What’s the role of wedding ushers? We’re all familiar with arriving at a wedding, being greeted by a friend of the couple and being asked “Bride or groom?”. Then we’re steered towards the appropriate side of the ceremony area to await the arrival of the bridal party. Maybe they hand us an order of service. Usually they are smartly dressed in outfits to complement the groom’s and wearing a buttonhole. And according to most etiquette guides, that’s usually about it.
But is there more to the role of wedding ushers? And are there other important tasks they can help with? On the day, as the couple, there are lots of things that you can’t do yourselves. You might be self-planning, or working with a wedding planner. But having your guys ready to step up to help is invaluable for any wedding.
Ushers or groomsmen?
The roles of wedding ushers and groomsmen are slightly different but we’ve used them interchangably here. The basic similarity is that they are traditionally friends of the groom who are there to support him on the day. These days, you might also choose to have one or more female ushers. But let’s start with the most traditional of their tasks.
With more couples opting for a informal approach and urging guests to “Pick a seat not a side”, this role isn’t so strong. But meeting and greeting guests is still important. After all, the other key players are going to be somewhere else. The groom is waiting in the ceremony area and his best man is with him. The bridal party haven’t yet arrived on the scene. The bride’s father is likely to be with them. You want your guests to feel welcomed. Furthermore, there are lots of other issues that might come up when they arrive and where your ushers can be invaluable.
Some guests may be hot or flustered and may ask for a drink of water. Some will have pushchairs and need help leaving them in a suitable place. Guests may have brought gifts and cards and want to know where to put them. Sometimes the couple have arranged for a box or card table so it’s easy to steer them to this. But if not, the quick-thinking usher needs to designate a spot. More on this later.
Other arrival roles
Ushers may escort older guests or those with mobility problems to their seats. And if a guest arrives late, it’s the usher’s role to seat them without disrupting the ceremony.
Rounding up guests when the ceremony is due to begin
Often, especially with a destination wedding, your guests are going to take their seats when the bride is imminently due. The last thing you want is guests feeling faint in the hot sun. And once the guests have begun chatting before the ceremony (or grabbing a sneaky drink from the bar), it can be hard to dislodge them. So gently steering them to the ceremony area is a key role.
Allocating seats for the ceremony
As the couple, you might have been super-organised and prepared ‘Reserved’ signs for the front seats. These advise the bridal party and key guests where to sit. They might be hand-written cards or printed to match the rest of the wedding stationery. Either way, if you are organising your own wedding, someone needs to set them out on the correct seats on the front rows. That should be your most organised usher. And he’s going to need a plan or sketch to help him do it.
Keeping the front seats free
But let’s say that you haven’t made signs. In this case, one of your ushers should hover around the third row. He should ask guests to be seated behind this, leaving it free for the key family members and bridal party. Even if the wedding is really informal, guests can be uncertain what to do. They’ll really appreciate a little guidance. No-one wants to make a faux-pas and sit in the wrong place. Even once the first bridesmaid has walked down the aisle, she can be uncertain where to sit. So your chief usher should subtly indicate this so that she, and the other bridesmaids can take their places seamlessly. If this goes wrong, it can create confusion. When the bridal party reassembles to walk back down the aisle after the ceremony, it can look a bit chaotic. And this can make your photographer’s job a whole lot harder.
Keeping the guests off the aisle carpet
Let’s say you have a pristine white aisle carpet or runner for your grand entrance. The last thing you want is for the dusty footprints of your guests to have sullied it before you arrive. Wedding planners have rolls of plastic sheeting to avoid this problem. But whisking away a long piece of plastic at the last minute is never going to look elegant. So the easiest thing is for one of your ushers to plant themselves firmly at the end of it and ask guests to walk around it.
Keep a lookout for the bridal party
You want a trusted friend to be keeping a beady eye out for the arrival of bridal party. And we always suggest that the chief bridesmaid keeps her mobile phone to hand and rings the chief usher when they are a few minutes away. That way, he can ensure that everyone is ready.
Alternatively, if the bridal party are preparing at the venue, one of the ushers can give them a ten-minute warning while another seats the guests. He should then pop up again to say that all is ready, collect up any last minute bags, keys, phones etc from the bridesmaids as they leave the room, and escort them towards the ceremony area.
Sometimes your guests will be making their own way to the venue, perhaps by taxi. But with a destination wedding, many venues are quite rural and taxis can be few and far between. So a coach or bus service can be indispensable. This also ensures that everyone gets there on time. If you have guests staying in two or three hotels, you need someone to remind them where and when to meet up. Then they keep a look out for the bus and marshall the guests onto it. And if someone is late or can’t be found, they need to make the decision to head off so as to keep to the timings. They can also advise the hotel staff to tell the late guest or guests to take a taxi when they appear. What you don’t want is to have the bus waiting around and everyone being 40 minutes late. Or for the frantic friend to get their friends on the bus to plead with the driver to turn round on a narrow rural road and head back to pick them up, making everyone an hour late.
Someone reasonable technically-minded needs to be responsible for your ceremony music. Whatever you are having, they need to check it’s cued up correctly for the arrival and walk back down the aisle. Sometimes this will be done for you by your celebrant or planner. But it could be that one of your ushers needs to bring the music on a USB stick or phone. Indeed, he could be operating a boom box or PA system himself. The same techie usher friend could be responsible for the playlist over dinner and maybe the party track for afterwards.
Escorting guests out
After the ceremony, everyone can be a bit uncertain about how to exit. Do they repeat the entrance? Surely the couple lead the way, but then who is next – family? Bridesmaids? What about the flower girls and ring-bearers? As the final music starts, your seating usher should subtly indicate who should start the recessional and keep things on track. Once they have left the ceremony area, guests might be confused about where to go next. So an usher should be on hand to guide them to the next area. Sometimes your caterer will be there with tempting drinks on trays and this can stop guests in their tracks, preventing others from leaving. So it can be helpful to advise the catering team to move a short distance away so that everyone can exit and there are no pileups.
At this point, ushers may have a flurry of requests for directions to the toilets. It goes without saying that it’s useful if they know this themselves.
The couple may have prepared a list of photograph groupings. Now, the photographer isn’t going to know who these people are and may not want to shout at their top of his or her voice to line them up. So you need an usher armed with the list, with a loud voice to call the groups up for the photographs. If there isn’t a prepared list, he can still usefully liaise between the couple and photographer. In the end, the groupings tend to follow fairly straightforward lines (“Bride’s family! Groom’s family! Bridesmaids and Groomsmen! Everyone together!). The trickiest part can be this last photo – assembling all the guests for a group shot, usually before going in to dinner. The photographer will often be fully occupied with the technicalities of the shot, so it’s the role of the ushers to organise the guests. Once everyone is chatting and enjoying drinks and canapes, this can be trickier than it sounds.
Gifts and cards
After the ceremony, it’s really important that cards and gifts are gathered up, put into a bag or box and taken care of (there might be money in those envelopes!). Options may include handing them to a hotel reception for safe-keeping, having them taken up to the hotel room of one of the party or put behind the top table in the dinner area.
Entry to the dinner
Guests may struggle to find their seats from the plan so ushers can either have a copy to hand or position themselves near the seating plan board to help guests pick out their names. It helps if they have had a walk around the dining area themselves to check what tables are where. The caterers should have a copy of the seating plan and may have a spare they can lend you.
If the couple have chosen a piece of music to make their entry to the dinner, your techie usher needs to ensure that this is lined up on the PA system and ready to go. Usually, it’s the Best Man who makes the announcement. So the techie role includes checking that the couple and music are all ready and cueing up the Best Man to do his thing.
For many couples, paying for two sets of chairs, one for the ceremony and one for the dinner, feels like an expensive option. If the two areas are close together and the wedding isn’t a very large one, it can make sense to ask the ushers to help move the seats from one spot to the other and to set out the chairs for dinner. Your caterers may be able to help. However, do bear in mind that this may be impractical and asking the guys to sweat away for the entire cocktail hour in summer heat dragging 150 chairs about may not be feasible.
Lining up the speeches
It’s traditional to have speeches after the meal has ended and sometimes teas and coffees are served at the same time. Ideally someone needs to liaise with the couple and other speakers (traditionally, the Father of the Bride, the Best Man, then the Groom) about when they are ready to begin. They need to check that the sound system is working, the microphone is in place and any gifts are to hand. If there is to be a champagne toast, it can be useful to remind the caterers, especially as it’s not always a standard feature of a destination wedding. Opening 20 bottles of fizz and charging 80 glasses takes a bit of time.
Paying the suppliers on the day
It’s quite common for some suppliers to be paid on the day. This could be a hair and make-up artist, musicians or band members, perhaps a taxi or people-carrier service. If the bride or groom don’t want to be carrying an envelope of cash around with them, they can delegate this task to one of the ushers.
With all the excitement, it’s quite common for items to get lost. Shoes, sunglasses, mobile phones, jewellery, pashminas, hats… It saves a lot of heartache if an usher collects up anything which has been left – and does a quick search before the last guests leave. If a venue is in a remote location and there’s another wedding the next day, it can be extraordinarily difficult to re-unite lost property with its owners.
Fans and favours
On the same subject, there are many items that are often left behind which the couple will want to have back. Personalised fans for during the ceremony and wedding favours placed at the dinner table are just two of these. Guests will often forget to bring these with them when they leave the area but will want to keep them as mementoes. So gather them up and save them to redistribute.
Getting everyone home
If the couple has laid on transport to get guests home, it’s very useful for guests to know the timings. Sometimes several buses will have been booked to come at different times. So arm your ushers with the timings. If there’s going to be a long gap between buses or if someone wants to leave early, their job should include calling taxis. Sometimes they’ll need to find the relevant guests when the taxi appears.
Brief them really well!
That’s a big to-do list! So we suggest that you, the couple, meet up with your ushers a couple of weeks before the wedding to go through the tasks. Then, beforehand, give them a copy of your wedding schedule and timings. This includes key phone numbers (caterer, venue, local taxi firms). When they arrive at the venue, try and find time to give them a brief tour of key areas before other guests arrive.
We believe that ushers can be the unsung heroes of the day. But very often, they don’t have much prior knowledge of what might be involved or how they can best help. By allocating key tasks to your team and briefing them really well, you can ensure they help your day run smoothly.
For more on the role of wedding ushers and groomsmen, check out wedding blog such as:
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