Guests were on the dance floor all night and Peter truly worked hard to make every little detail fall into place.
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Peter's Pointers: 5 Wedding Day Delays to Avoid

There are lots of moving parts on a wedding day... and running behind schedule can cause you stress. If nothing else, delays could cost you money. From the DJ booth, I've observed most delays boil down to 5 reasons... but luckily, these potential problems can be avoided with some planning!

"How can wedding day delays cost me money?"

You've heard the saying, "time is money." It's true!  If you fall behind schedule, you could incur overtime fees from vendors who have work later than originally scheduled.  Even if you don't run into overtime charges anywhere along the way, it can still be costly to arrive late.

Let's pretend various delays leading up to your 6:00pm reception prevent anyone from arriving until about 6:30.  Let's also suppose the total cost for all vendors at your 4-hour reception is $20,000.  (That may be way off, but just keeping the math simple.)  That 30-minute delay just cost you $5,000.  (Not to mention the 7-10 songs which could have played during 30 minutes of dance floor time.)

While these potential schedule-busters involve other wedding pros, I am not blaming any specific vendors.  Sure, there are cases when a particular vendor may be to blame... but most delays can be chalked-up to a lack of communication with vendors.

The trick is to communicate openly with your vendors and ask the right questions to ensure your schedule is realistic.  Of course, if you've never planned a wedding before, you might not know what those "right questions" are.  Hopefully this post will be useful.

#1: The salon took longer than expected

Wedding Salon

Hair stylists and make-up artists know you'll be looking at your wedding photos for years to come, and they don't want you to be disappointed. Accordingly, a wedding day salon visit requires more time than a typical visit. Some pointers to ensure the salon visit doesn't derail your schedule:

  • Get nails done the day before, so it's just hair and make-up the day-of.
  • When booking, tell the salon exactly how many people will need services (including yourself), and what time you need to be out of there. This lets the salon manager schedule adequate staff and determine what time you all need to arrive.
  • Keep it limited to the wedding party only.  Don't bring extra friends or relatives "just to watch."  It might be fun for them, but they'll just be in everyone else's way, distracting the stylists.

And it should go without saying, make sure everyone going to the salon is awake, showered and ready to get there on-time.  Just one late arrival can potentially hold-up the entire wedding party... and the wedding... and the reception.

#2: The limo got lost / broke down / etc.

Wedding Limousine

The saying, "you get what you pay for" rings true for limousine companies.  Paying more usually gets you more-experienced drivers who know the area well, and know how to get around any traffic trouble spots.  You can also expect newer, better-maintained vehicles, along with backup vehicles and drivers -- just in case.

My pointers for limo/bus/transportation shopping:

  • Check reviews on multiple websites including Google and Facebook.
  • Before contacting any companies, make a list of your needs - everyone who will be transported by the limo, where from, where to, and when.
  • When you meet with companies to request quotes, share those plans. If you can give them an accurate list of your expectations, they can give you an accurate schedule and estimate so there aren't any unpleasant surprises later.

If your plans change before your wedding day, keep the limo company updated so they can be keep things running smoothly on your wedding day.  Making pick-up and drop-off requests "on the fly" is almost sure to cause delays during the course of the wedding day, and it could even result in overtime charges.

#3: Post-ceremony receiving line

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Receiving lines always take a long time, especially with a large wedding party or a lot of guests.  If you have 2-3 hours between your ceremony and reception, a receiving line shouldn't be a problem.  But if you only have an hour, the receiving line is going to eat-up most of that (or more), and that leaves no time left for post-ceremony photos.

Even if you don't want a receiving line, avoid the dreaded "unplanned receiving line."  This can happen when the wedding party gathers just outside the ceremony space after walking back up the aisle.  Although they're just waiting for directions about the post-ceremony photo shoot, the guests might mistake this gathering for a receiving line.  Once that starts, you're trapped -- it's impossible to shut-down a receiving line without looking rude.

Solution: Designate a "meeting place" for the wedding party and anyone else needed for the post-ceremony photo shoot. It can be just around the corner, in a separate nearby room, etc., but it needs to be "out of sight" from the guests, so they don't see any gathering that looks like a receiving line.  When you walk up the aisle after you're married, keep on walking and don't stop until you get to that meeting place.

When I am running sound for the ceremony and reception, I usually hop on the mic right after the newlyweds exit with a quick announcement to make it clear, "While (name) and (name) head out to take some photos with the wedding party, you're all invited to enjoy the cocktail hour in the (name of space), which is located just across the hall" (or next door, upstairs, downstairs, or whatever the case may be).  This tends to work well as a clear but polite message that there is no receiving line.

#4: Post-ceremony photos

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Post-ceremony photo shoots seem to be the most-common cause of wedding receptions falling behind schedule.  To be clear, I do not blame photographers.  They, like your stylists, know you'll be looking at these photos for years to come.  Professional photographs don't need to take forever, but they shouldn't be rushed, either.  Your photographer is looking at a lot of things -- lighting, shadows, making sure nobody was blinking or looking away, and so forth.

However, many of the delays related to post-ceremony photo shoots seem to be related to one or more of the following reasons:

  • "Winging it" in terms of deciding who to include in these shots
  • Expecting to take way more shots than you can possibly do in the time allotted
  • Expecting to shoot at too many locations, and/or locations that are too far away
  • Some of the people you need for your photos keep wandering away, so you need to take time tracking them down

If your ceremony and reception are at the same place, there's even more pressure -- because your cocktail hour begins the moment the ceremony ends.  An hour will fly by quickly, especially considering a bride may need 15-20 minutes to visit the restroom, refresh makeup and/or bustle her dress prior to the reception introductions and first dance.

But just like the other two items I've listed so far, this potential "schedule-buster" can be avoided as long as you plan ahead.  Some pointers to consider:

  • Consider PRE-ceremony photos.  Many (if not all) of your "posed" shots can be done before the ceremony, rather than after -- assuming all the required parties can get to the photo shoot location early enough.  Even if there are a few groups you can't shoot until afterward, anything you can do pre-ceremony helps.
  • Make a list.  Who do you want in each photo?  Don't "just wing it" that day.  If you know who you need in each photo, this makes things much easier for two reasons:
    • You can share the list with your photog in advance, and ask them for an honest idea of how many can be done within the timeframe allotted.  If they don't think they can get through the entire list on-time, then you might need to trim that list down or see if it's possible to extend cocktail hour to 90 minutes.
    • On the day-of, having a list will be easier than coming up with combinations of people "on the spot."  This can help you avoid winding up with redundant or silly combinations of people, or worse, leaving any key people out.
  • Appoint a "people herder."  If people are wandering off to the bar or outside to smoke, you'll lose time trying to find them. Appoint someone who knows your family and friends to hold a copy of your shot list and "herd" people to the photo area as needed. The best is someone who isn't afraid to boss people around a little bit, to keep things moving along.
  • Shooting on-location really eats-up a lot of time.  You're not just going to hop out of the car, take a few quick snaps and drive off -- your photographer may need time to adjust lighting and other factors to ensure the shots look great.  If you must go on-location, "newlyweds only" is usually faster and easier than taking the entire wedding party.
  • Consider backup locations.  What if bad weather ruins your outdoor photo plans?  What if another wedding is already shooting at your spot when you arrive?  Discuss backup plans with your photographer in advance, so there's no delay or stress by trying to determine new plans on-the-spot.

Although many venues offer a 4-hour reception as the default, many couples add an extra hour (or more) so they can extend cocktail hour to 90 minutes.  This provides more time for the post-ceremony photo shoot, but going much longer than 90 minutes can make guests antsy for dinner.

#5: Dinner Hour Lasted Well Over an Hour

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Although the default estimate for dinner is one hour, every venue handles dinner differently.  Again, communication is key: once your menu and guest count are confirmed, ask your catering director for a realistic estimate on how much time to budget for dinner.

The manager should be experienced enough to crunch the numbers, factoring-in your guest count and the number of staff working.  If they think dinner will take longer than an hour, ask if there's anything that can be done to get your guests served faster.

For a buffet, it could be a simple matter of adding another serving line or another carving station.  It's the same amount of food, just a few more tables and chafing dishes, so more people can be going through the line at the same time.

For a plated dinner, could they bring in additional wait staff on duty to get the plates served faster?  Could the salads be served before guests enter the room, rather than after everyone sits down?  More staff might cost more money, but it could still cost less the value of dance floor time lost because dinner ran long.  Or maybe there are solutions to save time without increasing costs.

Always Ready to Respond, No Matter What

Don't stress yourself out trying to control everything right down to the minute.  Sometimes there are delays you couldn't possibly imagine in a million years.  Or maybe you read my article and still thought, "eh, that won't be a problem.  And if it becomes one, so what."  No problem!  I'm always ready to work through any unexpected issues.

As a former TV news producer with several years' experience in weddings, I'm at-ease with handling on-the-fly changes.  If your cocktail hour and/or dinner hour need to run longer than planned, don't sweat it!  I'll always have extra music ready to cover.  You won't even need to ask, I'll automatically "fill" until things are ready to move forward.

During a delay, I'm not only covering the delay, but I'm also looking further down the timeline, preparing options to get things back on schedule, or as close to it as possible.  I'll always give you a "heads-up" to make sure you agree with my suggestions (or to see if you have any of your own) before proceeding with any changes that would involve moving or eliminating any "special" events from the timeline.

And likewise -- we occasionally have a dinner hour that moves along so smoothly that everyone's ready to move on and start dancing sooner than scheduled.  I'll be ready for that, too!

An easy solution to ALL of this, without the stress

One thing many couples tend to overlook: the benefit of hiring a professional wedding planner.  Although many CNY wedding/reception venues advertise that their rates include a "planner," that planner is usually only involved with the aspects of your wedding that happen at their venue -- and usually only to the extent of making sure their own staff is doing their jobs properly.

So, a reception venue planner is great, but they're not involved with your ceremony, they're not involved with your transportation, your flowers, your salon, etc.  I'll even use myself as an example -- I am very detailed when it comes to planning out my responsibilities within a wedding, but I don't have direct control over any of the other professionals involved with your wedding and I'm usually not fully-aware of all the various details that the other vendors are following.

A standalone, professional, full-service wedding planner can be well worth their cost, by taking the lead on coordinating everything with all of your vendors.  This takes a lot of stress and guesswork off your plate. A full-service planner who has worked on dozens of other weddings will be more likely to spot any "potential trouble spots" with your timeline, and can offer solutions to those problems before they even have a chance to become problems.

Your thoughts?

Whether you're a previous client with a story to share from your own wedding, or a future client who has witnessed delays at other weddings, what else would you add to this list?  Feel free to post a comment below.  Thanks for reading!

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Angela and Aaron's wedding reception at Lincklaen House in Cazenovia, photo by Wedding DJ Peter Naughton
Peter was very knowledgeable and gave us a great time! Everyone at the wedding was happy and dancing the night away. We highly recommend him.
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Since 2011, Syracuse Wedding DJ Peter Naughton has been serving Central New York and surrounding areas.  Peter's stress-free booking process features up-front pricing and just 2 packages that include all the essentials for an unforgettable celebration!
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