Let Action Cookbook Plan Your Wedding
He's a good boy! Let him plan your wedding!
Do you feel that?
That electric crisp in the air? That sudden rustling of leaves, that whiff of pumpkin spice on the breeze?
Fall is coming, my friends. The Action Cookbook Newsletter has long been a place committed to improving your weekends, and fall weekends can mean only one thing:
YOU: college foo—
Okay, well, yes—this is a bit of a contentious topic in the circles I run in, where college football fandom runs high and the inevitable conflict between Game Day and Wedding Day is sure to raise someone’s hackles. There are some—including my dear friend Ramzy Nasrallah, who has written extensively on the matter over the years—that would suggest fall weddings should be avoided entirely.
Well, I got married on a Saturday in October a decade ago, so I’m in no position to judge anyone’s scheduling proclivities.
That debate is for another time and place anyway; what I’m here to talk about isn’t when to have a wedding, it’s how.
You see, I’m something of a married person myself, and I understand just how daunting planning a wedding can be. Inspired by a discussion in the comments here a few weeks ago—itself inspired by the engagement of longtime reader Philip (congratulations, by the way!)—I’d like to offer up The Action Cookbook Newsletter Guide to Planning Your Wedding.
Shall we begin? Yes, let’s.
First, you should elope.
Wait, no. Don’t actually do this. Your loved ones are going to be mad if you do this.
They’ll get mad, and they’ll ask what you were thinking, and you’ll say “but Scott said I should” and then they’ll be like “who’s Scott?” and you’ll be like “he writes this newsletter I subscribe to…” and you’ll send them a link and they’ll read it and of course they’ll enjoy it—who wouldn’t—but they won’t subscribe because they’re still mad you had a wedding without them and now they’re mad at me for that and now it’s costing me subscribers.
You don’t want that to happen, and neither do I.
But there will absolutely come a time in the course of planning any wedding where you think “what if we just went to Vegas right now and got this over with?”
This is a legitimate feeling that you should entertain for exactly one and one half hours before moving on with your planning.
Now that we’ve settled that, you need to establish Three Memorable Things.
This is the core of my wedding planning strategy, an overarching and half-baked theory that I developed during the planning of our own wedding ten years ago and cited frequently as decisions came up.
I believe that the overwhelming majority of your prospective wedding guests only truly have the capacity to remember three (3) things about your wedding after the fact; you should identify your preferred Three Memorable Things and focus your energies accordingly.
That doesn’t mean that other aspects of your wedding can be bad—in fact, a genuinely bad element will likely become one of your Three Memorable Things, and in doing so will displace something you would’ve much preferred for guests to remember.
But, if you establish Three Memorable Things, pretty much everything else can function at replacement level.
For instance—at our wedding, the three memorable things were Venue (we held our reception in the ornate lobby of a 1920s hotel) Pastries, (each table had platters of macarons and madeleines, and our wedding cake was a croquembouche) and Photobooth1 (this was not yet an every-wedding thing in 2012 and it was novel to most guests at the time.)
Yours might be entirely different!
Among the things I remember from friends’ weddings over the years are It Was On Halloween and We Wore Costumes to the Reception or It Was On An Active Farm and I Petted a Really Cool Dog or One Of Them Was From Western Pennsylvania And They Had A Cookie Table or perhaps My Infant Daughter Began Screaming Right As They Were Walking Down The Aisle (sorry about that, Alesia and Matt).
Now some years on from each of these weddings, I don’t remember all the particulars—the seat covers, the napkin colors, the easy-to-fuss-over-now minutiae—I remember what they wanted me to remember, and it’s helpful to mind this in your own planning.
It’s a vast world, full of infinite possibilities! Just pick three.
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An addendum on one particular thing!
I see you’re thinking about throwing an outdoor wedding! That’s wonderful. I have been to some absolutely gorgeous outdoor weddings.
Understand, however, that this is now one of your Three Things, for better or for worse. It might even be all three, if it’s genuinely “for worse”.
I admire the bravery and fortitude of everyone who has thrown the outdoor weddings I have attended, some of whom were working entirely without a net had the weather not cooperated.
I admire this bravery the same way I admire free-soloing climbers or test pilots or alligator-wrestlers: with awe, respect, and the hopes that I’m not watching when it goes wrong.
Let’s talk guest list!
Your venue will, most likely, have a total seating capacity; ours was 120.
Much like bidding on The Price Is Right, you will want to come as close as you can to this number without going over it. This is where you have to get a little Sabermetric.
In cobbling together our invite list and making sure we could invite as many people as possible without exceeding capacity, we created a spreadsheet, and assigned probability-of-attendance values for every guest, on a scale of zero to 1.0.
Close family members—they had a 1.0 PoA. No way they weren’t coming.
Dear friends who lived nearby or were likely travelers, maybe a 0.7 or 0.8 PoA.
Second cousin who lives on the other side of the country? 0.2 PoA.
All of these values were tallied to get a Total Probable Attendance (TPA) and from the ~170 total invitees, we could assume that around 110-120 would RSVP yes. Depending on a number of factors—timing, distance, etc.—your ratio might vary, but the methodology works just the same.
There were surprises, of course. A friend who seemed a surefire lock had a sibling schedule their wedding the same day, while another who seemed unlikely to make it flew cross-country—but those generally evened out, in the end we had room for everyone and almost no empty seats.
It sounds insane because it is, but wedding planning is not for the sound of mind.
You can just do stuff yourself!
Weddings are expensive, and vendors who can see your vision the same way you do are hard to find. At some point—probably right after you’ve grudgingly decided not to elope—you might find yourself thinking “why should I hire someone to do this when I can do it better myself?”
I was resolutely committed to not hiring a DJ for our wedding, because, to quote my past self, “like hell am I going to pay someone thousands of dollars to play ‘Gangnam Style’ at our wedding”.
(It was 2012: this was a real concern)
Realizing that our venue already had a sound system available, my then-fiancée and I simply compiled three playlists—each to start on a different moment-specific cue (When Guests Enter, When Couple Enters, Couple’s First Dance) and with enough overflow to ensure we covered the full five hours of reception.
We received many compliments on the music, I have a complete list of our music now saved for posterity on Spotify, and my grandparents got to hear the uncensored album version of DMX’s “Party Up” during the dancing portion of the night. Win-win-win.
On the other hand, this is not the time to suddenly become an expert in something new.
You can do stuff yourself, if it’s easier to do it yourself.
You should not do stuff yourself if you are not already good at whatever that is. You are not going to become a skilled florist in nine months.
Speaking of the florist…
Just tell them how much money you want to spend and what kind of stuff you would like within that budget.
This is exactly what we did at our wedding and it looked beautiful and cost exactly the amount we were willing to spend on it. Florists are creative; let them be creative within your budget instead of creative with your budget.
Speaking of budgets—
Open bars are amazing…
… especially at someone else’s wedding.
This might be the most surprising advice I will offer, considering that I have featured hundreds of cocktails in my newsletters over the years, but: you don’t need to have an open bar if you don’t want to pay for one.
Don’t get me wrong: I love an open bar, and I’m thrilled if you do have one. If you’re planning a wedding that has one, invite me. But they are shockingly expensive relative to a slightly cost-controlled but still-generous bar set-up.
We offered our guests beer, wine and champagne—pre-purchasing enough to adequately besot the full guest list—and then had a cash bar for anything beyond.
Everyone who wanted to get responsibly-plastered did, and if a few people were picky about getting something specific and had to drop a couple bucks on it themselves, well, it saved us literal thousands and I can live with that weight on my conscience.
Pay for the photographer, though.
The dinner will last a night, the flowers will last a week, that slice of cake in your freezer will last a year, the pictures are forever.
Find the best photographer you can and pay them what they ask.
Don’t worry about how you look in those photos.
In ten years, you are going to look back at them and think “damn, I looked good”.
Something is going to go wrong and that’s fine.
We had a clever plan—I think we saw something on the internet—for how we would display the place cards that the guests would collect upon entering the reception space, the ones that would indicate what table number they were to be seated at.
We would place each of these cards—which we’d carefully printed—upright in a wine cork which had been slit longitudinally so as to become a place-card holder.
We collected corks for months—we needed 120 of them—and when we went to set them up? None of them stayed upright. It was a big waste of time.
It was also not one of our three things and I bet no one but my wife and I have thought about those corks in the last nine years.
Have fun out there.
Planning a wedding is a huge pain in the ass, but it’s also a rare and wonderful opportunity. You’re throwing a party that’s all about you, but it’s really about who’s coming.
Walking down the aisle as newlyweds, I was moved nearly to tears by the sight of all of these people in the same place at the same time—from childhood friends and relatives to college classmates and work friends—a moment that I’d never experienced before and will likely never have again.
That moment was worth all of it—the cost of the flowers, the six misspent months of cork-collecting, the sabermetric squeezing-in of one more invite—and I wouldn’t have traded it for the world.
Also, my football team was playing a crappy opponent that day so it was fine.
—Scott Hines (@actioncookbook)
Any wedding-planning tips of your own? Share them in the comments!
This might be an unpopular opinion, so I’m confining it to the footnotes, BUT: we did not have any props in our photobooth. Props are fun! Props give your guests fun photos to save and share and all that. They will give you 100 photos of people using the same props. We are selfish, and wanted pictures of our friends’ faces; the photobooth served as our guestbook.