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Wedding crashers can be spotted and dealt with

| Thursday, Aug. 15, 2013, 7:31 p.m.

Brides and grooms are supposed to be the stars of their big days, but several have had to share the spotlight with wedding-crashing celebrities.

In June, John Travolta unexpectedly showed up at a Georgia wedding after meeting the couple the night prior. In 2012, Ellen DeGeneres and Portia de Rossi stumbled across an in-progress ceremony while walking the beach near their Malibu home. Even Justin Bieber showed up sans invitation to a Malibu wedding in 2011 with then-girlfriend Selena Gomez.

Having A-listers add themselves to your guest list might not seem so bad. But how can couples keep less-desirable crashers out of their celebrations? Wedding industry insiders have a few tips of their own on how to get crashers off the dance floor and out the door.

“A planner can help alleviate the stress of dealing with that, but if you don't have one, designate someone in the family and make sure they are armed with a master guest list including names and table assignments,” says Alexis Maddox, wedding and event planner with Pittsburgh-based Shayla Hawkins Events, or SHE.

Sure, the “Wedding Crashers” movie made crashing seem glamorous, but is the risk worth the payoff?

Jeff Wilser, founding editor of ThePlunge.com, devoted to all things groom, admits he's crashed in the past, and it's all about the excitement that comes with breaking a social taboo.

“The naughtiness is what gives the extra thrill,” he says. “Yes, free booze is great, meeting women is great, and cake is great, but the fact that you're not invited is what makes it all the sweeter.”

Wilser, who penned a piece on the topic for TheWeddingChannel.com, offers a few heads-up for spotting fellow crashers. For one thing, timing is everything. Crashers take advantage of the post-meal party at the reception, when most people are out of their seats either dancing or mingling. It's far less easy to spot a stranger in that scene than when everyone's planted in their assigned seats.

Crashers often have prepared back stories and will change them if necessary. They might claim to know either the groom or the bride, depending on who's asking.

Crashers are no wallflowers, according to Wilser. In fact, acting like one might make him even more suspicious. Watch out for the ones cutting some major rug, talking everyone up and generally acting like the life of the party.

Maddox, however, says it's more likely real-life crashers are less like the characters Vince Vaughn and Owen Wilson portrayed in the movie and more prone to keeping low profiles.

“Most of the time, they'll hold back and take advantage of the free food and beverage,” she says.

In some cases, Maddox says, crashers might not even be strangers.

“It could be a friend — and I use the term ‘friend' loosely — who was not invited,” she says. “That's almost more dicey.”

If a crasher is found out, it's important to get rid of them in a tactful way, she says.

“You can just explain that it is a private event for close family and friends,” she says. “If there's push back, explain that the private event is something the bride and groom's families incurred cost for, and that we don't want to take away from their special time.”

In 25 years as a planner, Sheila Weiner, president of Pittsburgh-based The Event Group, had only one situation dealing with unwelcome guests. An older couple wandered into a reception she was overseeing at a hotel. The woman simply put her purse down on one of the tables and headed off to the dance floor with her partner.

Weiner waited until the song ended, then approached the couple and asked, “May I help you?” — simple, but effective. The couple indicated they wanted to sign the guest book, but Weiner suggested that probably wasn't a good idea. She escorted them to an elevator and never saw them again.

“I don't know how common that is,” she says with a laugh. “We always have someone at the event who would spot someone who seemed like they're not in the right place.”

Ashley Moss, owner of Hello Productions in Lawrenceville, says hotels where there are multiple events in various ballrooms can be prime crashing grounds. When confused or lost folks meander into events, she always sets them straight. Crashers commonly come in pairs, Moss says, and just generally “don't look like they fit in.”

“Typically, if you have a planner, they'll spot them before anyone else does,” Moss says.

Planners keep an eye out during all the day's events, she says, but are particularly protective of gifts and the card box.

“We take those away before the party starts,” she says. “When you're at a hotel and there are other events, plus people staying at the hotel, there's no one stopping people from coming to your floor.”

Moss says if a crasher is detected and won't leave, get the hall's security officer or banquet manager involved.

“You can tell them to make sure they don't come back,” she says. “Just because they leave doesn't mean they won't come back.”

Wilser suggests couples keep crashing low on their list of Big Day worries.

“I would shrug it off,” he says. “Nine times out of 10, the only thing it costs you is a bit of booze and a piece of cake, and that's already paid for.”

Rachel Weaver is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-320-7948 or rweaver@tribweb.com.

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