What are the most important things for wedding guests?

Your wedding should be about you and your partner, reflecting your taste, style, and personality. However, there are also going to be a whole bunch of other people who have travelled and spent money to attend your big day—your wedding guests—so it’s important to take their comfort and enjoyment into (major) consideration. Of course, trying to make 100 or more people happy is pretty much impossible. So how do you narrow down the wedding details that your guests will care about? Well, you’re in luck—we asked nearly 1,000 guests to share what they really pay attention to at weddings (and what they could care less about). You may be surprised by their responses.

When you’re planning a wedding, you are told time and time again that it’s your “special day.” and it should be “all about you.” For the most part, this is true. It’s your wedding day, and you want to make sure that you are happy with all of your choices. But while you’re busy checking off all of your must-haves, it’s important not to forget your guests — many of whom travel long distances, line up babysitters, take time off of work, and spend a lot of money to share in this momentous occasion.

Although most wedding guests really don’t notice all of the little details, there are some things they actually do care about. The following are some simple ways you can keep your guests happy and comfortable without sacrificing the wedding of your dreams.

For ages, couples have been told, “It’s your day!” and “Today is all about you!” And, while that is mostly true, you can’t forget about your guests. You want your wedding day to reflect you as a couple but also reflect you as good hosts. Let’s face it, family and friends are often travelling long distances and spending a lot of time and money to come and help you celebrate your big day. Most of your guests won’t notice all the tiny details you spent so much time stressing over, but there are some things they really do care about!

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When & Where

Whether your friends are travelling across town or the country, they want to know as much as possible about the wedding so they can take time off, arrange for travel, and possibly childcare too. With Fridays and Sundays becoming nearly as popular as Saturdays, and even some couples hosting weekday weddings, knowing dates in advance helps guests plan for their attendance.

Guests want to know where the venue (or venues) might be located to see if they need a rental car in addition to the cost of a hotel room. When setting up guest room blocks, look at several hotels at various price points, so guests have options to choose from.

Let guests know if the wedding is outdoors, on a beach, or across a rural property. Knowing what kind of shoes, attire, and even how difficult it might be to access it is a huge piece of their comfort.

Registry

We know a lot of couples who are dreading setting up a wedding registry. They might be merging two homes or already live together and don’t need much for their home. The truth is, your wedding guests often want to be able to go to a registry, preferably online, and select something they know you want. Not only does this ensure you will like the gift, but it also means they can click and ship it to your home and not have to schlep it across the country to the wedding.

The other common request is to pick a nice mix of items on a registry. Your friends may want to go in on a gift with other people, so having an array of larger, more expensive gifts along with several smaller, more affordable gifts gives guests plenty of choices.

Timing

Having your wedding ceremony earlier in the day may leave a considerable gap before an evening wedding reception. If an early ceremony time is all that’s available, you might consider hosting a brunch reception to follow. Another option is to organize an activity, like a city tour or hospitality suite to fill the afternoon for many of your out of town guests. The reality is that people may blow off the wedding ceremony and only come to the reception if they feel it’s too big of a gap.

Guests really do care about how on time everything happens. Starting your wedding ceremony late, or listing an earlier than expected start time to prevent any late arrivals leads to unhappy guests. Schedule extra time the morning of your wedding for hair and makeup, photos, and travel, so you stay on time.

Parking

Parking and transportation are high on the list of guests’ “need to know” comments. They will want to know if they can Uber or Lyft to the venue and back to the hotel or if they will need to rent a car ahead of time. When drinking is involved, the most significant gift you can give your family and friends is to splurge and provide complimentary transportation.

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Cocktail Hour

Timing also applies to the cocktail hour. Running on for an hour and a half really drags things out for most guests. This typically happens because your wedding photos spin out of control, so be realistic with your photographer about how much you can accomplish. Not only does a prolonged cocktail reception lead to boredom and the need to find a place to sit, but it usually means the food (planned for an hour) runs out, leaving hungry and overly intoxicated wedding guests.

Food & Drink

For most wedding receptions, the timing leads people to believe they will be fed. Investing in food for your cocktail hour is one of the biggest guest complaints. Travel, getting ready, and heading to the wedding typically doesn’t leave much time for lunch before heading to the cocktail hour.

While we see a majority of weddings moving away from cash bars to open bars, guests are still concerned about the beverage service. Many people don’t carry cash, and if the closest ATM is quite some distance away, share that information, so guests come prepared.

Seating

Open seating is gaining more popularity at wedding receptions, and it’s causing a lot of unhappiness amongst wedding guests. We’re not saying you need to assign specific seating with place cards, but escort cards or seating charts assigning guests to a particular table puts them at ease. Open seating leads to the people you love, who are some of the last entering the reception, not having seats and being scattered across the room. Trust us on this one, it’s a bad idea!

Entertainment

Wedding guests will rarely remember the finer details of your wedding and décor, but they will remember if they had a great time. Carefully selecting a great DJ or band will not go unnoticed. Everyone will remember having a packed dance floor and not wanting the night to end.

The Newlyweds

Wedding guests travel across the country for your big day because they love and care about you. They realize that there are a lot of people who want a piece of your time. Surprisingly, right near the top of the things wedding guests want is to see the couple present, smiling, and having a great time.

One of the best ideas we’ve seen is to sneak off to a private room with a table for two during the cocktail hour to enjoy your first course and some time alone. This ensures that you’ll get to eat something and capture some great intimate wedding photos. Now, while guests enjoy their first course, the two of you can make your way around to greet everyone and thank them individually for coming.

Don’t let this list overwhelm you! Just being aware your guests’ priorities will make for a much happier wedding day.

The Food

This one’s simple: Don’t let your guests go hungry. Whether you opt for passed bites, an elaborate buffet or trendy food stations, make sure your catering is delicious—and that there’s plenty of it. Same goes for dessert. Choose a wedding cake (if you’re having a wedding cake, that is) that tastes as good as it looks.

The Bar

You don’t need to have an open bar all night, but you do need to offer your guests something to drink—without making them pay. Opt for beer and wine only, just a signature drink or purely mocktails, but don’t force your guests to whip out their wallets for a cash bar.

Transportation

Stranding your guests at the hotel, ceremony or reception site is a no-no. Provide them with transportation options that suit your budget—whether it’s an Uber code that lasts all night, taxi company recommendations or a shuttle bus that runs to and from key locations. The importance of transportation cannot be stressed enough, especially if you plan to serve alcohol. (Your wedding website is the perfect place to share directions and transportation options, by the way.)

A Smooth Run of Show

Timing really is everything. Do your best at every turn to avoid the lag time when your guests could get antsy and bored. Max your ceremony at one hour (unless you’re having a longer religious ceremony that requires otherwise, of course), keep reception toasts brief, cut your first dance song to one verse and one chorus, start cocktail hour immediately following your ceremony and so on. You get the idea, right?

The Music

Bad music pretty much equals a bad party. Whether you opt for a band or a DJ, put some effort into researching, interviewing and hiring the right pros. Share a thoughtful playlist and do-not-play list, listen to their stuff (live, if you can) and go over things like how often they’ll take breaks and what songs should be played when. Trust us, and the right music will immediately elevate your reception.

Space

Too little or too much room at a wedding can make a surprisingly big difference in the overall vibe. Ever tried to dance to “Uptown Funk” on an overly crowded dance floor, or wanted to bust a move but it felt like no one was out there but you? Consider this factor early in your planning process. When calculating how much space you’ll need, talk guest list numbers and square footage with your venue site manager or tent rental company.

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Being Able to Hear Each Other

Don’t force your non-dancing guests to yell over each other. Either work out a volume control plan with your musicians or provide a separate space (maybe a comfy lounge situation nearby) where guests can enjoy each other’s company without going hoarse.

The Happy Couple

You could spend all the money in the world, hire a celebrity performer and have a 50-yard slip-and-slide—but if you and your partner are unhappy, table-bound or MIA for the night, no one will have a good time. You two, the beaming newlyweds, is the North Star of this party: If you’re relaxed, smiling and dancing, your guests will follow suit and never forget how much fun they had.

Here, we’ll delve into what wedding guests actually want, and how you can give it to them.

Your guests won’t want to travel (too) far

Yes, a wedding on a deserted island sounds pretty incredible. Still, according to our survey, 20 per cent of respondents hate when they have to travel too far or to an inconvenient location to attend a wedding.

Yes, this means that guests tend to prefer hometown weddings, but it doesn’t mean that you have to put the kibosh on that destination event you’ve been planning. However, when it comes to choosing your wedding locale, pick a place with a major airport and lots of inbound and outbound direct flights, as well as affordable and convenient accommodations. If you’re asking your guests to travel to your wedding location, that’s totally fine (and some people appreciate the excuse to take a vacation!)—just try to make it as easy as possible for them to get there.    

Your guests want to look at pretty things

All that Pinteresting you’ve been doing serves a purpose: Your guests actually do care about your wedding décor! It turns out that one-third of our survey respondents pay close attention to a wedding’s décor and 60 per cent care most about the bride’s dress during a wedding ceremony.

All this focus on décor and dresses does not mean you have to blow your budget to try to throw a royal-level event. However, we do recommend hiring experienced and creative wedding professionals to help ensure your space looks cohesive and polished. And when it comes to shopping for attire, listen to salon consultants and other experts who can steer you to a look that’s flattering, comfortable, and suits your style. If you feel fabulous and love your wedding dress, your guests are sure to follow suit!

Your guests want to eat

One of the best parts of attending a wedding can be summed up in two words: free food. This was definitely reflected in our survey, as 60 per cent of respondents said that food is among the most important details at a wedding.

Work with a reputable caterer to ensure that your food is both delicious and plentiful. And be sure to time it right: Try to start cocktail hour immediately after your ceremony, so your guests don’t have to wait too long to eat. Pay close attention to your wedding timeline—your meal should be served 30 to 45 minutes after the reception begins. Whether you choose to serve a plated, buffet-style, or family-style meal, your guests should receive their food quickly and efficiently, meaning that you have ample waitstaff and buffet stations to avoid crowding and lines.

Your guests want to be social

Weddings are fantastic opportunities for social interaction, and your guests will likely spend much of your big day reconnecting and mingling with friends and family members. However, if your guests don’t know anyone, your event will be less enjoyable. Twenty-five per cent of our respondents said that not knowing anyone else at a wedding is a major annoyance, and 19 per cent hate being seated near and having to chat with strangers.

If you’re on the fence about inviting a guest who won’t know anyone at your wedding, you might be doing them a favour by skipping the invite. However, if you must invite guests who won’t know anyone, invite them to the rehearsal dinner and introduce them to other friends or family members in advance so they’ll feel more comfortable on the big day. Also, when creating your seating chart, be mindful of seating guests who know each other together. Don’t try to “be creative” and mix up different friend groups or put all of your single guests at one table. Your guests want to sit near people they already know, please and thank you.

Your guests want to hit the dance floor

A major part of any wedding is usually dancing, so it’s no surprise that 23 per cent of our respondents said that bad music could really spoil a wedding reception. The last thing you want is an empty dance floor, and your guests definitely feel the same way.

Hire a well-regarded DJ or band to provide music during your wedding (be sure to read reviews from past clients and interview pros in person before hiring!). An experienced music pro can usually read a crowd and choose just the right songs to draw them to the dance floor. Before your wedding, talk to your DJ or bandleader in advance about the types of music you and your guests are into and any genres or songs that should go on your do-not-play list. Open communication with your music pro is key when it comes to keeping that dance floor packed.

Your guests want to feel safe

This may seem like somewhat of a head-scratcher. Why would a wedding guest feel unsafe during a wedding? According to our survey, 27 per cent of respondents said that drunk guests could ruin a wedding. More than simply annoying, drunk guests can quickly turn a romantic reception into a rowdy and chaotic rager—likely not the ambience you’re trying to create.

If you’re concerned about wasted guests spoiling your day, there are a few ways to deal with this issue. You may choose to offer a limited bar, featuring just beer, wine, and a signature cocktail or two—less booze means less opportunity to drink to excess. Trained and licensed bartenders are also a must, as they can identify guests who may have had a bit too much to drink and refuse to serve them. You might also check with your venue to see if they take any security measures. And finally, we do recommend providing transportation to and from your reception to help combat drinking and driving.

Whether your guests are locals or travelling in for your wedding, they want to know that they will have safe and convenient access to your venue. Many couples provide roundtrip shuttles from the hotel for their out-of-town guests but are sure to communicate all of the details, so no one gets left behind.

 

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