Thursday, July 2, 2009

Long Distance Wedding: Countdown (Part I)

It's no secret that checklists have probably saved the sanity of thousands of brides and grooms each year. Just pop by the wedding section of your local bookstore and you'll find giant spiral bound books with titles like Checklists For The World's Most Excruciatingly Perfect Nuptials and 101 Easy Steps to Planning Your Fourth Wedding.

Of course, none of these tomes addresses a situation like yours. Dealing with surrogate planners and marriage license gymnastics are details unique to far and away weddings. In response, we would like to humbly present the following checklists to ease that trip down the aisle.


The real crunch time for long-distance brides and grooms is the last week or two before the wedding. Here are some key hurdles you must pass.

The License

Here is a small detail that, if overlooked, can ruin your whole wedding: the marriage license. Each state has it's own rules for marriage licenses—some require blood tests, others have waiting periods and so on.

We suggest calling about three months ahead to find out all the rules. Typically, a county clerk or marriage license bureau will have the answers. Key questions to ask include: are there any health test requirements (blood test, for example)? What are the cost and payment options (most states accept cash only)? Any waiting periods (the time between when the license is bought and when a wedding can occur)? Must you apply in person? What documents (or identification) are needed? Can one of you apply "by proxy" (a procedure by which the absent person may apply for a license)?

Be prepared for some surprises. One bride who was planning a long-distance wedding in Georgia discovered the state only accepted blood test results from Georgia labs—this forced her to come in a week earlier than planned. In Texas, couples must wait seventy-two hours from the time they get the license to the actual ceremony. That means buying the license Wednesday for a weekend wedding.
Try to avoid visiting license bureaus on Friday afternoon—this is the busiest time.

The Guest List

Two weeks before your date, you will busiest time. ! no doubt be thinking it's time to figure out how many people will be actually attending the wedding. But . . . you haven't received calls or response cards from all the people on your invitation list. What do you do? Hopefully, most guests will be polite enough to respond. For those who aren't, call them—especially if you are planning an expensive sit-down dinner and need a very accurate count for your caterer. Ask your caterer when they will need this final count.

Don't be surprised when your guests decide to add family members or friends to their group. For example, you may have chosen not to invite children to your reception, but one family may decide to bring them anyway. Try to politely reiterate your "no kids" policy, but accept with good grace if they ignore it and plan to bring the children anyway. Remember that no matter what you think your final count is, there are always a small number of people who will show up when they said they wouldn't and people who don't come, but responded that they would. The caterer should be preparexi to handle 5 to 10 percent more guests than your actual final count.


The bride's dress

So, you've picked up your dress from your in-town bridal shop, packed it away, and shipped it or carried it to the wedding location. Once the dress arrives, you will want to have it steamed (not pressed) at a local bridal shop or dry cleaner. Make sure your surrogate planner has called around in advance to find a local business that can steam your dress.

Try to assign one room in your parents' house (or wherever you are staying) for all your apparel and honeymoon gear. In fact, use one whole suitcase or box to hold all the items you will need for your wedding day: makeup, bra, slip, hose (have a couple of extra pairs), jewelry, and so on. Also, include an emergency sewing kit to handle last-minute problems.

When packing for your honeymoon, be- sure to place the tickets, passport, travelers checks, and itinerary with your clothes—this way you'll avoid misplacing these important items.

The bridesmaids' dresses

Bridesmaids can either send their dresses early to the wedding location (perhaps to your parents' home), or bring them on the plane or in the car with them. Again, they will need to have their dresses steamed.

Before they come in to the wedding location, send each bridesmaid a list of the items they will need to pack for both the wedding weekend and the actual wedding day. For example, if you plan a formal rehearsal dinner, tell your bridesmaids to pack a nice dress. If a barbecue is on the agenda, shorts and t-shirts will be more appropriate. The list should include dresses, slips, hose (make sure they all wear the same color—consider supplying this yourself), accessories, makeup, and so forth. Providing this list will help attendants remember every detail.

The groom and other men in the bridal party

Find out how early the groom can pick up his tuxedo from the rental shop. If he owns his own suit or tux, make sure it gets steamed at the same time the bride's and bridesmaids' dresses are taken care of.

Usually, rental tuxedos can't be picked up until the day before the wedding. Be sure the groom and groomsmen try on their tuxes to be certain they fit properly. Improper fit should be taken care of immediately. Groomsmen will also need to receive a written schedule regarding when and where to pick up their tuxes and what they should receive (style of tuxedo, color of ties and cummerbunds, jewelry, shoes if you're renting them, etc.). If they are wearing their own suits or shoes, fist what color shirts, ties, socks, and shoes are expected. Try to have all the tuxedos picked up at the same time to insure the right colors and styles.


One bride told us about a snafu that occurred with the men's tuxedos at her wedding. The bride chose royal blue ties and cummerbunds and specified this at the time she reserved the tuxedos. The day before the wedding some groomsmen picked up their tuxes in the morning, while the groom picked his up later in the afternoon. The bride's father picked up his tux the morning of the wedding. When they all arrived at the ceremony site (a couple hours before the wedding) various members of the wedding party discovered they were given different colored ties and cummerbunds.

The bride's father attempted to return the tie sets and get the proper color, but was treated rudely by the tuxedo shop's staff. In fact, the shop insisted they had not made any mistakes! Needless to say, the father of the bride was miffed, but instead of making a stink, took the proper number of black tie and cummerbund sets and left for the wedding. Although the ties didn't match the royal blue bridesmaids dresses, this was the easiest compromise.

The moral of the story is: get everything in writing and try to coordinate picking up all the tuxedos at one time. This way you will be certain the tuxedo styles and colors coordinate. If the groomsmen can't pick up their tuxes together, give each of them a list noting the style number and color of the tuxedo, tie and cummerbund. Don't say the ties are "blue," instead tell them "royal blue, style 304."

One reliable tux rental company is Gingiss \ Formal Wear, a nationwide chain with shops in most metro areas. Gingiss has a special program to get measurements of out-of-town groomsmen that results in more accurate sizing.

The Officiant

We are amazed at the number of stories we hear from married couples who tell us the officiant (priest, pastor, rabbi, or judge) never showed up or was several hours late to their wedding! An easy way to avoid this is to schedule a pre-wedding visit with the officiant. At this meeting, discuss the time of the event, the officiant's fee, the rehearsal (when and where), the flow of the ceremony, and any last-minute requests or questions you may have.

On the day of the rehearsal we also recommend another call to the officiant's office to confirm the rehearsal time. Obviously, an officiant is vital to making a wedding ceremony legal—be sure he or she is there!

The Ceremony Site

If you're in town a couple of days before the wedding, we recommend visiting the ceremony site to go over any last-minute details. Some examples of questions to ask include:
  • How early can the florist deliver the flowers? Is there a refrigerator to hold the flowers if they're dropped off early? If not, will the air conditioning be turned on so the flowers don't wilt?
  • Where can the videographer set up his equipment? The photographer? Can they use lights or flashes? Can they move around?
  • Where will the bride and the bridesmaids be able to dress or wait for the ceremony to start? What about the groom and groomsmen?
  • Confirm the date and time the ceremony is scheduled. How early can we get there to dress and take pictures?
  • Confirm the date and time of rehearsal. Will a coordinator be able to help us run the rehearsal (and later the ceremony)? If I have my own coordinator, will she be able to run the rehearsal and ceremony without interference ?
  • Where do the musicians sit or stand?

Another reason to schedule this appointment is the "surprise remodel" problem. One long-distance bride alerted us to this pitfall when she discovered, to her horror, that her church hadn't finished remodeling by her wedding date. Never mind that the church had promised the work would be finished a month earlier—such projects always seem to run longer than expected. With just days before her wedding, the bride walked into the church to discover ugly scaffolding, bare pipes, and exposed insulation. Despite some last-minute attempts to cover up the construction, the ambiance was destroyed. The lesson is twofold: first, think twice about booking any ceremony site where a major renovation or remodel is planned near your wedding date. Second, have your surrogate planner visit the site a couple of weeks prior to the wedding to make sure everything is in its place.

The Reception Site

  • Confirm the time and date of the event—especially if it's an off-time or off-day, like a Sunday wedding at 2 pm.
  • When will the facility be opened? Your caterer, florist, and cake baker need to know how early they can get in to set up. Make sure the air conditioning or heat is turned on far enough in advance.
  • If the reception site staff is setting up the tables and chairs, ask to see a sketch of the setup and traffic flow.
  • Ask to see the changing rooms or restrooms to determine if you will be able to change into traveling clothes comfortably.
  • When is the balance due to be paid? Most sites, unless they are hotels or country clubs, will need to be paid in advance. Be prepared.

The Caterer

It would be ideal to meet with your caterer a couple weeks before your wedding day. However, most long-distance brides can't schedule to come in this early and must do some last-minute planning over the phone. Either way, ask several important questions about your reception:

  • Confirm the date and time
  • When will you begin setting up for the reception? This is important because it influences the times when the flowers and cake can be delivered.
  • Are you familiar with the florist and the cake baker? Since coordination here is key, it's a good idea to insist that the caterer contact each of them. This way, if there are any logistical problems, they can work them out ahead of time rather than during your actual wedding,
  • Look over the menu one last time. Confirm any verbal changes you made earlier in the planning process. Go over the setup of the tables, the buffet, the head table, the guest table, and the cake table. When making your appointment with the caterer, it might be a good idea to ask him or her to have a sketch of the setup available to preview. Confirm number of servers and their attire—if you requested tuxedos, make sure the caterer has this in his or her notes.
  • If the bride and groom are providing the alcohol to the caterer, when is it needed? This is an important detail because the caterer will need to chill some beverages ahead of time.
  • Can I make any last-minute changes? This is easier to accomplish earlier in the planning process, but if something comes up at the last minute, ask about it. Menu changes may cost extra, so be prepared.
  • When do you want final payment? Most caterers require final payment prior to the wedding date in order to pay for the staff, food, and rentals. Be prepared if this is the case with your wedding.
  • Some caterers won't take a personal check, instead insisting on a cashier's check. Ask about this when making your appointment.
  • When is the last day to give a final guest count? Call back on that day and give the caterer your final count. Confirm that the caterer will provide 5 to 10 percent more food to accommodate additional people.

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