How to Start Indian Wedding Planning
Just got engaged and unsure how to start the Indian wedding planning process? You probably know what you need to do to find a hotel and decorator, but I have a surprise for you.
Did you know the ORDER in which you do a few other seemingly "simpler" things is EXTREMELY important so you don't make any costly mistakes?
Lucky for you, you're in the right place!
In this post I'll first share the checklist with you and then explain all the details and rationale behind it, so you understand the thought process after years of experience. We're the leaders in DJ/Sound/Lighting/Planning in Indian wedding productions and we see bride and grooms and families all the time go through these things. Order of execution for your Indian wedding planning is important.
Even though I'm the DJ and Lighting guy, you need not focus calling on me a year ahead. You have bigger fish to fry FIRST when you plan your Gujarati or Punjabi or South Indian shaadi!
Atul Gawande (checklist manifesto) ain't got nothing on this bro!
As experts in the industry who do 100 Indian weddings in America a year, we're happy to share this checklist you can use to get some semblance of sanity in this seemingly stressful time. These are the FIRST STEPS you have to take after they propose, because most planning checklists are either too granular or not granular enough.
But they're plenty of super exhaustive ones out there.
The 5 REAL First Steps to Planning Your South Asian Shaadi
Planning a wedding is a joyous occasion, but can also be stressful and anxiety inducing. And planning an Indian wedding, especially the typical “Big Fat Indian Wedding” can be chaotic and a lot of wasted effort if you don't prioritize what you need to do 1st, 2nd, 3rd, et..
Everybody talks about the things you need to do, but we want to explain WHY YOU NEED TO DO THEM IN THIS ORDER, so you understand how you can minimize planning stress later.
As professionals who speak to new couples everyday we thought we’d give you THE five tips to think about as you get started on this fun journey. Also, since your non-Indian friends are going to ask you 1000 questions the next six months, preempt the stress by having them read up on modern traditions before hand.
1. Who Are You Inviting To Your Indian wedding?
Most couples think about the hotel and decorator first, then look to finalize everybody in their circle and send out invites and save-the-dates.
Generally, your wedding guestlist of who to invite to your wedding will comprise of people like:
People from work,
high school friends,
grad school friends
family friends they knew years ago but lost touch with
We completely understand this process is tedious, especially as your father or mother are not giving you direct answers on who they might want to call, relationships strain over the years, and people are busy (*cough* lazy *cough*) to give you a reply, until a week before they say "Hey man I can make it!"
BUT YOU NEED TO FIGURE OUT YOUR GUESTLIST SO YOU CAN FIGURE OUT THE REST OF YOUR WEDDING! Here's why..
What will you do if your dad's brother or mom's cousin can't travel to America because they fumbled their visa interview? (happens all the time)
Or your Pakistani best friend can't come to India?
Or that boat cruise in Maui is going to be wasted effort if grandma's wheelchair has a tough time on the ocean?
Finalizing your guest list is your top-down approach to Indian wedding planning, where it's almost more about the guest's sometimes than it is about us!
Who are you going to invite, and who are you not going to invite?
What’s the average age going to be?
Where are most of the guest’s going to be from?
India? Pakistan? Sri Lanka? Bangladesh?
America only? NRIS or second generation?
TAKE 2-4 WEEKS TO FIGURE YOUR GUEST LIST. This will determine the first MAJOR decision. (step 4).
All of this matters as a FIRST STEP before you go into thinking about the DJ, the venue, the food, and so on. A lot of couples plan their dream wedding in some remote island, only later to realize it’s a huge problem for senior citizens to be comfortable getting to. Or people from India won't get a visa, or it's 5 extra plane rides and will be an issue for grandma. Or the very people they thought would enjoy a boat wedding aren't coming, or if they are they get sea sick!
So before you do ANYTHING, simply make a spreadsheet with the following columns:
Email (you’ll need it later)
As you carry on the process, you’ll make other columns like “Sent Save the Date?” or “Sent Invite?” or “Room Booked” and so on.
2. When Is Your Wedding?
What’s the pros and cons of this decision?
December is expensive for flights,
and Febuary is peak for Chinese New Years (which again, has affects on flights) for Desi weddings in South East Asia.
Let’s not forget Diwali and the fact that in India, there is some festival or the other every 3-4 weeks.
Make sure you cross reference:
major sporting events,
birthdays of key family members,
and in some communities the astrology based on names/birthdays and other data
TAKE 3-4 WEEKS TO FIGURE OUT DATES THAT WORK FOR EVERYONE, THEN LATER YOU CAN PLAN CITY, HOTEL, ETC..
3. Food is Probably More Important than you think.
I’ve seen million dollar weddings go haywire because somebody found a piece of shrimp in their veggie paneer item.
I’m not saying that is what your wedding has to worry about, but ask any South Asian Wedding planner and they’ll agree…if the food isn’t up to the mark, no amount of lights and alcohol and fireworks and helicopters is going to stop that chatter.
Different people come to your weddings for different reasons. Some like to party it up, others pay attention to the speeches, and generally most people over 40 want to wish you well, eat well and carry on with their lives.
Traditionally, we see couples confused on whether to go All Indian or all Western (pizza,pasta) or do a mix of both. No matter what you do, knowing how fussy the average auntie/uncle can be…make sure you have at least 30% Indian food for those who want it.
And when possible, keep the vegetarian and non-vegetrian buffets separate!
It’s a bigger deal for the older generation than you think! Check out a sample menu and costing here!
We mention food before the next point because of availability of good Indian food all depends on (HERE IT COMES!)
4. WHERE is the Best Location for your Big Fat Indian wedding?
(Your first most important decision).
LOCATION LOCATION LOCATION!
All the other points are important, but the most important of the first 5 things is this. As you decide on a city and hotel venue (or wherever) to do it, think long and hard again about why this place.
I recently helped plan a wedding in Phuket Thailand.
It was gorgeous, it felt like Waikiki. Until I realized, wow, it’s beautiful..but it’s hot. The hotel is massive, and you need a golf cart to get to the wedding area from the room and it takes 14 minutes.
Is some 50 year old drunk uncle going to be able to handle this?
Would my mom even be comfortable?
Is all this luxury and beach actually going to be far and uncomfortable and complicated?
Doesn’t this also mean guests who take a 20 hour flight to Thailand now have another 6 hours of travel from Bangkok?
Your location is super important and I would argue the convenience out weights the gorgeous sunset you might have for 5 minutes.
PROTIP: Sunrise hotel means there will be no sunset behind your mandap!
Where is the bride from, and the majority of her friends and family? And vice versa.
Destination weddings help you limit your guest list, and city weddings might be cheaper but more expensive if everybody shows up. But think hard about your decision, don’t rush into it, and then be happy and stick with it!
People care more about who is there rather than WHERE “there” is.
5. Lehenga and Sherwani outfits….NOW.
Yes, I know your wedding is a year away. That’s great.
But so many people go to India (if they don’t live there) like a month before their wedding and are shocked to find out these custom made outfits aren’t cheap and aren’t going to be done in 3 days just because you have $500 to spend.
This stuff takes months. And as silly as it sounds, you should start planning your wedding outfit (you too guys) at least 5-6 months in advance. MINIMUM. Take a look at Instagram for inspiration…and just FYI, shopping for quality Desi wedding wear is NOT CHEAP! So get past that early.
And also, the sooner you invest in your good looking swag, the sooner you start exercising for the big day! Win-Win situation!
Look, I know we didn't talk about massive items like wedding planners, picking a hotel, where to shop, and who to hire for entertainment.
All that is on this blog.
But the main thing I see weekly is that once couples get engaged, they're like...ok, now what? And to make all of the hotel/planning go smooth, you need to start with a top down approach or WHO | WHEN | FOOD | WHERE. I hope the above explanations made sense on why we do it that way!
Questions or comments? Ping us and in the mean time have a giggle on that time I was in the office when I didn't know any of these things years ago!
All the best and Good luck!