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Three musts if you want happy wedding guests

"Today I shall behave, as if this is the day I will be remembered."

-Dr. Seuss

There are very few times in your life when all (or most) of your family and friends come together to celebrate you. Your wedding day puts you in the spotlight like nothing else. Making sure your guests have a fabulous time is one of the best ways to let them how much you appreciate them. After all, they've traveled, invested in a wedding gift, given up football games and gotten all dressed up—just for you!

Givem' Shelter

Outdoor weddings can be spectacular. No doubt, if you're thinking about pledging your love under the canopy of an open sky, you've already seen oodles of breathtaking photos. What you probably haven't seen was the same wedding under the canopy of a blazing hot sun, or worse, a torrential downpour. As a wedding photographer, I've seen unpleasant weather turn perfection into misery and chaos more times than I care to remember. And in every one of those cases, the intended would gladly pay the price of a tent rental to save the day, but it's too late.

I strongly urge all my brides to take a few moments and really imagine how a heavy rain or unusually hot day will affect their wedding guests. Don't just assume you'll all huddle under the closest picnic shelter as a worst case scenario, put yourself and all your guests in the worst case scenario. And then think of all the money you're spending on flowers, food, music, dresses, photography and decorations. How magical does everything look under that shelter? How comfortable is everyone?

So why pay for something you probably won't need? Think of it as insurance. You hope you won't need it, but if you do, you're really glad you have it. And another perk, you'll be able to sleep on the days leading up to your wedding because the weather channel won't be in your radar. Here's some ideas to make it more affordable.

wedding tent

Buy a couple simple tents and then sell them on ebay or Craig's list after the wedding. I have seen this work extremely well. A friend of mine purchased two tents from Lowe's. The total cost was around $1,400. They added string lights and tulle and it was beautiful! And Lowe's has a 90 day return policy, so if it turns out you don't need them, they go right back to the store unopened! If you do use them, you should be able to get at least half you money back when you sell them. Make sure you assign a couple of people you trust to set them up, you don't want to be worried about setting up a tent the day before your wedding.

A refreshed guest is a happy guest

Couples often assume that since their ceremony is only 30 minutes long, there's no need to provide refreshments before the wedding. What they don't realize is that 30 minutes is really more like a couple hours to your guest. When you add in travel time, getting to the venue a half hour before the ceremony starts and then sitting through the inevitable 10 to 30 minute delay, you're close to 2 hours. Now imagine those guests spending much of that time out in the hot sun.

refreshments at a wedding in Southern Pines, NC

You don't have to offer pâté and caviar, but there should always be cold water available. If you're outdoors, it's easy to set out buckets of ice with bottled water and sodas or juice. If you're in a more formal locations, like a church or small indoor venue, set up a refreshment table close to the entrance. A table of beverage dispensers can be quite striking.

A reception to remember

A first look for a wedding in Raleigh, NC

One of the most common complaints from wedding guests is having to wait seemingly forever while the posed photos are taken after the ceremony. If you a have a large family, this can take upwards of two hours. Remember, your guests may already have been waiting two hours, and now they have to wait another two hours? Yikes! Don't panic! Your mother's still going to get that extended family photo of aunts, uncles and twenty three cousins.

The first look, it's gaining popularity for two reasons. One, it's difficult for most of us to completely relax and take in all the emotions of a special moment when half the people we know are staring at us. But it's also a fantastic way to speed up the portrait session! Don't forget, no one eats until the new couple has been served.

Speaking of which, remember those buckets of water and soda? Keep them full and add some food. It doesn't need to be fancy. Cubes of cheese and slices of baguette will look like a feast to a mom with a hungry toddler. By providing a little food during the transition between the ceremony and reception, it takes the pressure off the bride and groom. They can run off and take a breather before the mobs of friends and loved ones descend with all their kisses and congratulations.

Don't skimp on the DJ

Wedding reception dancers

This may be obvious to many, but the DJ has a lot more power than you may think. There's an art to getting people out of their seats and on to the dance floor. A good DJ will not only get them dancing, he/she will play music that makes them feel like they're having the time of their life! And it's not as easy as it looks. I know this, because I've seen it go wrong way too many times. Nothing kills a mood like a DJ who's no good at reading the crowd. The wrong song at the wrong time and everyone goes back to their tables, suddenly realizing how tired they are and how they really should be going because they have so much to do tomorrow.

With the right DJ, time will fly by because everyone is engaged. A good DJ will know how to make the most of the bouquet tosses and cake cuttings, making the guests feel like they're at the event of a lifetime. Unfortunately, I've also seen some stumble through a simple announcement so badly that the groom had to grab the mike himself and invite his new father-in-law to dance with his new bride. Don't skimp on the DJ.

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