Setting Up And Breaking Down Your Wedding: Everything You Need To Know AKA, "what do we do with this stuff?" by Elizabeth Clayton Recently my best friend assisted me at a wedding for the second time, and made the observation that if you made a pie chart of how my time is spent when actually on-site coordinating, the largest piece of the pie would be marked “dealing with physical stuff (hauling, loading, unloading, setting up, repositioning, packing up, loading).” This is totally true. Weddings, even simple ones without a ton of décor, involve a lot of stuff—tablecloths, plates, flowers, guest book, pens, programs, drinks, glassware, on and on. One of the most common mistakes people make when preparing for their wedding day is failing to fully think through the logistics of all the objects involved. There are several things in particular that need to be figured out: What is being brought to the wedding? How is it getting there? Who is setting it up once it’s there? How long is it going to take to set it up? What is leaving the wedding? How and with whom is it leaving? You know you need eight cases of beer, but who’s bringing them to the venue, and how are they getting ice down once they’re there? (Related: bottle openers!) Your aunt made a dozen amazing table runners—who’s putting them on the tables? You don’t need your extra escort cards after the wedding, but you do need room to take cards and gifts home. You Need A Pack List The pack list is your friend, and handily for you, APW has a downloadable one. If you’re into being hyper organized and spreadsheets make your heart sing, I think you’re going to love it. On the other hand, if you’ve never gotten the hold of Excel and spreadsheets make your head hurt, you can definitely do a pack list in simple bullet point form. I suggest separating into two larger lists, “to go to wedding” and “to come home from wedding,” with bullet points for each item, followed by the person in charge of it. As in: To Go: Décor box—(Sister) Escort cards Table numbers Card basket Guest book Pens for guest book Flags for bar Centerpieces (Bridesmaid 2) 8 cases of beer (Uncle Mike) 4 cases of wine (Uncle Mike) To Come Home—ALL goes into Parents’ car except alcohol Card basket Guest book and pen Gifts and card Leftover wine and beer (Best Man) What You Need To Know About Wedding Setup Setup inevitably takes more time than breakdown—it just takes longer to unpack, organize, and set up décor to be wedding-ready than it does to grab it and (gently) toss it into a box at the end of the night. It’s important to think through how long setup is going to take (breakdown generally takes an hour, unless you have super complicated décor that needs to come down). Many venues rent to you for a total number of hours, and if you go beyond that you have to pay additional for those hours (often at a not-inexpensive hourly rate). I’ve rarely had success with less than two hours of setup time, and that’s often been when working with people who do this professionally (i.e., me, my staff, and a catering staff). Some factors to keep in mind for set up: Are chairs and tables going to need to be set up? Or will they be in place when the setup team arrives? (Add 30–45 minutes for table/chair setup.) What is the table setting going to involve? Just tablecloths and one-piece centerpieces? Or full place settings, multi-piece centerpieces, favors, and place cards? Adjust accordingly. (If you’re DIT-ing set up, doing a sample table ahead of time can be great in figuring out how long it’s going to take.) What other décor beyond the tables is there? Is there anything that needs to be assembled on site (huppah, lighting, complicated dessert table structure, photo booth backdrop)? Who’s taking care of your alcohol, food, and music? If you’re providing or partially providing any of these things yourself, make sure to have both time and resources (i.e., people) dedicated to setting them up. Wedding Breakdown Is Easy (With Sober People) For wedding clean up, it’s important to pay attention to the rules at your venue—some just want all of your personal stuff out, some expect all furniture to be broken down and the floors to be both swept and mopped, most are somewhere in between. Make sure to allow room (and again, delegate resources!) for whatever is needed. There’s inevitably less to bring home from a wedding than there is to take to one. Unless you’re using very expensive vases, I recommend sending centerpieces home with your guests—I generally move them onto one table near the exit with a sign that says, “Please take some flowers when you go!” sometime after cake cutting—they’ll love having pretty flowers at home for a few days, plus you then have a lot less stuff to haul out of there when you’re done. And don’t forget once again to think about delegation and space. Say you’re planning on keeping all the leftover alcohol*—whose car is it going to go home in, and do they have trunk space for it? Even if you haven’t registered, or did and the majority of people have been shipping their gifts directly to you, I can almost guarantee you that a few people will bring cards or gifts, so make sure someone responsible is, well, responsible for getting those home safely. The key is that if you’re one half of the couple getting married, you don’t want to be stuck directing the hauling of leftover beer to your car after the music has turned off because you never thought about the fact that this needed to happen before that moment. In fact, you probably don’t want to have to deal with breakdown logistics at all the night of your own wedding, so even if you don’t have any professional staff, this is ideally something you hand off to friends and family. Planning ahead is in your best interest, and it doesn’t have to hurt your head. If you’re just starting to think about this and your wedding is in two weeks—don’t panic! The easiest way to start is to mentally walk through your wedding and make a list of everything as you go (i.e., you walk in and see the guest book table, so create a list of things that go on it) then organize the list as I mentioned above once it’s all down on paper. Stuff, and getting it all into and out of place, is maybe the dirty secret of the wedding world. (You mean, you don’t just walk into this beautiful space and then leave five hours later, a little tipsy on champagne? Only if you’re a guest, darling, only if you’re a guest.) But with a little bit of prep work it doesn’t have to be a headache for anyone on the actual day—not you, and not the people you delegate it to. A final pro-tip: In the end, if even after planning ahead there’s no room for all of the extra beer in anyone’s car, your catering staff or other vendors will happily take it as a tip. Elizabeth Clayton Elizabeth has been planning weddings since 2006, and has done so full time under the Lowe House Events banner since 2011. She considers herself incredibly lucky to get to work on events full time—it just doesn’t get much better than going to a party most weekends because it’s your job.