Sticky situations

15 common wedding issues and how to solve them

By Amy Newman

Every couple wants their wedding day to go off without a hitch. But whether it’s a busted budget or reining in a momzilla, chances are you’ll encounter a few bumps along the way.

Luckily, Alaska wedding planners Rebecca Kopperud of La Boum Events, Amanda Talyat of Alaskan Elegance, and Lorell David of i do Events have seen it all. They spoke with us about some of the more common situations couples face when planning a wedding, and offered expert advice on how to handle each of them with grace to ensure a bump-free trip down the aisle.

The Guest List

Q: Our venue doesn’t have room for everyone on our guest list – how do we cut it?
This is the only area where our experts disagreed. Lorell suggests couples create an ‘A’ and ‘B’ list, and send out invitations to B-list guests as regrets from the A-list come in. But Rebecca feels that the risk that guests will discover the tiered invitation system isn’t worth the hurt feelings it will cause. Instead, she says couples need to sit down and have a conversation about who they really want in attendance.

Amanda says it’s important for couples to create a guest list before even choosing a venue. “You want to have an estimation of how many guests you need to provide room for,” she says. “Without that you’re shooting blind.” Once you have that, start eliminating people from the list – children, distant relatives or friends you rarely see or speak to, she says.

If you find it impossible to cut the guest list any further, scrap the seated dinner for a cocktail reception, Lorell says, with high cocktail tables set up around the room and food stations, allowing people to mingle.

Q: What if a guest shows up that didn't RSVP or wasn't invited? How do I handle unexpected extra guests at our wedding?
Unless the guest’s intention in showing up is to cause trouble, ask yourself whether kicking them out is worth the scene it may cause. In most cases, the answer is no. So err on the side of being accommodating. “Chances are you had last minute cancellations, so just try to fit them in wherever you can,” Amanda says.

Q: Am I expected to invite all of my coworkers to our wedding?
If you spend time with your co-workers outside of work and consider them friends, then by all means extend an invitation. But if your only contact is during work hours, an invitation isn’t necessary – although inviting your boss is always a nice idea, Lorell says.

Q: Our parents have come up with a list of friends to invite – how do we say no?
If you and your fiancé are paying for the wedding, a simple “I’m sorry, it’s not in the budget” should suffice, Amanda says. But things can get tricky if your parents are footing the bill. In that case, you’ll need to talk with them about your desire for an intimate wedding and ask that they not invite people you don’t know – or at the very least, limit it to one or two friends.

Q: Oh, the infamous ‘Plus One.’ Do we have to extend a plus one to guests if we don’t know their partners?
If the guest is married or engaged then yes, you must invite their partner whether you’ve met them or not, Amanda says. Otherwise, no guest is entitled to bring a date. If you do choose to skip the “Plus One,” make it as clear as possible on the invitation by addressing it only to those guests specifically invited (this can help if you choose to have a child-free wedding as well). Lorell suggests taking it one step further and include with the invitation, “1 seat has been reserved in your honor” (again, this works to make it clear that only the adults in a household are invited to the wedding).

Q: We don’t want kids at our wedding – how do we say ‘adults only’ without offending people?
Many people consider weddings to be family affairs, so you’ll need to be upfront about the fact that you want the little ones to stay at home, Rebecca says. State clearly on the invitation, “Adults only reception” or “We love kids, but this is an adults only affair.” But because many guests will do what they want, Rebecca says couples “need to be mindful of making it an adult activity.” This could mean having an evening versus afternoon wedding, which would extend past the children’s bedtime and make parents think twice about bringing them or choosing a reception venue not suitable for children, such as a bar.

Families & Feuds

Q: How should I seat my divorced parents and step parents at the ceremony?
Traditionally, whoever walks the bride down the aisle gets the first chair at the ceremony, with the spouse seated next to them. But with a blended family that can cause hurt feelings.

“You don’t want to disrespect anybody,” Amanda says. “But honestly, what it comes down to is everybody just needs to put their problems aside for a minute.”

It may be hard, but you’ll need to have a conversation with your parents about your expectations for seating at the ceremony and their comfort level with your wishes.

Q: Two of my family members HATE each other and I am worried they will have a fight at the wedding. What should I do?
Assign somebody – the wedding planner, a groomsman or another trusted guest – the task of making sure the family members keep their distance and, if a fight does break out, stepping in and breaking it up, Rebecca says.

Q: It’s my wedding but my mom (who’s paying for most of it) is trying to control everything. How do I keep her vision from taking over mine (and keep her happy)?
“With purse strings often come ties,” Rebecca says. So communication and compromise are key to ensure you get the wedding of your dreams, and not your mom’s.

Most of the time, mom just wants to feel as though she’s playing an important role in your big day. So if there is some aspect of the wedding that you don’t have strong opinions on – the flowers, for instance – put mom in charge of it, Lorell says. That will give her something to focus on and allow her to participate in the planning, leaving you to focus on those details you do feel strongly about.

Q: Both sets of parents were divorced and now remarried. How do you suggest we handle the father/daughter, mother/son dances? We don’t want anyone to feel left out.
“It’s really all about honoring people and the role that they’ve played in your life,” Rebecca says. This could mean the bride and groom have different dances with their parent and step-parent, or sharing the dance with each parent. Or spread the honors out throughout the night – a note about all the parents in the program, having both sets of parents stand to give the bride away, or asking them to give a toast, she says.

Money & Gifts

Q: We want to ask for money instead of gifts. How do we do this?
“Asking for anything is considered rude, whether it be money or gifts,” Amanda says. But there are subtle ways to let your guests know that you’d prefer cash over another blender you’ll never use.

Enlisting the help of close family and friends to let guests know via word of mouth that you don’t plan to register, stating on the wedding website that you’d prefer money toward a kitchen renovation or some other project in lieu of gifts, or creating a honeymoon registry all let guests know you’d prefer money without specifically asking for it, Lorell says.

Q: We’ve decided to have a honeymoon gift registry, but some of our relatives are insisting on buying us something. What do we say?
Honeymoon registries, which allows guests to purchase specific events and activities for the couple to enjoy on their honeymoon, are gaining in popularity. You can direct guests to your honeymoon registry via a wedding website or word of mouth, but at the end of the day, you can’t force people to contribute in lieu of purchasing a gift. “People are going to give you whatever they’re going to give you,” Rebecca says.

How much can I reasonably expect my bridesmaids to spend on their dresses? I’m not sure what’s too much to ask of them and I don’t want to put anyone out.

It depends on your circle of friends, Rebecca says. Recent college graduates probably can’t afford as much as a group of 30-something women who are doctors, lawyers and accountants, she says, so be mindful of where your bridesmaids are in their lives when making decisions about what you want them to wear.

Keep in mind that the dress isn’t their only cost, Amanda says. Shoes, accessories, hair and makeup, possibly even airfare and hotel accommodations if any of the bridesmaids live out of town, all need to be factored in.

Q: We want to cut costs: Is it ok if we make the guests pay for their own drinks?
“Unless you’re willing to spend $10,000 on booze, an open bar is almost unheard of now,” Amanda says. In fact, there’s no requirement that you provide any drinks, alcoholic or not (although most couples usually provide champagne or sparkling cider for the toast).

But you can offer your guests drinks and still keep costs down. Lorell says offering drink tickets for beer or wine, putting a time or dollar limit on the open bar, or placing a bottle of wine on every table all help keep costs low but still allow you to provide your guests with a beverage or two.

Q: We’re in the middle of wedding planning and just realized that we’ve financially over-extended ourselves. How do we recover from being over our budget?
If you’ve already signed contracts, talk with your vendors about possibly cutting back, Amanda says. For example, ordering the smaller photo package or cutting back to one photographer instead of two. If that isn’t an option – or doesn’t cut down on costs enough – you’ll have to look at what remains of your budget and choose what you can do without, Lorell says. This may mean using a mom-and-pop store over a high-end florist or choosing a less expensive dinner entrée. Dumping the wedding favors can also save thousands of dollars, Rebecca says.

Being upfront about your wedding day expectations can go a long way in handling many of the sticky situations couples often find themselves in. But at the end of the day, try to focus just on you and your fiancé.

“The most important thing is to remember that this is your day,” Amanda says. “You don’t have to make anybody else happy but you.”