Setup and tear-down for weddings is like biking over a hill. Set-up is the uphill climb, taking lots of time and energy. Clean-up on the other hand is like coasting on the downhill. It’s easier, quick, and a bit more carefree. However, you still need a plan to keep things from coming to a crashing halt at the end of the night. Last month I posted a blog with 7 tips to make your wedding day set up run smoothly, and this blog provides tips on how to ensure clean up runs just as swimmingly.
1. Know what you want to keep versus what can be thrown away
Many venues will have large dumpsters on site, and you’ll thank yourself the next day if you take advantage of using them. Try to pack up your items into as few boxes as possible at the end of the evening so you aren’t taking home extra boxes and containers. Also, consider throwing away one time use decor, like balloons, paper garlands, paper lanterns, etc. For items that could be reused, try to come up with a plan for them before the wedding. Could a friend use them at their upcoming wedding? Can they be donated? Can you sell them online? Finally, don’t just assume the venue will take care of leftover items. We’ll talk specifically about leftovers, gifts and cards, and decor in the next few points, but for now just remember that you should have a plan for each item, whether that means it goes into the trash, goes home with you, or stays at the venue.
2. Leave boxes and totes under tables to make accessing them easy at the end of the night
As long as you’re using floor length linens, you can use the space under tables, such as your dessert or guestbook table, for boxes. At the end of the night, you won't need to bring boxes back in from a car, nor will you need to sort through a big pile of them. Simply pull out the box from under the table for the corresponding items on it, load them up, and move on to the next thing.
3. Have a trusted person that hasn’t been drinking in charge of clean up
Drunk helpers are worse than having no helpers at all. It’s very sweet when guests want to help, but sometimes the best thing your family and friends can do at the end of the night is leave. I know, I heard how harsh that sounded as I wrote it, but the truth is, clean up really can’t be completed until all of your guests have left the building, and the longer they stay, standing around asking what they can do to help, the longer they are keeping your vendor team from clearing out and cleaning the venue. Not to mention, guests that have been drinking really shouldn’t be trusted to lift heavy objects, or package breakable items. Say your thank you’s and goodbye’s, and send them on their way. If you know you’ll have stragglers, consider standing near the exit, that way even if your guests are saying long goodbyes, they are near the doors and out of the way of vendors that need to clean the rest of the room.
4. Know who is taking home your gifts and cards
It’s not typical for the newlyweds to forget to pack these altogether, but you don’t want to wake up the next day having forgotten whose car they all went home in at the end of the night. Choose a person and make it their personal task to make sure all of the gifts and cards get loaded into their car.
5. Have a plan for leftover food and desserts
Your caterers are going to do their very best to make enough food for everyone to be fed without running out or going overboard, but there are typically some type of leftovers. Talk with your caterer or wedding coordinator about what you’d like to happen with leftovers. Are they going home with you? With a family member? Being thrown away? Being donated? Keep in mind, too, that if you want to keep them, some caterers require you to bring your own to-go containers, so again, it’s important to ask these questions in advance.
6. Leave yourself enough time for clean-up
The tendency is to want to party as late as possible, and while clean up is comparatively shorter than set up, you still need to give yourself ample time. Many venues have additional fees for a late check-out, so the rule of thumb is to give yourself at least a full hour, and of course more time depending on the amount of decorations you brought in and what the venue requires of you for clean up. Some only require that you take out your personal decor, while others may ask that you stack tables and chairs, or even clean and mop the floors. Go through your list of responsibilities, and then plan accordingly.
7. How you packed it in is not how it will be packed out
For most people, this won’t even be a concern, but for others it may come as a surprise. At the end of the night, the priority is to get everything loaded and out of the venue on time, so don’t expect your vendor team, or even family and friends, to have remembered what box or tote was designated for each item. Instead, try to set aside a little extra time in the weeks following the wedding to unpack everything, re-sort it, and decide from there how you’d like to organize it, hopefully according to the plan you set before your wedding day, like tip #1 suggested ;)
Thrifty Events offers wedding planning, event design, and day of coordination services.
Candi Block, Founder & Event Planner
Midwest native with big-family roots, now newlywed, entrepreneur, and new home owner in the PNW. Love being involved in the community, crafting, creating, and Netflix binging.