10 tips for planning a guest-forward wedding

“Guest-Forward Weddings, n.pl. – prioritizing the experience of your wedding guests through a cohesive party experience that incorporates food, drinks, games, gifts, and more!”

@planwithlaur Let’s talk two of my favorite wedding ideas that you can include at a Guest Forward wedding— the #weddingcigarstation and the #weddingcoffeebar#guestforwardwedding #guestforwardweddingideas #guestentertainment #weddingguestentertainment #weddingguestexperience ♬ Ding (bell sound) – Shiarah

“Guest-forward,” as one of my planner friends told me, “is just a refined way of saying fun as hell.”

The idea of a guest-forward wedding is nothing new! Martha Stewart had thoughts in the far distant past of 2015. But I’ve never heard more chatter about “elevating the wedding guest experience” than in the past 6 months. More and more couples are thinking about the experience of their guests. They’re planning for it, paying for it, and delivering a signature experience to their guests in the process!

They’re taking real strides to put their guests first in the wedding planning process.

Here’s what planning a guest-forward wedding looks like, and here are 10 ideas for how you can make your wedding more fun for your guests. Because let’s face it – throwing one heck of a party never goes out of style!

elements of a guest-forward wedding

The whole concept of the guest-forward wedding implies that a weddings aren’t that much fun for guests. While I attend weddings every weekend and disagree, I recognize that there’s some truth behind the complaints you see and read on the internet.

As weddings change and evolve across generations, the formulaic ceremony ➡️ cocktail hour ➡️ reception, with all of the expected traditions and customs frankly doesn’t seem as fun. Especially when everyone is doing it.

So it then follows that the first hallmark of a guest-forward wedding is that it plays with the structure of the wedding day. Maybe the couple extends the cocktail hour and incorporates live music or lawn games; or maybe they cast aside the rituals and ceremony altogether! Maybe they will open up the bar before the ceremony so every guest has a drink in hand to soften the ceremony. Those are three ideas right there to put your guests at ease and “grease the wheels” for a really fun reception later on.

One of my favorite ideas is to keep the party rolling after the reception and plan an after party. This can be as big and extravagant or as lowkey as you’d like. I had one couple buy the first round of shots at a local bar for their guests. And I shot another wedding where the couple set up a karaoke after party. Do whatever matches your personality and ensures your guests can keep partying if they want to!

guest gifts and party favors

#1 Cigar Bar

I love wedding ideas that double as both guest entertainment and a favor, and that’s exactly what you get with the cigar bar at your wedding. Live cigar rolling at your wedding just oozes class, and I especially love this if tobacco plays into your life, relationship, or hobbies! You can level this up with custom packaging or boxes with your monogram or wedding date. And you can make a whole vignette in your venue around the cigar rolling experience!

Here are some tips if you’re planning to do the cigar bar wedding experience.

#2 Coffee Bar

Along the same lines of the above, if you can pair a guest gift at your wedding alongside a food or drink experience, your guests won’t stop raving about it! Here’s what I love most about having a coffee or espresso bar at your wedding. Coffee service is something you’ll find at most weddings. Typically it’s a little table with a few large carafes – which is fine, I had this at my wedding and it gets the job done to fuel the late-night party and dancing!

But having specialty baristas come to your wedding and make specialty coffee drinks for your guests is elite. Like the cigar bar, you can pair this coffee bar with a special guest favor of whole bean or ground coffee from your favorite local coffee shop!

Here are some tips if you’re planning to do a coffee bar at your wedding!

@planwithlaur Wedding table activity idea – what a fun way to incorporate your guest on your wedding day! #weddingtableinspiration #weddingtablediy #guestforwardweddingideas #guestforwardwedding #weddingguestentertainment ♬ Ding (bell sound) – Shiarah

games and entertainment

#3 Guest Table Activity

If your reception features small round tables, I have a great idea to break the ice and get your guests talking to each other! Making the seating chart is a huge source of wedding anxiety for a lot of couples planning their wedding. This table activity will help put your mind at ease!

These round tables can sometimes be awkward – there’s a reason why the seating chart is often one of the most challenging wedding tasks for couples to complete!

You can provide a little game for guests to play together to break the ice when they sit down. Come up with a prompt and print instructions on a small sign or guide at the table to spark discussion. At a wedding I shot this summer, the couple asked each table to provide their best date night ideas for the newlywed couple. All it took was a sheet of paper and a few pens, and there was no awkward moment for guests at their wedding!

#4 Wedding Crossword Puzzle

OK this is a bit of a personal plug, but I did this at my wedding shower! The wedding crossword puzzle was the activity that everyone talked about at–and after–our wedding shower.

Let me explain because no, we didn’t distribute the New York Times crossword to everyone. John Michael and I made a custom crossword puzzle with clues about us and our relationship. After you create a list of crossword clues, dozens of vendors on Etsy can design a beautiful crossword puzzle for you. We took the file they created and used Staples custom printing services to create a large 36 x 48” foam board. We then mounted a piece of acrylic to the front (to make it dry-erase friendly) and placed the crossword puzzle on an easel.

With a little instruction, our guests had so much fun working on the crossword puzzle together!

@planwithlaur Replying to @Rachel & & Your Guide to the Wedding DIY Crossword Puzzle Still the number one thing talked about from our wedding shower, and one of the DMs I get the most is “how can I do this for my wedding” – so I pulled together all my tips + all the things I wish I knew so you can have your own crossword puzzle at vour next event! In the guide ⭐️what is the wedding crossword puzzle ⭐️how to come up with the best prompts ⭐️how to DIY it ⭐️+ all my top tips to make it a success at your event! #weddingcrossword #weddingcrosswordpuzzle #weddingguestentertainment #guestforwardweddingideas #weddingplanningideas #weddingplanningadvice #guestforwardwedding #weddingguestexperience #weddingguestentertainment #bridalshowerdiygames ♬ Ding (bell sound) – Shiarah

The trick for this is to make sure the clues are hard enough that one guest can’t solve everything, but also that every guest knows at least one clue. This makes sure that everyone gets involved in the fun!

If you want my step-by-step guide to the wedding crossword puzzle, you can actually get it here!

#5 Wedding Guess Who Game

We had so much success with the Wedding Crossword that we doubled down for our welcome party and made a custom Guess Who? game for our wedding weekend welcome party. This one is a little more involved than the crossword puzzle, but so much fun to make.

We made this as a way to help our guests get to know a little more about our wedding party. Again, it’s an absolutely killer icebreaker for your guest-forward wedding and encourages guests of all ages to get involved in your celebration of love.

We put together a little bio for each member of our wedding party, including our ring bearer and officiant. This included a few easter egg clues related to one fun fact we compiled for each wedding party member. We used Canva and Staples to create another large foam poster board. We listed the anonymous fun fact for each person in our wedding party, alongside empty space for our wedding guests to guess which wedding party member each fact corresponded to!

We made custom stickers with each wedding party member’s face so that the wedding guests could put the face sticker next to the fun fact. At the end of our welcome party, JM and I announced which fact was associated with which person! It made for a great way to help shine the spotlight on our friends and get all of our guests to interact before our wedding the next day!

art and culture

#6 Live Wedding Painter

Three years before I got engaged I declared to John Michael that we were going to have a live wedding painter at our wedding. Sure enough, Kate was the first wedding vendor we booked 3 years later!

You’ll notice a theme in all of my ideas, which is that good entertainment for your guests can double as a gift–either for you, or for them. This is especially true for your live wedding painter, who typically paints a scene from your wedding day throughout your ceremony and reception. Your guests can check in on the progress of your painter (spoiler alert: They are ALWAYS a hit), and at the end of the night you have an incredibly special memento from your wedding.

If you want to preserve your wedding day memories and simultaneously gift a cool experience for your guests, hiring a live wedding painter is a can’t-miss idea and probably my favorite one from this list!

#7 Fashion Illustrator

If the live wedding painter is a little out of budget & scope for your wedding this time around, a fashion illustrator can be a more budget-friendly addition to your roster of vendors!

If you are planning an extended cocktail hour, or looking to liven up your welcome party, your fashion illustrator or watercolor artist will typically snap a photo of your guest and sketch or paint their likeness right there, in real time! This is one of those things your guests will absolutely love.

You can elevate this experience even more by gifting a nice frame to your guest as well so that they can frame their illustration when they get back home! KP & Co. Design Studio did an amazing job with these during our cocktail hour at our wedding in Brooklyn. In visiting friends & family since our wedding I’ve seen at least a half-dozen illustrations at their apartments and homes!

#8 Caricature Artist

Another take on wedding art if either of the above doesn’t speak to you is a caricaturist. aAcaricature artist is perfect if you’re looking for something one-of-a-kind and a little whimsical to offer your guests. If you spend any time in Central Park or walk through NYC you’ll see street artists making these! So why not bring the fun to your wedding with you? Best to make sure your guests have a good sense of humor though!

experience and media

#9 The Photo booth

Ah, but there is so much I can say about the photo booth.

As someone who spends their weekends at weddings, I can say with 100% confidence that if you’re on the fence about a photo booth, you should do it. Your photo booth accomplishes a few things at your wedding. The first is that your guests will get a photo they’re guaranteed to like (because who doesn’t like their photo booth photos?). Couples, friend groups, new friends made at cocktail hour, everyone gets a photo they love!

It also gives guests an activity during your cocktail hour or reception. As much as we want our friends to spend 100% of the reception on the dance floor, it’s just not feasible. People like to have options and activities

The photo booth is also an experience! It gets different groups together, and the energy of the photo booth actually translates amazingly well to the dance floor. They feed each other!

A tip to elevate your wedding photo booth? Include props for your guests to use, and personalize your photo booth!

#10 Live Musicians

Hiring a full band may – or may not – be in your budget for your wedding. I’m as big a fan of a great DJ and MC as I am the 16-piece jazz flown in from parts unknown. But you don’t have to go huge to still incorporate live music into your wedding. And trust when I say your guests will appreciate it for you!

There are so many moments throughout the wedding where live music can be included seamlessly. Strings are the perfect accompaniment to an elegant ceremony, and they provide the perfect soundtrack to your cocktail hour. A jazz solo saxophonist at your wedding? Yeah, count me in for that too!

If you’re getting married in New Orleans, are you doing it as big as you could without hiring a second line?

And if you’re in New York City, some of the world’s most talented musicians from Juilliard are literally a few subway stops away!

Catch more ideas here!

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