I want to give you an idea of a “typical timeline” for planning and hosting your bridal shower.
I’m Michelle Wright and I own Tarenbee, a 1889 chapel in Tarentum, Pennsylvania that I’ve restored and converted into a venue specializing in weddings, bridal showers, baby showers and private parties. I have learned a lot over the years working with hundreds of events.
I want to emphasize this is just a “typical timeline.” I’ve worked with all sorts of people who have different engagement stories who are planning a bridal shower. Some just need a few weeks… some need a year… most need somewhere in the middle. Don’t feel bad or embarrassed about where your shower fits into what’s typical. Life put us in all sorts of different situations and it’s all okay. The biggest thing to remember is this is a wonderful time in your life and it’s a wonderful reason to celebrate you and your future. My hope is this guide will take away some of the stress and allow you to soak up all the good vibes coming your way.
I want to quickly start out with this understatement: Bridal showers can be stressful! This is when all of your worlds start working together for the first time. This includes family members you see often, family you rarely spend time with, your new in-laws, your work friends, your college friends, you childhood friends…. you get the idea. Sometimes these people who you enjoy spending time with don’t always click with each other. This special occasion is joining them together to plan something under a deadline. They are all working on different personal schedules and have different ideas of how your shower should go and they have different personalities. You can see how it can get tricky.
While the typical timeline makes things more comfortable for planning, I've been known to put together an event in just a few days at Tarenbee. Of course, I'm able to do that because I already have a stock room filled with various colored tablecloths and centerpieces and work with a chef and own a venue. So if you're trying to get something done fast just know it can be done if you find the right spot!
As an overview to my guide I’ll let you know most often a bridal shower is held two to three months ahead of the wedding. Planing for a bridal shower normally starts four to six months ahead of the shower. The actual shower normally lasts three hours with an hour and a half of day-of set up and decoration and an hour and a half pack-up and clean-up time (six hours total).
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#1 PICK A "PLANNING POINT PERSON" (PPP) (FOUR TO SIX MONTHS OUT)
Get one (two at most) planning point person to organize the shower. Your "PPP" is the person who will ask you directly what you want, make decisions with you and then delegate responsibilities. I talk to many brides that have all of their bridesmaids working on the party to even-out the workload and it just doesn’t work. The bridesmaids have different ideas about how the shower should go and have trouble coordinating their schedules to work on things. The workload of who is doing what is never equal. I’ve seen brides kick bridesmaids out of the wedding or bridesmaid quitting all over the stress of the shower! Choosing a PPP to help you get things done will eliminate a lot of the stress for everyone.
In most cases the mother of the bride ends up doing most of the work. Remember, she’s got a lot of emotion tied up in this wedding so be nice to the MOTB and forgive any stress-induced freak out she may have.)
#2 DETERMINE A BUDGET (FOUR TO SIX MONTHS OUT)
You need to figure this out before anything else because it will dictate all the upcoming decisions. Showers can range between $500 to $5,000. Determine who will be paying. Most of the time the bills are divided between a group of people such as the bride’s family, the groom’s family, and several bridesmaids. I suggest working to make sure both sides of the family are brought in as much of this as possible just so everyone feels included. This event is the first big event when the families will be together. Often brides pitch in a lot of the money themselves.
*The names of the people hosting the shower should all be listed on the invitation so they get credit.)
#3 CHOOSE A DATE (FOUR TO SIX MONTHS OUT)
Now that you have a budget, you and your PPP must pick a date. You should talk to all of the main people you want to invite and check their schedules. People have vacations, other weddings, graduations or their kids might be on a travel sports team. Don’t expect a good friend to cancel their plans for a vacation that they’ve already put down a deposit on to come to your shower. If you have a must-have date that is sentimental to you just be understanding if someone close to you can’t come… they still love you. I recommend you pick out your top ten or 15 people and send out an email blast to them with three different dates. Explain to them you’re picking a venue and wanted to check with all of their schedules first because you want to make sure they’re part of your day.
*In this email blast ask for their physical mailing address because you’ll need it later for invites and thank you notes.
*Make sure you blind copy their emails (BCC). You don’t need guests to see who else is a must-invite and who is not a must-invite. You don’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings.)
#4 PICK THE VENUE (FOUR TO SIX MONTHS OUT)
Perhaps the biggest thing you’ll need to do is figure out where the shower will be. You can have it at someone’s home, a restaurant’s private room, a community clubhouse or a venue.
Whichever place you choose, ensure there is enough seating and parking for the all guests. At a private home scheduling a date will be fairly easy but at a restaurant or venue you may need to book six or eight months before the shower (sometimes longer for popular venues). The more date options you have the easier it will be for venues to book you. That said, it never hurts to ask! A popular place might have a cancelation and they could fit you in.
*Make sure you ask about a payment schedule. The deposit is normally due when you book, but when do you pay the final bill? Some venues want full payment a week in advance, some take it the morning before the event, some will accept payment when it’s over.
*For a private venue ask if you can bring in your own food, hire your own caterer, or if you must use their in-house chef.
*When booking at a restaurant’s private room ask if you can bring in your own desserts)
#5 BOOK A CATERER (FOUR TO SIX MONTHS OUT)
At this point you should think about who will do the food. Will you have guests bring a dish, order from the restaurant's catering menu, pick up food from a restaurant, or hire a caterer? If you plan to hire a caterer you’ll need to book the chef now. (You still have time before you have to figure out a menu)
*Ask when payments are due and when a final head count is due.
*If you’re booking a restaurant’s room ask if you can bring in drinks to make a signature drink for the party. Many restaurant will agree to get the ingredients for you while other may allow you to bring in your own. This doesn’t have to include alcohol and if it does I suggest offering a non-alcoholic version for everyone)
#6 REGISTER FOR GIFTS (SIX WEEKS OUT)
Sign up for a registry. You’ll need to do this before the invites go out. Places such as Amazon and Target can make it easy for you and for your guests. They offer discounts and guests can see if something has been ticked off the list so you don’t get doubles. On your registry pick items with a variety of prices. Most people understand they need to spend more on their gift than the cost of their meal and them being at the shower.
#7 PICK A THEME (SIX WEEKS OUT)
You don’t have to have a theme but this is something that will make your shower more memorable and fun. It’s a good idea to include your theme on the shower invitations so if you want a theme you should decide on one before the invitations are mailed out.
Themes also give the guests something to look forward to and something to talk about at the shower. Anything you can offer to prevent awkward silences between people who don’t know each other well will help your shower move along!
When considering a theme you should think of one main backdrop for photos and table centerpieces. You can get as carried away as your budget allowed. The main focal point will be the backdrop where the bride will open her gifts. We offer help with some various themes. Call the venue and ask about what they already have that you might be able to use to help you save money. We have a garden theme called Our Love Grows. We have a circle backdrop we wrap in artificial flowers, a neon sign hanging down from it that says Love, and the table centerpieces are succulents. We have an easel and brides have a sign made that has the name of the bride and groom and the saying “Our Love Grows”. We have a “Love you to the Moon and Back” shower theme with a background of the moon and stars… We offer a package of Bride to Bee and Meant to Bee …. And there are small favors of local honey with hand crafted small beehive centerpieces.
So ask the venue about decorations they have a vested interest in making your shower look good.
*Your PPP needs to assign a decorating committee to handle decorations to coordinate with a theme. This group should also plan to arrive an hour-and-a-half to two hours early to set up the decorations.
*Most venues do not allow helium balloons because they get loose and it’s really tough to retrieve them from high ceilings before the next event. Air balloons are fine and they look great just make sure you have a clean up person assigned to remove them and clean up when the shower is over.
*Most venues do not allow you to tape things to the wall because it pulls off the paint so if someone makes a sign ask the venue if they have a stand (normally a photography background stand) or an easel for you. )
#8 SEND OUT INVITATIONS (FOUR TO SIX WEEKS OUT)
About a month to six weeks before the shower is a good time to mail out the invitations. You can do this through the postal service or by email or a combination of both! You could mail out invitations six weeks before the shower (or a save the date card) and then follow up three weeks before with an email invitation asking for an RSVP. Remember you need to have a head count for the food!
The hardest part of this step is collecting addresses. You should assign six or eight people from various segments of your life to do this. I recommend starting a shared Google doc for your planners to put in names of guests, email address, home addresses and a space to note who’s responded. In my experience, most showers plan to have about 50 people. Although a shower for 20 people is really nice and intimate, too!
What to include on the invites:
Date and location of shower
Start time and end time of the shower
Ask about food allergies so you can alert the chef
The bride’s registry information
A deadline to RSVP
An email to send an RSVP
* Include on the invitation if there is something unique such as a no-gift-wrap shower, bring a children’s book along, etc.
*In order to remind guests of the importance of an RSVP let them know the chef is waiting for a head count. They need to realize your crew is paying per person and it’s not cool to say they’re coming and then cancel at the last minute or not respond and then show up.
*Take the time to collect home address even if you’re doing invites via email. You will eventually need their addresses for thank you notes, wedding invitations and for future Christmas cards.
*A growing trend is to have a few small showers rather than one big one. This helps for people who live far away from family or just want to have a different shower experience with different groups of people in their lives.
*You need to make sure that the people who you invite to the shower are also invited to the wedding unless it’s clear that you’re having a small intimate wedding. Don’t feel bad about that because a lot of people prefer it.)
#9 CHOOSE THE FOOD (ONE MONTH OUT)
Guests are expecting good food! Desserts are normally the easiest part of this but you’re going to have to spend some time deciding on the main course.
You’ll want to coordinate the menu with: a theme, the time of day, and with the season. Also, don't forget to think about a signature cocktail!
There are three choices: guests can all pitch in and bring food, the restaurant will provide its own food, or you can hire a caterer.
Assigning people to bring food is a great way to save money. Keep in mind though that not everyone is a good cook and sometimes the food won't coordinate as a complete menu. If you choose this option just keep a close eye on what people are planning to bring.
If you host the party at a restaurant there is obviously already a full menu that allows you to choose a party package deal so you don’t have as much pressure during this step.
Some event spaces allow you to bring in your own food or to hire your own caterer while other venues only allow you to use their own chef. So make sure to nail this down so you can plan accordingly.
If you want to book a caterer you’ll need to do this as soon as you book your venue so by now you should have taken care of this and you just need to focus on a menu now. Caterers know what works best on a menu for a large group of people. So listen to the chef!
Whatever you decide, you need options for people in case they have food allergies or restrictions. If everything you have on the menu has cheese anyone with a dairy allergy or anyone who’s a vegan won’t have anything to eat. Mushrooms, nuts and shellfish (lobster, shrimp, crab) are common allergens. While it’s okay to serve those dishes make sure you have options for people so everyone can eat.
*Ask the restaurant if you’re allowed to bring in your own desserts. This can personalize the desserts, coordinate with the shower theme, and save you money.
*Make sure you assign a clean up crew if people bring their own food. Have your point person assign six or eight people to be on clean up duty. They may want to bring another outfit or appropriate shoes so they can clean up )
#10 FAVORS (ONE MONTH OUT)
Most showers offer a small gift to everyone attending. This could be something that goes along with your theme or something else completely. Food is always popular. With our honeybee themed showers people buy small jars of honey. You could consider lotions, tea, or small plants. There are so many options! You should plan to spend anywhere from five to twenty five dollars per person on this.
#11 CENTERPIECES (ONE MONTH OUT)
Centerpieces should coordinate with your theme. Flowers and candles are nice options. Make sure the arraignment is no higher than about eight inches. Your guests need to see each other as they talk and they might have to pass around food so keep that in mind.
A great idea is to include your favors as the centerpieces. That way you’d be knocking out two things for the price of one! For instance, small plants, candles, or lotions are great gifts. Centerpieces could also be the dessert.
A display of cupcakes, cookies or a small cake for each table makes a picture perfect centerpiece and will save you money.
*A fun idea is to have a photo table with the bride and groom to be on full display include baby pictures, childhood pictures and current photos of them together.)
#12 ASSIGN DESSERTS, GAMES COMMITTEE AND PHOTOGRAPHER, (THREE WEEKS OUT) It’s time for your PPP to send out a few assignments. If your venue isn’t providing dessert you’ll need to ask someone to order and pick up the desserts or ensure that someone is making them.
Assign a few people to come up with games and organize prizes.
Figure out who’s going to be taking pictures. If you don’t want to hire a professional photographer you need to ask a person to capture these moments for you.
* If you want to have assigned seats now is the time to make a chart.
*Write down and share with the planners a clear timeline so everything moves along. This should include arrival time for people decorating, bringing desserts, when to eat, when the gifts will be opened, any games and when to wrap up and clean up.
*Games should be designed to include people and get people talking. They should last no more than 30 minutes.
*Get thank you cards in advance of the shower. Put out the envelopes and pens at every place setting and have people fill out their address themselves (get extras in case someone makes a mistake or spills something on them.) Then you can spend time writing a meaningful thank you without the stress of looking up and writing addresses. )
#13 BUY A GIFT FOR THOSE HOLDING THE SHOWER (TWO WEEKS OUT)
It’s polite to say thank you to the people hosting the shower. They’ve put in a lot of time and money on your behalf. This doesn’t have to be something expensive but even something small will go a long way especially with your soon-to-be family members!
# 14 CONSIDER MUSIC (ONE WEEK OUT)
Have a playlist that lasts three hours and figure out if you need to bring a stereo or if you can hook in via bluetooth to a venue’s speaker system or a home system. You can make a playlist on your phone. When choosing music consider the various ages and music tastes of your guests. Plan to keep music volume down to be background music so people can still talk and enjoy the event.
*Pandora offers channels that make this easy. I often play the Frank Sinatra channel which includes his music plus similar music from other artists that works well for an all-ages party)
#15 DOUBLE CHECK EVERYTHING (ONE WEEK OUT)
With one week to go your PPP should call the venue, caterer, people bringing desserts, photographer, people bringing decorations, and ask if everything is okay and what time they’ll be showing up at the venue. People decorating might need two hours to prepare, some caterers show up right before lunch is served, people bringing desserts will want to show up an hour before the event to set out the desserts which are always a focal point. This is the time most caterers will want a final head count.
*Some venues and caterers will want payment at this point
*Check the weather forecast. If there is a snowstorm you’ll need to keep an eye on that and ask the venue how they handle situations like that. If you are planning an outdoor event you may need to start calling around about tents or indoor options
*Assign someone to bring ice. )
#15 DAY-OF-SHOWER TIMELINE (THE BIG DAY!)
Hopefully, you’re all set. And it’s time to focus on the day-of-shower duties. Most showers last two and a half to three hours. This means your crew needs to show up to decorate one-and-a-half to two hours in advance of the start time. This also means that clean-up time (packing up gifts, taking down decorations, cleaning up food, etc) could take another hour. That puts your total shower time at five-and-a-half to six hours.
The most crucial thing during the shower is to have one of your crew members write down the name of the person who gave each gift as it is opened.
Be sure to have your crew know the timeline you’ve planned and they should help make sure your party sticks to that.
*Some venues allow you to set up the day before the event so ask about that. If your venue requires you set up the tables and chairs yourself make sure people are dressed to handle that.
*A common trend is to have a no-wrapped gift party where gifts are set out on display with gift cards attached to each gift so people don’t have to wait for the bride to open up gifts. You may want to have stickers on hand to put on the gifts so it’s clear who gave them.
*Consider how you will load and transport your gifts. You may need to use a few vehicles for this
*The person who is listing the names of the people and the gifts is important so ask someone who is organized and who doesn’t mind.)
#17 POST-SHOWER TIMELINE
(TWO WEEKS AFTER)
Plan to write thank you cards within two weeks after the shower so you can free up your time to focus on the wedding!
(THE WEEK AFTER)
If you’ve had a good experience, consider writing a review on the venue and caterer!
Send photos/ tag photos to the venue, caterer, or restaurant so they can share them.