Your Wedding Reception
Step-by-Step Reception Guide
Never fear - with over 20 years of experience, we know the daunting "Wedding Reception" inside and out. Let us guide you step-by-step through each phase and event within the reception to help with your planning. Of course, it's your party and you can dance when you want to, but the same basic structure applied to every reception is a recipe for success. Click below for the comprehensive guide, or browse the sections below for tips to get you by.
Renting a Hall
Every wedding we've played in the past 20 years that was set in a VA or ethnic local hall (or even under a tent!) was a complete success, and an amazing party. Why?
1. Halls save money. It's sort of a DIY wedding, but spectacular. Rent the hall, hire a good caterer, bring kegs of beer and crates of wine, and some liquor if needed (or BYOB liquor!). Hire a good photographer, and finally, get an amazing DJ that will sit and plan the entire reception with you. Without all the formalities of a stodgy venue, you'll save at least $10,000 altogether (average formal reception in CT is $20K!)
2. Your friends and family are there to celebrate. Put (rented) white tablecloths out and decorate with a theme, then let them have fun! In this unique and less-stuffy environment, you can create some wonderful formalities at first (even have the ceremony on the dance floor), then eat, and then sweep it all aside and really have a grand time that people will remember forever!
3. It doesn't cheapen your day! In the days before the stodgy villas that now house receptions, these were local family food and fun affairs, sometimes held in backyards and church basements. Guests remember the party, the fun, and the funny things that happen! They remember playing again with long-lost relatives and dancing for the first time in years. They remember the celebration!
Create a unique theme for your guest seating so they won't be self-conscious if they're sitting at table #104! You can have an Italy-themed wedding with each table decorated to reflect an Italian city - Rome, Venice, Amalfi, etc. If you're a wine-lover, name each table after a favorite - Cabernet, Albec, Bolla. Guests will then have an interesting feature to delight in: "I'm at the Moscato table!" Or how about placing a Boggle Game at each table? The interaction it prompts will break the ice. Try setting each game with the same letters. Have the table work to come up with a list of all the words they can find, and submit the list to the MC. The table that found the most words gets a prize, or must lead a conga line!
1. Instead of cut flowers, try using potted flowering plants that will last longer.
2. For an Italian touch, tall vases stuffed with all types of breadsticks and munchies of various colors. Breadbaskets moved from the buffet table also work here. Another Italian favorite is featuring baskets stacked high with colorful and delicious fruits.
3. Potted herbs (some flowering) that provide flavor to the dinner, and make a wonderful addition to guests' kitchens.
4. Uniquely shaped pitchers all filled with colorful drinks for the guests (sangria, wine, punches, etc.).
5. For world travelers, each table can represent a different country with the centerpiece being an icon of that country (for example, the Eiffel Tower for France, Machu Picchu for Peru, etc.).
Save Money on Appetizers
1. Hand-Pass Your Appetizers – When guests see an open appetizer table, two things happen: a.) their basic stuff-their-face instincts roar in, and it’s like opening the trough at a pig farm; and b.) they leap past the pigs in a blanket and dive right into the most expensive hors d'oeuvres. An easy way to prevent this is to hand-serve your cocktail appetizers (especially the more elaborate ones). This way you control the amount of food disappearing from the caterer's trays.
2. Eliminate the Cocktail Appetizers Course - Save money by cutting back on the cocktail hour. You’ll pay less at the bar, and save quite a bit of cash on snacks. Arrange to have your pictures done before the reception begins (not during cocktail hour). That way, if your reception starts at 5pm, you are announced in at 5pm, and move right to dinner and dancing. Few will miss the appetizers, and many will appreciate you "getting on with it!"
3. More Appetizers! – Sounds crazy, but the main plate is always more expensive. Think about having an elaborate cocktail buffet (but with only one or two expensive snacks). Keep a main table with lots of cheeses and breads, then have two other stations with small quiches or quesadillas. Stuff guests before dinner, then serve a small, reasonably priced plate of chicken or beef served in a unique way (Coq au Vin, Medallions with Mushroom Sauce – ask the chef to create unique sauces for inexpensive plates). And make sure he adds lots of nutritious inexpensive vegetables and rice to those plates!
4. Cocktail Hour Theme - You can serve cheaper but more unique appetizers that suit the theme. If you're Irish, you can serve mashed potatoes in martini glasses with an elaborate fixins’ station on the side (cheeses, chives, etc.)! We've seen it done, and it was a hit. Or maybe you can go Mexican and have guests create their own fajitas. This also works well with Eastern Foods (low-mein and noodles are cheap but fun and filling).
5. Comfort Foods – Americans love their comfort foods, so who wouldn’t love a buffet fully stocked with delicacies from pigs-in-a-blanket to mini-meatballs and tiny sausages? Get creative! Even finger sandwiches work well here, and nobody will complain. Just be sure to set these platters up in a unique way (try a "picnic" themed cocktail hour complete with fake trees, blankets and picnic basket decorations). We promise, people will always remember unique style or events within the reception.
Save Money on the Bar Tab
1. Cash Bar – Remember, if you’re having cash bar only at your wedding, ALWAYS tell the guests beforehand (even put it on the invitations in an elegant manner). Many people don't carry cash with them regularly.
2. BYOB - Check with your restaurant, but we've played many potluck weddings in veterans’ halls (and they were all invariably the best parties!). The guests brought what they wanted to drink, and passed it around. Some restaurants will also allow you to "bring your own bottle."
3. Cash Bar with Free Wine/Beer – Pay only for the opened bottles of table wine from the reception, and make the beer free at the bar. Those who want mixed drinks can pay cash. You can also make one specialty drink, like margaritas, free also!
4. Serve champagne only for the toast.
5. "Limited" Open Bar – Have beer, wine, and one or two liquors (rum and bourbon) free; the rest is cash. That way, guests can have any mixed drink with those liquors, and you’re not paying for the entire stocked bar.
6. No shots, no heavy-alcohol drinks (like Long Island Iced Tea) served for free.
7. Close bar two hours before the reception ends, but put pitchers of wine or sangria on tables for the final two hours.