Have you ever been to a wedding reception where the bride and groom are running around madly, trying to stay on top of a packed schedule while still mingling with their guests? Or one where the entire reception is unplanned chaos with no order whatsoever? I know of one wedding reception, where the bride was late because no one was watching the clock. She had just assumed someone would step up and keep an eye on the time. Surely the bride shouldn’t have to be the coordinator as well.
When planning your wedding reception, it’s essential to think about the day’s schedule and how each moment will transition into the next. But even more importantly, your planning should acknowledge that it’s your day to cherish, not to bark orders. Yes, there’s a lot to cram into one day; if the planning is carefully done in advance, it needn’t be chaotic.
Wedding Reception Tip #1: Let Someone Else Take the Lead
One of the biggest trends in wedding receptions right now is the day-of coordinator. Instead of hiring a planner for your entire planning process, consider hiring someone just for your special day. This person will be well-versed in the events of the day and will support you from the sidelines, keeping an eye on the time, working in disaster-recovery, and dealing with vendors on your behalf. Find someone with whom you’re comfortable. And since this trust is crucial, nominating a friend for this role is a budget-friendly option that will put your mind at ease.
For your day-of support to be effective, carefully plan and prioritize your schedule in advance. Don’t assume that anyone can read your mind. They can’t. If you want your first dance to come after dinner instead of before, make sure the DJ, caterers, et al. know this before the big day. If you want your pastor to bless the meal, ask at the rehearsal dinner and make sure the emcee is informed. Printing out a physical schedule for all involved is a great way to communicate the details of your dream day.
Wedding Reception Tip #2: Time-Budgeting
You’ve printed you invitations with a start time for your reception; make sure that your vendors and support team are also aware of the wrap-up time. Expect a reception with both food and dance to run at least four hours. You’ll be dividing and prioritizing this precious window of time, so nail down the specifics before you start planning a dance marathon. If it’s hosted in your backyard, and you choose to party into the wee hours of the morning, this is probably not as great a concern as it is for a reception held at a venue rented out by the hour. There are no steadfast rules in reception-schedule planning, but the more organized you are in advance the more likely you are to squeeze in all the important moments you’ve long been dreaming of.
Wedding Reception Tip #3: Breaking it Down - The Photography
If you’re planning on taking photos between the ceremony and reception, consider setting up a cocktail hour at the reception site for guests to mingle while they wait for you. If you’re not caught up in the tradition of not seeing each other until the ceremony, you can take photos before swapping vows. Just make sure you budget plenty of time so you’re not late for the ceremony. Yes, it happens. Photographers recommend budgeting about 5 minutes per classic photo pose or group shot. Discussing dream shots when you first book your photographer is wise; he’ll work with your schedule to capture those perfect moments. Since you’re paying for his time, be open to some of his professional time-saving suggestions. Another great idea is recruiting someone to round up your extended family for group shots so you don’t have to. Let this recruited person tell guests not to interrupt the shots so you don’t have to be the bossy one. Your job is to smile.
Wedding Reception Tip #4: The Receiving Line
This tradition of the receiving line is becoming more and more optional. Some choose to have it at the site of the ceremony; others opt for this during the cocktail hour at the reception location. As many of your guests won’t know what to say to each member of your bridal party, and a massive line will only eat into your evening, consider shrinking the line to just the bride, groom and parents. Smaller weddings might best be served by the bride and groom visiting at each table of guests instead of a formal lineup.
Wedding Reception Tip #5: Sit Down and Raise a Glass
Many desire a formal announcement of the bride and groom that seamlessly transitions into the first dance; most professionals support this idea of a “wow factor” in your entrance. Some, however, prefer to hold off on the first dance until the dance floor officially opens after dinner. For the sit-down part of your reception, let the emcee (or DJ, if you’re emcee-less) take the lead in transitioning between courses, toasts, announcements and games. A word to the wise: choose your emcee carefully.
The best man traditionally kicks off the toasting. When you want your toasts is up to you, (before, during or after dinner), but make sure that the important players, including the toast-makers, know your plan. Remember that the earlier the toasts, the greater the odds of the toast-maker being sober. Wedding coordinators recommend limiting your toasts, as open mikes often ask for disaster (or a long-windedness that could hurt your dancing time). And when it comes time for you to thank everyone for coming, there’s no need to thank every guest by name. Unless there’s only 12 of them. Guests remember heartfelt sentiment, not rambling lists.
Once the dinner is over, the DJ typically takes over the evening’s events. Be specific about song requests, because if the speeches run long, you don’t want to miss out on the non-negotiable favorites. If there are kids at the wedding, consider budgeting for a fun numbers before they’re shuttled off to the sitter’s. Use the dance floor to mingle with some of the guests you haven’t chatted with yet. Nothing says “thank you for coming” like the electric slide. To keep the evening running smoothly, try not to interrupt the dancing too frequently with the garter/bouquet/cake moments, as it may hurt the dancing momentum. Once your guests are off the dance floor, it may be difficult to get them back.
Wedding Reception Tip #6: Let Them Eat Cake
Some guests will disappear after indulging in sugar, so be prepared for some exits post-dessert. DJs will want you to hold off on the cake, caterers will want to serve dessert an hour after the entrée. So be clear with both. Just don’t put it off until too late. You don’t want your guests to leave the reception before tasting your expensive dessert. (Some experts recommend faking the cutting-of-the-cake moment for the photographer earlier in the day to prevent having to pay for his/her services all night. Plus, you’ll be less sweaty if you take photos before you dance.)
Post-cake is the best time for the garter and bouquet tosses. Martha Stewart advises saving the bouquet toss for 30 minutes before the reception ends. And you don’t want to mess with Martha. If you’re planning on making an exit still in your wedding attire, you can hold off the last dance until the very end. Otherwise, let the tosses be your goodbye signal, change into your going-away outfits, and head off to your hotel, leaving your wonderful friends and family to clean up behind you.
Plan ahead. Let someone else run the show. Anticipate that no schedule will be followed to the minute. And enjoy your wedding reception fully!