The High-Street Bride's Guide
Brides-to-be, this one’s for you!
You can say your vows in a catwalk gown so beautiful it reduces your mum to tears (and not because she paid for it).
You can style a reception so stunning your guests won’t believe you didn’t hire an A-list planner.
And you can sprinkle the day with personal touches that make everyone feel like you gave them special attention before they even got there. Without spending a house deposit on it. Honest.
Samantha Birch has written for GLAMOUR, Brides, You & Your Wedding and Cosmopolitan Bride. She knows a thing or two about planning a wedding on a budget, how much you can expect to pay for everything and where to go to get it for less. And she’s put it all down here.
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Your Table Plan Trauma: Solved
It’s keeping you up at night, but it doesn’t have to be a disaster. Samantha Birch, author of The High-Street Bride’s Guide, talks you through all things table-plan.
Dun-dun-duuuun! Hear that? It’s the sound every couple hears just before they sit down to do the—whisper it—table plan. Look away! Cover any nearby children’s eyes! Scream in a suitably blood-curdling manner! Oh the horror, the horror of having to decide who’s going to be lumbered with boring Uncle Albert, how in the heck you’re going to seat your recently-broken-up couple friends and just what in the wide world you’re supposed to do about your evil-eyes-and-snide-comments-at-every-turn divorced mum and dad!
But there is a way! Trust me! Put down that cushion and peel your hands away from your eyes. There will be no rage-induced pushing-over of tables, no face-in-the-cake falling asleep at old Al’s latest ‘anecdote’ and no friends running out in floods of tears in the middle of the speeches. Why? Because I’ve got it. I’ve got the solution to your seating plan problems. And no, it’s not closing your eyes and pulling the names out of a hat…
Don’t do it. The top table. Just don’t do it. Why would you put yourself through that? Yes, it’s tradition, but if Mum and Dad can’t be in the same room as each other without the passive-aggressive remarks/flames behind the eyes/gazing-over-each-other’s-heads-I-can’t-SEE-you act kicking in, why would you put them at the focus of the room, with just you and your new-husband (yay!) between them?
Instead, come over all US of A and go for a ‘sweetheart’ table; that’s a little one just for you and your groom that means plenty of hard-to-come-by just-the-two-of-you time during the wedding breakfast. Or, opt for the increasingly common bride-and-groom-and-bridesmaids-and-best-men set-up; we couldn’t fit all ours on the one table so we had a few with us and a few heading up other tables around the room.
The parents? Give them each a table to host, at opposite sides of the room, but still towards the front so they can be equidistant from you. Fill their seats with happy, supportive family types who won’t be easily swayed into don’t-you-just-hate-your-dad’s-tie-type conversations. Impossible? Seat them with roughly half family, and half strangers. They’re less likely to air their dirty laundry in front of unknown quantities, and if you pick the right people they can keep the chatter firmly on lighter topics.
Tip: The same tactic works for feuding or recently broken-up good friends; just split the friendship group down the middle and give them half each. Alternatively, if one person holds up their hands and admits that they’ve done wrong, see if they wouldn’t mind taking a smaller cut of their pals just for the wedding breakfast. The injured party might need a bit more emotional support, and it’ll feel like a small victory at a tough time.
The Most Boring Man Alive
We’ve all got one. Nobody’s quite sure how, but nothing has ever happened to him. His idea of a ripping yarn is an in-depth assessment of the colour of something that just emerged from some orifice or other, and he responds to your hilarious tales of derring-do with a blank stare, and a blink.
First up: seat him between someone who’s very patient, and someone who never seems to shut up. If he gets chatting, the patient person on his left will kindly humour him; if he strikes up a conversation with the person on his right, he won’t get chance to say anything that puts other people off their pudding.
Second manoeuvre: make sure his table has plenty of games on the go. The ‘Who Am I’ game is cheap and simple—all people need is a pen and a slip of Rizla they can lick and stick to their forehead—or there are plenty of fun quiz-in-a-box-type things that keep the conversation answer-focused.
Tip: The same thing works for those relatives you didn’t realise were so offensive. Y’know, the ones your mum just revealed have some pretty non-PC views. Yesterday. After you sent them an invite. Don’t seat them near people whose buttons they’ll push, or the objects of their so-not-cool perspectives, and flank them with pre-warned seriously-laid-back people who won’t be easily rankled.
The obvious answer is don’t surround them with smug married couples, but table numbers don’t always work out as clean-cut as all that. If you’re stuck with one or two singletons between four long-term loved-up-types, the trick is to mix up the seating so the pairs are on the same table, but they aren’t sitting next to each other.
Think school classroom: boy, girl, boy, girl works best if you don’t want Wife 1 and Wife 2, who already know each other through Hubbies A and B, to end up just ignoring The Single Girl. And bring on those games again: leave instructions that split the table down the middle into two teams, so there’s no last-one-picked embarrassment.
In the mood for a spot of match-making? Go for a Singles table if you’re having circles, and plot your own carefully constructed game of Confessions, where the questions come on cards pre-written by you. Judge the level your table is at, and be careful not to actually embarrass anyone; the aim of the game is to get people to show off their good side without, y’know, actually showing off. Leave instructions for the most confident character to host, getting everyone to read out the question you’ve left in their place, even if they don’t know who ‘Lucy’ or ‘Martin’ is.
Here’s the lowdown: Your maid of honour loves a guy who’s good with kids? Plant a question at someone else’s seat—‘Adam, what went wrong when you babysat Millie?’—that lets your friend tell all about the time his niece ended up with Nutella in her hair. The best man’s after someone adventurous? Get someone sitting near him to ask Christina about that time she went backpacking in Nepal and got stuck halfway up a mountain. The trick here is not to give the question to the actual person you think will fancy the answerer: for one thing, it’s too eye-rollingly obvious; for another, it’s too high-pressure! Do it right, though and their attraction will seem utterly organic…
Rectangular tables? Okay, so the game’s not likely to fly—too difficult to stretch across and hear each other—but it’s not as goldfish-bowl if you want to just take the hit and sit a potential couple opposite one another.
Tip: Those rectangle tables are also a good way to seat somebody who’s shy: put couples you know will talk to each other on either side, and sit them opposite someone super-nice or talkative; whatever they’ll find the least frightening! In a circular-table situation, your best bet is to surround them with people they’ve known a while or sit them with you and your groom, and keep them out of games that bring on the blushes! Not an option? Nominate someone who’s not too intense to sit next to them and gently guide some softly-softly safe conversation.
Meet the author -
So far I’m the author of one book: The High-Street Bride’s Guide. I’ve written about dresses, bridesmaids and cake toppers for Brides and You & Your Wedding, and regularly contribute to the likes of GLAMOUR and Love Baking – often while eating cake in my pyjamas. I live with my husband in a chaotically untidy flat in Letchworth, which I pretend is an artfully unkempt writer’s loft in St. Albans.
Join Sam and find out more -
Twitter (me): @SamBirchWriter
Twitter (the book): @HighStreetBride
Twitter (me): @SamBirchWriter
Twitter (the book): @HighStreetBride