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How to Plan an Amazing Wedding Reception

Try to plan a wedding that suits your style and personality, but also one that your loved ones will remember—for all the right reasons.

outdoor reception guests at tables

outdoor reception guests at tables

Photo: AppleMoon Photography

Before you start to get overly stressed about planning your wedding reception, take a deep breath and try this exercise. Think about the best events you’ve ever attended—not as a host, as a guest. Whether these events were weddings, birthday parties, work events, even dinner parties, they probably all had one thing in common—you felt like the host really cared that you had the best time.

It’s a good way to frame things as you start planning your wedding reception, too. As you plan your reception, try to look at it from your guests’ perspective. What do your guests actually need and want in order to have an amazing time? As you move through the following steps in the planning process, of course, try to plan a wedding that suits your style and personality, but also one that your loved ones will remember—for all the right reasons.

These are just a couple of ways to make sure your wedding reception will be one to remember.

Pick the right wedding venue
You can have the most gorgeous, over-the-top stunning venue ever, but if your guests are uncomfortable in any way, they’re probably not going to remember your event so fondly. When looking at a wedding venue, keep an eye for a few things that can make or break your guests’ experience: ease of parking, the restroom situation, climate control, and of course, making sure that the venue can hold all of your guests without feeling cramped or uncomfortable.

If you’re hoping for an outdoor wedding, you should also make sure that your selected wedding venue has an indoor space—a Plan B, in wedding speak—in case of inclement weather (we know, we know, not something you want to think about, but it’s a huge deal).

Your food game needs to be on point
Your guests will probably be pretty hungry, but don’t let them get hangry. Choose a catering company that will create delicious food, but also make sure that there will be more than enough of it so your guests won’t leave your reception and immediately run to the nearest drive-thru for the #6 combo.

And sweet treats are also pretty much expected at weddings, so whether you choose to have a wedding cake or another dessert, make sure you satisfy your guests’ sweet tooths.

glam barn reception

Photo: Photo Love

Guests just want to have fun—and be entertained
No, your wedding reception doesn’t need to include a Broadway-caliber show (though that would be kind of amazing), but some form of musical entertainment is a nice way to keep the mood upbeat. You should choose to have a band, a DJ, or a live musician playing background music during dinner, as music creates a celebratory atmosphere. And if dancing will be part of your wedding reception, make sure that your venue offers a big enough dance floor to accommodate most of your guests.

If you have it in your budget, you may also choose to add additional entertainment to your wedding reception—a photobooth, caricature artist, lawn games, karaoke, or something completely out-of-the-box.

Your wedding reception should have all the pretty things and places to sit
Your wedding reception venue should look inviting. That means hiring a florist to decorate the space, and in many cases, lighting pros to create the right ambiance. Depending on your venue, you may need to add additional décor, like draping, to make the space look wedding-ready.

Other items you made need are tables and chairs for everyone to sit at (plustable linens to make them look pretty), as well as all of the china, glassware, and flatware guests will need to enjoy their meal. Your venue may be able to assist with this part, or you might have to hire a rental company.

Make your guests feel appreciated
This is where favors come in. You can choose to provide gifts like picture frames or candles, edible favors like cookies or cake pops, or make a donation to charity in lieu of items. Whatever you decide, your guests will appreciate the effort.

There are other ways you can say “thanks” to your guests, aside from favors. Printing thank-you notes to feature on each place setting or making a thank-you speech at the end of the night—not to mention trying to say hi and thanks to as many guests as possible—are all good ways to show your love.

guests toast at wedding reception

Photo: Patrick Nied Photography

Hire professionals to capture the moment
Hiring a professional photographer and videographer to capture your wedding day isn’t just a big deal for you and your future spouse, it’s important for your guests too. Your guests will want to see your photos and relive all the awesomeness of your wedding, so hire pros who will take photos and a video that wows them.

Explain what’s going on
Paper products, such as escort cards, menus, table numbers and signage, actually serve a purpose beyond just looking pretty. They help share information with your guests—whether it’s telling them where they should sit, what they’ll be eating, or where the restroom is. Use wedding stationery appropriately at your wedding reception to keep your loved ones in the loop.

Make sure everyone gets where they need to go—safely and on time
Transportation is another important part of a wedding reception that can greatly affect the guest experience. If you’re hosting a lot of out-of-town guests who are staying at a particular nearby hotel, it is a thoughtful gesture to provide them with shuttle service to and from your reception. Yes, it’s totally an added expense, but providing transportation is not just a convenience thing, it’s a safety issue to avoid anyone drinking and driving.

Ensure your wedding reception runs smoothly
One of the biggest pet peeves we hear from wedding guests is when a wedding reception is disorganized and off-schedule. Perhaps dinner took way too long to be served and everyone was sitting around awkwardly. Or maybe everyone missed the cake cutting because no one made an announcement. This is where wedding planners and venue coordinators come in—to make sure that everything runs smoothly. No matter how much pre-planning you do, wedding-day hiccups do happen—and wedding planners are there to ensure that no one notices.