Wedding Reception Logistics

Location

The location of your reception is key. The options are endless and you may have even been dreaming of the perfect place for some time: your home, a favorite restaurant, hotel, country club, or hall. The bride's parents’ house is a favorite and traditional setting for the reception. If many of your guests are from out-of-town and are staying in a local bed and breakfast or hotel, you could consider having your reception there. If there's a wonderful getaway location you've been dreaming of escaping to for a weekend, consider having your wedding and reception there.

Food

Unless your head count numbers less than 30, you will probably hire a caterer. Clubs, hotels, and halls typically offer packages and all you have to do is choose from among them. Otherwise, you will need to consult with an outside caterer. Here are some tips to help you choose your caterer.

  • Ask for recommendations from friends
  • Discuss food choices in your price range
  • Sample a prospective caterer’s food
  • Try to stop in at an event they’re producing
  • Has the caterer worked at your venue before? (experience helps)
  • Who’ll bring the liquor? (You can save money if you bring it yourself)
  • Will the caterer attend the event herself?
  • Are seconds expected?
  • Can you donate any leftovers to charity? 

One of the first decisions you'll make is whether to plan a full buffet (guests help themselves), semi-buffet (with serving and clearing by staff), or sit-down style meal. If you choose buffet, be sure to ask your caterer to create more than one line for your guests, so they don't have to stand around and wait. For a large group, two identical buffet tables and four lines is a wise arrangement. If you are concerned about costs (as most people are), keep in mind that a serving staff is an added expense. However, a buffet set-up requires more food to accommodate individual appetites (including bigger servings and "seconds") and the maintenance of a generous and attractive table (rather than one that appears “picked over”).

A plate or banquet (sit-down) meal service with a skilled waiting staff is always the most sophisticated choice, and is expected for a formal affair. It is also more comfortable and relaxing to be waited on, especially since many guests will be wearing new shoes (and the women will likely be wearing heels) and they'll want to save their energy for dancing.

Get it in writing

The most important part of the catering arrangement is the contract. Be sure to spell everything out and be very clear. It is the one piece of paper that you and the caterer sign, and it lets each party know who is responsible for what.

All catering contracts should include:

  • Detailed menu
  • How the food will be served, i.e., sit-down dinner or buffet
  • Beverages offered, including champagne or punch for toasts
  • Wedding cake and/or groom's cake
  • Number of serving staff
  • Included gratuities
  • Number of tables and chairs
  • Set-up costs
  • Delivery charges
  • Deadline for the final guest count
  • Overtime charges
  • Coat check facilities
  • Tents or marquees
  • Insurance against glass and china breakage

Liquor/Bar Options

With the current trend toward drinking less, you might be fine offering only champagne, beer, wine and an assortment of nonalcoholic drinks at bars. Plan to have 1 bar per 50 to 75 people. Open the bar farthest from the entrance first to draw people in and prevent gridlock. 

Ways to Pay for Liquor

  • Cash bar – guests pay for their own drinks. This is the most inexpensive, but seldom used at weddings.
  • Hosted or Open Bar - the host pays for all the drinks, either by the person, by the bottle or by the drink.
  • Paying by the person - (i.e. $12 per person for a one-hour bar) is weighted in the caterer’s favor, since people usually drink less than is estimated. (But if yours is a hard-drinking group this might work well for you!)
  • Paying by the bottle - means that you pay for all bottles of liquor that are opened even if only one drink is poured from some of them. 

Music

The bride and groom have the first dance to a song they've selected as their own. After that, the choice of music can get pretty dicey, even if you and the groom agree about your favorite style. When parents and older guests are included with children and younger guests, including your peers, you need to choose music that everyone will enjoy.

For a more formal reception, you should consider hiring a band. Although a string quartet may be too stuffy for your younger guests, a band with a good repertoire should be able to honor most of your guests' requests (after they've played all of your favorites). Even if you listen to Top 40 every day in your car, consider a small orchestra to play great old classics and standard tunes that you can dance to, cheek-to-cheek. A DJ is a better choice for a young crowd.