The wedding reception allows family and friends of the couple to offer their congratulations and celebrate the couple’s new status. The style of reception will depend on the budget available and the number of guests as well as personal preferences. The wedding reception is one of the most expensive elements of any wedding. The main decisions to be made are:
- the type of location, e.g. hotel, church hall, home
- who will do the catering? e.g. in-house, outside caterer, family and friends
- style of catering, e.g. sit-down meal, buffet
Plans for the wedding reception should be initiated as soon as the wedding date is set. Advanced notice of 3 months is usual for many venues although longer may be necessary for popular venues or at busy times of the year.
The reception should be held near to the location of wedding ceremony as is possible as this simplifies the transport arrangements.
Ask friends and acquaintances for recommendations when choosing a wedding reception venue. It is essential to visit the venue before making a booking. Relying on telephone enquiries and pictures in brochures is not adequate preparation when making such an important decision. Remember that garden may have looked lovely 20 years ago when the brochure was printed but a lot can happen!
TYPES OF VENUES
Hotels, Restaurants, Banqueting Suites
The main advantage of holding the reception in a hotel, restaurant or banqueting suite is that they can organise all the catering and other arrangements leaving the couple and their family to enjoy the wedding celebrations.
When you have drawn up a short-list it is a good idea to visit the hotels or restaurants for a meal before making enquiries. This will give some idea as to their standards of food, service and the general atmosphere of the venue.
Many function venues provide a wedding service. They may offer an inclusive price for a fixed number of guests which includes changing room for the couple, food, drink table decorations etc. or they offer these services for an extra charge.
If there is to be an evening reception, it usual to hold this in the same location.
Ask for a brochure, if available, and then arrange an appointment.
The following is a list of topics to be discussed before making a booking:
- The number of guests and the size of the function room. The larger venues may have several function rooms of different sizes.
- The menu. Most venues will offer a choice of menus and wines at various prices. Ask what provisions they make for special diets such as vegetarian or for diabetics.
- Seating plans. Ask what seating plans are possible in the space available. The final choice will depend on which groupings of people you think get on well with each other.
- Discuss the times when the reception venues will be open to your guest and the timings of meals, music etc. Make sure that there are no time gaps between the wedding and reception or reception and evening celebration and if this is unavoidable inform guests in advance.
- Room and table decorations. Ask to see the table linen and place settings to ensure they do not clash with the overall colour scheme of the wedding. Floral room and table decorations and balloons may be supplied by the venue or you may wish to use another supplier from outside.
- Parking. Does the venue have enough parking spaces for all guests and, if not, is it easily available in the surrounding area?
- On arrival guests are usually greeted and offered a drink. The venue will probably offerChampagne, sparkling wine, Bucks Fizz or Sherry. Ask for prices and which soft drinks they can offer.
- Will the head waiter or some other member of staff act as master of ceremonies?
- Changing room for bride and groom. Most venues offer a room for the bride and groom to change in.
- Ask which other weddings are taking place on the same day and if you will you be sharing any facilities such as bars or reception areas.
- Check the toilet facilities. The bride and bridesmaids will need more room than usual if they are they are wearing elaborate skirts.
- Does the venue have an adjoining room or perhaps a table in a corner of the main room where wedding gifts can be displayed?
- If the reception is being held in a hotel they will often offer special rates for the bridal suite or for guests to stay overnight. The bridal suite can also be used for those romantic wedding photographs so check it out!
In most localities there is a church, school or local authority hall available for hire. Also, many pubs have private function rooms available for hire. It is usual to book halls 4 to 6 months in advance. For a small number of guests the catering may be done by family and friends although it is more convenient to have outside caterers for a larger gathering. The suitability of halls for wedding receptions and the facilities they offer vary enormously so it is essential see the hall and its surroundings and discuss what facilities they offer in detail before booking. Items to check include:
- General appearance. Is the hall in a suitable condition to hold a wedding reception and is it in a state of cleanliness suitable to serve food.
- Will the hall be heated? Some halls do not have heating or heating may not be turned on at certain times.
- Is the hall a suitable size for the number of guests? Are there enough general facilities such as toilets and parking?
- Will the hall provide tables, chairs, linen, crockery, cutlery and glasses etc? If hiring caterers they may provide these items.
- What cooking and cleaning facilities are available. Most halls will only have a basic cooker and a single sink. Are refrigerators, tea urns etc. available? It is probable that most of the food will be prepared by caterers or at home, away from the hall, but enough worktops will be needed to store food and to add finishing touches to food displays.
- Find out where everything is in the hall and how all the equipment operates in advance. Help may not be available on the day.
- Discuss when access can be gained to the hall to prepare for the reception. For example it may not be possible to set up the tables the day before if the hall is booked for some other activity. When does the hall have to be vacated? Ensure that adequate time is left for clearing up.
- Will consumption of alcohol and smoking be allowed?
- Where would be a suitable place for your wedding photographs? Would visiting a local beauty spot for the romantic photographs be an option?
Hiring a marquee is an option if a large enough garden is available. Marquees come in varying sizes to accommodate most wedding parties. It allows the reception to be held at home when the house is not large enough. Flooring, dance floors, linings and lighting can also be hired and in the winter heating may also be necessary. A marquee is not an inexpensive option however. The hire of the marquee together with the cost of caterers and other fixtures will leave a bill in the same price range as holding the reception in a hotel.
Most marquee hire companies provide a brochure to allow you to choose the marquee and other items such as flooring, matting, lighting etc. Choose a firm who are prepared to visit the site before accepting an order. This ensures that they will be aware of any possible problems the site may present. Also, ensure that they are prepared to be called out if any problems occur on the day of the wedding. Marquees are usually erected two or three days before the wedding day.
Caterers usually occupy a separate tent to prepare the food although they may require access the house kitchen.
It is usual to use toilet facilities in the house although for a large reception portable toilets may be hired.
The reception held at home is suitable for a small number of wedding guests. It is informal and can be a more relaxed affair. It may also be less expensive than other options.
A sit-down meal is possible if the party is very small. However, the most practical option is to have a buffet. This not only adds to the informal atmosphere but also requires less equipment such as crockery and cutlery and people can serve themselves.
If not using outside caterers it is possible to hire crockery, glasses and even tea urns to boil water. Alternative you can borrow from friends or use disposable items.
When choosing a caterer seek recommendations from family and friends. It is difficult to judge the standard of service on offer just by looking at brochures.
Caterers can supply table linen, crockery and cutlery. They can also provide drinks. If the caterers are supplying the drinks they may only charge for bottles opened. If you are providing the drinks they may charge a little extra to serve drinks.
The caterer should visit the site of the reception to allow him to decide what further equipment and facilities he will need to provide. For a small buffet they will bring the food already prepared and may only need washing up and coffee making facilities. For a larger event the caterer may need to bring a cooker and a fridge.
Most caterers will clear away. Discuss with the caterer when the clearing away will be done and if serving staff will be required after the meal to serve drinks. Also, ask if a member of staff will act as Master of Ceremonies and if they can organise the cutting and serving of the wedding cake.
Preparing food for a reception is a major task and should only be undertaken after serious thought and planning. The couple and their family will have many other arrangements to deal with in the period leading up to the wedding. The day itself is for the family to celebrate the wedding and they may not wish to spend a major part of the day preparing food and cleaning.
A buffet is the easiest food to serve. Food can be prepared in advance and guests can serve themselves.
Draw up a plan with a list of food to be prepared and tasks to be done and then decide who will do which task and when.
Ensure that you have adequate storage space for food. You may have to borrow fridge or freezer space from friends. Some items can be ordered from caterers and delivered on the day.
As fridge space is at a premium at this time drinks should be chilled in bins filled with ice (bought from supermarkets or off-licences to save freezer space). Many off licences will lend glasses for events if you buy drinks from them.
Arrange to borrow cutlery, crockery, serving dishes etc. from friends. These may also be hired. Using disposable plates, cutlery and table coverings will result in less cleaning afterwards.
FORMAL MEAL OR BUFFET?
The main decision to be made about the food is what style of meal to have:
- formal meal with waiters
- sit down buffet (fork buffet)
- standing buffet (finger buffet)
Hotels and restaurants usually provide sit-down meals for wedding receptions although many will provide a buffet if requested.
When choosing the menu it important to choose items which most people will find acceptable rather choosing the more exotic dishes in the hope of impressing guests. Safe dishes include soup, chicken, roast meats and vegetables. For dessert fruit salad or apple pie are acceptable. Hotels and restaurants may offer a choice of two three choices for each course but they will charge extra for the service.
Guests should notify hosts when accepting invitations if they require vegetarian or special diets.
The sit-down buffet option is less expensive than a formal meal but allows the hosts to determine the seating plan and guests are ensured a table place. Guest usually serve themselves from the buffet and then return to their places. Because a variety of foods is on offer to guests some experimental or exotic items can be included with the standard buffet items of cold meats, vol-au vents, salads, sausage rolls, canapés, sandwiches etc.
Hot food can also be included in a sit down buffet. Dishes which guests can easily help themselves to include curries with rice, pasta with sauce and casseroles.
This is the most informal eating style. The food is usually laid at one end of the room and at the appointed time guests help themselves. Because at least some of the guests will be standing while eating they will not be able to use cutlery and therefore the foods should be suitable for eating with the hands. Clips are available for attaching glasses to plates. This frees one hand for picking up food.
Some seating should be provided. Although guests do not have set places most people will want to sit for at least some of the time at the reception, particularly if they are elderly.
Guests are usually greeted at the wedding reception with a drink of sherry, Champagneor Bucks Fizz.
Wine is served with meals although a variety of drinks can be served with a buffet.
For the toasts champagne or sparkling wine should be served. If a white wine was served with the meal this is also acceptable for the toasts.
A plentiful supply of soft drinks and mineral water should also be available for people who have to drive and for children. Other guests may have the occasional soft drink particularly if an afternoon reception is to be followed by an evening celebration.
Drinks are usually supplied by the management in hotels and restaurants. If you want to supply your own drinks they will charge a corkage fee. Hotels often provide a bar. The host can choose to pay for all bar drinks or allow guests to purchase their own. A third alternative is for the host to put a fixed sum of money “behind the bar” until it is spent when guests buy their own drinks. In some communities, e.g. Jewish or Greek, it is not considered appropriate for guests to buy drinks. A licence is needed to sell alcohol and so it is illegal to sell drinks in most hired halls or home receptions.
When buying drinks for a reception shop around. Many off licences offer discounts on bulk purchases or allow the return of unopened bottles. Others may offer to lend glasses or supply free ice.
Organise a rota of people to serve at the bar if this is not one of the caterer’s duties. Most people will be glad to help for a short period.
The traditional wedding cake is a two or three tiered round or square fruit cake with marzipan decorated with royal icing. The softer fondant icing is becoming increasingly popular. Some couples choose other cakes such as suitably decorated sponge or chocolate cakes.
The cake can be decorated with coloured icing sugar piping, flowers made from sugar, a small vase or spray of real flowers or figures of the bride and groom or lucky horseshoe.
The cake is usually supplied by a specialist confectioner. The confectioner will have a brochure of their various sizes and styles of cakes and the type of decorations available. This will give the couple basic ideas which they can modify and personalise to design their perfect cake. A good cake supplier will have samples for you to taste. The confectioner should also be able to advise of the appropriate size of the cake for the number of guests.
When deciding on the size of cake remember that you may want to send some to people who are unable to attend the reception. It is traditional to keep the smallest, top tier of the cake for the first wedding anniversary or the christening of the first child.
Some hotels and caterers can supply the wedding cake as part of their reception service.
The wedding cake should be ordered at least three months in advance.
Because the cake can be baked months before the wedding it is possible to bake one at home in advance when not preoccupied with the last minute wedding arrangements. Cake tins of appropriate sizes are available for hire.
Some cake confectioners provide a cake decorating facility. This may be the solution if you have an old family cake recipe you want to use but are less confident about the your decorating skills.
The cake is usually delivered to the wedding reception venue on the morning of the reception. Ensure in advance that the cake supplier or the caterer will assemble the cake and add any final decorations.
A seating plan should be drawn up for a formal reception. The exact arrangement of tables will depend on the venue. The top table will be for the wedding party and should include the couple, their parents, the best man and the chief bridesmaid. Ushers and other bridesmaids may also sit at the top table if places are available.
Suggested Seating Order at the Top Table
As a general rule the closer relations and friends are seated nearest the top table. Some people choose to seat the bride’s family on one side of the venue and the groom’s on the other side. However it is more important to combine people who will get on well together than to keep to any ‘rules’
After all, the wedding in many cultures is seen as a joining two families.
Seating plans are not necessary for buffet receptions although they are an option if there are enough seats for everyone present.
GREETING ARRIVALS AT THE RECEPTION
The bridal party usually greets the guests as they arrive at the reception and they are offered a drink. The receiving line order is as follows:
- Bride’s Mother
- Bride’s Father
- Groom’s Mother
- Groom’s Father
- Chief Bridesmaid
- Best Man
At a less formal reception the guests may be greeted by just the bride and groom
After the meal the Master of Ceremonies introduces the speeches. If there is no toastmaster the Best Man takes this role.
The Bride’s Father
The bride’s father is the first to speak. In his speech he normally thanks the guests for attending, mentions the groom’s parents, welcomes the groom into his family, and says a few words about the joy the bride brought to her parents as she was growing up. He may offer advice to the couple or express confidence in their future happiness. Finally he proposes a toast to the health and happiness of the bride and groom.
The groom replies on behalf of his new wife and himself. The main purpose of his speech is to offer thanks.
He expresses his gratitude to:
- the guests for their presents and good wishes
- his parents for his upbringing
- his new in-laws for hosting the wedding and/or allowing him to marry their daughter
- all the other people who have helped with the wedding arrangements including the best man and drawing particular attention to the bridesmaids.
Finally he proposes a toast to the bridesmaids.
The Best Man
The best man replies on behalf of the bridesmaids. His speech should be light hearted and amusing. He should congratulate the bride and groom and thank anyone who has been of particular assistance to him. He should also thank anyone the bride has asked him to acknowledge on her behalf. His speech may include amusing anecdotes from the groom’s past but should not under any circumstances cause embarrassment or offence to the bride. He should also mention close family members or friends who are unable to attend the wedding. He closes his speech with a toast to the bride and groom’s future happiness before reading out any telegrams or cards. If there are too many he could just read out the senders names.
The bride does not usually make a speech. She may say a few words if she wishes after the groom has spoken.
The speeches are a fantastic opportunity for wedding photography. Emotions, with the hilarity make for fantastic never to miss moments.
CUTTING THE CAKE
The cake is cut by the bride and groom after the speeches and toasts. The bride and groom together make the first cut, with a suitably ornate knife, in the bottom tier of the cake. The cake is then taken away and cut up by the caterers of some other designated person.
Some couples choose to cut the cake before the speeches. The cake can then be cut up while the speeches are taking place and served immediately after the toasts. The cake can be distributed by the waiters or the bridesmaids.
AFTER THE FORMALITIES
After all the formalities music can begin. The dancing is usually led by the bride and groom. Yet another emotional part of your day which can be photographed. We ensure that every detail, moment and emotion you want recorded. … we are there!
During the later part of the reception the bride and groom should circulate and exchange a few words with all the guests and allow them to admire the wedding outfits at close range.
While the bride and groom change into their going away outfits guests can decorate the car with balloons, cans, shoes etc. Before leaving, the bride usually throws her bouquet to the unmarried female guests. Tradition holds that the one who catches it will be the next to marry.
The best man or the hosts should ensure that arrangements have been made to take away all the wedding presents, the couple’s wedding outfits etc.
Where to hold your reception will depend on several factors, with cost and budget the most important, coupled with how many guests you wish to invite. In addition, you need to consider how much time you can personally spend on organisation.
We recommend that you work to an approximate budget per guest. This will give you a good basis for making comparisons. The main options are to hold the reception at home, in a hired venue, or in a hotel or restaurant.
Holding your wedding reception at home will certainly keep the costs down – providing you have the space. For small receptions it is ideal and gives you complete freedom to decorate in your own style. If you have the luxury of a spacious garden then you could hire a marquee to add more space and a certain sense of style. According to your choice of marquee, it could be the focus of the reception. On the other hand you may decide to opt for a smaller shelter for a buffet, which could double as a precautionary measure for bad weather. Holding the reception at home gives you the option of using an outside caterer or for you and your family to provide the catering.
All marquees are different. However, as an approximate guide, you will need around 40′ x 60′ to place a marquee for 125 guests for a sit down meal. Most brochures will state the size of the marquee according to the number of seated or standing guests, which makes selection very straightforward. In addition, marquee hire companies can generally offer flooring, lighting, tables, chairs, heating, dance floors and an entrance porch. A lot of companies will suggest a marquee which joins on to the side of the house, if you have French windows. You will need to arrange an appointment for a representative to visit the venues. As marquee hire is seasonal, and not just for weddings, once again you will need to book well in advance.
HIRING A HALL
If you have decided to hire a venue it is likely you will have heard about it, or used the hall or venue, before. If not then you will need to look for appropriate locations. Consider access for guests, catering (and catering restrictions) and parking. Security is also important, if the hall will be left unattended after setting up.
HOTELS AND RESTAURANTS
For a quiet life hold your wedding reception in a local hotel or restaurant which offers a specialist reception service package or one of the new licensed venues where you can hold the ceremony and the reception. You may want to check accommodation details for you and your guests if they are travelling a long distance. Using a hotel or restaurant will free up a great deal of your time to concentrate on enjoying the day, and getting the rest of the many organisational details right.