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Using Operations Management at Your Wedding

We’ve all been there…waiting not-so-patiently at a wedding for event X to occur while devouring enough crackers and cheese for a flock of parrots. Recently, I attended a wedding of a good college friend (Congrats Scott and Jenna!), and ended up getting involved behind the scenes to make sure the reception stayed on track. Here are my best attempts to think about how process management and operations could help make your wedding fun.


1. Always have people and items in reserve at your wedding. I teach project management, and a simple definition of a project is a complex, non-routine event effort designed to meet customer needs. Something unexpected will happen, and if everyone is committed to doing other tasks, no one will be able to help you. While you and the bridal party are taking photos, you may suddenly realize that someone needs to unlock the hall for the caterer. Make sure you have some friends available for those random tasks.

2. Expect history to repeat itself. In operations, we believe that past information (such as statistics) can be a good indicator of future results. If your Great-Aunt Matilda and Grandmother Gertrude get in fights at every family reunion, don’t sit them together at the wedding. Anticipating problems before they happen is key.

3. When it makes sense, let the guest serve and entertain themselves. Sometimes, it’s better to serve the guest directly (waiters may be preferred over a buffet line), but not always. Think, for example, of how some weddings have cameras on the table that allow guests to take their own pictures. Guests can easily spend 5 hours at the reception, and often more. The weddings I’ve enjoyed the most are ones that found clever ways to provide amusement for the guests and let them have a more hands-on role. Take, for example, the pause between wedding and reception while the bridal party take photos. Why not have something in place so that the guests can amuse themselves while waiting for the bridal party? For example, having a video booth where guests can take videos of themselves offering well-wishes and messages to the new couple would be fun. I’ve always felt it is a bit sad to see guests go from wedding excitement to “When are they going to get here I’ve run out of people to talk to help someone save me” mode an hour later.

4. Manage waiting lines properly at the wedding.
There are a few mistakes I see over and over again at weddings. One classic error is the long, inefficient line being served at dinner. Another is the bride and groom never are able to visit all the guest tables before the guests start leaving, so they don’t see all their friends. But there are a few easy solutions that operations provides. For one, if it is buffet style, try to find a way to obtain a second server or creating a line on each side of the table. While the tables are being served, the bride and groom can start visiting with those being served last (before they have food) and then shift to those first tables as the first tables finish eating.

5. Don’t forget to plan the reception for all types of guests. I hate to out myself as a cold-hearted unromantic sort of fellow. But by the time I leave the reception hall at 10pm, I don’t remember very much about the ceremony itself. The wedding itself is more important, but neglecting the reception has its own perils. Older family members have very different expectations compared to your old college buddies. The best weddings I’ve been too find ways to keep both groups happy without bringing them into conflict with each other. Guests with small children is another category that should be considered.

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3 Responses to “Using Operations Management at Your Wedding”

  1. Shiva on July 20th, 2011 4:29 pm

    #4 seems to be the hi-priority ‘fix’. Across cultures, people seem to forgive everything else at a wedding they attend except some perceived deficiency in their ‘food and drink’ experience!

  2. johnangelis on July 21st, 2011 1:51 pm

    Shiva, that is so true. It’s a shame, but really, people will only remember the end of the event. Although it may be mortifying if the unity candle won’t light or the person presiding over the ceremony mispronounces your name, guests are normally very forgiving of such things. But if you don’t have a vegetarian option available at the reception, you are in huge trouble!

  3. Wedding Poem Writer on May 13th, 2014 5:12 pm

    When my wife and I married, I did everything. Yup because I didn’t want to pay for someone else to do what I could do. The hard part was doing it with no prior experience and, no set schedule of events or vendors. It was terrible.

    As you clearly and masterfully laid out here, brides and grooms can heed your advice to mitigate any problems. Thanks again.

    Josh Cintron

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