Here are the two fundamental rules of weddings: one, they involve money (often more money than you’d like to spend, TBH) and two, they involve a whole lot of stuff. Wedding programs, tea lights, bridesmaid shoes, your wedding vows, a copy of the ceremony script, the amplifier, place cards, the list goes on and on. (And often, it’s a list you don’t even think about till that panicked month before the wedding.) Not only are there a ton of individual items in the space, but each one of those items has to be handled by a human during setup and breakdown.
So if you’re not hiring a pro to set up and break down your wedding, I’m here to save you from the last minute panic and disorganization, when you realize that you don’t have a full plan in place to set up and breakdown your wedding. Because there’s a lot to account for when setting up a wedding yourself.
When planning for the day of your wedding, here are the questions you need to be asking:
- 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?
It’s not enough to just acquire all of your wedding things—you also need to get those things to the venue, set them up, then pack them up and bring them home (or elsewhere). You know you need eight cases of beer, but who’s bringing them to the venue, and how are they getting iced down once they’re there? (Related: bottle openers!) Your aunt made a dozen amazing table runners—who’s putting them on the tables?
Get Some Help
The first step of planning for the day of your wedding, is getting some help. And while hiring day-of-coordinator or wedding planner can be a great option (they are goddesses, and I’m not just saying that because I am one), there is no shame in not being able to work that into your budget. But if you’re DIYing your wedding, you need to keep in mind that you need people—maybe lots of them—to help you get it done. And given that you have another really important job on that day (namely, being emotionally available to get married, AKA, why everyone is here), you also need someone to step in and be in charge on the wedding weekend that is not you. APW has always called that person a Wedding Stage Manager, and by begging or bribing, you need to get yourself one.
Make a Packing List
Next up, you 100%, absolutely, definitely need to make a pack list. Honestly, DIYing a wedding is a lot like moving twice. Writing out all of these details will help you get organized, and maybe even realize that you hadn’t considered some super important factors. As part of APW’s wedding planning spreadsheets, there is a pack list that I highly recommend. But you can just as easily put together a word document and split it into two sections: Going to Venue and Coming Home. For example:
GOING TO VENUE:
(2) Décor boxes (Bridesmaid Serena)
(120) Escort cards
(12) Table numbers
(1) Card basket
(1) Guest book
(2) Pens for guest book
(4) Flags for bar
(12) Centerpieces (Bridesmaid Kelly)
(6) cases of beer (Uncle Mike)
(10) cases of wine (Uncle Mike)
(1) Card basket (Russell’s Mom)
(1) Guest book and leftover pens (Russell’s Mom)
All gifts (Russell’s Mom)
All leftover wine and beer (Best Man Richard)
Now About Wedding Setup
I like to build all of the pickups into my timelines, so everyone remembers that the items need to be out of the house by a certain time. Nothing will make your heart sink like leaving for your first look and realizing that Uncle Mike only picked up the beer and not the wine. Label your boxes in a way that makes sense for you, just like moving, and be sure to mark boxes that are number (x) out of total (y) appropriately.
Once you figure out how to get everything to the venue and back home again, you’ll also want to consider how much time you’ll need to put it all together and take it apart. Again, keep in mind that a human has to handle each and every item, but setting up will take much longer than breaking down. Like when you move: unpacking your kitchen tools and putting them in their places takes time, even if you’ve already decided where everything should go, but packing them up is as simple as filling boxes. You’re going to want at least two hours to get your venue fully set, especially if you don’t have a staff of pros to make it happen. Some questions to consider:
- Are chairs and tables going to need to be set up? Or will they be in place when the setup team arrives? (Add at least 30 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 DIY-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 (chuppah, 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. Don’t forget that some of your beverages will need time to chill!
Breaking Down a Wedding Can Be Easy
Once you set it all up, get married, drink prosecco, do “The Wobble,” and all of your guests leave, you’re going to need someone (read: a team) to take it apart and get the important pieces back home. In an ideal world, make these people not include you and your partner. If you plan in advance, and enlist friends and family, you should be off somewhere, taking off your wedding dress, drinking more wine, and… the rest is up to you.
What you need to provide is a plan for what needs to get to where. Maybe it’s going to your apartment, maybe it’s going to your In-Laws, maybe it’s going in the trash. It will be helpful to the people taking everything apart if they know what goes where. There are obvious things to account for, like your card box and your guest book, but then there are not so obvious things like, signage and flowers. Are your table numbers in geometric frames that you want to use after your wedding? Make sure to note on your pack list that they should return home. Spent a grand total of $6 on your centerpiece vases? You can encourage guests to take them home. Have a ton of leftover beer that you can’t imagine finishing yourself? Let your service staff take it home as a tip!
Ultimately you’ll want to elect someone that you trust to be in charge of breakdown execution (and suggest that they not get too drunk… or sober up a little, before they’re in charge of boxes). Then, check your venue contract to confirm when it must be completed (add this to your timeline, too). Even with meticulous planning, there will always be questions. You don’t want to be responsible for answering them! It’s your party!
With all of your needs and desires carefully considered and documented, you’re free to avoid packing boxes of gifts while buzzed on bubbly and wearing a wedding dress. Trust me, you’re really going to enjoy that freedom.
For those of you who have gotten married, what are your best tips and tricks for wedding set up and breakdown? For those of you in the planning stages, what questions do you have? Let’s pass on some knowledge!