease. “I like to know that you thought of where you want me to sit and who you want me to sit with,” she says, adding that putting thought into the seating can really enhance the guest experience. For example, seat a shy introvert with an extrovert so they don’t have to be the one starting the conversation; place groups of friends near each other, and avoid awkward family dynamics.
Bring in Entertainment
At a wedding, your guests shouldn’t be too hot, too cold, hungry, thirsty, or bored. “Do not let the event drag,” says Lee. “I try to keep something happening every 30 minutes and never do a cocktail hour longer than an hour. It's a celebration, it should be fun!” Betsy Dawn adds that keeping the timeline of the wedding tight will ensure there are not prolonged chunks of time when nothing is happening. Try not to start the ceremony late, make sure music flows well from the cocktail hour into the reception, and time the dance music to start as soon as dinner is over, or even towards the end of it.