Yet another failed attempt at curbing wedding reception queues

For a long time now I’ve been obsessed about queues at Indian wedding receptions. The process at a reception is simple – you get to the hall, and immediately line up. Once you hit the head of the queue, you get to greet the newly wed couple, give them gifts and get photographed with them. Then you’re shown the way to the dining hall where you have dinner and put exit.

When I started my research into reception queues, my aim had been to save the guests at my own wedding the trouble of lining up for too long. As it happened, I’d failed to spot the bottleneck in time, and hence failed spectacularly. Over a few more weddings that I attended, I cracked the mystery, though – the main bottleneck was in the wedding video.

As I wrote a few months back:

… Then you hear the click of the photographer’s shutter, and start moving, and the videographer instructs you to stay. For he is taking a “panning shot” across the width of the stage. Some 30 seconds later, the videographer instructs you to move, and the bride and groom ask you to have dinner and show you the way off stage.

The embarrassing bit for the guests, in my opinion, is that having struck a photogenic pose for the photo, they are forced to hold this pose for the duration that the videographer pans. Considering that photogenic poses are seldom comfortable, this is an unpleasant process….

So when my sister-in-law got married a couple of days back, I thought it was time to finally put my research to good use, and save her guests the trouble of standing in line for too long. A couple of hours before the reception on Thursday, I went and had a quiet word with the videographer. I told him about how the panning shot held up queues, and so he should make it quick. After a little discussion, he agreed to use a wider angle for the shot, and cut down the time by half.

Around 8 pm, half an hour after the reception started, the queue wasn’t too long. I was secretly happy that my method was working, but there was the possibility that the short queue was down to low arrival rate rather than high process rate. Fifteen minutes later, the queue had built up through the length of the hall, and would remain so for another half hour. My efforts had come down to nought.

It was when I went up on stage to introduce some of my relatives to the bride (I was the cut-vertex in the network between the married couple and these guests, so my presence was required) that I realised what the problem was. The videographer I’d spoken to had been doing his job, panning quickly, but he wasn’t the only one.

There is always a level of mistrust between the families of the couple at any Indian wedding, and this is mainly down to them not knowing each other well. So there is redundancy built in. Usually, each side brings its own priest. The two halves of the couple collect their gifts separately. And most annoyingly for me, each side arranges for its own photographer and videographer.

So the problem was that while our videographer had been panning quickly as instructed, the videographer engaged by my now brother-in-law-in-law was in no such hurry, and was taking his own time to plan. And since I hadn’t engaged him, it wasn’t possible for me to tell him to hurry up.

And so some guests had to endure a long wait in the queue. If you were one of those, my apologies to you – for I didn’t anticipate the double-videographer problem which would hold up the queue. And my apologies once again to those who had to wait in queue at my wedding as well!

Wedding videos and optimising reception queue lengths

In the past I’ve dissed wedding videos, claiming that they don’t add any value (as no one ever watches them) and only serve to slow down the queues during receptions. While I maintain that the way they are currently shot still hold up reception queues, I’ve revised my opinion about their general usefulness.

So my in-laws are preparing for the wedding of their second daughter (my sister-in-law), and in order to “revise” what needs to be done, my wife suggested we watch our wedding video. So since last night we’ve been watching our wedding videos, and I must say it’s been quite useful.

For not only are wedding videos inherently entertaining, they also capture nuances of the wedding that still photographs cannot capture. It was pertinent, for example, to observe the order in which my relatives were garlanded as we were being welcomed into the wedding ceremony.

We also got to observe how bad the crowd was immediately after the wedding when people rushed to wish us and hand over their gifts (bad but not that bad). And rather embarrassingly for me, the video showed my failed attempt at cutting the ceremonial ribbon to enter the wedding hall (I have astigmatism which my contact lenses don’t correct, which affects my perception of depth). The video also allowed me to note that the scissor to cut the ribbon was handed to me by a bureaucrat aunt, someone who I guess is well used to handing over scissors in that fashion!

Having watched the reception part of the video, though, I continue to maintain that video recordings hold up the reception procedure, and result in inordinately long queues. Moreover, the way videos are currently shot cause severe embarrassment and discomfort for the guests.

For those that are unfamiliar with south indian wedding receptions, this is what happens – you join a (typically long and wide) queue, and when you get to the head of the queue, walk on stage to greet the couple and hand over your gift. Then you all line up for the photo. So far so good.

Then you hear the click of the photographer’s shutter, and start moving, and the videographer instructs you to stay. For he is taking a “panning shot” across the width of the stage. Some 30 seconds later, the videographer instructs you to move, and the bride and groom ask you to have dinner and show you the way off stage.

The embarrassing bit for the guests, in my opinion, is that having struck a photogenic pose for the photo, they are forced to hold this pose for the duration that the videographer pans. Considering that photogenic poses are seldom comfortable, this is an unpleasant process. Moreover, guests aren’t aware when exactly the videographer is covering them, so there’s a chance they might be caught on camera making awkward body movements (possibly due to the discomfort).

Thus, I propose that rather than having the video camera straight on (next to the principal photographer) and getting a panning shot taken, the videographer should position himself on one side of the stage (the opposite side from which the guests are entering), and take a profile view of the guests wishing the bride.

This way, they capture on camera guests in more natural gestures, and the “best” front view would have anyway been captured by the still photographer. The guests can then be asked to move on as soon as the photographer’s shutter clicks (a more natural exit moment), and the time spent by each group of guests on stage could come down by more than 50% (thanks to panning time saved). And this can result in a drastic reduction in expected waiting time for a guest!

While I’d like to implement this procedure at my sister-in-law’s wedding (so what if I thoroughly failed to keep the queue length under control at my own wedding? At least I should use my learnings elsewhere!), the problem would be in finding videographers who are willing to reposition themselves.

In some sense, the videographer standing straight on, and guests waiting for a long time is a kind of a Nash equilibrium, and videographers won’t move to side on unless there’s sufficient demand from hosts to cut queue lengths at their weddings! And since moving videographers to side on is not an intuitive solution, the demand for this move from hosts will also be small.

So I guess unless we can find a videographer who is willing to experiment (not too easy), we will be stuck with front-on videos, uncomfortable guests in front of the camera, and impatient guests in the line!