The Wedding Guest Experience


Welcoming Guests between the Ceremony and Reception

Getting married? Planning your wedding? Inviting your guests?

What will your day be like for everyone who attends? Will your guests have a fun filled, relaxing wedding that they talk about for years to come? Will you create a wonderful, joyful moment for all your beloved family and friends who have traveled to celebrate your declaration of love and commitment? What can you do to make that happen?

There is a lot of information out there on how to plan a wedding, on what will make you happy on your wedding day but this blog is a little bit different.

Each week, I will be looking at how guests experience a wedding journey including the big day itself. What is a wedding like for a guest? Which moments have been the best or worst for wedding guests? And what can you do to help plan a day that is a magnificent experience for each of your guests?

I’ll be sharing stories about the worst and best wedding guest experiences and giving you insights and tips about how to make your wedding one that your guests will enjoy and remember.

What to do after the ceremony has finished

This week I’m talking about the wedding celebration itself from after the ceremony until the end of the meal, and how guests experience this time. I won’t be talking about the journey to the ceremony as that will be featured in next week’s blog – get me to the wedding on time. I will be starting with the ceremony.

So, as a guest, you are sitting at the ceremony and the couple have said their vows. You shake their hand and say congratulations. Now, what follows?

There is often a time between the ceremony and reception where you, as a guest, are left to your own devices. The reason for this gap is usually because the couple are having their wedding photos taken. The actual gap in time varies from wedding to wedding as it often depends on the amount of photos taken and the location of the shoots.

There are lots of lovely things that you can plan for your guests to ensure that they enjoy this time.

One of my personal favourite wedding guest memories was in Galway. I attended a wedding there over a decade ago. After a drive from the ceremony to the reception, we were all hungry and eager to catch up with old friends.

Upon entering the airy, light-filled, glittering reception of the wedding hotel, we were each greeted with an early wedding favour, a biscuit and a glass of sparkling wine. Every single guest was welcomed individually and given a few key pieces of information about the venue layout and what would be happening next. The atmosphere was uplifting and calm with soft music playing in the background. The bar also provided sandwiches for anyone who wished to buy a snack before the main meal.

Waiting for the wedding meal

The ideal reception, in my mind, would be as follows – a well documented, easy to navigate journey from the ceremony to the reception. A warm greeting, some information on the reception area itself as well as what is to come. A glass of wine, a beer or a soft drink is an extra little treat but tea and coffee is also nice, especially on a cold day. A small snack such as a canape of sweet treats or savory snacks goes a long way and can help if there is a long wait between the start of the ceremony and when the meal is served.

Providing food options, even at the guests’ own expense, helps to reduce the chances of guests getting drunk on an empty stomach early in the day and can ease crankiness and tiredness. Providing a smile and welcome along with a few little treats will ease the anxiety that many guests feel at the start of the reception and help them feel welcome and wanted.

If you want to go a step further, games can be an added joy for your guests. The possibilities are endless with individual games, family fun and even competitions and challenges that all the guests can take part in.

If the weather permits and your venue has an outdoor area, why not opt for lawn games like giant chess, hoop toss or Jenga.

With indoor games, the options are vast. You could have cards, quizzes, word searches, board games, wheel of fun and much more.

A treasure hunt is a clever to keep children entertained

For weddings which include children, family fun games such as treasure hunts can really make their day. Remember that guests with children may find it extra difficult to keep them entertained during the wait between the ceremony and reception.

Aside from games, there are tons of options when it comes to guest entertainment. You could have live music or even recorded tunes for your guests to enjoy. Song requests could be collected while sending out your invitations. You could also have photo booths, magicians, illusionists, artists, poets and other performers to entertain your guests.

But what if your budget does not stretch to these events or you don’t feel that you guests would enjoy games?

Well, the good news is that no matter what you do, the most important factor in guest contentment is information.

Even if you have nothing planned between the ceremony and reception, even if your reception has no purchasable lunch options and is far away from other eateries and even if the wait is quite long, that’s okay, it’s really okay… as long as your guests know.

Knowledge makes this part of the wedding much better. When they know what’s happening guests feel more comfortable and in control, they feel more welcomed and considered and generally less anxious or irritable.

Information also allows your guests to plan and take actions that will minimise the negative aspects of this experience for them.

For example, if you know that there will be no food until dinner and if you are also aware that the wedding venue cannot provide personal orders for lunches or sandwiches, you can go somewhere else and grab a bite to eat.

And, knowing that the reception is far from other eateries, means that you can grab that bite to eat on the way from the ceremony. This is particularly good to know if you are car pooling, a common practice at weddings.

Again, if you know that the main meal will be served after the speeches, you can more accurately guess whether you need a food break in between.

Information is key

Information also comes into play if you are having events, food, drinks and entertainment between your ceremony and reception. Because, well, you don’t want any of your guests to miss out on this because they don’t know about it!

Another useful piece of information for your guests is some details on the reception area, key places such as toilets, bar, where the meal will be served & where the welcome entertainment will be as well as practical information such as parking.

It is also good for guests to know when they will see the seating plan and where they can find this information.

My main point in talking about the time between the ceremony and reception is to keep your guests informed and beyond that, if budget and time allows, take this opportunity to provide your guests with a warm welcome as they arrive to celebrate your day.

By Laura Cavanagh