The wedding reception is the first time you formally receive your relatives and friends as a married couple. Properly planned, it becomes one of the most joyous parties you and your groom will ever host. It can be as simple and demure as cake and punch in the church parlor, or encompass a glorious five-course dinner and dance.
Selecting the location depends on how many people you are inviting. Your reception can be staged nearly anywhere. The church may have a suitable room, or you can rent a meeting hall or room at a nearby hotel, restaurant or club. If you’re being married in a season and locale noted for good, reliable weather, a lovely garden or arboretum may be available. Also consider restored historical mansions. They make delightful fairy tale backdrops for a wedding feast.
Whatever you decide, the ser-vices of a professional banquet facility or caterer can enhance and expedite the planning of your reception.
Once you’ve selected the setting, estimated the number of guests, and established your budget, you can begin interviewing reception sites and caterers.
Reserve your reception spot well in advance, and promptly pay any necessary deposit. A sit-down meal is appropriate for a more formal wedding. If your budget is tight, consider a more casual meal served buffet style.
Visit the reception site and map out how you’d like it set up. Plan to arrange the receiving line where guests enter the room. Also decide whether you’ll have a formal or semi-formal receiving line. Consider grouping furniture to stimulate conversation without obstructing traffic flow. If you will be offering liquor to your reception guests, station the bar well away from the buffet or food service area so there won’t be any congestion.
One table should always be designated for the wedding party and one table for the parents. Seating arrangements at the bride’s table are as follows: bridal couple in the center; maid of honor at the bride’s right; best man at the groom’s left. Seat the other attendants, alternating men and women, as space provides.
At a sit-down event, the order of service should be bride, groom, maid of honor, other attendants, parents and guests. Once all have been served, the best man presents the traditional toast to the bridal couple. Cake-cutting comes after dinner. The bridal couple cut the first slice and share it. Then the caterer’s staff finishes serving while the newlyweds visit with guests.
The last reception ritual, is the bride’s tossing of her bouquet and the groom’s flinging of the garter. Finally, you and your groom will leave the reception for your honeymoon, bringing with you wishes for fertility, prosperity and happiness.
Questions to Ask a Catering/Reception Manager
- What is the date of the event, both day and number?
- What is the length of the event? Cost for extra time?
- What will be on the menu and the cost?
- What type of service will be provided?
- What type of beverages will be served?
- Are gratuities included or at the discretion of the couple?
- Are facilities available for musicians?
- Will a tent be provided if the event is outdoors?
- What are the seating arrangements, including the head table?
- When is the final headcount due?
The Latest...Many couples are including their love of ethnic cuisines into their wedding receptions. Different stations each featuring a separate international cuisine are stationed around the room for either the reception before dinner, part of a buffet dinner or as dinner itself. Great stations can include a sushi bar with a sushi chef creating custom maki rolls; a Mexican station featuring enchiladas, tacos and fajitas; an Italian station with pizzas, pastas and salads; an Asian bar featuring stir-frys and custom noodle dishes; and a caviar bar featuring Eastern European caviars, blinis and potato pancakes. Ethnic meals can include a dim-sum brunch where carts with Asian specialties are rolled around the room and presented to diners or a Spanish Tapas dinner where delicious hot and cold tapas, the little dishes of Spain, are served on platters to each table, encouraging sharing and interaction among the guests.
Receptions don’t demand a formal sit down dinner. Despite the prevalence of seated dinners, the time of day and style of your wedding truly dictate what to serve and how.
Here are some creative alternatives to the traditional dinner receptions:
What to Serve & When - Before you make the big party decisions, consider the time of your reception. No one wants to eat dinner at 11 a.m. or 11 p.m., so don’t feel obligated to serve a full, plated meal during early or late receptions. But be sure to clue guests into the food they can expect. A simple line like “dessert reception immediately follows” on the invitation will preclude any food-related mysteries.
Dinner is appropriate when the reception begins between 6 and 9:30 p.m. Morning and day alternatives are: breakfast (9–11 a.m.), brunch (11 a.m.–2 p.m.), lunch (12:30–3:30 p.m.) and tea (3–5 p.m.). Later in the day choices are: cocktails (5–7 p.m.) and dessert (9–10:30 p.m.).
A Matter of Style - A self-service buffet is more than fitting for an outdoor morning wedding, but feels too casual after a formal, late afternoon church service. The style of your nuptials shows you how best to serve your guests.
Buffets - Buffet meals can be simple or fancy. It depends on whether you want a casual self-service feast or one attended by uniformed servers. Complimentary food stations often offer hand-carved meats or made to order specialties like omelets.
Understand that full buffets cost as much or more than a seated dinner because of the amount of food served and the number of attendants needed to replenish the trays. While a buffet is not necessarily a cost-cutting choice, it is a popular one. Guests can eat their fill and choose from a variety of foods.
Hors D’oeuvres - The beauty of hors d’oeuvres lies in the simplicity. While these finger foods aren’t a full meal, they certainly can replace one. Heavy hors d’oeuvres are a popular, swanky, people-pleasing substitute for plated food. Your reception takes on an air of elegance when the trays are offered by tuxedoed waiters. Self-service hors d’oeuvres is the way to go for more casual brides.
Tasty Alternatives - Several reception alternatives give you the opportunity to control costs and throw a stylish party for your guests.
Wedding Breakfast - A morning wedding is just the right occasion for breakfast, either casual or elegant, buffet or sit-down. Whether served sit-down or buffet style, these meals are more affordable than dinner.
Jazz Brunch - This idea is a perfect follow-up to a morning or noon ceremony and is certainly appropriately done as either a sit-down meal or a buffet. A small jazz quartet can provide the music while guests dine on foods such as eggs benedict, made to order omelets, French toast as well as some New Orleans favorites such as jambalaya, gumbo and etoufee.
Afternoon Tea - An early or mid-afternoon wedding could be followed with finger sandwiches and a sweet table served with several types of tea or even champagne. Your guests will love the variety of finger foods and bite-sized sandwiches offered during this popular late afternoon choice.
Lunch - Like breakfast, lunch always costs less than dinner. The smaller portion sizes also let you select more sumptuous foods.
Wine and Cheese Reception - Recently, the popularity of wine and cheese receptions has soared as another alternative to an afternoon or early evening wedding. Often, favorite wines of the couple are served with great cheeses, fruits and meats for a truly special food pairing. A selection of ports is offered with dessert.
Cocktail Parties - This is another solution for a mid or late afternoon wedding. Heavy hors d’oeuvres and cocktails are often as filling as a buffet or dinner. Sometimes a cocktail party will feature carving or pasta stations with heartier fare. A martini bar is currently a popular trend at this type of reception. Make sure, though, if the alcohol is flowing that there is enough food to accompany the beverages.
Family Picnic - Many couples prefer a much more casual alternative to the wedding reception. A family picnic in the backyard or a garden setting with a buffet table full of family specialties like fried chicken, salads and homemade pies and cakes creates a warm familial atmosphere on that very special day.
Late-Evening Reception - Many late-owl couples wouldn’t imagine getting married before the sun goes down and a late-evening reception is the right time for the celebration to start. Sometimes a buffet with a cheese and fruit tray, salads and a beef tenderloin will be served while other times it will be a dessert-only reception.
Dessert Only - Add some cheese, fruit, petit fours and other dessert choices to your wedding cake table for a sweet, simple party.
Champagne - Typically includes a slice of wedding cake, a glass or two of bubbly and some small sweet table choices.