I recently celebrated my 30th birthday, with a high tea party for a dozen girlfriends and colleagues. It was an afternoon of finger sandwiches, petit fours, pearls and enormous hats – but, for me, it was also a microcosm of party planning dos and don’ts that I should have learnt at my wedding less than three months earlier. Such a concentrated dose of learning points inspired me to share them with y’all, so that you don’t make the same mistakes.
1. Ask for help
The morning of the high tea was completely stressful. My husband and I drove around picking up cupcakes I had ordered and buying fresh bread and pastries. When we dashed home, we did a last tidy of the apartment, whipped cream, made 40 scones, set out our china (from our wedding registry!), decorated, laid out all the food, made 40 sandwiches (all with the crusts cut off), and of course got dressed in our high tea finery. By the time our frenzy had ended and the guests were about to arrive, the Reflective Groom and I were at each other’s throats, and we ran out of time for me to take a shower or do my hair.
The question that struck me afterwards was why didn’t I ask for help? Sure, my husband was helping all day, but why did I feel like the two of us had to do it alone, when I could have called my closest friends to ask them to lend a hand, even just with the very final preparations? This question reminded me hugely of my wedding: I had been a little afraid to ask for help as I didn’t want to burden anyone. Brides and grooms, here is my lesson for you: you’re nearest and dearest are expecting to be asked for help (whether they want to help or not… and a lot of the time they do want to!), so don’t be afraid to ask!
2. Don’t make it too complicated
Oh, the plans we made for my high tea! Along with all the cakes and scones, my husband and I planned to have four types of finger sandwiches: avocado, ham and cheese; salmon with cream cheese that we would make with fresh dill ourselves; cucumber with mint; and home-made egg salad with mayonnaise and coriander. Ha! Even when I look at that list in hindsight I have to laugh. In the end we were so tight on time that we kept the first sandwich as is, completely ditched the fourth one, just bought pre-mixed herb cream cheese for the salmon sandwich, and used plain cream cheese for the cucumber and wrote off the fresh mint (since that needed to be marinated in vinegar or some such nonsense).
When it comes to your wedding, remember not to make it harder than you need to. I wish someone had beaten me over the head with this advice before my wedding, before I wasted untold hours scouring stores for the perfect card basket or searching online for the ideal cake knife and spade. Do you really need to get up early for flea markets every weekend to hunt for vintage handkerchiefs for wedding favors? Is that really what will make the day wonderful for you, and unforgettable for your guests? You only have so much time and so much patience; use them where it counts!
3. Go with it
Just as I had to skip my shower and grand sandwich delusions at the high tea, be ready to change (or even abandon) your carefully laid plans at the wedding. For our big day, we had planned to get everyone to gather around the dancefloor before our first dance by leading them through an old-school promenade around the room, as is traditional in my groom’s culture. However, when we saw our reception room fully set up the night before the big day, we saw that the room was so full with tables and chairs that there was absolutely zero space around the dancefloor. Although I was devastated for a grand total of 30 seconds, there was nothing that could be done about it (we couldn’t get rid of guests or make the room bigger!), so we simply had to skip that plan. We could have called the reception manager and made a big deal out of it, or spent all night trying to re-arrange the tables, but skipping the promenade was the easiest and least stressful option.
I also learned to just go with it when my hairstyle didn’t turn out quite as I liked but with no time to change it, and when my train unraveled during our first dance. If you and your groom just roll with it, so will your guests – how bad a wedding day “crisis” is depends entirely on your reaction to it! No one wants to be tense and stressed on their big day, so go with that approach and you won’t be. 🙂
4. It’s hard to get around and talk to everyone… but your guests understand
During my birthday high tea (consisting, if you’ll remember, of only a dozen guests) I was so busy jumping up to answer the door, fetching more milk, checking on the food and making more tea that I barely had time to speak properly to all my guests. I would be very lucky if I managed five minutes with each of them. I mentioned this to one of my party guests, and she reassured me that even at her last birthday party – which had the same amount of guests and had only chips and dips as refreshments – she also didn’t have time to get around and talk to everyone. This is of course even more true for weddings, when you have so many more guests and so many more things happening, and when you want to balance out your mingling with dancefloor time!
I felt completely guilty that I didn’t have time to get around to everyone during our wedding. Heck, I hardly even spoke more than a few words to the bridal party during the reception, and they were sitting right beside me! What I realized in hindsight though is that people don’t really mind. At the last two weddings I’ve attended the bride and groom didn’t get around to me, but I didn’t even notice. In fact, at most parties I spend very little time with the host or hostess, but I’ve never held it against them as I know they have to say hello to everyone and have lots of preparations to make. My advice? Prioritize guests who’ve come along way or made special arrangements to join you, make sure to introduce any people who don’t know other guests, but otherwise take comfort in the knowledge that your guests can pretty much take care of themselves and that you needn’t feel guilty for not speaking to each and every person. If you’re really worried, make a plan with your groom to split the crowd between you, so everyone gets to speak to at least one of you.
5. Wear comfortable shoes
Two hours into my high tea party, I had to kick off my heels and walk around in stockinged feet as my poor little tootsies began to throb. Why did I wear such tall shoes knowing I would be on my feet most of the day? Sure, they were pretty shoes for the start of the party, but bare feet doesn’t make for a classy end to the gathering!
On your wedding day, realize that you will be on your feet a lot of the day (whether reciting your vows, running errands or burning up the dancefloor), and the last thing you want is aching feet to spoil your fun. Brides, let’s end the wedding day shoe competitiveness and all these footwear photos, and just dress comfortably on our big days!
6. Make it fun and personal… without the hassle
I thought it would be fun if my groom dressed up as a waiter for my high tea. When my guests arrived he was in the kitchen making preparations, wearing black trousers and a white long-sleeved shirt, but otherwise looking rather innocuous. When everyone had settled in in the living room, my groom added a black bow tie to his outfit and draped a linen napkin over his arm. When I went to the kitchen to fetch the freshly made tea (and my husband), I walked back into the room and said “I’d also like to introduce our waiter for this afternoon…” Then the girls saw him and erupted in squeals and cheers at his waiter get-up!
This was a teeny-tiny, effortless way that we made the tea party more personal and brought some humor to the day. (My girlfriends still like to repeat the story of his grand entrance!) Weddings – like high teas – can sometimes be stiff, formal affairs, so think about small ways you can really make the day yours. Maybe it’s as simple as putting a bowtie on your ring-bearer dog, appointing your grandmother as flower girl (I read about a bride who did this, what a fab idea!), playing the “Star Wars” theme as your cake-cutting song and staging a cake spade / light saber fight with your groom (I saw this for myself at a wedding!) or very earnestly gathering all your guests on the dancefloor for a blessing circle only for the DJ to kick off the party with “Baby Got Back” (another true story I heard!). Again, making the day personal and fun does not mean you have to slave for weeks over DIY projects and flea market visits.
Best of luck planning your wedding (and all your other social occasions!) What lessons have you learned from planning your wedding, or planning other parties?