More often than not, the inquiries I receive aren’t from the couples themselves, but from their parents. Out of the ten weddings I planned in my first season, three of the newlyweds were living in other states, and leaned on their family in Pittsburgh to be their boots on the ground. This year, five of my couples are from out of town: Shoutout to my Nashville, Tampa, Durham, Detroit, and Cleveland kids!
Anyway, Karen was the first parent that hired me. Her daughter, Christina, would marry Patrick at the swanky J. Verno Studios in Southside. They lived together in Michigan, and couldn’t wait to host a fabulous party that started the moment the doors opened. Each guest had a commemorative flute of bubbly waiting for them, with their name and table number printed on a scroll. An alcoholic escort card is the best escort card.
Christina and Patrick decided to do a first look, and took all of their formal photos before the wedding ceremony, opting to mingle with friends and family during cocktail hour. To keep the party going all night, they hired DJ Mike Willis of Modern Era Weddings, whose after dinner dance set blew me away. I had to fight the urge to go full Britney while replenishing the cookie table to a Gimme More megamix.
Karen was so sweet, and had put a ton of time and love into her daughter’s wedding day, including tracking down a pair of adorable bride and groom sock monkeys to join the newlyweds at their sweetheart table, an inside joke between family.
One of the main reasons she hired me was to execute the ‘room flip,’ aka transitioning the ceremony space into the reception...In less than an hour.
While I hadn’t formally flipped a space before, I had a lot of experience setting up events in a time crunch, and was excited to tackle this challenge head on. The best way to flip a space from ceremony to reception? Preparation.
In my planning meetings with Karen, we went over exactly what the vision was for the reception: Moody, romantic lighting, pin spots on each centerpiece, and enough room for a generous dance floor. We also got creative with how to use the ceremony decor again in different ways.
Christina and Patrick’s wedding altar (dripping in chandeliers!) was also their sweetheart table backdrop, with her stunning bridal bouquet doubling as their centerpiece. The hurricane vases with candles lining the aisle were re-purposed as table decor, with sprawling succulent wreaths wrapped around the base.
Planning hack: Photos are your best friend! Do a table mock up of your vision, and share the final look with your planner to replicate on the day of so you can enjoy cocktail hour!
We also mapped out every table, and how many guests were seated at each one. Other details we nailed down included: What style linens go where, napkin fold preference, and what each place setting needed for dinner.
The red flag: If a red flag is a warning sign of what’s to come, then I’d have to call this whatever the opposite of a red flag is, because I did not see it coming at all!
While I had prepared for the room flip itself, I didn’t spend a second of time thinking about the moments that came before it. I knew I’d have to escort all of the guests out of the space and into cocktail hour, but I forgot about a major roadblock standing directly between the rooms: The Bride and Groom!
Let’s back up. Remember when I said Christina and Patrick did a first look? That meant they were free as married birds during the cocktail hour, my first couple to do so at the time. From the second they walked back down the aisle as husband and wife, each guest meandered into cocktail hour wanting to do one thing.
You know those choreographed flash mobs that appear as if from nowhere? Well, I had a flash receiving line on my hands, and it backed up all the way to the altar! Turns out you can’t flip a space with over 150 people in it.
The first thing I did was wedge myself back into the ceremony space, and attempt to usher guests waiting in line through the large doorway, which was an epic fail. Think about it: How rude would it be to bypass what looked like a planned receiving line and head straight to the cheese display? I just wasted 5 minutes.
I went back to where the bride and groom were standing. They were laughing and enjoying chatting with each guest. I quickly snaked around them and said, “I need you guys to keep moving!” Slowly but surely, they covered enough ground, and lead the line toward the farther end of the cocktail hour space. Wherever they went, their guests followed. It was impressive.
Ten minutes later, the space was clear of guests, but when you only have 45 minutes to set up a wedding reception, 10 minutes feels like 10 years!
What I learned: Make a post ceremony plan with your client and stick to it. Whether it’s a formal receiving line, a bubble exit, portraits, a tequila shot, or just a moment alone, it needs to be scheduled and agreed upon in advance.
What I also learned: A planner is only as good as the vendors around her, and lucky for me, I had some all stars. I was so grateful for their hustle that night.
Here's a breakdown of the flip:
Leading the charge with the tables and chairs was Paul. If you’ve been to a wedding at J. Verno Studios, chances are Paul was there making wedding magic happen. He’s the stealthy MVP, and did most of the heavy lifting: Clearing ceremony chairs, setting up the round tables, and helping me toss the correct color linens onto each one.
As Paul got the tables in place, I went around with my legal pad, slapping each table with a note detailing the table number, and how many people per table. Paul followed up with the correct number of chairs.
Supporting the table top design was the amazing Bistro to Go catering team, who set each place setting, lit over 100 votive candles, and made sure each table had everything needed to enjoy a lovely dinner.
I finished the job with the decorative gold hexagon table numbers, succulent centerpieces, and of course, the sock monkeys at the sweetheart table...with time to spare!
Once everything was set, the photographer popped in to capture the detail shots. I was even able to steal Christina and Patrick away to take in their reception space privately.
The rest of the night was a party. The guests tore up the dance floor, and every vendor tried not to lip sync while bussing the tables. I believe the last thing the groom said was: “After party at Hofbräuhaus!”
Photos by: J. Verno