Couples who meticulously plan every aspect of their wedding can still have trouble predicting: Will the guests have fun?
That question becomes even harder to answer when guests don’t know each other. A generation ago, couples from the same town or right out of college were more likely to have a cohesive group of shared friends. Today, many couples are inviting a broad mix of family and friends from different parts of their lives and different parts of the world.
How do you ensure that a roomful of people who haven’t met will mingle and have a good time together?
Deborah Moody, a California-based wedding planner, says guests will look for ways to make conversation if you help them along. An easy first step: “Make the location interesting.”
An unusual setting can be an instant conversation starter. And within your venue, consider creating spaces specifically to help guests socialize.
“No one is going to someone else’s table uninvited,” even if they’d like to strike up a conversation, says Natasha Brody, director of events at Hello Productions in Pittsburgh. She suggests creating a lounge area with sofas and love seats, so people can sit down away from their tables.
“It brings a different level of design” to the reception area, she says, and lets people sit down casually and talk.
A wedding website or Facebook group is a great way to introduce guests to each other. Invite them to post photos and information about how they know the bride and groom.
To take those pre-wedding introductions further, a service called Guesterly will create photo books of your guests with short bios.
“Many times, we just want a reason to start a conversation — or to continue one the next day,” says Rachel Hofstetter, Guesterly’s founder, who first created a photo book before her own wedding.
Or plan a group event to take place right before the wedding. Make sure it goes beyond a standard welcome reception at a hotel bar or restaurant; when Brody plans summer weddings, she often suggests a group outing to a Pittsburgh Pirates baseball game on the Thursday or Friday night before the wedding. Group tickets are inexpensive and guests can pay for their own refreshments. The casual, informal “beer and hotdogs” atmosphere makes guests comfortable, so “everyone’s more prone to chat it up together,” she says.
If your budget for events is limited, Brody suggests spending on this sort of pre-wedding event rather than a post-wedding Sunday brunch.
Things to talk about
At the reception, something as simple as a “signature cocktail” can help guests find an initial topic for conversation, says Moody.
And extended family members who might not have met would probably love to talk if someone introduces them. “Relatives view weddings as a family reunion, so they have family stories and memories to keep the conversation going,” Moody says. “If you don’t know your relatives, this becomes a perfect time to meet them.”
Hofstetter agrees: She says it’s worth planning ahead to make sure introductions take place, and even appointing “ambassadors” to introduce people.
Out of their seats
“Forcing people to sit at tables with strangers does not always work well,” Moody says. “It is not that people do not engage. It is more that they tend to stick to their comfort zone.”
So give them something to see and do out of their seats: Picture boards, video montages, scrapbooks or a photo booth can “help to stimulate conversation and laughter,” she says. This works with food,too: Food trucks and dessert tables serving fun things like candy bars help people mingle.
To encourage guests to circulate and talk at a wedding in the Pittsburgh suburb of Fox Chapel, Brody’s company created an elegant cigar and whiskey bar that opened on an outdoor patio after dinner had been served.
Even if something like that is an added expense, it could be worth splurging, and saving money elsewhere. Guests might not remember your flowers or linens, Brody says, but they will remember meeting people and having fun socializing.
Most important, Moody says, is the couple at the heart of the wedding: “If the bride and groom are having fun and enjoying themselves, the guests will too. They take their cue from you!”
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