Wedding Reception Planning Tips
Congratulations on your upcoming wedding. With so many details to plan, we'll help you focus on one of the most important events of your life. We hope that you'll find the following tips and creative ideas helpful to your planning.
For starters, read our Fun Wedding Facts!
Traditionally, a wedding reception accounts for 30 to 50 percent of the entire cost of the wedding. However, according to wedding etiquette, a reception only requires two elements: a wedding cake and toasts to the bride and groom...everything else is optional.
There are basically two general types of locations. The first, on-site, is a place that can provide services such as food, drinks, wait staff, tables, linens, china, maybe even flowers, music and wedding cake. Some popular choices are:
- Hotels and Restaurants
- Country Club and Catering Halls
- Inns or Bed-and-Breakfast Establishments
The other type is off-site, where you typically own or rent the space and are required to bring in much of the supplies yourself. Examples are:
- Botanical Gardens
- College Campuses
- Someone's Home
Another popular choice is to combine wedding/reception and honeymoon in one location such as Hawaii.
Whatever you choose, remember to book your site well in advance. Sample the food, inspect the kitchen and check the restrooms.
Food & Beverages
If trying to save money on food and beverages, consider the time of day that your reception is held. The least expensive would be a mid-morning or mid-afternoon menu of light finger foods and a wedding cake. The most expensive is a sit-down lunch or dinner.
If your reception site allows, you can save money by enlisting friends and family to help prepare and serve the food.
Regardless of the menu, you will need a wedding cake and a beverage for the toast, usually champagne, either alcoholic or nonalcoholic.
Theme & Decorations
You may decide to use a special theme, such as a travel destination, where you first met, your hobbies or anything else that is of great significance to you both. Another consideration is to continue with your color scheme. Here are some decorating ideas:
- Place bouquets of helium balloons around the site. They are one of the most economical and colorful ways to decorate a large room. (See our Balloon Tips.)
- Drape, swag and swirl tulle netting over trellises, archways, doorways and windows. Attach tulle netting to the corners of the main table and serving tables.
- To transform an ordinary site into a magical wonderland, string small white lights over doorways, along tabletops, on the cake table, around plants, etc.
- For a romantic glow, use dozens of tall white candles on tables and around the room.
- Use napkins, table covers, balloons and flowers to continue your color scheme.
Presenting a little gift of thanks to your wedding guests and participants is a tradition that dates back to a royal wedding of the 1500's. Here are some suggestions for fun and practical Wedding Favors:
- Use tiny picture frames in place of place cards for guests to take home.
- Give a tree seedling or a flower bulb that guests can plant in their gardens.
- Distribute bottles or splits (6oz.) of champagne or wine with customized labels announcing the big day.
- Choose a small gift that reflects the two of you -- bookmarks would make a good favor for a couple who met in a bookstore and decorative golf balls are a great item for a golfing couple.
- Edible favors such as beautifully wrapped chocolates with customized labels featuring your names and the date are very nice.
Send out invitations about 6-8 weeks ahead for out-of-town guests and about four weeks ahead for local guests. Or send out Save The Date notes. You can choose invitations that match a tableware pattern, customize them on your computer or choose from a unique selection of Custom Wedding Invitations.
If children will be invited to the reception, consider the following suggestions:
- Provide a special activity area for the children. Decorate the area with balloons, streamers and colorful tableware.
- Plan special activities such as a "stuffed animal toss" just for kids (before the bouquet/garter toss) so they feel included in the celebration.
- Enlist a teenager guest or hire a baby sitter to oversee younger children while parents are enjoying the festivities.
- Serve "kid friendly" food such as hot dogs and hamburgers, pizza, veggie sticks, and cookies.
Other Reception Tips
Don't sit with your wedding party, unless it's your burning desire. Many brides and grooms seat their bridal party with their significant others at one or two separate tables.
Don't sweat it if you max out the room's capacity. Figure that 25-30% of your guests will send their regrets at the last minute. And if many guests are coming from far away or your nuptials fall on a holiday weekend, the percentage will be even higher.
Make the cake cutting more memorable. A wonderful wedding keepsake is an elegant cake server set engraved with your names and the date to treasure and display long after the cake has been cut and eaten.
Keep track of all loose gift cards by designing a card box. Cut a slit in the top and place on the gift table. Top with a few balloons in your wedding colors. Another option is to purchase or rent a "Wishing Well", which is made for guests to drop cards and small gifts into.
Freeze the top layer of your wedding cake for your first anniversary.
For some candid shots, place disposable cameras on each table at the reception. Be sure to place a small card on the table encouraging guests to take candid shots during the reception, leaving the camera for you to develop later. Send guests your favorite photograph of them as a memento of your wedding.
Always assign tables (not necessarily seats) for a large reception. The assignment tells your guests that you have "reserved a place for them" and takes away anxiety about trying to find a place to sit. Place large numbers on the tables so they can be easily discovered. Numbers written on or attached to a balloon centerpiece are decorative and easy to spot.
Print out our Party Checklist.