From site to centerpieces, planning an unforgettable wedding reception takes inspiration, organization and imagination.
The most magnificent receptions are brought to life with the kind of creative planning afforded by an organized agenda, and the collaboration of bride, groom, and several key vendors. Set the stage for a successful celebration with a well thought-out "plan-of-action." Put the event in perspective by drafting a plan-of-action that includes: potential ceremony and reception sites, date and time options, approximate number of guests, style, theme and budget. Keep in mind the greatest factor to affect your budget will be the number of guests invited. As you explore your vision and expectations, continue to refine your plan-of-action. Focus on securing the ceremony and reception site first. This will give you a confirmed date by which to begin booking your vendors. Choice locations are often booked one to two years out, and prime dates (Saturdays, afternoons and evenings, May through October) go quickly. So, once you've found your dream site, book it immediately.
THE BUDGET The greatest factor to affect your budget will be the number of guests you invite. So, even though you're ready to burst with excitement over your engagement, keep the wedding chatter to a minimum until you've set the budget and know exactly how many guests you can realistically invite.
Who Pays? Will the two of you be paying for the entire event yourselves, or will your parents be contributing? As awkward as it may feel to ask, it's important for the harmony of the family to get a firm answer of exactly how much each set of parents is planning to contribute. The days of the bride's parents paying for the majority of the wedding are past. So any support offered should be appreciated.
Parent Contributions Before discussing their contribution, do some research on overall costs for the wedding you're envisioning. If they're lending financial support, it's likely they'll expect to have some input and the right to invite friends, extended family and business associates that you would otherwise not invite.
Have an idea of how many guests you're willing to let them invite (which realistically, will be affected by how much they're able to contribute) and a few meetings or decisions you'd like them to be involved in, such as the catering and cake tastings, viewing invitation options, etc. It doesn't mean you have to take their opinions over your own, it's simply a way of including them in the process.
Smart Spending Adhering to a budget and being cheap are two different things. Take a look at the Budget-Planner to determine your "must have" priorities, and your "I can live without it" expenses. Then read the Budgeting article for savvy ways to save without sacrificing the quality of your wedding. You can spend smart without being stingy.
THE GUEST LIST Your wedding is an extremely personal occasion. Devote these few precious hours to the family and friends you cherish most. Limiting your guest list will enable you to focus more time, attention and budget to the details that make a wedding so unique: invitations, favors, table decor, menu selection and other items that are often limited by large guest lists.
To help determine whom you should invite to your wedding, consider the following:
Who have been the most important people in your lives since you were born? Whose house do you go to for dinner on a regular basis? Besides your immediate family and close relatives, you should invite close friends with whom you've had a substantial relationship. Do not feel obligated to invite everyone, especially office colleagues (good reason not to talk to everyone compulsively for 12 months about your wedding!). If a sense of obligation comes into the picture and not an invitation from the heart, do not invite. Single friends If a single friend is engaged or in a serious relationship and you know the partner, a gracious gesture is to include them. However, you are not obligated to include an additional guest for a single friend. Group your single friends together and seat them next to the band. It doesn't matter if they know each other. A wedding is the perfect place to socialize. Children Some couples can't imagine a wedding without little ones. If you're the type of couple that aren't bothered by children doing what they do (typically running around, especially on the dance floor) go for it! If you are a couple that prefers things more formal and controlled, consider opting for an "adult only" reception. An acceptable compromise is including the children at the ceremony, and providing childcare and a separate children's menu for the reception. Check with your wedding consultant or venue coordinator for suggestions on entertaining your younger guests.
THE RIGHT LOCATION Once you have a good estimate of your guest list, begin the venue search. Looking for a place to hold both ceremony and reception? Want something charming and intimate? Prefer a grand estate? There are locations awaiting your every wish. Choosing a venue is very much like going house hunting. Having a list of your top desires will save you time.
On-Site venues include hotels, private clubs and restaurants. These locations provide the majority of services you will need for your reception: catering, beverages, tables, chairs, china, flatware, linens and serving staff.
Off-Site facilities encompass private residences, historic estates, wineries, galleries, event sites and community centers. These locations offer he use of the facility for one flat fee, providing no other services.
All-Inclusive Much like an all-inclusive vacation, some venues also package themselves to service the event from A-to-Z. With this type of venue you can have your wedding and reception at one location. Many times the ceremony will be held in the venue's outdoor space with the reception inside a ballroom. This option is very convenient for guests as they do not have to deal with additional directions and addresses.
Theme Venues Weave your individual interests, hobbies and passions into the tapestry of your celebration. Select a venue that will inspire or enhance your theme. Wineries, museums, train stations, movie palaces, yachts and even breweries are all alternative options. Choose locations that tell your love story. Did you meet in college? Check with your alumni association for use of facilities. Proposed on the beach? Speak with state park representatives for permission. By selecting a venue within your theme, you will not only save time and money but create a truly personalized celebration.
Site Inspection Now that you know the differences in venues, here is what to look for during your tour. Bring along a camera and, of course, your local wedding magazine as your guide. If you are working with a wedding consultant, ask them to accompany you as well. Noticing the following details and utilizing a professional will save you from costly mistakes.
Inspect equipment--gazebos, dance floor, tables, chairs, china, stemware, glassware, etc. What is included in the rental fee and what are additional costs?
Ask about staffing. Is security staff required? How many servers will there be per table? Who is the facility coordinator on the day of your wedding?
Inspect florals, greenery and landscaping. Love the trailing wisteria? Book your reception when it is in full bloom.
Inspect entrances, exits and restrooms. Are they attractive and easy to find?
You can find a thorough checklist of questions to review in The Planning Place.
Space Allocation Knowing a few "rule-of-thumb" items regarding space allocation will help you make more accurate decisions.
YOUR TIMELINE Have your location secured before hiring your vendors. If you have your heart set on a particular venue, then by all means, start planning one to two years out. If you are flexible about your venue selection and are open to different options you can actually plan a wedding in 6 months. Saturday night weddings and summer holiday weekends are always popular. If you're interested in these dates, book your venue immediately.
For a formal event, choose a location conducive to a formal occasion. By showcasing the natural attributes of the location you've selected you'll more easily achieve harmony with your decor and the facility. Transforming a room is costly. Working with it will save time and money.
RECEPTION FLOW A common mistake couples make is failing to orchestrate their reception. Timing of the key moments of your reception should be communicated to all your vendors and guests. The critical factor is to keep the event "flowing" and your guests comfortable and happy.
Direction If your ceremony and reception are at different locations, hire a wedding consultant to greet and guide your guests to the cocktail or reception area, or make sure there are adequate signs directing them to the proper place. If you are having the ceremony and reception in the same facility, this rule still holds true. People must be directed to the next area of the celebration so they feel welcomed and treasured. Remember, you are the hosts of this event.
The Project Manager Hungry guests are incredibly harsh critics. Don't be disorganized. Get the best value out of your wedding by having a professional manage your event. No matter the size of your budget, prioritize organization. No one notices beautiful flowers if they're waiting an hour for food service. Guests are honoring you by sharing your joy. Keep them happy by designating an experienced project manager for your wedding day. This key person is usually a wedding consultant, your caterer, or the facility manager. They'll be responsible for the timing of the cocktail hour, meal service, musician cues, toasts, cake cutting, etc. You may also want to authorize this person to make decisions regarding alcohol corkage, asking the DJ or band to extend their playing time, or adjusting the timing of key events during the reception -depending on the flow of the party. To be able to enjoy the celebration, confirm all details with your project manager at least one week in advance.
LET THE SEASON INSPIRE Both menu and decor play a major role in carrying out the theme of an event. Color alone can inspire a wealth of ideas. From a winter wonderland surrounded by accents of pristine white and silver, to a summer celebration proclaiming love and life with vibrant yellows, brilliant chartreuse and hot orange - following nature's lead by selecting produce and flora in season will enable you to be more extravagant and to do more with your budget.
THE COST When discussing costs, especially regarding food and beverage, make sure you get the price inclusive of tax and gratuity. Rates vary significantly depending on the type of venue, the number of guests and the time of year. All details of your reception should be written in a contract signed by you and the venue representative.
SAME DAY BOOKINGS Inquire about other bookings on the same day or at the same time as yours. Confirm clearly with the facility coordinator that there will be appropriate privacy and separation from other events. There must be adequate time allowed between events for your caterer or other service people to set-up and breakdown your party.
MUSIC AND AMPLIFICATION Whether you intend to have a DJ or a live band it is always a good idea to inquire about any possible restrictions regarding the type, volume or duration of music - especially at outdoor venues. Confirm that there is an adequate power supply for speakers, mixers and amplifiers, or good acoustics for string and wind instruments. Some sites have built-in public address systems which can be used for introductions and toasts. If your site of choice does not offer this equipment, speak with your DJ or musicians regarding the use of their system.
MAKE IT YOU While the very idea of a ceremony and reception may seem quite traditional, your celebration can be completely unique. Weave your individual interests, hobbies and passions into the tapestry of your celebration. Food, music, color and culture are the perfect elements for creating a theme that's uniquely you.