If you haven’t read Chapters One through Six, I recommend starting with those posts first.
In those previous chapters, I have talked about what I used for wedding planning and I honestly believe that I was successful at planning our wedding because I had The Joyful Wedding Planner to help guide me! I am using that as the framework for these posts, but I HIGHLY encourage you to buy the real thing for yourself. It’s only a $25 purchase for the full range of PDFs! The document is comprised of 160 pages of wedding planning goodness, so this low price is SUCH a steal! And the benefit of it being digital means that you can reprint any planner pages that you may want to replace or have multiples of.
Now, to plan the party!!! Your reception is all about celebrating you and your partner as newlyweds!
Wedding receptions are an opportunity to have fun with all of your loved ones with good food, drinks, and festivities! While it’s a party, there will still need to be some structure, especially if you plan to incorporate toasts, traditions like the bouquet / garter toss, a cake cutting, and any special dances.
There are also logistical aspects like if you are hosting the reception at the same venue as the ceremony will the room need to be “flipped” and if so, where will your guests go in the interim? Or if you are serving hors d’ouvres and / or a meal you may want to plan a seating arrangement for your guests.
Creating a certain ambiance for your guests with the decor and design of the reception space also comes into play here. There’s a lot more that goes into a reception than just eating, drinking, and dancing! Thankfully, the planner’s got you covered on helping you to determine all of these details!
Decor & Design
As mentioned in Chapter 6 regarding your ceremony, if you have your reception at the same venue, often the decor can be rearranged and repurposed from one event to the next! You’ll just need a “holding space” for your guests to mingle and enjoy a cocktail hour while the room / space is flipped! I recommend keeping the decor as cohesive as possible between all locations / spaces.
It can be fun to have games and / or activities for your guests to enjoy (cornhole is always an outdoor favorite; plus, you could have the boards customized to fit your style! You could also offer other popular lawn games such as bocce, pétanque, or croquet!) just be sure to calculate the space needed for these activities when formatting the layout for your reception area. Regarding an indoor activity idea, my sister-in-law and her fiancée regularly attend trivia nights together so they hired their favorite emcee to host a game of trivia during their wedding reception which is so “them”!
I absolutely love the sweet, creative details and personal touches that couples incorporate into their special days; they’re all so uniquely wonderful! If you’re looking for more ideas to kickstart your creativity, you can find them here.
If you decide to feed your guests (and you should), the traditional options are: plated sit-down dinner, family style dinner, self-serve stations, and buffet-style dinner. Alternatively, you could offer just cocktails and passed “light bites” (easy-to-nibble hors d’ouvres) in lieu of a traditional dinner. It’s nice to know that there are options to suit your needs and the vibe of your wedding!
I have attended a wedding where the couple’s favorite cuisine was Vietnamese food so they offered a few traditional Vietnamese appetizers, served bowls of phở as the main course, and then had a croquembouche tower as their dessert since Vietnam has a historical French influence. If you are having your wedding earlier in the day it would be fun to serve brunch to your guests as the reception meal! Have fun with your food selections, especially if you and your fiancée are big foodies!
My husband and I both agreed that we wanted a plated dinner at our wedding and that a venue with an on-site kitchen was a must (catering with camp stoves, etc. is always a gamble and one that we weren’t willing to take). One thing that I wasn’t expecting was that our venue’s catering and wait staff would request that we notate the guests’ meal type on the front of everyone’s place cards (most venues ask for the notation to be on the back of the place cards) which I wasn’t super thrilled about as it would disrupt the aesthetic. Thankfully, I was able to find meal choice stickers that would indicate the food preference in a mildly elegant way… but I definitely had to get a little creative. 😅 Don’t be afraid to think outside the box a little bit to accommodate your vendors while still maintaining the look you want for your event!
*Top Tip: FEED YOUR VENDORS! They are working hard to make your day special and often for a long period of time. Some vendors will negotiate a meal as part of their contract, but if they don’t you should always ask what their meal preference would be so that they can have something hot to eat after spending countless hours hard at work! It’s a gesture that doesn’t go unnoticed!
Seating Arrangements / Reception Layout
Before searching for a seating chart template I asked our venue questions regarding the size of the tables / how many people could be seated at each one and that certainly helped with the planning (our round tables could each seat eight guests comfortably).
If you do a Google or Pinterest search to find a template that works for your needs, be sure to use the shape of the table (round, square, rectangular), how many people per table, and some key phrases like: “wedding reception layout; seating arrangement; seating chart template” in your search for best results. We used this seating chart template to help us determine where we would seat everyone for dinner.
It is also recommended to take your chosen meal type into consideration when making this decision: e.g. if you have super long tables it would be inconvenient for your guests to be offered a buffet-style meal. The image above is from a wedding planned, designed and executed by Sinclair & Moore. This gorgeous reception was shown in Steve’s Instagram Stories and I wanted to share the table setup as an example of the perfect situation to serve a plated sit-down meal (so pretty, right?!).
To help our guests find their seats we simply displayed a list on a sign so that our guests could locate their table number and the placecards had already been placed at the table since we had predetermined seating assignments… which I suppose is a bit boring, but it worked for us. Couples have gotten super creative with their guests’ seating process — you can find some ideas here. This is such an easy opportunity to incorporate some added style, design and maybe even guest interaction to the event (e.g. take a Polaroid selfie to replace your name card).
I love traditions and weddings are typically steeped in them! The great part about planning a modern wedding is that you can choose which traditions fit you best as a couple and skipping the ones that don’t. Some classic traditions are: Dances (such as the first dance, anniversary dance, and the money dance), Bouquet Toss, Garter Toss, Cake Cutting (and preserving the top tier of your cake), etc.
We decided to forego a decent number of the common wedding traditions because (1) I was so obsessed with my bouquet and wanted to take it home to use it as a centerpiece on our dining room table instead of throwing it into a gaggle of friends (I know that you can buy a tossing bouquet, but have you looked into floral prices?! That just wasn’t a priority for me); (2) I am just not a garter type of person and the idea of my husband retrieving my garter while on display in front of our friends and family was just mortifying to me; (3) I ended up dancing with my mom instead of my dad because he made the choice to leave during cocktail hour. Our chosen reception traditions were special nonetheless and felt very “us” (even though we had to pivot at the last minute to accommodate the surprise situation with my dad 🙃).
I recommend making a plan with your venue team regarding the care of the top tier of your wedding cake, wrapping it up / setting it aside to be preserved in your freezer and eaten on your first anniversary! For your convenience, I have a How-To Guide with detailed instructions on how to preserve your cake properly from the award-winning pastry chef that created our wedding cake (and tips on how to avoid my mistakes)!
The digital wedding planner includes a lot of helpful toasting tips, which is perfect because most of us are not career Toastmasters! Personally, I don’t think that I retained most of what I learned from Public Speaking 101, so it was a helpful refresher. 😉 The planner also offers General Tips for Your Reception, Brainstorming Your Music Playlist, as well as blank pages with space for collecting Reception Design Inspiration and for planning the Reception Layout (sweetheart table, guest dining tables, dance floor, etc.).
We ended up hiring a DJ/MC instead of having live music and our MC had a questionnaire for us to complete (what preferences we may have for him to play during the processional and recessional, as well as for the announcement, first dance, father / daughter dance, mother / son dance, etc.), including any specific song requests for the dancing portion of the evening which made life so much easier. We loved that he had a full range of songs in every genre available at his fingertips where musicians can be a bit more limited in that capacity.
Please feel free to let me know if you have any specific questions in the Comments section below!
Other than that: Congratulations and happy inspiration perusing!!
Sending hugs —
P.S. In the spirit of full disclosure, I know these posts may seem like I am partnering with The Joyful Wedding Planner / Cultivate What Matters group, but this planner is seriously a head above the rest and was indispensable to me and planning our wedding! I believe in it SO strongly and just want to share it with you!!!