YES, Chinese Wedding Dinner Can Start On Time

More than six years ago I've associated all those who were habitually late in attending Chinese wedding dinners as being ingrained with the antiquated "hard up for the food" mentality. I then strongly suggested that, if people cannot shed their bad habit, the wedding dinner should be held on board of a ship, which would set sail at the appointed time so that the latecomers would definitely "miss the boat". I wrote all these in an article, which was published in The Star (Jan 11, 1997), entitled "No Yam Seng to latecomers at wedding dinner".

At the end of last year it was my turn to host a wedding dinner when my son, Ming, decided to get married to his long-time sweetheart, Selina Yong.

Though it was my original intention to hold the wedding dinner on board of a ship, I did not go ahead with this plan, to the disappointment of some of my friends, because I believed that with diligence in planning and organising the event, things would work out just fine.

The first thing my son and I did was to include a short programme in the design of the wedding invitation cards. The programme reads as follows:

7.00pm to 7.45pm -- pre-dinner cocktail drinks
7.45pm to 8.00pm -- guests to be seated
8.05pm sharp -- arrival of bride and groom
8.15pm sharp -- dinner will commence

The above programme gives flexibility to all guests who can come to the reception anytime between 7.00pm to 8.00pm. If they are early for the dinner they can enjoy the cocktail, which will include a free flow of beers, and wines. And they can also meet up with friends and relatives. Therefore the programme provides no excuse for anybody to be late for the dinner.

The wedding invitation cards were printed six weeks ahead of the event. In the meantime all guests to be invited were identified and amongst those whom the cards could not be delivered by hand, their mailing addresses were checked and they were notified by phone or e-mails that the wedding cards would be sent to them by post. Whether by hand or by post all invitees were informed that the programme would be strictly adhered to, to the annoyance of many, who thought they had been singled out as habitual latecomers. They were also informed that the information/registration desk would be closed by 8.15pm and that all latecomers would have to find their allotted tables, which would be difficult when the dinner had started and all Table Numbers were removed from the tables.

A 5-star hotel in the heart of Kuala Lumpur was booked for the occasion three months ahead and a detailed programme for the evening (to the minute) was worked out by Ming and Selina with the Beverage Manager of the hotel. In this programme, the timing of each course to be served was stated. And in between the courses short interludes like slide/video clips presentations would be shown. No long speeches were included and the fathers of the bride and groom would each be given five minutes to say their pieces. A 6-man band playing mostly Chinese classical music would be in attendance. All in all, the dinner would end before 11.00pm.

The planning for the dinner was meticulously carried out by Ming and Selina and no stone was left unturned to ensure that the dinner would commence and end as scheduled. And all involved including the hotel management were fully aware that punctuality was an important feature of this function.

In consultation with some of my friends who have had experience in hosting Chinese wedding dinners, I was forewarned that the cause of the late starting of dinners could also be due to the hotel caterers, who could not get the dishes ready on time. So, the Beverage Manager of the hotel was reminded many times to get all dishes ready and served in accordance with the programme.

The big day finally arrived. By 6.00pm the information/guest registration desk was set up by the side of the main entrance to the dinning hall. Also, the guest lists, guest seating arrangement and table layout were prominently displayed on the notice board.

By 6.30pm guests began to trickle in But after 7.00pm when pre-dinner cocktail was served, they came in hordes. By 7.30pm the reception area was overflowing with guests and it looked like everything was going on as planned.

The guests were ushered into the dinning hall at about 7.45pm. And just before 8.00pm it was discovered that the microphone at the rostrum was not in working order when the MC tried to make his first announcement. Suddenly all hell broke loose and the hotel technicians were quickly summoned to look into the problem. But after about fifteen minutes, the microphone was put in working order but the quality of the public address system in the dinning hall had left a lot to be desired when guests sitting in the mid of the dinning hall could hardly hear what the speaker said at the rostrum. It was a classical case of "First world facility operated with third world mentality".

Invariably the original programme was set back by at least fifteen minutes when the first course was served at around 8.30pm. To many, a delay of fifteen minutes is far from been a disaster, but to a person who is bent on punctuality, a miss is as good as a mile.

Though the dinner failed to start on the dot, it was not due to want of trying nor was it due to the late arrival of guests. Above all, this dinner has demonstrated that the long-ingrained "hard up for the food" mentality can eventually be gotten rid off and that it is no longer a myth that a Chinese wedding dinner can start punctually. As "Punctuality is the politeness of kings" so said King Louis XVIII.

Many thanks to all those who have lent their support by not coming late for the dinner.

Another version of the above was published in Star Two(Jan 26, 2004)
- In future I will attend a Chinese wedding dinner only if the host has assured me that efforts have
  been taken to start the dinner at the scheduled time. 2008