How to Plan a Wedding Reception

How to Plan a Wedding Reception

The type of your reception should be compatible with the ceremony style. There are three general types of receptions; however there are many ways to go about planning a wedding reception:

– A tea or stand-up buffet, for an early – or late-afternoon wedding, usually consists of hors d oeuvres, wedding cake, and beverages, and allows approximately eight pieces of finger food in the per-person cost.

– A sit-down buffet, for a morning, noon, or evening wedding, allows guests to serve themselves and then be seated at tables.

– A sit-down dinner, for a wedding held after 6pm, offers a four or five course meal that is served to seated guests.

The basic requirements for a reception are the wedding cake and a beverage for toasting the bridal couple. Champagne is traditionally served at formal receptions, but the serving of alcoholic beverages of any kind is a matter of choice. The reception is likely to consume the largest portion of your wedding budget. Also, you should appoint someone reliable to oversee the reception, coordinate last-minute details, and direct cleanup. To help with these responsibilities, a reception organizer, reception seating chart, reception receiving line, reception room diagrams, and worksheet for the table layout may be filled out and given to the reception coordinator.

How to Choose a Reception Site

You will need to coordinate available dates and times with both the ceremony and reception sites before confirmation can be made. How to choose a reception site is largely determined by the size of your guest list. It is important to have a room that is neither too large nor too small. Your guests may feel lost in a room too large. To make the room appear smaller, you can partition off an area using potted plants, roping, or moveable room dividers. If a room is too small, it may become cramped and uncomfortable. When weather and location permit, the reception could spill over into a garden or patio to increase the size of the area.

Allow approximately three hours for your reception. The length will depend upon the style of the reception, the location you have chosen, and the number of guests to be served.

Most hotels and caterers, who may be involved with more than one reception on any given day, prefer that you select a time for your reception that stays within a single conventional time period (morning, noon, afternoon, or evening). If your reception extends into a second time period – such as from afternoon into evening – you may find difficulty in reserving a room, or an increase in cost for the use of the room and services.

When you have a choice of using all or some of the services offered with a possible reception site (perhaps in a “packaged deal”), consider every detail before deciding. Packages may include (a) room, food, and service; or (b) room, food, service, cake, and decorations.

Most banquet facilities and halls require that you use their food and beverage services. Hotels sometimes offer extras with their packages, suck as discounted room prices for out-of-town guests, and special wedding night rates for the bride and groom. When reserving a reception room months in advance of your wedding, ask for a guaranteed price and get it in writing.

Make certain that any contract you sign includes only those services you desire, including a cancellation policy whereby you get most of your money back should you cancel (particularly if the location is rebooked by another group). Some locations will allow you to reserve a room for a time before signing a contract; however, a deposit is required at signing – usually 10 percent of the total estimated cost.

How to Choose a Wedding Caterer

If you are trying to figure out how to choose a wedding caterer, the time and date of your wedding must be confirmed with them and also with the ceremony and reception sites before you order any invitations. When looking for a caterer, ask your family and friends for recommendations. Also, ask any unknown caterers for references, and samples of their food, if possible.

By informing an experienced caterer of the amount you have budgeted for the event, the facilities to be used, and the number of invited people, he can quickly tell you what can be served, in what amount, and in what style.

If the caterer is not familiar with the reception site you have selected, have him visit it to determine what is available and what is needed to make it functional for preparing and serving the food. Determine who is responsible for renting any needed extras – kitchen and serving equipment, tables, chairs, linens, table settings etc. Most caterers break down the cost into a per-person charge.

Ask if the quoted price also included the tax and gratuity. You may want to ask who gets the leftover food (since you will have already paid for it). Ask how many people the caterer will provide for serving the food.

– a buffet table requires a serve for every main dish.

– a sit-down dinner requires a server for every ten guests.

– beverages require a server for every fifty guests.

Sometimes, even if you provided the cake, the beverages, and their respective serves, there is a service charge added by the caterer or reception site, especially when they offer the same service. This charge can be extra or hidden in the total per-person charge. When you sign a contract, be certain it specifies exactly what is to be served, the number of people serving it, the per-person cost, the payment schedule, and a release clause should you have to cancel.

How to Order a Wedding Cake

While seeking estimates for the wedding cake from the banquet manager, caterer, or bakery, taste samples to determine the quality of the cake they offer. So you are probably wondering how to order a wedding cake. You will need an estimate of the number of guests you are expecting when you order your cake. Most prices are based on a per-serving cost. A down payment is usually required when ordering.

The number of needed servings determines both the size and shape of the cake – the number of servings per layer size. Do not hesitate to inquire if, with their guidance, you can design your own cake. It is better to have the bakery deliver the cake to the reception site. They can then make any necessary repairs to the icing.

Do not be afraid to ask friends to cut and serve the cake, even if they have never done it before. It is not difficult when given proper instructions. To preserve the top layer of your cake, wrap it first in plastic wrap, then in two layers of aluminum foil before sealing with freezer tape. If you order more cake than you actually need, you may donate any uncut portions to nursing homes, charitable dining rooms, and others.

How to Setup a Wedding Cake

The wedding cake may be used as a centerpiece on the brides table on the buffet table, or it may be placed on its own table. When deciding on the best location, consider serving accessibility as well as how to best highlight the cake. Knowing the design of your cake – round, square, banquet, or heart shaped, consider what table would best enhance its appearance.

Cover the table with long cloths. Skirting may be necessary to cover the table to the floor. Trim the table and base of the cake with flowers, greenery, garlands, or bows. The bridesmaid’s bouquets may also be places on the table as part of the decorations. I hope that helps give you an idea of how to setup a wedding cake.

The Bridal Party Arrival at a Wedding Reception

Select someone other than a family member to serve as the unofficial reception host/hostess until the arrival of the bride’s parents or other official hosts of the reception. Sometimes the bridal party can be detained due to completion of the photographs at the ceremony site. For this reason, you may want to provide hors d oeuvres and beverages for your guests preceding a buffet or sit-down dinner.

Who will be the spokesperson for your bridal party arrival at a wedding reception? The emcee, DJ, or bandleader can announce the arrival of the bridal party. You will want to provide the emcee with a list of names of those to be introduced. The list should be in order of their appearance. Include the phonetic pronunciation of each persons name as well as his or her relationship to you or the groom. Following is a suggested order of appearance:

Bride’s parents

Groom’s parents

Bridesmaid and usher/groomsman

Bridesmaid and usher/groomsman

Bridesmaid and usher/groomsman

Bridesmaid and usher/groomsman

Bridesmaid and usher/groomsman

Maid/Marton of Honor and the best man

Guest of Honor the Bride and Groom

Receiving Line at a Wedding Reception

Form the receiving line at a wedding reception based on the best traffic flow for the groom. The receiving line is for the bridal couple and their parents to greet guests and receive their congratulations. It should not disband until each guest in the line has been greeted. If you choose not to have a receiving line, you may circulate among the guests for the same purpose, greeting each one.

Though sometimes held at the ceremony site, a receiving line is traditionally formed at the reception. You may greet any late arrivals as you mingle with your guests. To lessen the amount of time spent receiving guests, include only the bridal couple, parents, and honor attendants in the receiving line. Participants traditionally stand in this order: the bride’s mother, the groom’s mother, the bride, the groom, the maid of honor, and the bridesmaids (in order, with the bridesmaid who led the processional at the end of the line).

If the fathers are included in the line, the grooms father stands next to the brides mother and the brides father stands between the bride and the grooms mother, (if the brides father participates in the line, the best man assumes the role of reception host until the brides father is free).

Take into consideration your family situation when deciding who will participate in the receiving line and where they will stand, particularly if your parents are divorced.

Guest Book at a Wedding Reception

Locate the guest book at a wedding reception near the entrance or at the end of the receiving line. The book can be circulated among the guests to be sure everyone has signed it. The person (or persons) who tended the book at the ceremony site could also tend it at the reception (or others could be designated).

Seating Arrangements at a Wedding Reception

– Tea or stand-up buffet:

You may have a brides table and two or three other tables designated for the bridal party, parents, grandparents, and other family members. It is better to have only half as many chairs as guests, to allow room for people to move about. A few tables should be placed about the room to receive the empty plates, cups, and forks.

– Sit-down buffet or dinner:

The brides table generally includes the brides and grooms attendants, other than children, sitting in alternating positions on either side of the bridal couple:

Usher/Bridesmaid/Usher/Bridesmaid/Best man/BRIDE/GROOM/Maid of Honor/Usher/Bridesmaid/Usher/Bridesmaid

Bridesmaids and ushers may be seated at specially designated tables other than the brides table. The parents can have both sets of parents seated with the officiant and his or her spouse. You could also have separate tables for the brides and grooms parents. Other honored guests can be seated with the parents with this arrangement:

———————–Brides Mother

Grooms Father———————Wedding Officiant


Officiants Wife———————-Grooms Mother

———————–Brides Father

When the bride’s parents are divorced, the groom’s parents sit with the parent who raised the bride. The other parent sits with his or her family and friends at a separate table. If there are children in the wedding party, they may either be seated with their parents or at a special children’s table under adult supervision.

If you are planning to have assigned seating arrangements at a wedding reception, use a reception seating chart to help you plan. If you are using unassigned seating, you may want to use the following method to help avoid confusion or traffic blocks among the guests: 1.) conspicuously but tastefully display a number card on each table 2.) write each guests name and assigned table number on a name/seating card: 3.) place the cards on a hostess table near the entrance to the reception area so that guests can find their seats easily.

Cutting the Cake at a Wedding Reception

At a tea or stand-up buffet where the wedding cake is the main part of the menu, you may cut the cake before the receiving line forms. At a sit-down buffet you could hold the cake-cutting ceremony once all your guests have gone through the receiving line.

At a full-course sit-down dinner, the cutting and sharing of the cake by the bridal couple comes just prior to the dessert course. Whenever you decide to cut your wedding cake, consider how the timing affects your guests – too long a wait often results in a great deal of leftover wedding cake. You and your groom are the first people cutting the cake at a wedding reception. The groom places his right hand over yours on the knife handle as you together take a slice of wedding cake from the bottom tier. The groom gives you the first bite, and you offer the groom the second.

After sharing your first piece of wedding cake, you and the groom may serve your respective new in-laws. Afterward, those serving the cake will serve the bridal attendants and remaining guests. It is nice to decorate the handle of the cake knife with flowers, bows, or streamers. In a military wedding, the bride and groom use his sword/saber to cut the first slice of cake.

Entertainment at a Wedding Reception

The following are a few of the more common traditions expected from the entertainment at a wedding reception:

– Toasting the bridal couple: This usually begins right after the receiving line is completed, and before the food is served at a formal reception. It is traditionally led by the best man. Following a military wedding, the first toast usually welcomes the bride into the service. The arch may again be formed over her head during the toast.

– First Dance: The bride and groom traditionally dance first, followed by these pairings:

(a) bride and her father, groom and his mother

(b) bride and the best man, groom and the maid of honor

(c) bride and grooms father, groom and brides mother

(d) everyone joins in

It is not necessary for the bridal couple to dance the entire number before the father of the bride cuts in, or everyone is asked to join in. When family relationships have been disrupted through divorce, the bride and groom may share their first dance together and then open the floor for everyone else.

At large formal affairs, dancing may begin at any time, even as early as the first arrival of guests to the reception. When dancing has begun early, a fanfare may be plated to clear the floor and signal the bridal couple’s first dance. The first dance may occur immediately following the toasts.

– Throwing the bouquet and garter: These popular customs come near the end of the reception just before the bride and groom change into their going away clothes. The bride first tosses her bouquet over her shoulder to the waiting unmarried women, followed by the grooms removing the satin and lace garter from the bride’s leg and then tossing it to the waiting single men. Florists will make up a special bouquet for throwing if you want to save your own. (These customs are generally not observed at a second wedding.)

– Throwing the rice: Designate younger sisters, cousins, or friends to distribute confetti, balloons, bubbles, or sparklers to guests. Check with the ceremony/reception site on their policy regarding this tradition. Rice is not recommended due to adverse affects on animals and their eating habits.

Other forms of entertainment to consider:

The best many or emcee could read congratulatory messages received during the day. Slides or a video montage of your individual childhoods and romance could be shown. Solos, poetry, and special reading written just for you are some of the ways your loved ones could share in your day. “Your song” could be sung or played by a group of friends, college pals, coworkers etc. Speeches could be given by your families or close friends, offering their best wishes and perhaps sharing a few anecdotes from your past. Each should be kept to a minimum of time, no more than one or two minutes.

Other local and ethnic customs may be observed; the following are a few examples

The dollar dance: guests pay a dollar each to dance with the bride or groom. They may pin the money to the brides gown or put money or checks into a small white satin purse the bride wears on her wrist.

The grand march: near the end of the reception, the emcee announces the grand march. The bride and groom lead the way, followed by their attendants and guests. As the music is plated, the bridal couple leads the crowd around the room and sometimes even outside and around the building. At the end, everyone passes by the bridal couple so they can thank each guest for helping them celebrate their wedding day.

After the Wedding Reception

After the wedding reception, there is still work to be done – plan for it! The amount of work will largely depend on where the reception is held. There will be far less to do when the reception is held at a hotel than in a church, a hall, or at a home. No matter how much or how little needs to be done, assign people to assist with each cleanup detail. Have plenty of help!

Home and/or Garden Reception

In addition to much of the preceding information, you must also consider the following when planning a reception at home. Although truly memorable, a home or garden reception is not necessarily less expensive than one held elsewhere, and may entail a great deal more work.

In preparing for the vent, you may find yourself involved in special cleaning, painting, and landscaping projects. Therefore, it may be expedient to hire outside professional services to ease the workload. If you are not having a caterer, setup a work schedule to plan and prepare the food in advance.

Serve beverages in 4 or 6 ounce glasses. Provide two glasses of beverage per person per hour; this amount may be higher in hotter climates. Particularly with an at-home reception, you will need to study your kitchen and:

– list any equipment needed to facilitate the preparation and serving of the food and beverages.

– check to see if you have adequate electrical outlets.

– check to see if the electrical appliances are in good working condition. Do not be caught at the last minute with a fifty cup-coffee maker that does not work.

Study the general flow of the house and garden as you plan the location of food and beverage tables, the bride’s attendants, and parent’s tables, and seating for the guests. It may be necessary to remove some of the furniture from your home to allow more room for your guests.

To avoid any last- minute frustration over where to place a dish on a serving table, prepare a layout of each table showing what dish goes where. Then, prior to the reception, place a slip of paper with the name of the dish at each location. At a home or garden reception, you will need additional people assisting you with details:

– a crew to set up the area – tables, chairs, etc.

– extra people to assist in the kitchen

– someone to pickup after the family when they leave for the wedding and before they return for the reception (if the wedding is also being held at home, they could assist in straightening the house just prior to the wedding.)

– someone to stand at each door or entrance to the house and garden to welcome guests and direct them to the reception area.

– someone very reliable – perhaps a close personal friend – to supervise the buffet table and keep it well stocked

– someone to assist with serving – passing trays of hors d oeuvres, beverages, etc.

– ushers to remove empty plates and cups when guests have finished

– someone to keep powder rooms clean and stocked

– a crew to clean up the entire area and to remove all litter after the reception

Plan well in advance where to park your guest’s cars. It may be necessary to have them park elsewhere and to provide a shuttle service to your home. Parking attendants at your home may be needed. You may also want to consider hiring an off-duty police officer to direct traffic.

You may need to consider an alternate location in case of undesirable weather (or be prepared with canopies, tents, fans, or heaters). Consider enclosing the following information with your invitations, giving an alternative location:

In case of rain the _______event type_______

will be held at _______location_______

contact_____name of person_______ at ____phone number____

Post Wedding Reception Parties

When all the planning of the past few months has come to fruition, the wedding and reception are over, and the bride and groom have left for their honeymoon – now what? If the festivities occurred early in the day, the bride’s parents might consider inviting family members, the grooms parents, and special friends to join them in an informal gathering at home. Continuing the celebration in an intimate home atmosphere, rather than having it come to an abrupt end at the close of the reception, will help the parents to better adjust to the change of pace after the furious activity of the past few months.

Post wedding reception parties and activities could extend over the next several days with swimming and boating trips, picnics, and trips to museums, plays, sporting events, etc.