News & Politics

How to Keep Wedding Guests Happy

It's not easy to keep wedding guests happy. Here's how to avoid complaints.

Months of preparation go into a wedding. Couples do everything they can to ensure that the day will be perfect. But you can’t please everyone.

We asked brides and planners what Washington guests gripe about most—during and after a wedding—and how couples can avoid making those mistakes.

The music is too loud. Planner Susan B. Katz hears so many complaints about volume at weddings that a few years ago she started leaving earplugs on the table for older guests. “They love it,” she says.

Whether a couple has a band or a DJ, planners say there’s always someone who finds the music too loud, especially during a meal. “It’s critical to have a band that can do some soft dinner music,” says Carol Marino of A Perfect Wedding in Fairfax. Smart seating arrangements can help: Couples should seat older guests away from the entertainment and any speakers.

There’s too much time between the ceremony and reception. Wedding planners suggest holding the events back-to-back. “Guests do not want to hang out for two hours, all dressed up,” says Marino. If a delay is unavoidable—maybe the church is available in the morning and the couple wants an evening reception—hosts can plan activities to fill the gap. Marino once set up a walking tour of Old Town after a ceremony held there: “It wasn’t strenuous, so people didn’t mind strolling around in their formal attire.”

For a summer wedding at a country club, planner Ayran Kanter organized a croquet match on the lawn between ceremony and reception, with lemonade and hors d’oeuvres. “We told people to take off their jackets and roll up their sleeves,” she says. “It had a real Great Gatsby feel.”

What should we do all weekend? Out-of-town guests often expect to be taken care of throughout a wedding weekend. One DC bride who created a “what to do” guide before her August 2006 wedding, with recommendations and directions, learned the hard way that she’d left out one piece of advice. “We were still getting calls from people asking where to go, what to do,” she says. “I’d recommend giving guests a phone number of someone, like a bridesmaid, as a contact.”

Mackenzie Yates, who had her reception at Georgetown’s Dumbarton House last spring, set up a Web site with information about hotels, restaurants, and activities: “It was worth the $80 for one year of site hosting—money we probably saved on invitation inserts that people would lose anyway.” Couples also set up free wedding pages on ➝

How do I get there? “If guests arrive and travel has been easy—directions are clear, parking or transportation is provided—they’re in a good mood,” says planner Jodi Moraru.

If you’re providing transportation, let guests know what time to be ready. One couple hired vans to take guests from a DC hotel to the church in Alexandria. “Everyone made it except my husband’s aunt,” the bride recalls. “Instead of hailing a cab, she called my husband and left a message in the middle of the ceremony saying, ‘Can you come pick me up?’ ”

When guests drive, they like the option of valet parking. “After a wonderful evening, you don’t want ‘That will be $15 for your car’ to be the last thing they remember,” says planner Bonnie Schwartz. If the budget won’t cover valets, some couples work out a discounted rate. At a recent wedding at Lansdowne Resort near Leesburg, the hosts gave guests pouches with money tucked inside to cover tolls.

Why can’t I bring a date? To keep costs down, some couples have a “no ring, no bring” policy—which guests don’t always like. “We kept to fairly strict rules so we didn’t find ourselves making arbitrary decisions as to the seriousness of our friends’ relationships,” says a recent bride. “Fiancés and spouses only, except for the wedding party.” One guest told the groom he wouldn’t attend unless he could bring a date—so he received the only “and guest” invitation. He then showed up alone.

Planners say at least one person shows up with an uninvited date at almost every wedding. “They’ll come to us asking, ‘Where’s the place card for my guest?’ Usually we’ll just add an extra place setting,” says Marino. When guests are invited alone but RSVP for two, relatives of the couple often contact the guest to explain the misunderstanding—or ask a planner to make that phone call for them.

We have to pay for our drinks? Most couples are looking for ways to cut costs, but a cash bar probably isn’t the answer. “I think it’s tacky,” says Katz. “You’re inviting people to be your guest; food and drink should be paid for.” A good alternative? Forgo the high cost of liquor by serving only beer and wine—and perhaps one signature drink chosen by the couple.

I can’t see the people I’m sitting with. Large table centerpieces are a potential problem that may go unnoticed until everyone is seated. “I’ve seen guests actually remove the centerpiece during dinner and set it on the floor,” says Marino. She advises couples to choose low floral arrangements or something high with a thin stem so that large blooms are above eye level. Couples can also ask the florist to bring a centerpiece prototype to the tasting to make sure it doesn’t obstruct views.

The reception ends too late. Not every guest wants to party all night. No need to shorten the party, planners say; just cut the cake earlier. “People want to stay to see the cake-cutting but don’t want to wait until midnight,” says Moraru. If a reception starts at 8, dinner probably won’t be served until after 9. Couples can cut the cake right after the meal, kiss Grandma goodnight, and get on with the dancing.