The Wedding Reception

       January 1, 0000    1531


Choosing the Site
If your ceremony and reception will not be at the same location, try to choose places that are no more than a half-hour drive apart. If you are getting married in a church or synagogue, for example, you might take a look at the facilities there; some have a stately room on the ground that could meet your needs.

A time honored choice, such as a hotel, restaurant, or banquet hall, is likely to take care of almost everything. Indeed, many places with on-site restaurants prohibit outside caterers. Typically, these venues also provide bar services, linens, china and silver, waitstaff, coatrooms, and parking, leaving you to hire only the florist, musicians, and photographer. Moreover, such venues may have several rooms available, making it possible have your ceremony and reception in the same place.

There are many other options, though you will need to carefully consider the logistics. Organizing an at-home event requires considerable initiative, as does planning a reception in an historic mansion, public park, or city loft, but the atmospheric rewards can be substantial. If you want to wed outdoors, evaluate access to electricity and the availability of an alternative space (or rent a tent) in case of bad weather. Visit the location on a gray day before finalizing your decision, to make sure it looks inviting under any conditions.


Start by making calls and visiting all the places you're interested in. Wedding season (April to October, generally) cost the most; if you want to marry during this time, plan to book at least a year in advance. If a location that you love is too pricey, cut costs by serving a less expensive meal, such as a champagne breakfast or buffet, or pick a day other than Saturday.

Working With a Caterer
Try to book a caterer six months to a year in advance - more if your reception will take place during the most popular time of the year. Your first meeting with a caterer is something like a first date: You will talk about yourself, but you should also listen. You'll need to convey how you want your wedding to feel, and then ask about the caterer's style. Think about your favorite foods, cookbooks, and restaurants, and discuss them at the meeting. Be forthright about your budget from the beginning. Ask to see the caterer's portfolio; the photographs and menus will give you a good idea as to her skills and tastes. You will do best with a caterer who also knows the wedding business. Ask for references, and be sure to check them.

When it comes to planning your menu, talk to your caterer about what foods will be in season at the time of your wedding; fruits and vegetables are often most delicious when they are also least expensive. You might even build the menu around a regional specialty, such as Texas barbecue or Maine lobster. Try limiting cutting-edge cuisine to the hors d-oeuvres and keeping to more traditional wedding fare for the main meal.

Most caterers designate an event manager to keep track of the activities of the florist, musicians, and waitstaff; on the wedding day this person will be the on-site coordinator for all the vendors. It's important that you have a good feeling about the event manager. Still, you might assign someone - sibling, your maid of honor, or a relative - to work with him on the wedding day to ensure that everything is carried out according to your wishes.

Caterers have various ways of computing their charges. Most estimates are based on cost per person. A cocktail party is the least expensive, and a seated dinner tops the scale. Most caterers add on the projected cost for staff, rentals, beverages, and the cake. Though there is usually some latitude with beverages (you can offer a limited bar) and rentals (silver costs more than stainless steel), service costs are pretty well fixed. Purchasing your own wine and liquor, though, can save you hundreds of dollars. Ask your caterer for suggested wine and a shopping list based on the menu and number of guests. Inquire about overtime charges, taxes, and gratuities as well; caterers may add 15 percent ore more to cover tips and some overhead.

You will probably be asked for a deposit of up to 50 percent, with the remaining money due on the day of the event. Some caterers ask for 80 to 90 percent when you provide the final head count. The remaining charges depend on the length of the party and the liquor consumption and will be billed after the wedding. Caterers will ask for a head count about a week in advance of the party, knowing that this number may fluctuate slightly. Be as accurate as possible, though, so you and the caterer can plan accordingly.

Whether you are planning an at-home wedding, decorating an empty space, or just looking at specials supplies that your reception site does not provide, you will probably need a rental company. While it's possible to rent everything from oyster plates to antique Persian rugs, most reception rentals are far more basic: tables, chairs, linens, glassware, flatware, and china. Often, a caterer acts as a sort of general contractor, procuring the rentals and setting up the reception space on the couple's behalf. And when it comes time to order supplies, your caterer will know just how many of the prosaic items - such as worktables and trash cans - you will need.

If your caterer handles the menu planning and food preparation only, you will have to work directly with a rental company. If you are marrying in a remote location, expect to pay a fair amount in shipping costs, especially for big pieces, such as tables and chairs. Good rental companies have a vast array of styles, colors, and sizes to choose from. If you have a limited budget, focus your resources on more affordable items, such as linens and chargers.

Some companies will request that you pay for the items you rent in advance or upon delivery. Most will deliver your items at least eight hours - and sometimes several days - before the event; typically, the rental company will deliver equipment but not set it up. Someone should be waiting at the delivery location to check the count and condition of all the goods as they arrive. Also, make sure you have an emergency contact number in case something important is missing from your order or arrives damaged. The rental company should replace the item immediately.

If you are thinking about having a tent at your wedding, ask your caterer or wedding coordinator to refer you to tent-rental companies in the area. The company should carry liability insurance and arrange for an installer to stay through the wedding to make adjustments, such as putting up or taking down sidewalls - especially if you are using multiple tents. The people you work with at the tent company should also be willing to find out which permits and notices are required to put up a tent at the site.

Besides choosing the tent style, you need to consider flooring, and added expense. Plywood is the most desirable choice - and the most expensive one. Other options include plastic, parquetry (good for a dance floor), and artificial turf. Heaters and air conditioners can make a tent as warm or as cool as any indoor facility. A tent company can also evaluate the adequacy of the bathrooms in your house or at the site so you can determine whether you'll need to rent extra facilities.

Planning the Party
Every wedding reception is as individual as the newlywed couple, though most follow a traditional timetable. If you're working with a wedding coordinator, she will help you map out every detail of the event. If you are planning the reception yourself, make your timetable about a week before the wedding. Sit down with your catering manager or maitre d' and, if possible, the bandleader, and go over the timing of everything. Type up your plan, including contact numbers, and given each vendor and member of the wedding party a copy.

So what is the sequence of events? Following are guidelines for the most formal party, which usually lasts about five hours. A buffet, breakfast, lunch, tea, or cocktail reception is likely to be shorter and less structured.

Sequence of Events
The receiving line can be assembled either at the close of the ceremony or at the start of the reception. Many couples forgo this practice altogether, especially if the guest list is small and they will get to speak to everyone personally at dinner.

By the time a receiving line is concluded, the cocktail hour (really, anywhere from forty-five to ninety minutes) is in full swing. Cocktails are generally served in a separate room so that when the doors are thrown open to the dining room the beautifully set tables make a real impact. Some couples are announced upon their entrance. This responsibility can be handled by the bandleader or by the bride's father.

Following their grand entrance, the newlyweds might go straight to the dance floor for the first dance (some couples wait until after the first course). Next comes the customary sequence of dances: the father of the bride cuts in and dances with his daughter while the groom dances with his mother; the bride dances with the best man and the groom with the maid or matron of honor. Finally, the guests join in for a little dancing before the meal.

After everyone takes their seats for the first course, the officiant, a parent, or a close friend may say a blessing before the meal. At some receptions there is dancing between courses; at others the meal progresses uninterrupted. It may depend on the venue: If the dance floor is in another room, it makes sense to eat first and dance later.

Toasts can take place in succession or individually at the start of each course. Traditionally, the father of the bride speaks first, followed by the best man; the bride and groom often say a few words. Other guests may want to speak as well; just make sure everyone knows beforehand when his or her turn will be.

The cake cutting should take place with the guests still seated, and then everyone can move to the dance floor. The bouquet toss, if you have one, comes approximately thirty minutes before the end of the reception.

While the guests dance, the newlywed couple takes their leave to change into their going-away clothes. Or they can sty in their wedding regalia until friends and family give them a joyous send-off.

Seating Your Guests
Telling a guest where to sit during the reception is more a favor than a command. A seating plan makes people comfortable, encourages conversation, and honors specials guests. Unlike seating at the ceremony, where the bride's family and friends are separated from the groom's, the table arrangements at the reception should reflect your desire that the two groups come together in their shared affection for you.

Seating Etiquette

  • Seat guests with similar experiences and interest together so you know they'll have things to discuss.
  • For a seated dinner or buffet, you have two options: Assign seats at the table, or just assign guests to particular tables and let them sit where they like.
  • Ask parents to help with seating arrangements for their friends and relatives.
  • Don't seat all the single people together; instead, intersperse singles with couples
  • Seat the youngest children with their parents at mealtime. Older children can be seated together at a separate kids' table. Teenagers will certainly prefer to have a table of their own.
  • Take into account the special needs of your guests, such as elderly people with trouble seeing or hearing. Seat them in well-lit areas, away from the band or speakers.
  • If possible, have an even number of guests at each table, since people tend to pair off in conversation.

Commuinicating Table Assignments
To help your guests find their seats, set out alphabetized seating cards in a prominent location at least an hour before the reception. Or for a small number of guests, you can have a waiter circulate during cocktail hour, handing guests their seating cards. A hand-lettered seating chart on display at the entrance to the reception area is a lovely extra touch. If you have a lot of guests, place several copies of the chart in different areas of the room to prevent a bottleneck at the entry. It is also a smart idea to split the room in half, even tables on one side, clearly identified, odd on the other. This way, the waitstaff can direct guests swiftly to their seats. Typically, the newlyweds' table is either number one or unnumbered. A more extravagant centerpiece, and perhaps a display of the bridesmaids' bouquets, will help distinguish it.

At the Table
There are several steps you can take to foster good communication and make the meal fun for your guests. Start by considering the shape of the table itself. Round tables are great for encouraging conversation; long rectangular tables make a striking visual statement and can evoke a family-style feel. Centerpieces should be low enough or high enough to allow guests to see and talk to one another across the tables. Tented place cards that display guests' names on both sides can help tablemates make one another's acquaintance.

Seating Arrangements
All of the illustrations shown here are only guidelines of how tables can be arranged; there are many variations that will work just as well, depending on the guest list and the reception site.

Wedding Party Table
This table should be centrally located. The traditional table for the wedding party is rectangular, with seating on one side only, facing out; often this table is raised on a dais. However, many couples prefer a round table, which is less formal. In either case, the bride and groom should face the room.

Parents' Table
At small weddings, both sets of parents may sit together along with honored guests, like the officiant and his spouse. At larger events, each set of parent may host their own tables populated with their close family and friends. In that case, the officiant and his spouse might sit with the family hosting the wedding.

Family Table
This seating arrangement allows the closest relative and friends of the newlyweds to join them at one table. The wedding party is represented with the best man to the right of the bride and the maid of honor to the groom's left. Traditionally, the male-female pattern continues around the table. Grandparents, siblings, the officiant, and other honored guests are seated as shown.

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