WE'RE HAVING A PARTY!
Planning Your Reception
by Hugh R. Wilde
Your wedding reception should represent to you the best party you've
ever attended as well as the best party you'll probably EVER attend!
Your primary goal is to make sure that you have things just the way
you want them and that you'll literally have the time of your life!
But what's that you say? You and your intended are dedicated Classic
Rock fans, but the average age of your guests will be over 50?
You've already reached the first level of "compromise", your
key word for wedding reception planning! Your vision of your primary
goal will immediately start to pale as you begin to think about your
secondary (and pretty much equal) goal: Keeping your guests happy, comfortable
The following is a concise guide to compromise while planning your
Now, the average person feels, and rightfully so, that the occasion
of a marriage is more than enough "theme" for the event and
that many people nowadays are getting carried away with the so-called
theme party. However, by adding an overriding element to every aspect
of your wedding day can lend an air of excitement to any event and can
make your day extra special by personalizing the components.
Here are some of the more appealing of the recent trends:
The "All White" wedding is definitely "in" for 2002/2003.
By color-coordinating everything from the carnations on the tuxes, to
the table settings, to the bridal party gowns, to the table settings,
right down to the frosting on the cake, you can give your wedding a
magical feeling. The white is the latest trend, but by no means are
you limited to that. Your favorite color or color combination is a great
way to put your mark on the day. As always, however, you must remain
within the boundaries of good taste. If your favorite colors are jet
black and fire engine red, you may want to rethink things! White is
perfect.It is the traditional color of a wedding and super easy to coordinate.
Beyond that, any light color - pastels - is an easy mark to hit. Wouldn't
you wish your wedding to look more like a watercolor painting than a
The traditional ethnic wedding, from the clothing down to the music
and food is regaining popularity after a period of decline. What could
be more exciting than the Greek wedding, more enticing than an Italian
wedding, more exotic than a Hawaiian wedding? Don't be afraid to wear
your ethnicity proudly. You don't have to go overboard; you can apply
elements of the traditional ethnic events to each of the pieces of your
puzzle. Get a band or DJ who plays a healthy sampling of Canadian quadrilles,
but also plays the other music commonly heard at receptions. Serve Greek
stuffed grape leaves as one course on your traditional chicken dinner
menu. Have your ring bearer and flower girl wear traditional costume
from the country of your heritage. Or if you think your families and
guests would enjoy it, then by all means go for a full-fledged event
in the traditional ethnic style.
Planning your color scheme, menu and events to suit the time of year
and/or location of your wedding is by all means a great way to make
everything more intimate. If you're in a seaside area, choose a venue
with a panoramic ocean view and encourage your guest to dress accordingly,
especially if there's a deck available for mingling or dancing. Serve
fish as an appetizer or one of the courses. If it's mid-winter, find
a hall with a working fireplace and serve hot cider during the cocktail
You get the picture - you can really have a lot of fun with this idea
and really put a fun stamp on the proceedings.
NUMBER OF GUESTS / LOCATION
A classic, often first, point of controversy is the number of guests
invited. Let's say the bride and groom wish to have a "small"
reception: A casual gathering of 50-100 guests at a reasonably priced
rental hall. The parents want to have "the big wedding": 300
people at a formal affair held in the largest ballroom in town. Work
it out, slowly but surely. Start at both ends and work towards the middle
- how about a medium sized wedding? You could have 150-200 people at
a country club and split the the two choices in both number and cost
just about right down the middle.
For a medium to large-sized recption, a large hall or banquet room
(such as a country club, hotel ballroom, large restaurant or commercialized
mansion) can be the answer to a prayer for a couple in the planning
stages. Venues like these have everything you'll need in one place (including
things you haven't even thought of yet!). Most rooms will have various
price packages available which will offer a variety of services and
goods personally suited to your plans and style. Your first step is
to phone ahead for either an appointment and/or to have some descriptive
literature sent to your home. Make several appointments and compare
not only prices and amenities, but get a feel for the coordinator with
whom you tour the facility. This is the person with whom you will be
making most of your plans and you really want to make sure you get along
with and feel comfortable with this individual right from the start.
For an intimate to small wedding, your options are not necessarily
more limited. You can hold your reception pretty much anywhere you'd
like, limited only by the number of guests (and of course, as always,
good taste!). A good place to start the decision making process is to
poll those involved on the following location ideas:
- a private home
- a small rental hall (such as a VFW or American Legion Post or a
- a private room in a restaurant, hotel or banquet facility
These locations offer an endless variety of stylistic and financial
opportunities when planning a small wedding and depend mostly on how
much planning and how much of the work you and those helping you are
willing and able to put in.
And keep one thing in mind when trying to please yourselves and others
at the same time: not only CAN it be done - it WILL be done. Everyone
wants to get along and have a great day and cool heads will always prevail
in the end. One of the great truisms of wedding planning is that "it
will all be over before you know it."
From a backyard barbecue to a full-course sit-down dinner, the meal
you serve at your reception is the focus of the early part of your reception
and will set the tone for the rest of the party. Whatever you choose,
here are a few things to keep in mind while planning your menu.
As a general rule, not many people are expecting to attend a wedding
reception featuring filet mignon grilled to order and an open bar. Most
everyone simply expects a nice meal to get things off to a good start.
Set a realistic budget and STAY WITHIN YOUR BUDGET.
If you're planning a casual affair (at home, outdoors, a rental hall),
be sure the food you are plannng can be accommodated by the location.
For instance, what will your guests do with steaks from the grill if
there are only plastic knives and forks, paper plates, and limited seating?
Use your heads!
For a formal or semi-formal setting, make sure your guests are aware
of the "style" of your reception and will feel comfortable
in that setting. Jeans at a country club or a suit at a cookout are
surefire downers everytime.
Another item which needs to be addressed these days is the need to
provide meals for vegetarians and others on special diets for health
or philosophical reasons. Find out which guests would prefer or require
a meal other than the one you've planned and work with your caterer
or coordinator to accomodate them.
One approach which had fallen out of favor in recent times, but is
making a big comeback, is the buffet. A buffet can be set up in any
manner from the most casual self-serve to the most formal with servers
in tuxedos. And the buffet gives you a broader base not only in style,
but in menu items, allowing you to make sure that there is truly "something
Back to the original question that started this whole thing off: Provide
your guests with music they'll all enjoy while making sure the bride
and groom hear the kind of music they most enjoy. This is easily accomplished.
Most professional bands and disc jockeys servicing the wedding reception
business are experienced in presenting all styles of music for all ages,
in a manner that will have everyone out on the floor and no one sitting
around bored. Just about anyone can sit through a song they don't like
as long as they know the next one up is something that will get them
up and out of their chairs.
Don't be selfish with your choice of music. Satisfy all tastes and
age groups. Just make sure that the entertainer knows what your favorite
music is and makes it a point to focus on your favorite songs.
PACING: KEEPING THE PARTY MOVING
Make sure you have a schedule of events for the duration of your party
and stick to the plan. You won't want any lulls in the action or the
party could easily get boring and wind down early. This is especially
important in a situation where you have your reception location for
a specific amount of time. For instance, if you have an afternoon reception
and the room is booked for the evening as well, there's no possibility
of going into overtime. This makes planning and pacing an absolute necessity.
Do you want to have a party with only 45 minutes left over for dancing
after the meal and special events?
Here's a checklist:
1. After making their way through the receiving line, make sure your
guests can either be seated, with wait service, or can proceed to a
cocktail area. Don't leave them standing around with nothing to do or
2. Utilize the time between courses, have the coordinator or entertainer
make announcements or dedicate some of the special dances. Have them
play a game for the centerpieces. At the very least, make sure you have
good background music playing at all times. One recent innovation (which
has rapidly turned into a "must") for an activity while at
table is to place a disposable camera at each centerpiece. Ask the guests
to take pictures of each other and deposit the used-up cameras at the
gift table. When these are developed they make a great souvenir to accompany
your professional photos: candid, informal, often funny pictures of
every single guest at your reception! (You can also send copies to the
guests in with your thank you notes as a souvenir!)
(As an aside, if you're wondering about feeding your entertainers and
photographers/videographers, there are several things to consider. First,
you should most definitely make refreshments available to these important
people. Think of how much time you and your guests will be spending
at the reception and then add another 3 to 4 hours to that for the hired
professionals. They've got to arrive before anyone and be all set before
anyone else arrives. And then there's the pack-up and load-out. It's
a long day for these folks and sustenance is required. Second, consider
serving these folks first so that they can get back to business and
keep the party moving while everyone else is still eating. Many coordinators
feel like the musicians and other professionals are like second class
"guests" and feed them last. But mostly they're tucked away
in a corner near the stage or often in another room and they can be
taken care of efficiently and quietly and be ready to get back to the
tasks at hand while everyone else is still eating. It's all just good
3. After dinner, get right into whatever special activites or ceremonies
you have planned (cutting the wedding cake, the garter & bouquet,
special dances with parents, etc.) and make sure the entertainment continues
until you are either ready to change or form a final receiving line
or circle to say goodbye.
In conclusion, careful planning of your reception is the key to a great
party. Rely on the professional assistance of the people you've hired:
the reception coordinator/host, the caterer, the florist, the entertainers.
Their experience will provide perfect guidance in planning just the
the perfect party for you. Just remember that a wedding reception is
nothing but a really, really big party and the buzzwords for any gathing
are always "keep the party moving!"