Planning a wedding is probably one of the most stressful events you will ever plan in your life! There's a million things to think about - from napkin colors and cake flavors, to whether or not Aunt Nancy should sit at the same table as Aunt Karen. Budget is a stressor for many people as well, and it seems like the prices of wedding related items are insane. After putting down all those deposits and retainers, it's likely that the last thing you want to think about is hospitality.
If you're struggling with the idea of hospitality, so did I! I really struggled while planning my own wedding to incorporate hospitality into the planning process because of our budget. My husband and I paid for the majority of our wedding ourselves, and I was very hesitant to do anything more than provide dinner and some drinks. Our focus was on the Sacrament, we told ourselves, and who cares if people had enough drinks, had to wait a few hours in between the Mass and reception, wanted a nice hotel to stay in, or wanted to come to our rehearsal dinner. I honestly cringe now looking back at my mindset during this part of planning our wedding! I don't want you to think of wedding hospitality as greeting every single guest as they enter your reception or bending over backwards to make sure everyone gets their favorite meal during dinner. Hospitality is defined as "providing a warm and friendly atmosphere to one's guests," and serving fish, beef, lamb, AND chicken all at the same time or having a 2 hour receiving line (while nice and generous) isn't quite hitting the mark.
As Christians, we're called to radically practice the virtue of hospitality throughout the New Testament. "Contribute to the needs of the holy ones, exercise hospitality" (Rom. 12:13), and "Above all, let your love for one another be intense, because love covers a multitude of sins. Be hospitable to one another without complaining." (1 Peter 4:8-9). For goodness sake, even Jesus said "Give and gifts will be given to you; a good measure, packed together, shaken down, and overflowing, will be poured into your lap. For the measure with which you measure will in return be measured out to you." (Luke 6:38). Being hospitable doesn't mean you need to spend thousands of dollars on elaborate cupcakes or personalized slippers for your guests - it's making sure that your guests feel welcomed into the family, and loved by the two of you, with their needs anticipated and met. Being married is such a gift, but at its core, the vocation of marriage is to be a sign to the world of the love Christ has for His Church, one that is totally self-giving. What better way to live out that sign of self-gift by radically showing love to your guests with hospitality?
If I could go back and redo anything about our wedding, it would be changing my mindframe from penny-pinching every element to focusing on how we could give more of a welcoming atmosphere to our guests throughout the weekend. You can still have a laser focus on the holiness of the Sacrament or the longevity of your marriage while radically loving your guests through being intentional with your hospitality on the wedding day!
Hospitality is going to look different for everyone, so definitely take time with your fiance to discuss how you can authentically incorporate hospitality into your wedding day within your means. Keep in mind that you don't need to spend tens of thousands of dollars to be hospitable, but you also shouldn't be miserly and sacrifice generosity just to "save a few bucks." Be intentional with your budget and intentional with your guests' experience. They want to love and celebrate you well; take care to structure certain elements to make it stress-free and enjoyable for them!
Need some ideas on how to incorporate hospitality into your wedding day? Keep scrolling, I've got a few!
The In Between Time
As someone who works primarily with Catholic weddings and who has attended MANY over the years, I'm all too familiar with the "Catholic gap" - the time between your Mass ending and your reception starting. Even if you're not Catholic, you might have an hour or so in between your ceremony and reception for photos. This is an awkward point in the day for most of your guests - it's too close to the reception start time to go get a meal and they probably don't know a lot of people at the wedding. I really recommend having a cocktail hour before your reception to shorten this gap and give your guests a bit of a landing spot prior to the reception! As a wedding photographer, cocktail hours are great because it gives me time to take your wedding party and couple photos without your guests being angry at me for delaying the reception (LOL). A budget friendly option could be limiting the drink selection to a bride's drink and groom's drink and a few of your favorite hors d'oeuvres. Heck, maybe even just do a compilation of your favorite mocktails or seasonal drinks - it doesn't have to be exotic, it just has to be welcoming.
I also recommend having a list of places to visit/see/experience that are special to you or are highlights in the area included in your invitations and on your wedding website, which leads me into our next point...
Out of Town Guests
More than likely, you know the area of town where you're getting married better than your traveling guests do! Go ahead and book a block of rooms at a nice but affordable hotel close to your reception space and include accommodation information on your invitations' details card. Trust me, you don't want people driving far after a long night of partying!! Out of town family also enjoy getting to see other family members or getting to know your other half's side of the family, so having them all conveniently in one spot opens up those opportunities. Consider booking blocks at hotels that include shuttles or transportation between the hotel and the reception, especially if parking is limited, you're having an open bar, or your wedding is in a big city. If transportation services are not offered, you can consider including Uber vouchers so that there's no worries about drinking and driving.
Most of your out of town guests will be coming in for multiple days during your wedding, and there are lots of ways to help them feel welcome during the weekend! If having a big rehearsal dinner isn't in the budget, consider hosting a happy hour after the dinner at a local bar or even at your parents' home (if they're open to it). A morning after brunch for family and close friends or just a few VIPs is also an easy way to say "thank you for coming all this way!" My husband and I both wish we had been able to spend more time with our out of town people, since our reception was not long enough to say hi to everyone. Holding one of these events would have been the perfect way to get more face time with the people we love.
Remember that the key to not being stressed if you're traveling is to know the details ahead of time. Prep your guests with details cards in the invitation suite and listing the info on a wedding website like The Knot or Zola. I even recommend including a little card in the invitations to family informing them of the details regarding the family photos after ceremony!
Your wedding party is a collection of people who mean something special to you - whether they're college friends, high school buddies, or family. The chances that your wedding party have probably spent a fair amount of money to help make your wedding day even more special are pretty high. Being a bridesmaid is pricey when you account for hair and makeup costs, buying a specific dress or shoe, bachelorette costs, wedding gift costs, etc. Anticipating and filling the needs of your bridal party is a great way to show them you appreciate them!
Transportation can be messy for the wedding party, so consider offering transportation to the ceremony and reception. If they are from out of town, help them find a place to stay, whether that's a hotel room near yours or booking an Airbnb for everyone. Most people invite their bridal party to the rehearsal dinner, but it's also nice to provide breakfast or lunch the morning of the wedding. Have a cooler full of water, soda, beers, sparkling water, etc. available for the photo taking portion of the day, especially if it's during the summer. Ask your reception venue if there's a holding place for their stuff or a room they can hangout in for snacks and drinks prior to the reception starting - they need somewhere to go while you're taking photos!
Having their basic needs met will help them more fully enjoy their weekend celebrating you and your soon to be spouse. Don't forget to communicate the details of the wedding weekend to them at least 3 months in advance, so flights and accommodations can be planned.
Consider leaving small gift bags or baskets for your guests to receive when they arrive at their hotel. I know, it sounds extra, but it can really be that extra touch that makes your guests feel like they were thoughtfully considered! You can fill the bag with things that may be helpful during the weekend such as water bottles, snacks (bonus points if they are y'all's favorite snacks), breath mints, pain relievers, Liquid IVs, and a map with directions to the ceremony and reception. You could also throw in some fancier items like mini bottles of champagne, candies, or samples of local treats (think peaches or pecans from Georgia, pralines or BBQ sauce from Alabama, mini bottles of whiskey or biscuit mix from your grandma's Tennessee recipe, etc)
If you are on a strict budget, consider leaving a little welcome note or brochures about local restaurants and attractions in the rooms of your guests instead. Remember, the goal is simply to communicate that they are loved and thought about!
Being Your Best Self
The easiest way to be hospitable to your guests is have the space to be your best self, which is accomplished by having a fun, relaxed wedding day. Hiring a good wedding coordinator is 100% going to help you accomplish this - no one is going to stress you out by asking what to do when the baker loses your wedding cake, or what to do if Uncle Joe can't find parking, or how to direct everyone outside for your sparkler exit. Each of those questions and more are handled by a wedding coordinator, allowing you to relax and enjoy your wedding day. No, venue coordinators are not the same, and no, you shouldn't just ask your mom or close family friend do it. Be hospitable to your family and allow them the space to host the guests as well without the stress of the wedding day logistics! Let someone else take on the vendor communication and logistics while you relax and enter into your wedding day with a fully present mentality.
Many couples I talk to tell me that one of their main goals for the wedding day is to have their guests encounter the Lord in some way on their wedding day! It's important to keep in mind that, no matter how holy and beautiful the ceremony, a hectic and disorganized wedding weekend or reception can derail that encounter. I encourage you to embrace the virtue of hospitality during the planning process and strive to love radically.