Isabel Smith shares her contingency strategies for managing problems on ‘the big day’.
What’s the expression? ‘Man plans and God laughs’. Nothing could be more true of wedding planning! While we do our utmost to ensure that each couples’ wedding is flawless, there are some things you just can’t foresee. I’ll never forget what I refer to as my ‘Fawlty Towers’ wedding; an accident on the M4 meant that all the suppliers were late arriving, the generator wouldn’t start, the cake collapsed and, yes, the marquee even caught fire (just a small one thankfully!). But if you do your utmost to plan for the expected, with a bit of luck, you’ll only be left having to cope with the unexpected! So, what are the sorts of thing that can go wrong and what can you do to prepare for them?
Suppliers/guests getting lost
Your venue is likely to be rural. That means a lot of scope for visitors struggling to find their way. The fact that many rural postcodes don’t correlate on sat nav devices doesn’t help either. However, there is always a solution: Put your venue back on the mapby making downloadable PDF maps available on your website. Such a simple addition will ensure you are always found with ease. Make it clear to your visitors that they are in the right place by erecting large, well-lit signage at your driveway. Further to this, having signage around the estate showing the best route for suppliers and guests to take, and where to park, helps to avoid on-site confusion.
Running out of parking space
You might think you have plenty of space for guest and supplier vehicles, but people can be very selfish when they park and take up a lot more space than they need. Unless you really do have acres and acres, you could think about employing parking attendants for each event so that people can park sensibly in neat, space-efficient rows. You might also want to source a tracking hire company to cover some of the parking areas during particularly wet weekends!
Suppliers on your Preferred Supplier List (PSL) should have been carefully vetted so they know what is expected of them in terms of where to park, what they should be wearing and their behaviour etc. But clients will also bring unknown suppliers to site from time to time – anything from a photographer who didn’t think to pack wellies to a diva-ish band. How do you manage these unfamiliar suppliers and ensure they follow the guidelines? You create a staff brief sheet. I send one of these out to all suppliers ahead of every wedding so I can clearly communicate any and all expectations from where they park, to where they can smoke, to which loos they can use.
Drunken guests/damage to property
Weddings are of course a celebration and that means booze! This can in turn mean guests getting out of hand. The contract between you and your client should make clear that the bride and groom are ultimately responsible for their guests’ conduct. Should there be any knowingly troublesome guests on the list, the client should let you know in advance so you can agree a plan of action. Are you authorised to ask riotous guests to leave, or should you hand over to the best man to babysit? Better to have this clear ahead of time than to burden the bride and groom on the day with big decisions. Your contract should also outline the process should guests or suppliers damage your venue in any way. Most venues take a security deposit, returned to the client in full once you have confirmed that all is well after the day.
Rural venues might not have a lot neighbours, but sound can travel surprisingly far and you can end up alienating the few you do have. Best case scenario? You get calls throughout each event asking you to turn down the volume. In the worst case, you could have the police turn up to shut the wedding down, potentially putting your license to host future events in danger. Do not let things get this far! Instead, work with your neighbours encouraging a good relationship with them and making sure they call you before the police should there be an issue. Invest in a decibel reader and walk the perimeter of the site a couple of times per night noting down the levels so you can agree an acceptable level. This will also back you up if there are ever any problems with the council or police. Some venues even have a decibel limit in their client contract to avoid problems.
Running a little behind schedule on the day isn’t that big of a problem. However, you want to avoid things like the photographer leaving before the cake cutting, evening guests arriving before the main meal has finished, or running so behind that you only get 45 minutes of dancing before the night has to come to an end! The key to sticking to a schedule lies in a detailed function sheet which outlines the timings of the day. This needs to be read and approved by all of the suppliers ahead of time (each being an expert in how long their own parts will take during the day). This means that timescales stated are realistic making sure you don’t run too behind.
True Emergencies: Fires or injuries
It’s the worst thing that can happen at a wedding (or anywhere really), but fires and injuries do occur. You must be absolutely up to date with your health and safety knowledge, and have completed thorough risk assessments for the whole site. This means putting in place anything and everything you can to prevent possible injury; be that placing hand railings where required, roping off ponds and lighting pathways etc. You want to prevent injury where you can but also make sure you are 100 per cent covered legally should there be any serious problems. Keep your first aid and fire training up to date, and keep the first aid kits and fire extinguishers easily accessible. Better to be safe than sorry.
As you may have gathered, prevention is far better than cure when it comes to preparing for things that could go wrong on a wedding day. The vast majority of issues that arise can be prevented by simple and clear communication between venue and client (or venue and supplier). It never ceases to amaze me how many start-ups fail to draw up proper contracts which clearly outline roles and expectations for both parties.
For the record – my ‘Fawlty Towers’ wedding? Smooth and flawless from the client’s perspective… they never knew a thing had gone wrong.