As you can see by now, every decision you make leads to the next decision. If you’ve followed my advice and had conversations along the way, the decision about the reception has already been made! You’ve decided who is coming. You’ve decided the tone of your ceremony. You’ve decided what you will provide and the budget for this celebration of love.
For some, the wedding reception is a demonstration of family wealth, because that aligns with cultural—and sometimes religious—traditions. For others, the wedding reception is a celebration of love shared with your community regardless of wealth.
What does “celebration” look like to you? Does it involve good wine and good food? Does it involve no alcohol but great food? Does it involve live music, recorded music, chanting, or pop songs sung together? Will there be dancing, and will it be formal or informal? Does it involve an open mic and open-hearted sharing, or formal, assigned toasts?
Where you hold your reception largely depends on where you hold your wedding. While some of my clients have opted to move the entire set of wedding guests to another location, when you have more than a dozen people, I don’t recommend it. A reception following the wedding without having to pile into vehicles and arrive in a new place allows the energy of your promises and vows to continue to sparkle like magic in the air.
In some ways the reception is a gift to your guests. What you offer them is in celebration of their attendance and witnessing of your marriage. If you offer drinks, there are many ways to offer them and all are acceptable. You can offer something bubbly like Prosecco, Cava, or champagne. You can offer a white wine and a red (or just a white if the wedding is in a place where spots matter). If you decide to offer spirits, a premixed Cosmo or margarita saves time and the expense of a bartender.
Often couples will have an open bar for a period of time and then a cash bar for later. Think about it, though: if you want to limit alcohol consumption, an unlimited open bar is not a good idea. Always offer several non-alcoholic options and have plenty of good water for hydration, especially if there is dancing.
Speaking of dancing, it’s an element that can punctuate any celebration with whoops of joy. Even if you don’t want to do the traditional first dance to your favorite romantic or rockin’ tune, your guests will likely enjoy kicking up their heels in your honor.
If you will have music that is prerecorded, take time to build or have someone build your playlist. One couple started with favorite sweet ballads, moved to what they called “shoulder-shakin’ music” and then right to beats that pulled you up off your feet and onto the floor. If this isn’t one of your strengths, and you don’t want to hire a DJ, one of your family or extended family members will have a young person who knows how to mix!
Food at a reception can take many different forms. Based on your budget, you may choose from cocktail snacks, appetizers, heavy appetizers, buffet, and a sit-down dinner. Do decide, based on your budget, exactly what you will offer—and feel good about whatever you choose. The important thing is the coming together of community, and whether the bread you break together is foie gras on toast points or crackers and cheese, they are all infused with your love and celebration.
Another aspect of the reception is the opportunity for your guests to speak. This is something you want to envision together as part of your planning. Do you like the idea of having specific people you have asked to speak be the only ones? Are you happier with the idea of letting folks express their love and wishes as the spirit moves them? Take some time during the reception to allow this to happen. It’s usually a good idea to do it before you serve any type of dessert, because that often signals the “soft” end of the night.
Another question to consider is this: does celebration mean doing the things that only you two enjoy. or doing the things you think others will enjoy as well?
For example, many in our community have decided to abstain from alcohol because they believe it is necessary for their health and well-being. You have to search your hearts to decide whether the offering of alcohol feels good and celebratory to you, even if you don’t drink yourself. If you decide not to offer alcoholic drinks and others want to bring their own, is this okay with you?
Most people associate weddings with champagne and other spirits. If you are consciously choosing to have a substance-free wedding, you may want to have a statement on your invitation that lets folks know where you stand. You could use words like this: “While Michael and I choose to abstain from any alcohol, we invite you to bring your drink of choice, or you may join us in yummy celebratory mocktails!” Or, “We choose not to drink alcohol but are happy to provide a cash bar for those that do.”
Keep in mind your options to consider and add your own wonderful flair:
• Set up
The wedding itself is a deeply, fantastically emotional experience. Having it end without the opportunity to mingle in the lingering joy is a missed opportunity. Whether you have simple champagne and nibbles or a full-on dinner, I recommend you allow yourselves and your guests some time to let the importance of the day sink in.
And please don’t pressure yourselves to make it perfect. I remember pressuring my wife to learn to tango so we could show off our sassy selves at our reception. It was big enough to plan and enjoy a wedding without having to perform!
You two want this event to be representative of how you are together. It doesn’t have to be something that is so different from your lives that you feel a sense of let-down after its over. Let your reception be a time when you look into the eyes of your beloved and all those you love, and savor the preciousness of the moment.