Ultimate Guide to Wedding Planning

Through four years of Mrs. Southern Social + the launch of Without A Hitch, one of the things I’ve learned is that y’all LOVE a wedding. Nuptial-related questions are among my most-common DMs, and any wedding content is always a hit – case in point, last year’s Tabletop Registry Guide. So, I’m thrilled to share that I’ve finally consolidated all of my best wedding advice, pulled from many years’ experience and inspired by your FAQs, into this comprehensive blog post. 2022 is the busiest year for weddings in the US since 1984, and I hope that the below info is helpful as many of you navigate this fun journey. Happy reading and happy planning!

Where to Start

  • Begin with your guest list, because wedding size will dictate the venues you consider.
  • Set a clear budget, and assume you’ll go at least 10% above that number.
  • Next, the venue is the most important piece to secure (for both the ceremony and reception). This will help you narrow down your date.
    • If you have your heart set on a smaller venue and have to limit your guest list, be clear with your families up front that each side will have X guests. A good rule of thumb: if you haven’t seen the person in 2 years (covid aside), they don’t need an invite.
  • After the venue, you’ll want to nail down the other vendors that can only do one wedding/night (photographer, band/DJ, videographer, officiant).
  • Vendors such as florists, valets, and party rentals come next (they can usually book multiple events/weekend).

Finding a Wedding Planner

I can’t advocate enough for hiring a wedding planner. Events are an enormous amount of work, and for the sake of your sanity it’s worth scaling back your budget in other areas to meet the price of a planner (at the minimum, a week or day-of planner will keep you from putting out last-minute fires). In terms of whom to hire:

  • You’ll spend a lot of time together, so you want your personalities to mesh. That said, you’re NOT hiring a BFF – you need someone who’s very professional, organized, and type-A…after all, there are a million moving pieces to track!
  • Word of mouth is the best way to find a great planner (skip all the ads on The Knot, Brides.com, etc. because those are all paid placements).
  •  Ask your vendors for a recommendation – they’ll be delighted to tell you who they like working with.

Where to Splurge & Where to Save

Splurge. Think about the most impactful moments for guests: you don’t want long lines for food or drink, you want excellent climate control (this is mostly for outdoor affairs and tents – the temperature needs to be comfortable), and you want the overall look to be gorgeous. With that in mind:

  • Have enough bar areas and service staff so no one’s waiting long for anything.
  • You don’t have to serve filet mignon (more on that below), but the food needs to be great.
  • The whole scene should look impressive, but that doesn’t mean over-the-top flowers.
    • Your planner/florist should have great ideas about using décor impactfully (candles, linens, greenery) to fit your budget and create a beautiful event.
    • Don’t get lost in the small details that cost a lot and aren’t additive to the overall effect.
  • I like to allocate funds to a few “wow” moments (say, a few large and impressive florals) but save on the smaller details (and secondary arrangements).
  • Lighting is important. You don’t have to spend a fortune, but you want a nice lighting scheme that makes everything look fantastic.

Save. Weddings are definitely expensive, but there are lots of clever ways to stay within budget:

  • Choose a venue that includes in-house rentals (it’s expensive to bring everything in). Also, venues with a lot of natural beauty and/or pretty adornment mean that you don’t have to spend as much to decorate the space.
  • Forget about the party favors and take-home gifts.
  • There’s been a trend towards candy tables and big dessert spreads; I think that’s unnecessary and so much of it goes uneaten.
  • You can absolutely offer a streamlined bar service with wine, beer, and a specialty cocktail (but PLEASE, no cash bars or tip jars! Servers’ tips should be included in the overall bill; it’s in poor taste to have a tip jar at the bar).
  •  Re: menu, think beyond filet and feel free to get creative. Comfort food is having a moment, after all, and most people would be delighted to indulge in a chic pasta dish.
  • DJs are also popular again, which is a perfect alternative to a pricier band.

Wedding Trends for 2022

  • Bridgeton-inspired décor. Think vintage china, English garden vibes, blue and white.
  • Bold colors.
  • More intimate weddings with fewer guests (a covid-era development).
  • Open-air tents (another covid development – everyone wants lots of fresh air).
  • Destination weddings within the US. People are thrilled to be on-the-go again, but travel restrictions overseas are difficult to navigate.
  • Specialty vendors, like this burro that serves champagne!
  • Weekday events. If you’re invited to a midweek wedding in 2022, have some grace and don’t complain! Again, this is the busiest year for weddings since 1984 and couples are having to make compromises to even get a wedding date.

Tired Trends and Things to Skip

  • Champagne walls.
  • Favors/take-home gifts. They’re always left behind and this isn’t a birthday party.
  • Balloon installations.
  • Any sort of “e-correspondence.” Paper invitations, please.
  • The never-ending parade of toasts. For EVERYONE’S sake, keep this to a few speakers only and ask that they adhere to a 2-minute rule.
  • Enormous bridal parties. Include your gaggle of gals in other ways (invite a big group on your bachelorette, do a house party, or reserve seating for special friends at the front).
  • Matchy-matchy bridesmaid dresses. I love it when everyone’s in the same color but can choose a dress style that fits their body.

Handling Family Disagreements

Weddings are stressful and there will be some tense moments. As much as possible, I encourage the couple to each handle his/her own family – if your mother-in-law is being difficult, it should be your fiancé’s job to manage it. This is also why a wedding planner is such a fantastic investment – it’s part of the job to be a skilled moderator who can help liaise/diffuse difficult situations. A few things to keep in mind:

  • It’s important to understand up front what’s important to the key players (the couple, both sets of parents) and try to be thoughtful. If everyone feels “heard” on a few elements, that tends to lay a productive groundwork.
  • Nowadays there are so many different financial arrangements when it comes to paying for the wedding, and that comes into play, as well. Ultimately, if someone is contributing financially, they should have some say, or at least feel their opinions are respected.
  • So much of this depends on the personalities involved, but sometimes the most traditional arrangement is the easiest (one family pays for the wedding, one pays for the rehearsal dinner). That draws the clearest lines about who has a say over what.
  • Ultimately, everyone involved must pick their battles and apologize if they cause hurt. The wedding is fleeting, but family is forever and there’s nothing worse than starting a new chapter on a sour note.

Rehearsal Dinner & Mother of the Groom (MOG) Advice

I got some questions from readers whose sons are about to get engaged – congratulations! We’ve all heard the joke that the MOG’s job is to “wear beige and be quiet,” but of course I have lots of opinions here because one day John Albert will get married and you can be sure I’ll want to be involved. ;-). Some things to consider:

  • Follow the bride’s lead! Of course this is a celebration of a couple, but the bride typically is the driving force in the wedding planning. Pay attention to the vibes she’s giving off and offer help and support without bulldozing.
  • Ask the bride if she has any thoughts about the mothers’ attire, or if there’s anything she’d prefer you not wear (for example, if she’s wearing a strapless dress, she might want the wedding party to choose a different neckline).
  • If your role is hosting the rehearsal dinner, be mindful that it doesn’t upstage the wedding, even if your budget would allow that.
  • Similarly, I like when the rehearsal dinner has a different look than the wedding. It doesn’t have to be casual; I just wouldn’t try to emulate the wedding flowers, for example. The “Big Day” should feel fresh and new.
  • If you’re sharing the cost of the wedding itself, and there are specific elements that are important to you, have an honest conversation about those things with your son/daughter right out of the gate.
  • Make sure you deliver things like guest lists and addresses promptly and in a helpful format. For example, some calligraphers won’t work from an Excel spreadsheet and prefer to receive addresses in “label format” (a Word setting). Ask the bride or her mom if there’s a format you should use for your part of the guest list to keep it all cohesive.
  • And finally, some advice for the fiancé: make an effort to include your future mother-in-law in the excitement of wedding planning. Did you find your bridesmaids dresses? Or finalize your invitation suite? Send her photos! Is there an opportunity to include her in one of your dress fittings? This is the mother of your future spouse and it’s so important to make her feel part of the day.

Other Things to Keep in Mind:

  • If you’re not getting married in a church or house of worship, it can be difficult to find an officiant if you don’t have a personal connection. Don’t put this off!
  • Everyone is desperate to have fun and be with people again, and as a result weddings are VERY popular right now. Anticipate an 80-85% “yes” rate on RSVPs.
  • Don’t wait until the last minute to do the seating charts. It’s one of the hardest wedding tasks and even if you don’t have all your RSVPs yet, you can still sketch out a general idea of who should be seated where.
  • If you’re changing your name, don’t use any stationery with your new monogram/initials until AFTER you’re married. It’s a faux pas and bad luck.
  • Please, please, please – if you’re planning an outdoor affair, you MUST have a viable rain plan. Sometimes that means using an indoor space at your venue, but often it involves bringing in a tent which is quite pricey. If that’s not in your budget, nix the outdoor concept altogether.
  • Plus One’s are always tricky. Ideally, every unattached guest would get a +1, but that’s often unrealistic given budget and size constraints. If you have to pick and choose, everyone in the bridal party should get a +1, and of course anyone in a long-term relationship. If there’s an unattached person attending who doesn’t know your other guests, it’s kind to give him/her a +1, as well. It’s less necessary if we’re talking about college friends who are single but know half the attendees. Basically, you want everyone to feel like they have a buddy.
  • Make your wedding website clear and easy to navigate. We don’t need a million photos or the “How We Met” story – travel, accommodation, and registry info should be the first thing people find.
  • Have hotel room blocks ready to go as soon as your save the dates are mailed, and if possible, provide a few hotel choices for different budgets. If you’re getting married in an area with atypical lodging options (e.g. people need to rent houses or find Bed and Breakfast’s), do the legwork and highlight those choices. A personal pet peeve is having to work hard to figure out where to stay for an out-of-town event.

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