How to plan a wedding reception

Whatever else happens, it is really the reception that can make or mar a wedding for your guests.

People can come with certain expectations and while the bride and groom may be oblivious - high on life and thoroughly enjoying having their entire families around them - it's worth remembering that your guests in an ideal world should all leave happy too.

So what makes a wedding reception memorable (for the right reasons)?

Here are some important things to remember when organising the party to end all parties:

Guest numbers

First of all, you must know how many guests will be attending, or at least have some idea of the numbers, if not the exact list.

It is important to be sure of the number of guests during the early planning stages
It is important to be sure of the number of guests during the early planning stages

Little else can progress without this magic number. 

Budget

Next you must have some idea of your budget.

Wedding costs can run away with themselves if you don’t take care, so set a budget and be prepared to stick to it. Armed with these you can set forth to examine the possibilities.

Venue

The choice is huge. There are hotels, club and pub reception rooms, restaurants, church and community halls, country clubs, and a whole variety of less usual places such as theme parks, stately homes, river cruisers, some of which may be certificated wedding venues, and of course, that good old standby - a marquee in a garden.

Lists of certificated venues may be had from your local Register Office. The others can be located by personal knowledge, the internet, recommendations from friends or advertisements.

Whichever you choose you must visit before you book. Obvious? Well you might be surprised how many people will book a venue and only visit it just before the booked date, with very mixed results.

Room size

You have to look for certain very definite things when booking a wedding reception. Start with the size of the main room.

If it’s too large for the number of guests the party will inevitably split into two factions - her guests and his.

They will then sit or stand looking at each other like some opposing army lined up for battle.

On the other hand, if there is insufficient space everyone will get in everyone else’s way and general irritation will be the result.

Your chosen reception venue may need to be big enough to accommodate daytime and additional evening guests
Your chosen reception venue may need to be big enough to accommodate daytime and additional evening guests

As well as the number of guests of course, you must consider how the room will be used.

If it is purely for a meal with tables set up formally in the prescribed fashion, then as long as there is enough room for the tables and for people to move about around them, that’s all you have to consider.

If there is to be dancing or entertainment after the meal, then either space for this must be allocated or perhaps a separate room provided into which everyone can go when the meal is finished.

Consider also where any evening buffet or food will go if you clear the room completely for a boogie. 

Guests behaviour

At the majority of receptions where a buffet is provided, guests will, after much prodding (no-one will want to be first), stand in an orderly line, help themselves and then, with plates piled high (no-one will wish to be seen having seconds), they will search for tables and chairs at which to sit and eat.

This can sometimes then be complicated by children visiting the table at frequent intervals (they don’t suffer from embarrassment as adults do), helping themselves to this and that and returning unrelished items to the (wrong) dishes!

So deciding whether to have a sit-down meal or buffet for your reception will depend very much on knowing your guests, friends, family and what sort of age mix, maybe how many young children you may be entertaining, and understanding how they may react.

Without this knowledge it is very hard to decide on the size of room to book.

Outside catering?

Some venues provide in-house catering facilities, some do not.

Your style of catering is an important part of your reception
Your style of catering is an important part of your reception

If the latter is the case and you are booking an outside caterer it’s wise to be sure that there is a place from which the caterers can arrange and serve their food.

Bar facilities are important too. If the venue provides a full bar service or an outside bar is being provided by a local publican, make sure it will be functional for the duration of the reception.

It can be off-putting if the reception goes on till midnight and the bar closes firmly at 10 or 11pm.

If for any reason the wedding party is running the bar make sure someone responsible is put in charge - preferably a non-drinker.

Blowing hot or cold

And we're not talking about any cold feet before 'I do'.

Whatever size or style of room you choose always check on the following: Is the room air conditioned and if not, is there sufficient ventilation?

If it is to be a winter wedding, is there sufficient heating and can it be easily adjusted?

Is there somewhere secure for guests to leave outdoor clothing?

Are there sufficient toilets and are they conveniently situated in relation to the reception room? Do guests need to walk outside to reach them? 

Don't forget to also consider car parking and it's convenient distance from the reception room.

This is particularly important if your venue relies on public car parking some distance away.

And if a marquee is being hired ask about furniture, heating, lighting and toilets. Few domestic premises, if being put in a garden, have sufficient lavatories to accommodate 20, 30 or more people at an event.

Be organised

Finally whatever type or style of reception you decide upon, don’t leave the organisation too late.

As soon as you know the date of the ceremony, establish the budget, decide on the number of guests, then get on with arranging that reception.

You really can’t arrange it too far in advance.

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