A wedding reception is often the first opportunity a couple has to introduce their style. That's why it should be a signature event — full of personality, authenticity and wise choices regarding budget.
"Think of your reception as celebratory," advises Jesse Longhurst, owner of Red Letter Events in Ashland. "We are all here to honor and celebrate with you. Whatever that means to you and your new spouse, that's what we want to go for."
Set the style
Ask yourself what you imagine being really great about your wedding reception. Are you a foodie? Is it important your guests go away wowed by the meal? Are you lighthearted and sunny? Formal and elegant? Are you all about great music and dancing?
"Make sure the major portion of your budget, after logistics, goes to what you love," Longhurst says. "If you can go for a barbecue but need a great bluegrass band, go for the band. If you see a gorgeous towering cake, make sure that takes precedence."
If you don't enjoy the list-making and phone-calling, perhaps hire a professional coordinator.
Planning the perfect meal
A Sunday wedding ceremony and brunch reception can be unique, tasteful and elegant.
"Tray-passed champagne and mimosas cut down on the bar bill, and a brunch menu is much more cost-effective than a dinner menu," says Gina DuQuenne, sales and catering manager at Ashland Springs Hotel.
Bill the event as part of a grand weekend
"It's a wonderful way to end a destination wedding," DuQuenne says. "Everyone stays in the hotel, has fun Friday and Saturday, and this is the finale."
Think twice before choosing a hors d'oeuvres reception — fancy finger-foods are notoriously expensive, and they add up quickly as guests make trips to the bar. If you do go this direction, have plenty of heavy appetizers, especially if the reception is at the dinner hour.
For something unconventional and festive that's less expensive than a seated dinner, think about food stations. Salads can be at one station, pastas with different sauces at another, a manned carving station with prime rib or turkey can provide entrees — maybe even go for a sushi station.
"This way, you break it up and it's more sociable," DuQuenne says. "After the ceremony, families don't go to their own tables, they all come together."
Present DIY refreshments
"Don't overlook our great grocery stores and free-standing delis," suggests Longhurst. "You can use a deli as a caterer. If friends and family are willing to help with setup and cleanup, this can save a lot of money."
Purchasing signature dishes from a favorite restaurant is another way to save. And unless you and your guests are wine aficionados, don't splurge on more than one or two rounds of the good stuff.
Often the most affordable dinner option, a buffet can be made more elegant by having the deejay ask guests to remain seated until their table captain invites them to get in line. Help guests make dinner choices by creating a custom menu in your wedding colors for each place setting. List every, single offering, from salad to starches to entrees to wedding cake.
It's stylish to keep extra touches sleek and affordable.
"You don't need to rent or buy the 'wedding version' of everything," counsels Longhurst. "You can get a very similar design effect less expensively by going with nonwedding versions of napkins, decorations, etc."
Go for organic centerpieces, such as plants that people can take home or a single, dressed-up orchid. Fill tall urns and glass bowls with seasonal fruit that's bursting with flavor and color.
Cut back on wedding favors. "People spend $2, $5, $7 per person," says DuQuenne. "If you can't eat it, don't buy it."
Edible favors presented in your wedding colors can double as table decorations. Chocolate truffles, almonds and mints are welcome treats. A perfect pear enlivens an ivory-and-green palette.
"We had a bride whose color was Tiffany blue — her wedding cake looked like stacked Tiffany's gift boxes," DuQuenne recalls. "She ordered Tiffany's boxes online and put a truffle in each box. It was absolutely beautiful, delicate, chic and brought color to the table."
When choosing your reception venue, ascertain that there's enough room for a dance floor. "People who don't normally dance will dance at a wedding," says Longhurst.
Your music will set the tone of the reception as much as decorations and food. "If you're elegant and formal, you don't want to pull out the greatest hits of the '80s," Longhurst advises. "Make sure the deejay or the band knows what kind of effect you're going for."
In this age of the iPod, you can often rent the proper sound equipment and create your own playlist.
Stay true to yourself
Your guests are not at your wedding to critique every aspect of the reception — they are there to celebrate and support.
"Don't dwell on trying to please others — it's your wedding," says Longhurst. "If it becomes more stressful than fun, then something needs to change."
Take a minute to re-evaluate. Make a vow to focus on what's most important: the love and promising future you share with your betrothed.