Dreading planning your wedding reception? Don’t even know where to begin? We’ve got your back. Step away from Netflix and take a look at these simple (but really helpful) tips!
1. Try and stick to a realistic budget
There’s no one magic number that works for all receptions, but by doing your homework, talking to the experts and writing a basic (but thorough) list of what you want at your big bash, you should be able to come up with a realistic budget. Discuss with your partner how you envision your dream reception and work together to come up with a budget outline you’re both comfortable with.
2. Suss out the staff
If you’re checking out a reception venue in person (and we strongly recommend that you do), take note of how the staff treat you. It’s likely you’ll get the VIP treatment on your big day, but assume that the way you’re treated before then is how your guests will be treated at your wedding. Sure, the gardens might be pretty, but a pushy waitress or a rude bartender can make your wedding memorable for all the wrong reasons. You might have your heart set on a venue, but if things feel odd, move on.
3. Keep in mind time and flexibility
Usually, the first step after agreeing on a budget is locking in a venue. The key to securing your top spot is time and flexibility: time to look around, and the flexibility to change your wedding date if necessary.
4. Consider a less-busy time or day
Trying to keep costs down? Ask your venue about less-popular times (i.e. not a Saturday). Friday and Sunday weddings have quickly become a new standard, while more and more couples are asking about Thursdays, or brunches/ lunches. Not all venues will offer these, but it can’t hurt to ask.
5. Talk to your married friends
Word of mouth is one of the best forms of advertising, so talk to your married friends and get their opinion on what they loved (or didn’t love) about their venue. Got a venue in mind already? Check out what people have said about it online.
6. Ask about wedding planners
It’s not exactly a deal-breaker, but if your reception venue has a dedicated wedding planner it’ll make your life a whole lot less stressful. They’ll know the ins and outs of the venue and will be able to show you examples from past weddings to give you ideas.
7. Assess the amount of bathrooms
It’s not the most charming of topics, but don’t forget to check if there are adequate bathrooms when you visit your venue. If you’re expecting 100-plus guests and there are only two WCs, you’ll want to hire portaloos – which, of course, costs money.
8. Don’t be afraid to negotiate
If there’s a supplier you really love, but they’re a little out of your price range, don’t be nervous to – politely – ask them for the best rate they can offer. If they’re keen to make something work, great. If not, the worst they can do is tell you that the price is non-negotiable.
9. Find out exactly what’s included in your quote
Try and think about all the little things you’ll need at your reception, such as glassware, flatware and decorations. When considering a venue, get them to spell out the specifics for all of these things – if they won’t even touch the subject, it might be time to rethink venues.
10. Keep all your records together
Even if you have a wedding planner, keep all your records together on your phone, on an external hard drive or in an old-school binder folder. Not only is it a great way to keep track of your spending, but it’ll help clear your head of all those pesky wedding details.
11. Help guests get from A to B
If you’re having your ceremony and reception at two different locations, be aware of the distance between the two and how you can help people to get there. Think about including a little map with your invitations. Want to go the extra mile? Most stationery suppliers can create a beautiful version – but even a Google Maps print-out will do the job. At your reception venue, make sure it’s well sign-posted and that there’s plenty of (preferably free) parking.
12. Make seating easy to find
For smaller celebrations, it’s not so crucial, but for weddings with 50 or more guests, you’ll want to display a seating plan at your reception. Getting guests seated smoothly and quickly is essential for a fuss-free reception and it’ll avoid any disruptions to the flow of the festivities.
13. Get it in writing
Contracts will be your best friend while wedding planning, so make sure you get everything in writing from your suppliers and venue. Remember to pay particular attention to the fine print – including things like cancellation fees – to dodge any surprise charges that you’ll only find out about after the big day.
14. Agree on a finishing time
Nothing clears a reception faster than the staff turning the lights on and clearing tables at the end of the night. Lock in a finishing time with your venue and stick to it – keep in mind that staff might need to be paid overtime if things run later than expected.
15. Pay with plastic
Once you sign any contracts, put down deposits with a credit card rather than cash. Fingers crossed it never happens, but if anything does go wrong (like a supplier declaring bankruptcy) your credit card company shouldn’t charge you for any costs.
16. There are no dumb questions
Your venue and wedding planner have heard and seen it all, so don’t be afraid to ask anything, no matter how silly you might think it is. Yes, that includes ‘do I need to bring matches for my sparkler exit?’
17. Speak up about the menu
If you’ve got a favourite dish in mind that you’d love to serve on your big day, speak up! Many venues and caterers will be happy to customise a menu – or a particular dish – for you, but be sure to taste samples before you lock anything in. It’s a tough job, but someone’s got to do it…
18. Get creative with the serving styles
It’s easy to forget some really obvious things when you’re planning a wedding, so take a moment to consider how the food will be served at your reception. Share plates, grazing stations and even food trucks are amazing at laid-back celebrations, while plated meals and cocktail receptions are classic options for more traditional weddings. Think exactly what vibe it is you’re going for, think about the style of your venue and discuss with them or your caterer.
19. Provide drinks for the in-between time
Expecting your post-ceremony photo session to take a while? Even if you think it’ll be super-quick, chances are it will take a lot longer than you expect. Keep your guests happy and serve nibbles and drinks at your reception venue during this in-between time, but keep things light so no one fills up too early.
20. Work out how much alcohol you will actually need on the day
Chances are your dream wedding features free-flowing Champagne, plenty of good wine and unlimited top-shelf spirits. But alcohol costs add up, so back in the real world, your venue will be able to make helpful and realistic suggestions about quantities – the quality will depend on your budget. If it’s really tight, an easy way to play the good host without going broke is to serve complimentary pre-dinner drinks and good quality Champagne for toasting.
21. Don’t forget about the kids
Expecting a few young guests? If they’re very young, seat them with their parents or carer. If they’re school-age, seat them all together and make the kids’ table the place to be. Colouring books, toys and activity booklets will keep their minds (and hands) busy, but be sure to seat a few responsible adults at the next table just to keep an eye on things.
22. Work out a basic timeline
All good weddings have a flow that just seems effortless, but it’s likely that a lot of thought has gone into it. Organising a basic timeline will keep things stress-free, so ask yourself these questions: is it likely your post-ceremony photos will delay the reception? When will you serve each course? Will you devote time to speeches or let them happen naturally? A little thought goes a long way.
23. Look into transport
Is there a taxi rank nearby? Will an Uber or a taxi come to your venue? Will your guests be able to get taxis home without being hit with ridiculous bills? Make sure you look into all of this before securing a venue, or you’ll risk leaving your guests stranded – or very out of pocket. If your venue’s really out of the way, think about hiring local charter buses or maxi taxis in order to get everyone home safely.
24. Want to bring your fur baby?
Does your vision of your dream wedding include your beloved fur baby by your side? We love it when brides include their pets, but be sure to check first that your reception venue will accommodate any four-legged members of the family. Most places probably won’t, but if it’s somewhere outdoors with a large amount of space you might be able to party the night away with Rocky the Pug. If not, organise someone to take them home after the ceremony (assuming they’re allowed there) – and leave them a treat, of course!
25. Don’t forget the vegans!
On your invites, ask your guests to inform you of any special dietary requirements or food allergies in advance. It’s always a good idea to have a vegetarian option at your reception, but you’ll probably need to let your venue or caterer know about any vegan, celiac or pescetarian guests from the outset. Ignore the fussy eaters though and take other, outlandish, requests with a grain of salt – pun intended.