MISTAKE 1: MAKING PLANS BEFORE SETTING A BUDGET
Picking a dress or wedding venue prior to establishing financial parameters is a lot like shopping without glancing at price tags and then strolling up to check out with your fingers crossed. You risk falling for a gown or location that breaks your heart when you realize that to afford it, you'd have to cut your guest list in half—or cancel the honeymoon. "The three initial hurdles are budget, guest list, and venue, and they should be tackled in that order," says planner Lynn Easton of Easton Events in South Carolina and Virginia. "Your budget defines your options and drives your decisions." While drawing one up, "include charges for overtime, gratuities, and car services from the start," advises New York City planner Marcy Blum. "By doing so, you avoid throwing money at things you weren’t prepared for."
MISTAKE 2: NOT HAVING A RAIN PLAN
If yours is an outdoor event, rain on your wedding day isn't just ironic, it's a game-changer. Too many people are tempted to just hope it won’t happen, which is the planning equivalent of sticking your fingers in your ears and yelling, "I can't hear you, Rain!" Bicoastal planner Lyndsey Hamilton of Lyndsey Hamilton Events says, "People don't want to put the deposits down for tents, umbrellas, and golf carts they might not need—you pay 50 percent and lose it if you don't use them. But if you don't book them early on and are marrying during peak wedding season, tents might not be available when the weather starts to look iffy." Meet with the tent company six to nine months ahead and think of the deposits as an investment in your peace of mind. "We believe that if you have a good Plan B, it won't rain, but if you haven't considered 'what if,' it will undoubtedly pour," says contributing editor David Stark of David Stark Design and Production in New York City.
MISTAKE 3: UNDERESTIMATING THE COST OF OUTDOOR AFFAIRS
Just because the setting may be breezy doesn't mean the planning is going to be easy. "With alfresco affairs, people think we're just putting a tent in a field, and it’s going to be beautiful," says Hamilton. "They don't realize all the logistics necessary for a tented event to go off without a hitch." Bear in mind you'll need to rent bathrooms, kitchen facilities, lighting, fans or heaters, and generators.
MISTAKE 4: PLANNING A TOO-LONG PARTY
It's the event of your lifetime, but it shouldn't feel like it lasted a lifetime. "It's tempting to get so excited that you map out a marathon celebration, with pre-vow drinks, a lengthy ceremony, another cocktail hour, a multi-course dinner, three hours of dancing, an after-party, and more," says planner Calder Clark, owner of Calder Clark in Charleston, South Carolina. "But industry insiders agree that a five-hour reception is the tip-top of what people can enjoy and still exit laughing. The evening should have a natural end." It should also have a comfortable beginning: Be sure to supply chairs so attendees can sit for the vows (a five-minute ceremony becomes a painful 20-minute wait if you run late).
You want your wedding to feel chic and elegant, not "crowded elevator." "Being cramped makes meal service and dancing difficult, and it really inhibits the guest experience," says Hamilton. Ask your venue how many attendees can comfortably fit, then reduce that by 10 percent, she suggests: "You don't want to get to the max of what your site can accommodate."
MISTAKE 7: NOT SUPPLYING ENOUGH INFORMATION
No one likes feeling confused, and your guests won't know the wedding locale the way you do. Offer suggestions of things to do and information on getting around, "and if you're having a destination event or weekend-long celebration, hand out itineraries telling everyone where they need to be and when," says Hamilton. "That way, the buses won't be late to the vows because no one knew when or where they needed to be picked up." Speaking of buses, give the drivers their fair share of need-to-know info too. "I can't tell you how many times I've told a transportation company what the address is, and they still get lost," adds Hamilton. "Now we print out directions describing exactly the way we want them to go so we can estimate how long it will take to move guests from place to place."
MISTAKE 13: MAKING IT AN OPEN-MIC NIGHT
Heartfelt toasts can be the highlight of a reception, but too many can quickly lead to wide-spread boredom. "Oftentimes, speakers intend to speak only for a few moments, but once onstage their speeches can last quite a while. We're looking at you, fathers of the bride," says Robin Baab of GATHER Events in Los Angeles. She recommends keeping control of your event by limiting toasts to the host, maid of honor, and best man, staggering toasts throughout dinner, and having a quick chat with your DJ or band leader to avoid any surprises.