Planning Your Wedding 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 and entertained.

The following is a concise guide to compromise while planning your reception.

Photo Courtesy
B-Raps Studios


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 NASCAR event?

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 hour.

You get the picture – you can really have a lot of fun with this idea and really put a fun stamp on the proceedings.

Photo Courtesy Cindy Mendez Photography


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
– outdoors
– a small rental hall (such as a VFW or American
Legion Post or a Church hall)
– a private room in a restaurant, hotel or banquet

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 for everyone”.


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.

Photo Courtesy Cindy Mendez Photography


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 no refreshments.

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 sense.)

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 gathering are always “keep the party moving!”