Wedding Reception Planning

The venue

The first thing to do is book the location of the reception with a definite date and time recorded in writing. It’s also worth noting that several venues who claim to offer reception facilities do not cater for evening receptions or dancing and music so ensure you confirm those details first.

Check the size of the place. If over 200 guests are invited is there room to climb over the chairs to get to the dance floor? How about the elderly or disabled guests. Can they get around?

Can the kitchen accommodate the guests and are there enough toilets ? Many times overlooked, are there fire exits? Are there any areas that could be dangerous if children are invited to the reception, swimming pools, ponds etc?

If the wedding is outdoors, that opens a brand new area of concern. Is there a contingency plan if it rains? What about toilet facilities for an outdoor wedding?

If ‘little one’s will be attending make sure any baby equipment you may need will be available. Cot, high-chair, car safety seat etc. A lot of hotels or other venues do not provide such equipment so check if there’s a local baby equipment hire company or failing that see if any friends can lend you what you need to accomodate guests with young children.

The quality of the food can make or break the entire reception. Guests should leave the reception raving about the quality of the steak and the way it was prepared or about the chocolate wedding cake.

The worst comments from the reception will be, “the chicken was dry, the bread was stale, the wine was bitter and the prawns weren’t prepared properly.” Arrange the menu by going over the caterer’s offerings carefully. Make sure there are non-meat dishes for the vegetarians and non-alcoholic drinks for non-drinkers and children attending the party.

How about trading some of the caterer’s hors d’oeuvres for an additional entree? Or eliminate pastry for another bottle of champagne?

Get samples. The caterer should be glad to provide you with a taste of canapes, the pate, the salmon steaks. And the baker should always offer a taste of the wedding cake before you make any decision.

The music

Get a tape from the band or make your own so you can compare and contrast as you make the decision on a band.

The best bands and disc jockeys always ask for a list of preferences. They will want to know what songs to sing or what bands to play. The music makers want to know what songs you want to play during the reception and what ethnic numbers and favourite songs the guests are guaranteed to dance to. Most important, they should ask what not to play.

Ask the band or the disc jockey to adhere to a dress code dictated by the theme of the reception.


Fireworks are a great way to mark any celebration and a wedding is no exception. A professional firework company can stage a display to suit most price ranges.

From a short barrage of ‘chrysanthemum’ type shells exploding high in the night sky as the couple leave their reception – to a full display coordinated to music lasting as long as the budget can manage. Extras can include the couple’s initials blazing in coloured fire or firework champagne bottles complete with ‘foaming sparks’ gushing out.

Some companies are also be able to provide such items as balloons full of confetti bursting over the dance-floor at a distinctive moment or powerful confetti cannons for the reception.

A good, professional firework company, will be able to advise what is best for your budget and location, find out exactly what you want from them and help your wedding stand out as a true celebration. When booking a firework display company always ensure you are getting what you want and not what they are trying to force upon you. Check that the company has adequate insurance cover and, if possible, are a member of an active trade association such as the CBI Explosive Industry Group (CBI EIG) or the British Pyrotechnists Association (BPA).

The display itself should consist of a variety of fireworks and may be colour coordinated with your wedding scheme or include any special effects that you ask for.

The best time for a display is often as the bride and groom leave the reception however this can often be late in the evening and a display at this time can upset local residents and animals. Also by this time many of the older and much younger guests may have left and would miss out on the spectacle so an earlier display would be more appropriate.

Questions to Ask the Venue

The following questions should help you find the reception hall that is right for you. The way the hall representative answers these questions will reveal much about his or her attitude toward service and meeting the needs of the client.

  1. What services (e.g., waiters, bartenders, coat-check, parking, clean-up, catering) are included in the fee?
  2. Is there any chance we’ll be moved to another room? If there is a chance we’ll be ‘bumped’ (moved at the last minute), when will we be notified of any change?
  3. How long in advance can the wedding decorators arrive?
  4. Are there any restrictions as to the type of wedding decorations or how they can be put up (e.g., no tape on the walls)?
  5. What time can we or members of our party begin to arrive? By what time must we leave?
  6. What are the hours of service for the bar?
  7. Are the hours different for guests who are residents at the venue? (if a Hotel)
  8. How will wine and champagne be served (bottles placed on tables, or serving-staff walking with bottles)?
  9. What kinds of seating arrangements are available?
  10. What is the deadline for the final count of guests?
  11. Is there flexibility around menu choices, changes to the menu, and special orders for guests with restricted diets?
  12. What table decorations (floral arrangements, types of tablecloths, napkins, cutlery, favours) are standard? What are you willing to provide?
  13. What is the total cost, including gratuities?
  14. What is the payment schedule? (How much is the deposit, and when is it due? When is the balance due?)
  15. What is the method of payment (cash, personal cheque, credit card)?

What the contract should specify

  1. The day, date, and time of the reception.
  2. The specific room you are booking.
  3. Any provisions for a change in rooms. If you want the room you’ve booked, and only that room, stipulate that in the contract. If you are willing to be flexible, the hall manager should at least notify you in advance if changes are required. You may also want to consider requesting a partial refund if you willingly change rooms or are moved.
  4. The time at which you can have access for decorating or other set-up.
  5. The time you can arrive and the time by which all guests must leave.
  6. The services included in the fee (e.g., serving staff, bartenders, coat-check, parking, clean-up, catering).
  7. If food is included, the menu and any special requests should be itemised, and the time the meal will be served as well as the duration of the meal period, are to be specified.
  8. Total cost, including gratuities.
  9. Payment schedule: amount and due date of deposit; due date of balance of payment
  10. Method of payment
  11. Liability insurance