Lisa Ng has been to 400 weddings. And the former Toronto-based DJ has seen it all. “You never know what will happen,” says Ng. Even a concussion, at one wedding: “Eighty people came up during the tossing of the bouquet. One woman lunged for it and landed on her head. They had to call an ambulance and take her away.”

Ng, now editor-in-chief of This Beautiful Day, acknowledges that situations such as the bouquet-tossing concussion can’t always be prevented. But she says that careful planning before your wedding day is critical for preventing a lot of mishaps, such as food poisoning, alcohol-related accidents, missing music and countless other headaches.

Take precautions when planning your own wedding

In the early days of wedding planning, most brides and grooms are understandably focused on finding the perfect invitations, wedding dress, venue and menu. And safety issues aren’t quite as riveting. “In all honesty, in my experience, security seems to be very far from the couple's minds when first starting to plan a wedding,” says Chelsea Linton, a certified wedding planner in Vancouver. “But when something really bad happens at a wedding it can spell disaster.”

The key is to take precautions. Here are our top wedding planning tips:

  • Hire qualified staff. If you’re not having your wedding reception at a hotel or other venue where the catering is professionally managed for you, it’s extremely important to make sure that your caterer and all the servers and bar staff have been trained in safe food handling, says Linton. You may save money by hiring untrained servers, but don’t do it, she warns: “Don’t take chances. This is your wedding, where you are bringing in all your family and friends. They expect you to take care of them for the evening.”
  • Ensure your buffet stays fresh. Make sure you don’t make common food mistakes such as leaving dairy- or egg-based foods out in the heat where bacteria can flourish. Also, have your caterer list the ingredients in each dish and post the list beside each item so people with allergies can avoid triggers. Ensure your servers tie their hair back, wash their hands and forearms frequently and wear no jewellery that can fall into the food, says Linton. As for fresh flowers on your cake: Use only certified-organic blooms, to avoid possible pesticide residue.
  • Apply for necessary permits. You’ll need a special-occasion permit if you’re serving wine or liquor at an outdoor or unlicensed reception site that isn’t a private residence. Find licence applications at your local liquor store or online at your province’s liquor authority, such as the Alcohol and Gaming Commission of Ontario, the Alberta Gaming and Liquor Commission or British Columbia’s Liquor Control and Licensing Branch. Apply early, as the paperwork can take several weeks.
  • Serve alcohol safely. You don’t want your guests drinking and driving — and it’s tough to keep track of those who’ve had too much to drink. Ensure your bartender has been trained to serve alcohol responsibly through a program such as Smart Serve. And consider hiring a service that drives your guests home in their own cars, or provide cab chits. Otherwise, you may be liable if someone leaves and has an accident, says Ng.
  • Consider insurance. Policies are available that cover a lost or stolen wedding dress, gifts or money envelopes, a missing ring, a cancelled venue or honeymoon. Some venues will even require that you purchase insurance before booking, so they will be protected in case of property damage during the reception, as well. Learn more about jewellery insurance.
  • Appoint problem-solvers. “Designate a type-A friend to deal with drama,” says Ng. As the bride and groom, you don’t need to know that someone has just decided to become a vegetarian after having chosen the roast beef option for dinner, or that the flower girl is having a meltdown, she says. Have a trusted friend put out any fires behind the scenes.
  • Have back-up plans. Have two copies of everything, says Ng. That means saving an extra copy of your first song, renting an extra speaker, or printing an extra version of your speech and giving it to a family member to hang onto. And talk to the people you’ve hired to find out if they have back-up plans as well. Ask your photographer who will substitute if he or she takes ill, and your caterers how they’ll deliver the food if their vehicle breaks down.

And above all, keep your cool. Wedding planning can be stressful. But you have to roll with the punches, says Ng. Linton agrees: “De-stress before it’s unmanageable — don’t hold it in.” In the weeks and days leading up to the wedding, she suggests cutting back on caffeine, eating a balanced diet, getting enough sleep and finding time to work out.

And once you’ve made it safely through the big day, here’s something else to think about: Now that there's someone else depending on you and your income, look into protecting yourself with life insurance.

Find more tips and tools for this exciting time of your life in our Building section.