There are a multitude of ways that the start time for your wedding can be delayed. Any one of the big and little details can take longer than you thought it would. So what do you do? You plan. One of the fundamentals of any kind of event planning is that you anticipate everything that can possibly go wrong and come up with a contingency plan, a Plan B. I have done a fair share of event planning in my life, and my assumption always is that things will not go as planned. Outdoor event? What do you do if it rains? Where's your backup location? Do you need to delegate someone to set up the backup room?
A key to knowing what could possibly go wrong is to have some experienced professionals on your wedding team.
(See my previous blog: "Assembling Your Wedding Team"
An experienced wedding planner will anticipate some of these potential problems and work to obviate them before they happen.
One of the potential weak links in the wedding day chain of events is an unrealistic estimate of how long things will take. If the bride's hairdresser tells you that it will take a certain amount of time, make sure the estimate is accurate, and then pad the time. Then make sure that you stick to the schedule. Someone is going to have to crack the whip and make sure that if an item on the schedule is supposed to take 90 minutes, that it takes no more than 90 minutes. A great wedding planner will make sure that this happens. Travel time is another possible cause for delay. Did you allow for heavier-than-usual traffic if there is another event that day? What about parking? Is your wedding party driving around for 20 minutes looking for a parking meter while the photographer waits (im)patiently? Of course vehicles break down, you can't predict when it will happen, but what's the plan for when it does happen? Everyone has cell phones. Do you have someone designated to drive and pick up missing people? Wedding party and family pictures also occasionally take more time than anticipated, but not usually because of the photographer. People wandering off to smoke, or chatting with each other when the photographer is trying to get you in place will slow things down. I've seen weddings where someone was designated as a "wrangler" to get everybody in place so that the pictures moved along at the planned pace.
Finally we're down to the last hour or so before the ceremony. This is where decisions have to be made regarding start time. Usually by this time the bride, groom, wedding party, parents and officiant are all on site. The bride and groom have to decide whether or not the issue holding things up is in fact important enough to hold things up. A year ago I officiated a wedding that started close to an hour late. the reason? The bride's bouquet was missing. In my view, this is not a reason to delay. Few, if any, guests, will realize that the bouquet is missing, so starting that late is not going to endear you to your family and friends!
Until now we haven't mentioned the guests, the family and friends who have come to share this day with the bride and groom. They have made the effort to be there on time and are sitting outside in the hot sun, or inside on hard wooden pews and they are very aware that the invitations said 5:00 and it's now 5:20. Respect your guests who cared enough to show up on time. Of course, sometimes some of the guests aren't there. The reality is that many people have no interest in the ceremony and just want to attend the reception. Some people are just terrible at getting places on time, and no matter how late you start, someone will come in after you start. So, don't worry about the stragglers and start on time. (Exception - if a very important family member, like grandma or a parent isn't there, you might want to wait, but you should have also included their arrival in your planning!)
And speaking of guests, for outdoor wedding especially, no one wants to sit down any sooner than they have to. Instruct your ushers to firmly guide your guests to their seats so that everyone is seated at least 5 minutes before you line up.
More often than not though, the delay is due to no one realizing how late it is. Once again, this is where the wedding planner comes in, cracking the whip, getting everyone lined up and up the aisle. In the absence of a planner I often take on this role myself.
So, as I said at the beginning of this blog post: "Don't Run Late"!