1. TIMING IS EVERYTHING:
Your timeline is more than just "ceremony at 4pm, dinner at 5:30pm." Your timeline should list the times that each vendor arrives on site for setup, when their contract for the night is over. It should also list the times that each space needs to be ready for photos, and when YOU need to be dressed and ready for photos. It should encompass all the food service "ready" times and also all the activities that you have planned: speeches, cake cutting, garter toss, etc. Once you have all of these items listed on a timeline, you can visualize how these times either work or don't. You can see "oh crap, my cake person is coming at 4:00pm, but the florist leaves at 3:00pm. . .so I'd better make arrangements to have someone else put the floral arrangements on top of the cake!" Once that timeline is down on paper, think about whether it makes sense or not, and then make the necessary adjustments to make it flow. I will let you in on a little secret - the only time on the timeline that REALLY matters is the dinner time. Who cares if you start your ceremony 15 minutes late? As long as hot food is hot and cold food is cold, your guests will never know that you're running behind. A timeline is helpful for organizing, but on the day of, your vendors will treat your timeline as a flow for the day - using it to formulate the order of events.
2. WRITE IT DOWN:
I create what's called a "Banquet Event Order" for every event I put on. After working as a Director of Catering in the hospitality industry, it's just something that's ingrained in me. A "BEO" is like the bible for that day. It lists setup notes, power needs, timelines, food & beverage orders, contact information, and more. And it details all that information for each part of the wedding: Ceremony, Cocktail Hour, Reception, Late Night, etc. It's all on one document, and is typically about 5 pages long. I sit down and I think of each part of each event as if I'm in the room, walking around. Close your eyes and think: what tables do I need? What decor is going in there? Are there any signs I need to put out? If I'm serving food, which utensils will I need? And so on, and so forth. This document contains the written instructions for setting up your wedding day. I send this out to vendors about 2 weeks before the wedding day, so they can make edits, and typically the edits they make are things can potentially could have caused a stressor on a wedding day. Therefore, this document is KEY to a wedding's success. Yeah, taking a few hours to write this all down is a major pain in the butt, but I promise it's worth it!
3. MAP IT OUT:
I create maps for ALL aspects of a wedding day. I frequently take Google Maps and screenshot the area, and mark where the cocktail hour, ceremony & reception will take place. This helps make sure vendors drop rental items in the right spot, so you don't have to lug 200 chairs to a completely different location :) I also make layout maps of the ceremony, cocktail hour, and reception spaces. It's important to make these to scale, so you know that all your tables & chairs will fit in the space! It also helps you visualize the flow through buffet lines, and avoid bottlenecks in service.
4. SKETCH IT:
I'm a visual person, so I draw out a lot of a wedding's elements. I sketch how the tables will look with their chairs & linens, what centerpieces will look like, and any silverware or glassware on the tables. I also sketch out each place setting (how I want the forks, knives, spoons, plates, napkins, glassware set out at each place setting. That visual image makes sure that what I wrote on the BEO is actually what I want! Just a "double check" of sorts.
5. MAKE NOTES OF WHAT HAPPENS DURING TRANSITION TIMES:
So there's this time between ceremony & cocktail hour and between cocktail hour & reception where a lot of behind the scenes things take place. During the first transition period, I'm often carting chairs from the ceremony to the reception tent (if my client didn't want to order a second set of chairs). And sometimes large floral arrangements get repurposed from ceremony to reception. And during the reception, it's smart to lock up the gifts. Sometimes an entire bar needs to be moved from cocktail hour to the reception. What I'm saying is, think about what happens during these transition periods, and assign people to each task. That ensures it gets handled quickly, and no one feels like you were ill prepared. People don't mind helping out at weddings, but it's a lot better if you plan for their help and they're anticipating it.
6. INVENTORY EVERYTHING:
After my BEO is done, I can literally run through it and make a checklist of every single item that needs to be brought to the wedding - from flowers, to signs, to silverware, to clothing. I make this document just because I'm responsible for every last element of the wedding day, and I don't want to forget anything when I'm on top of a mountain with no cell service! The inventory should list the item(s) name, a quantity, a purpose (like cake table, or ceremony), and most importantly, WHO is bringing the item! Once you've made this list, run back through all your rental orders and contracts with vendors, and make sure what you need is what you've put on hold. Even as a professional event planner, it's this document that has saved my butt time and time again. It not only tells me what to pack up after a wedding is over, but it helps me to rent the proper quantities of everything I need to pull off that dream event.
If you've asked friends or family to help out on the wedding day, make it clear what their jobs are, and when they need to be ready. For your bridesmaids, have a clear agenda for the wedding day, like "you're free in the morning until 10am, and that's when we start hair & makeup! Please bring X items with you, as we'll be leaving directly from here to the ceremony. And you'll need to be in your dress and ready by 2pm, for photos." This clear communication keeps bridesmaids (and groomsmen) from wandering off or being late to any festivities.
8. MAKE A RAIN PLAN:
If you don't make a rain plan, it will rain on your wedding day. If you DO make a rain plan, make it a strong enough plan that you know what time you'll need to make a decision by, and what that alternate plan is. No one WANTS to have to use their rain plan, but if you have one, it's far less stressful than if you didn't make one!
9. SONGS, FESTIVITIES & MORE:
Make sure you detail out your ceremony - which songs you want to play, what order people are walking in, how they're standing up at the front, etc. What activities will you have during the ceremony? A sand ceremony? A special prayer or speech? Don't just wing it - things run much smoother if you can practice a set plan. Same goes for the reception - if you're having toasts, make sure to list the order in which they'll take place. And list the songs you want for first dances, etc. Think of your wedding day as a screenplay. You need to know whose part is whose, and what they'll be doing. If you approach things this way, it will run a lot smoother and your guests will appreciate it!
10. DO NOT FORGET CLEAN UP:
At the end of the event, communication is key too. I also see it time and time again that Uncle Joe decides that it's late (it's 9:30PM), and he's ready to leave. So he starts cleaning up centerpieces, removing linens, and stacking chairs while all the guests are on the dance floor. I don't know about you, but when I'm a guest at a wedding, and I come back and my table is cleaned up, without a linen, I feel like the party is over. I hate that. As a planner, I stop those folks and explain that clean up is my job! If you have assigned someone to this task, make sure you don't ask someone who will want to start cleaning up well before the festivities have wound down. And also make sure that those who clean up know what their jobs are. If your cousin cleans up the cake table, and just folds cake crumbs and icing in the bag with the linen, YOU are the one who will be penalized for the mold that will surely grow in the next 2 days before the vendor washes them. And it would be a shame if your friends threw out all the flowers from the centerpieces, if you'd made alternate arrangements for them. So always assign responsible people to your cleanup duties.