How to Keep Your Guests Happy

Don't let it come to this.
Illustration by Maurice Vellekoop

1. Think about other people’s schedules
Run possible dates past people of varying interests and backgrounds to make sure you’re not oblivious to something important. For example: Inadvertently choose Yom Kippur or the day of the Michigan–Ohio State game, and your fiancé’s Kalamazoo-based, University of Michigan–loving Jewish contingent may never forgive you. Picking a summer weekend is usually a good idea, but you still might run up against some long-planned beach-house-rental situations. If you do, don’t be resentful. Other people have lives, too. Avoid parades, marathons, or barbecue festivals so you don’t get engulfed in the nightmarish traffic they generate. Finally, if you’re a scuba enthusiast holding a novelty wedding underwater, don’t get married during Shark Week.

2. Don’t confuse your guests, part one
When directing people from the ceremony to the reception, treat everyone as irresponsible children, especially the twentysomething men, who are all but guaranteed to have barely glanced at the invitation before losing it or using it as a scorecard in an improvised beer-drinking competition. Avoid all problems by hiring a fleet of vehicles to bus everyone around. If that’s too expensive, have the employees at the hotel where your guests are staying hand out time-date-direction cards at check-in.

3. Limit lag time between events
Given the amount of sanctioned boozing that’s already built into the program, freelance drinking will probably have a deleterious effect on health and good cheer somewhere down the line. Schedule a long gap between the ceremony and cocktail hour, and guests will fill the downtime with alcohol. By 8 p.m. they’ll be yelling, using your centerpieces as props during incoherent toasts about things that happened in college, and falling asleep on the banquettes.

4. Don’t confuse your guests, part two
A multi-location reception with a choppy cocktails-to-dinner-to-dancing-party flow doesn’t always work well. When everything is held in more or less the same place, social entrepreneurs can move to and fro, fluidly creating party capital. (If you’re set on the multi-venue idea, make sure the location-to-location movements are announced subtly by servers and bar staff, not by an overly enthusiastic D.J. or by the ringing of a loud dinner bell.

5. Keep self-indulgence in its place
Limit toasting to the best man, maid of honor, and Dad. There’s nothing wrong with sharing obscure and/or borderline-inappropriate stories about the bride and groom, but such narratives are better suited for the rehearsal dinner. Do put narcissism to productive use by serving a signature drink—one of those concoctions involving three types of bourbon, premium ginger ale, and tangerine zest imported from an exotic country. Consider personalizing your drinks-of-honor. If your first names are Marge and Jim, serve a “Marge-arita” and a “Jim-and-tonic.” If your first name is “Bucket of Everclear,” it might be best to bypass this idea.

6. Don’t overthink dinner match-ups
While it’s true that random conversations between drunk twentysomethings and drunk seventysomethings are a feature of any quality reception, they’re better left to develop organically. Just seat everyone with the people you know they like, and make sure exes aren’t in each other’s field of vision.

7. Keep the bar stocked, free, and open for hours
Overstaff the bar so no one’s waiting in line, and keep it open during dinner to comfort anyone who still ends up feeling marooned. If 1 a.m. rolls around and the only way you can come up with the money to keep the bartenders from leaving is selling your car for $500 to “One-Eyed Larry,” the guy who’s been hanging around the parking lot asking people for cigarettes—do it.

8. Don’t let the D.J. put it on autopilot
During pre-wedding meetings, tell the D.J. to keep the between-song banter to zero. Submit adamant please-play and do-not-play lists, and anticipate the end of the night, when the older, married crowd goes home and the singles get drunker, dance rowdier, make out, and need more really fun music for a second wind.

9. Reject the oppressive ways of the past
Do you think Spartacus would have let his wedding include an awkward bouquet toss or conga line, just because it’s the way things always were? No way!

How to Keep Your Guests Happy