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While writing thank you notes doesn’t rank high on most brides’ list of fun wedding planning tasks, I think it should – after all, you’re only writing thank you notes because guests have been kind enough to give you gifts! Thank you notes also give you a chance to express your love and appreciation for individual guests, something you might not get to do on your wedding day. Keeping the intention behind thank you notes at the front of your mind should make this task a breeze – yes, hand cramps and all :)

DO thank everyone. Every gift – an item, money, an event in your honor, or a gift of time or talent – should be acknowledged in writing. A personal, handwritten thank you note remains the blue ribbon standard. Remember that an individual note should be sent to each person who contributed to a group gift, and shower gifts should also be acknowledged with a note, even if you thanked the giver in person.
DON’T delay. If gifts arrive before the wedding, open them! A thank you should be sent within two weeks of receiving a gift (one month for a gift given at the wedding). Trust me, thank you notes are much less daunting if you’re only writing one or two a day.
DO put pen to paper. Yes, paper – no emailed thank you notes here! The stationery you choose doesn’t matter much, but save anything with your new or joint monogram until after the wedding.
DON’T do it all yourself. Involve your groom. There’s no rule that says brides have to write all the thank you notes. Ask your groom to write the notes for his side of the family, or write to each other’s families – it could be a great way to introduce yourself! Of course, bridal shower gifts should remain the bride’s domain.
DO acknowledge kindness. Want to go above and beyond in the “graceful bride” category? Weddings are often a group effort; you’ll find that throughout your engagement dozens of people will pop up with acts of kindness – your neighbor who offers you her rose bush blooms for your shower centerpieces, the cousin who supervises guest parking at your reception, the postman who sets gift deliveries on your porch instead of leaving them out in the rain. A thank you note or sweet treat will likely be unexpected by these folks, but gratefully accepted!

Okay — you’re feeling grateful and ready to write some thank you notes! Even the best intentions, however, can wither when faced with a tall, blank stack of notes. Thankfully, after writing piles for my own wedding, I realized there was something of a formula to the gracious thank you note – a recipe, if you will, that helps you cover your bases in each note and also makes sure each gift is acknowledged in the same courteous, generous, and personal spirit in which it was given. Here are my steps:

1. Open by thanking them for their gift. “Thank you so much for the waffle iron and cookbook!” If the gift was cash, I like the line, “Thank you so much for your generous gift!”
2. Elaborate on your thank you. Add a line or two about why you love the item, why you added it to your registry, or how you plan to use it in your newlywed life. For example, “Kip and I are really looking forward to establishing a big Saturday morning breakfast tradition, and we can’t wait to try out different waffle and pancake recipes.”
3. Add a personal note. If the gift arrived before the wedding and you know their RSVP, add a relevant line: “We can’t wait to see y’all at the wedding – just fourteen days to go!” If the gift arrived on or after your wedding day, that gives you an opening, too: “We wish you could have been at the wedding, but we’re so grateful for your support and felt your prayers on that day. We can’t wait to see you at Christmas!”
4. Close with another thank you. Reiterate your gratitude: “Again, thank you so much for the gift and for the sweet wishes in your note.”

The concept of thank you notes isn’t new to anyone – least of all Southern belles – but I hope this post might have given you a few new tips in your gracious tool kit! Wishing you all relaxed hands as you check this task off the to do list :)

emily Written with love by Emily
1 Comment
  1. avatar Kathryn reply

    This post couldn’t come at a better time. Between the numerous gifts already arriving at my front door (101 days until the big day!) and my Bridal Shower last week, I’m already feeling a bit overwhelmed – but this helped put me at ease. Planning a wedding is a serious commitment, practically a part-time job (that you of course pay for yourself, however ha!) but it is beyond worth it. I am so thankful and so blessed to be marrying my best friend …and can’t wait to celebrate with those we love come September!

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We had a hard time coming up with an appropriate title for today’s etiquette dilemma — since it’s really a series of overlapping issues, we had a hard time finding something that encapsulated them all! Read on, because we’d LOVE your thoughts on this one. I don’t think there’s just one right answer!

From Brittney:

I’m still early in the wedding planning process, but my list of must-haves is pretty much set for the big day and while I was discussing the ceremony/reception with my mom, an interesting point came up. My mom wants me to have a church ceremony, which is fine, but I want the reception to be a barn raisin’ good time! And while most people invited to the ceremony wouldn’t be offended by attending a reception where a few cold ones are being passed around, there are some people (family friends, older family members, etc.) who would be offended. The last thing I want to do is disappoint my sweet granddaddy, but I’m not willing to budge on this reception. Our solution: a ceremony and small reception at the church with an invite-only barn party on the hush hush. So, here’s where I’m stumped: is this allowed? And if so, how do you pull this off?! I don’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings, but I am pretty set on my big barn party! I can’t be the only Southern girl who has tried to balance honoring her family, not causing anyone to stumble, but having a certain vision for her wedding, right?! Any help you could give would be fantastic. Thank ya kindly!

My first instinct is that having a secret anything related to a wedding is just asking for hurt feelings when the secret inevitably gets out. Perhaps you go ahead with your tentative plan – church ceremony, small church reception, barn party – but put everything out in the open? Give guests a chance to check off which events they’ll attend on the RSVP card (and make it clear on the invitation that the barn party will be the most raucous of the three). That way, guests can pick and choose what they’re most comfortable with, and you can feel good knowing you’ve been above-board.

Friends, I (and I’m sure Brittney!) would love to hear from you on this one: have you run into this situation in your own wedding planning? Have you ever been to a two-part reception? Please weigh in in the comments!

emily Written with love by Emily
8 Comments
  1. avatar Mandy reply

    Brittney, I have experienced an almost identical situation. My grandparents are very against any alcohol. Although my fiancé and I are not big drinkers we do want to offer some fun drinks for our guests. I have a great relationship with my grandparents and I am very open with them. They know my heart and my relationship with my fiancé. However, my mom is going to take on this task. She is going to give them a heads up prior to the reception and explain our heart in the matter; to make sure we aren’t trying to go behind their backs but also aren’t desiring to offend them. My advice is to be yourself and be honest. Family is always family and although there are differing opinions honesty will always be respected more! Good luck!

  2. avatar Lillian Johnson reply

    This is an issue often at my facility. I make a few suggestions.
    ~If it’s grandparents who aren’t comfortable with the alcohol, you can always just wait to “open the bar” until after the cake is cut and the real party starts. Almost always, after dinner and after cake they head home.
    ~Another option I have offered is having the bar in an area off to the side where it’s not so in the face of those who don’t partake and serve everything in a glass/cup, no beer cans or bottles.

  3. avatar Marie reply

    I had a similar situation, 1/4 of my family is very conservative and does not drink. My fiance and I both want a lively celebration with all of our favorite people. We are simply having a traditional reception with a cocktail hour and a plated dinner. Those who do not drink will not stay late anyways, and can enjoy hors deourves and dinner with us. – then the party can get started! I can’t imagine having two seperate receptions. Time is so precious and goes by so fast.

  4. avatar Karen reply

    If I were a guest at your wedding, what would offend me and possibly hurt my feelings is being excluded from any of the festivities. For this reason… I would not keep anything a secret. Your guests are presumably adults who can decide for themselves what will or will not offend them. Give them the option of going to all three events. Just be sure they know that the barn party will be a throw down with music and alcohol.

    Having an after party following the reception seems to be a more and more common occurrence these days… especially with out of town guests that you don’t want to feel abandoned.

    I say go for it and have a great time! Your family and friends will just be happy to celebrate in whatever fashion they choose.

  5. avatar Ann reply

    I am doing the exact same plan as you. The way I divided it was to invite my immediate family, bridal party, and the bride and groom’s close friends. We will go from 300 down to 100.
    At the church reception, I will have my wedding cake and punch and cheese straws, and nuts.
    Hope this helps

  6. avatar Lisa Hays reply

    It’s your wedding. As long as there is a choice of “unleaded” beverages, I think you can serve “leaded” and let the chips fall where they may. The offended guests can leave early and if they are so brazen as to say something about your choices being the reason for their departure, smile sweetly, thank them for coming to the ceremony, state you will miss them, and go have a good time. My late F-I-L always said that the people who were meant to be there, will be there – and those who choose not to attend, weren’t meant to be there anyway.

  7. avatar Brittney reply

    Y’all are seriously awesome! Thank you, thank you, thank you Emily for sharing this and for al of your sweet suggestions and pieces of advice!

  8. avatar Denise reply

    The interesting irony to this situation is this is actually the first glimpse of your married life and essentially the first event your are “hosting” as a married couple! It is your party and the first of many parties you will have! I’m sure you want ALL guests to feel welcome. So unless the non-drinkers are actually paying for the wedding, I would have the alcohol bar on one side of the venue and the non-alcoholic bar on the other side of the venue. Children and non-drinkers won’t have to be anywhere near where the alcohol is served and those choosing to partake can do so. Enjoy your day!

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Whenever I’m at a loss for the next topic to cover in our “Expert Advice” series, I usually only have to think back to my last conversation with my sister-in-law to come up with something. She’s in the thick of planning her own wedding right now, and I figure if she’s asking me about something, she’s probably not the only one who’s wondering about the topic! Our last call revolved around creating a wedding day timeline – what happens when, how long things last, who needs to be where – so today, I’m hoping to shed some light on this topic that can be very confusing!

A note: If you’re working with a wedding planner or day of coordinator, creating a wedding day timeline is likely something she will handle. If you’re on your own, it is absolutely essential that you create one of these yourself. (And trust me, there are very few things that I will say are essential for every single wedding!) A well-crafted timeline creates a seamless experience for your beloved guests (and maximizes your time with them!), helps your vendors do their best work, and cuts down on the amount of “managing” you’ll need to do on your wedding day — all very good things!

Let’s get started!

Begin by gathering information and materials. Collect all of the information you have, especially the parts that are externally set/not in your control. It might help to start by asking yourself these questions:

A note: Most ceremonies last approximately twenty minutes, but I would recommend rounding up to at least 30 minutes – and some can be much longer. Add up liturgy, readings, entrances, vows, homily, communion, rituals, etc. to get a ballpark.)

Whew! Answering these might require conversation with your vendors, particularly on subjects like food timing. Your caterer will have the best idea of how long it will take to serve all of your guests at your venue based on whether you’re having a plated dinner, a family style meal, or a buffet, and your photographer can advise you on how long portraits will take based on the list you give him. If they don’t offer this info, ask! Never assume you’re on the same page about how things will run – always confirm.

Add times and details as you confirm them. As decisions are made and information comes in, start plugging each piece into a doc (Word or Excel, your choice!). For example, you probably already know what time you have to vacate your reception venue, so that’s a great place to start! If you’re totally stuck, here’s the general arc most evening dinner receptions at two locations tend to follow:

Of course, there are many, many, many factors that can affect this timeline. Let’s discuss a few.

— One location or two. If your ceremony and reception are at different locations, be sure to build in time for your guests to get to their cars, travel, park, and walk. Take traffic into consideration. I would recommend underestimating the amount of time travel will take, because there are few things worse than having guests arrive to a reception that’s not ready for them!
Portraits. While there are many reasons to recommend them, first looks are not the only option – but, if you’re not having one, you need to be realistic about the time of year and time of day you’re getting married, and adjust your expectations accordingly. (i.e. If you’re having a winter ceremony at 5pm, don’t expect your photographer to be able to capture daylight portraits.) Whether or not you’re having a first look, I recommend checking off as many bridal party and family portraits as you can before the ceremony, and leaving a concise list of group portraits for after.
Location and transportation. Confirm where the gents and ladies will be getting ready, and if it’s not at the ceremony location, confirm transportation for everyone as well as how long it will take. If you’re taking portraits at the ceremony venue but getting ready elsewhere, consider putting on your gown once you arrive to make travel easier!
Dances. At our wedding, we moved immediately into our first dance when we entered the reception, which I loved. You could also use your first dance or parent dances to open the dance floor after dinner, or do them during dinner.
Toasts. I like when toasts are offered during dinner, perhaps between courses. I’d also recommend splitting them up, so guests are able to focus on each one individually.
Sunset. Your photographer will likely suggest taking a few bride and groom portraits at sunset. Even if you did a first look, I think this mini portrait session (10-15 minutes) is a great idea. You’ll be in a different “head space” than before the ceremony, and it will also give you a chance to be (mostly) alone in the middle of your reception. And, there will be lovely glowing light!

The Reason via Southern Weddings

And finally, a few tips to remember:

Guest will arrive early. Fact. Plan to begin your pre-ceremony music at least half an hour before the invite start time. Likewise, if you’re doing a first look or pre-ceremony portraits, have everything wrapped up and be “hidden” away from guests at least half an hour beforehand – otherwise you might get caught chatting with arriving guests when you’d rather be spending a few quiet minutes with your ladies.
Make multiple versions of your timeline. I had a typed, single-spaced, two-page timeline that outlined exactly where every person was going to be for nearly every minute of the day — but I certainly didn’t send it to anyone but my day-of coordinator. That would have been completely overwhelming! I made simplified versions for each major vendor, and emailed them out a week in advance. I also printed out personalized copies for family members and the bridal party, so everyone felt confident about where they had to be when. Here’s a peek at the beginnings of my wedding day timeline, shared in this post:

For all this talk of detail, though, hear this: your wedding timeline is a guideline. As long as you don’t keep guests waiting and the food is fresh, it’s totally fine to deviate from it as the day begins to flow. And that’s where a talented coordinator or planner comes in. I know one is not in every budget, but I would highly recommend making room for one if you can, and if not, at least arranging a handpicked family member or friend to be the point person on the big day. If you’re the type to stress over whether everything is getting set up correctly and whether little details are being taken care of, a coordinator could be the best gift you give yourself. I think a coordinator is also a gift to your family and friends – both because you’ll be less stressed, and because it will allow them to relax, as well. A win win!

Tell me: Do you have a timeline for your wedding day yet? Do you have any tricky questions I might be able to answer? Are you doing anything different with the flow of your day? I’d love to hear!

P.S. I know we’re only covering evening receptions in this post, but most of the concepts are applicable to all sorts of celebrations. Just pick and choose the elements that apply to your wedding!

The Reason is a delightful member of our Blue Ribbon Vendor Directory!

emily Written with love by Emily
20 Comments
  1. avatar Ashley reply

    This is definitely helpful! I have a DOC, but they don’t work on timelines until 2 months out – understandable, things change. EXCEPT, as an out of town bride, I’m doing my final meeting with a few vendors earlier than normal – whenever I can fit them in on trips home- and my vendors need to know drop-off/set-up times. My coordinator and her team have been helpful, but (since I’m a control freak) it’s been easier for me to just do it myself – I figure I’ll let them do the fine tuning.

    • avatar Emily reply

      Awesome! I definitely agree – I’d want to have details worked out before two months, but I can understand why your DOC does it that way!

  2. avatar Lisa reply

    Bookmarking this post to refer to lots in the coming months! Dave and I started working on our timeline early to try to figure out how many hours we wanted to book our photographer and videographers for, but it’s still in the preliminary stages. The biggest difference from this list for us so far though is that our ceremony will run closer to an hour and a half!

  3. avatar Darby reply

    I am helping a friend as her day-of coordinator this weekend. I just wrapped up her wedding day timeline. There are always a lot of things to consider. It’s always a good idea to prioritize what means the most to you on the day of. Make sure that your coordinator is aware of what those are. For example, making sure to take the *must have* portraits first. Great post Emily!

  4. avatar Leann reply

    I know a bride that can use this guide right away. Great post!

  5. avatar Rachel reply

    This post is perfect! I made my February wedding goal to get the timeline figured out – I started it on my own, but my DOC was a life saver! Each vendor is worried about a different aspect of the timeline, so it is definitely smart to start early and get a general idea…I am way more relaxed about the rest of the planning knowing that is under control!

  6. avatar Ashton Robertson reply

    Thank you so much for this post! This is one aspect of planning I feel the most clueless about.

  7. avatar Southern Weddings Weekly Round-Up – Southern Weddings Magazine reply

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  10. avatar DJ Rob Chaoz reply

    Very useful post for couples. Thank you!

  11. avatar Kristin reply

    This is such a great guide to get brides started! The itinerary is so important and helps ensure the wedding plans are executed as envisioned. I think it’s important to have a professional help with itinerary writing because they are able to think of important details that would otherwise be overlooked.

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  14. avatar Stephanie reply

    I am having trouble choosing when to have the first dance. i think I kinda like the idea of setting the tone of the evening and dancing when we are introduced. And the opening the dance floor with the parent dances.

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  16. avatar Misty Eubanks reply

    HELP. We, meaning myself and bridesmaids cannot decorate our venue till the morning of our wedding. Our wedding is at 2. I need HELP organizing a timeline. Decorating will start around 7:30am and I plan on returning to get ready At 10. Is an this ample time???? I have 4 bridemaids and they will be prepreped for hair, they are doing their own make-up and will just need to get dressed.

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  19. avatar Curate reply

    This is right on! Be sure to get some additional help as well from willing family members who are very detail oriented instead of trying to do it all and get married on the same day.

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