Wedding Receptions should be well organized, thought out, and above all else FUN! But there are so many moving parts and details it's easy to be stressed about your wedding reception. Here are some of my top tips for planning and executing a wedding reception that will have all your guests talking about for years!
Would you like more planning tips? Take a look at the rest of the stress free wedding series:
Make an announcement after the ceremony
Communication is key! I always encourage my couples to have an announcement (usually made by the officiant or planner) to all guests letting them know next steps. Something along the lines of “thanks so much for coming, will all immediate family stay put for family photos, while the rest of the guests make their way to X for the cocktail hour. The newlyweds will join y’all after photos to celebrate”.
Have a foolproof rain plan
Make sure your rain plan is ironclad. Rain is usually the biggest stresser for couples, so having a plan is a necessity. Remember that big tents take a lot of time and effort to assemble, they aren’t something you can just throw up in an hour. So make sure you plan ahead.
Consider a planner (or a least a coordinator)
Coordinators are a life saver for wedding days. They take all those tasks that your mom or maid of honor/best man will have to do, so that you all can just relax and enjoy your day. For receptions they’re communicating with caterers, the dj, photographer, and all other vendors to make sure the many events you have will run smoothly and on time.
Give your timeline to all your vendors.
Make sure you have a detailed timeline of all your reception events and email them to everyone. It’s super important that your vendors know everything so they can be ready and prepared.
Consider your walkways
Too frequently couples try to cram in as many tables as possible in one area of their reception space and then leave a huge open area for the dance floor. But don’t forget your walkways! When chatting with your venue, make sure to request enough space for people (and servers) to walk through easily. This is imperative if you have any guests with mobility issues.
Make sure your dance floor is big enough (but not too big!)
You want your dance floor to be big enough that everyone can comfortably dance, but if it’s too big, people can feel awkward. I recommend having the dance floor snuggly in between the reception space. About four square feet per guest is great.
Have a separate cocktail space
Having your reception space closed off to guests is super important for a few reasons. 1. It allows the photographer to take photos of all your gorgeous details without people in the photos. 2. It allows your other vendors to set up and get organized. 3. It creates a dramatic, impactful moment when all your guests see your reception space fully prepped and ready for them.
Provide food during your cocktail hour
You’ll want to keep your guests happy while they wait for you to take your photos. Sometimes photo sessions can take up to 2 hours, so I highly recommend having small snacks at cocktail hour! If you’re having hors d’oeuvres, 5-6 options and 6-7 pieces per person is ideal.
Have a signature cocktail
Signature cocktails are super fun and a great way to show your personality (and also aid those who can never choose what to drink)
Bustle your dress or have an outfit change
If you really want to enjoy your reception and tear up your dance floor, having the right attire is crucial. Make sure you can move in your dress or do an outfit change. And if you have any sort of train make sure it’s bustled. Otherwise it will get stepped on.
Choose your seating chart thoughtfully
This is one that always is a big stresser. And unfortunately, it is important. If you choose to do assigned seating really consider who will get along well. Great mealtime conversation leads to a great dance floor!
Sweetheart table vs. Head/Wedding party table
Sometimes couples spend so much time planning their guests seating they forget to take into account their own seating! Here are some pros and cons to sitting just as a couple or joining a larger table:
A sweetheart table guarantees alone time as a couple. Despite your wedding day being about you and your newlywed partner, you likely won’t have much time alone. Having a separate table allows you two the time to catch up on the day and just be together.
With a head/wedding party table you’re surrounded by your closest friends. It keeps things much more lighthearted and casual. And if you have a wedding party with friends from lots of different friend groups, having you as the link between them all can keep everyone feeling comfortable and conversation flowing.
Only do the activities that are "you"
If doing a garter or bouquet toss (or heck even a first dance) isn't your thing, don’t do it. It’s your wedding and anything that doesn’t feel authentic to you as a couple should be nixed.
Plan your toasts
Ask your guests and wedding party beforehand if anyone would like to make a toast and note that. Not only will it allow the dj to introduce them properly, it removes the awkward “anyone wanna make a toast” with everyone just looking around at each other. Also encourage your toasters to keep it under 2 minutes. Short and sweet is always best.
Provide music suggestions
Great Djs will know how to read a room and play what your guests are responding well to. So make sure to give them the freedom to do that. But I highly recommend a do not play playlist of any songs you absolutely do not want to hear. Nothing kills a mood more than hearing that one song that reminds you of that awful ex you had in college.
Make sure your band or dj has break music
Something I never thought of until I photographed a wedding where the band didn’t have break music. They went on their dinner break and we were in complete silence. Make sure to ask!
Don’t forget about the kids
If kids are invited to your wedding make sure there’s something set up for them. This could be coloring at their tables or a little corner with games. If you want their parents to stay the whole time and enjoy themselves you gotta entertain the little ones.
Plan some games & activities
It’s a good idea to have some activities for your guests to do if they don’t want to dance all night. Some fun games to have scattered around include, Jenga, Connect Four, and corn holes. You can also plan games for the whole group to participate in, such as the shoe game, Madlibs wedding edition, bride and groom trivia, or a scavenger hunt!
Have a lounge area
It’s super nice to have a little area set up for guests to mingle and relax in when they aren’t on the dance floor. This way they can enjoy their time without just sitting at the same table all night.
Get creative with your entertainment
Everyone has photo booths at their wedding now a days (for a reason!! They’re fun!) But also consider thinking outside the box. Some fun ideas? A whiskey tasting, cigar rolling, palm reading, pinball, etc.
Make it personal
While having a perfect pinterest wedding might ensure your wedding is gorgeous, it might not feel like you. Infuse your culture and relationship into your reception. This can include, having your engagement photos displayed, taking part in a cultural activity or song, etc.
Provide phone charging stations
It’s a small touch that lets your guests know you’re thinking of them
Serve a late night snack
I loooove when couples do a late night snack. After a long night on the dance floor, most people will have worked up an appetite. This could be fast food burgers, a s’mores bar, coffee & donuts, etc.
Keep favors small but memorable
Party favors are a great way to show your guests you appreciate them. So choose something thoughtful, but don’t worry about breaking the bank. (I see sooo many favors left at the end of the night). Some fun ideas? A nice candle, gourmet candy, mini liquor bottles, personalized messages, potted plants, diy candy bar, or scratch off cards. Here’s a list of some great ones with links to purchase: https://www.brides.com/gallery/wedding-party-favors
Have a last dance!
Oh I love a last dance. Last dances are a private dance as a couple. Your DJ will announce the last dance and all guests will go outside to prep for your exit. They are such a sweet, intimate moment for couples to reflect on their day. Have one I promise they’re so worth it.
Have a cleanup plan
Make sure you have a set cleanup strategy so that you don’t get caught up in anything other than leaving your wedding on a high note with your newly married partner. Check with your venue beforehand to see if they provide cleanup or if that’s something your family/guests will have to do. Assign someone to gather all your prep items from your getting ready suites (clothes, curling irons, purses, etc.) and someone to gather all the gifts and cards. Do you need an overnight bag packed? Who’s in charge of finding that before you exit?
Plan a fun exit
You want your exit to be fun and memorable! You want to leave on a high energy note. Some fun ideas are streamers, rice, confetti, flower petals/lavender, bubbles, paper airplanes (for exits while there’s still light outside) and glow sticks, light sabers, sparklers (for nighttime exits). Just make sure to clear your exit with your venue. Some places don’t allow nonbiodegradable materials to be thrown or sparklers for fire hazards. And if you’re planning to have a late night party consider a staged exit or exciting entrance.
A staged exit is when you simply do a pretend exit a few hours into your reception and then go back in and party. These are great for a few reasons 1. It includes everyone, even the people that can’t stay the whole party. 2. It makes for great photos when your makeup & hair is in tip top shape. Then you can let loose, get sweaty, take your hair down, for the rest of night. 3. You don’t have to pay your photographer for the whole night. After about an hour of open dance floor, photos can get quite redundant, a staged exit lets you get your exit photos without paying for a photographer for 3 extra hours. (and don’t worry about us, we’re happy to head out early and start importing your photos!)
An exciting entrance allows us to get those “exit” photos just in reverse as your walking into your reception venue. Usually these just include your wedding party and a few family members as everyone else will likely already be seated. This is a great option if you are having a long night but don’t want to interrupt the party by doing a staged exit.
Leah Goetzel Photography is a Dallas based wedding photographer serving couples worldwide. Leah specializes in bold and vibrant weddings for colorful and kind souls. If you're interested in booking Leah for your wedding, fill out our contact form HERE. We can't wait to hear from you!