What I Wish I Knew

A bride’s guide to handling wedding-day snafus.

When a bride’s wedding is over, she emerges wiser, armed with priceless firsthand wedding-planning knowledge that she’s ready to impart to her best friend, sister or co-worker. Wedding planners also are valuable troves of information—they have seen it all, from vendors getting stuck in a parade on their way to the church, to a groom forgetting to bring his tuxedo pants.

What seems to be an accepted maxim by both brides and planners is that no matter how much planning you put into a wedding, something is bound to go wrong. Recent brides and wedding planners who have lived to tell their stories share their inside knowledge to help you handle these inevitable mishaps with grace and aplomb.

Cathy Flynn of Wilmington was trying to fit wedding planning into 12-hour days at her job, so when she found a vendor who was available for the day of her wedding, she signed on the dotted line.

Although her wedding was beautiful, she says she wishes she did more homework before choosing her vendors, and that she had hired her wedding planner, Donna Kim, owner of The Perfect Details in Concord, earlier. “She could have done the legwork for me, and given me a few options,” says Flynn. “And I would have saved a lot of money.” Instead, because Flynn had already signed contracts with her vendors, Kim had to work with what she had already chosen.

Wedding planners agree: Don’t sign any contracts until you’ve researched vendors carefully. And if you’re considering working with a wedding planner, it’s a good idea to wait until whoever you hire can help with the decision.

And make sure you clear up any concerns you may have. “Read the vendor contracts carefully,” says Fleur Pang, owner of A Warm Reception in Duxbury. “Do your homework. A good vendor isn’t offended by questions.”

When asked what she would do differently if she could go back and relive her wedding day, Beth Landy sums it up in one word: “timing.” Landy and her husband, who were married last summer at the Hotel Marlowe in Cambridge, decided to take photos before the ceremony. In the days leading up to the wedding, she says, her husband expressed little interest in photos at the wedding. When the day came, however, he took so much time taking photos with everyone that they ran over the time she had allotted for photographs—and started bumping into guests on their way to the ceremony, which Landy was hoping to avoid. Her advice to brides? “Develop a detailed photo plan, and budget more time than you think you’ll need,” she says.

Abby Gordon, a wedding planner with Hopple Popple in Newton, agrees with Landy. “Timing is always an issue,” she says. “Any kind of list that you can give your photographer ahead of time is helpful, so you can have some dialogue about how many photos are realistic.”

If your fiance is always late for the bus, the last one to the game, and 15 minutes late for a dinner reservation, you should begin making plans now to ensure he and his groomsmen arrive at the church on time. “Lying is always good,” says Kim. “Tell them that things start earlier.”
And don’t tell the wedding party to show up anytime between 11 and 12. “People will always skew later. Be very clear about what you want,” says Kim.

One obstacle to avoid on your Big Day is that one family member, guest or bridesmaid who gets lost on the way to the church. “It’s always some important person whom you can’t start the wedding without,” says Kim.

It’s difficult to get around the Boston area even if you live here, so imagine how great-aunt Norma from Peterborough feels when she’s driving through the Financial District. One way to handle this common mishap is to conduct a dry run the day before with all the people who absolutely need to get to the church on time. Give them clear maps and, if you can, put a local driver in every car.

Assign someone responsible to be a point person who people can call on a cell phone if they’re lost. Make sure this person is from the area and can give good, practical directions.

After months or years of planning and preparing for every possible situation, there comes a point when a bride just has to let go and assume the vendors she hired can handle whatever happens. “Sometimes you just can’t control everything,” says Pang.

She remembers one seating arrangement mix-up at a wedding she helped plan. The bride gave her one seating plan and gave the banquet manager a different plan. So Pang and her assistant had written out the place cards directing guests to tables that did not have enough chairs and settings because the banquet hall had worked off a different arrangement.

The bride was blissfully unaware of the mishap as Pang’s assistant and the banquet manager hustled to seat guests before she and her new husband were introduced.

Pang says brides should not stress when they see that something’s gone awry. For the most part, the professionals you hired should be able to solve it. “Trust your vendors,” she says. “We were able to assess the situation and figure out a solution pretty seamlessly.”

The brides that Jodi Smith, owner of Mannersmith Etiquette Consulting in Salem, works with are allowed to worry up to 24 hours before the wedding day. “At that 24-hour mark, I tell them to write down all the things they’re still worried about, hand it off to a wedding planner, friend or relative, say a little prayer and whatever will be, will be,” she says. “There will always be something that goes wrong, and you just need to release it.”

Smith also points out that the more unusual the mishap, the funnier the story is later on. “Part of what makes a wedding memorable,” she says, “are the things that don’t go as planned.”