40 Wedding Reception Ideas that Will Make You Look Like a Pro

Feel Like a Professional & Delight Your Reception Guests

Food & Beverage

  1. Have a caramel apple station, pumpkin decorating booth and cotton candy machine at a fall wedding.
  2. Serve finger sandwiches on heart-shaped bread.
  3. Dress up reception food tables with ice sculptures and breads in animal shapes.
  4. Replace the open bar with sophisticated tea, juice and cappuccino bars.
  5. Break a loaf of bread to ceremoniously start the reception meal since it’s a sign of good fortune. Place a loaf on each guest table so all can break bread together.
  6. Serve cocktails from a surfboard placed on painted saw horses at a summer beach themed wedding or from ice-filled painted canoe.
  7. Replace the traditional cake-topper with a miniature tent and serving smores along with the cake
  8. Host “Happy Hour” before your ceremony. Greet guests with canapes and champagne and thank them for attending.
  9. Serve dinner food family-style in heirloom bowls at elongated dining tables.
  10. Serve chocolate banana cake instead of wedding cake. Toast with hot chocolate for a winter wedding.
  11. Dress food servers in period clothing or outfits matching the wedding style and theme and ask them to sing while serving.
  12. Order a square wedding cake or serve heart-shaped brownies.

peacockGuest Registry

  1. Ask guests to legibly sign a designated tablecloth with a cloth pen. Afterwards, embroider the names on your marriage tablecloth.
  2. Collect guest signatures on an unglazed piece of pottery in lieu of a guestbook. Glaze and keep as a keepsake.
  3. Create a thumbprint guest book. Guests place colored thumbprints as leaves, peacock feathers or balloons and then add their names to the print.
  4. Guests pen messages on river rocks that later are covered with clear acrylic gloss to keep from fading.
  5. Ask guests to make wishes for you by writing them on a card they hang on a wishing tree.


  1. String unmatched, interesting lights and Chinese lanterns at an outdoor reception.
  2. Decorate guest tables with the state flower.
  3. Etch “love” “hug” or “just married” on to flat, smooth stones and place at each table setting as a favor.
  4. Design floral chandeliers to hang above each guest table. Place ribbon-wrapped votive candle holders on each table.
  5. Use acrylic ballroom chairs with monogrammed pillows placed on them for color and comfort. Guests take the pillows as a party favor.
  6. Hang wedding themed pinatas from the ceiling.
  7. Place fun-filled globe ornaments on tables as centerpieces.
  8. Hang glow-in-the-dark stars from the ceiling above the cake table. Turn the lights off for maximum effect.
  9. Replace floral centerpieces with appetizer trays. As the reception proceeds, replace these trays with dessert trays.
  10. Present guests pear-shaped candles with a tag that includes the bride and groom names, wedding date and “We’re a perfect pair!”


  1. Have a hula-hoop contest and award prizes.
  2. Toss the garter strapped to a football, baseball or whiffleball. Watch unmarried males guests run for it.
  3. Hire jazz musicians, children’s choir, drum majorette or baton twirlers to lead guests from the ceremony to the reception location.
  4. Ask guests to play musical chairs at the reception.
  5. Hire troubadours (group of singers or musicians) from the local college who move around the room entertaining guests during the dinner reception.
  6. Give the “toss bouquet” to the longest married couple.
  7. Ask the DJ to host a lip sync contest with your three favorite songs.


  1. Leave the reception showered with yellow-colored paper smiley faces, “Just Married” confetti and multi-colored paper streamers.
  2. Adorn the go-away vehicle’s hood or hitch with a heart-shaped arrangement of rosebuds and place “Just Married” flag on window. Ask a grandfather to be the chauffeur.
  3. Decorate and fill colorful bags for guests to take when leaving. Contents include breakfast items like bagels or mini-muffins, juice boxes and a piece of fruit. Include a small note of thanks and appreciation. Seal with new initials. Favors left by the door do not need to be as elaborate as those left on the guest tables.
  4. Send guests home with a heart-shaped cookie cutter and family sugar cookie recipe.
  5. Express your joy with a helium balloon release, fireworks, a plane-flown banner or a sky-written message.
  6. Let guests toss pre-made paper airplanes as you leave.

Know someone planning a wedding? Share this with them. Help them create a wedding reception to remember.

Linda Leier Thomason is a former CEO who writes freelance business and travel stories, along with feature articles. Her work experiences include a Fortune 500 corporation, federal government, entrepreneurship and small business. Find out more about Linda by clicking the “Meet Linda” tab above. Interested in working together? Complete this form below.

Have a wedding etiquette or planning question? Ask below. SHARE this with all planning weddings.

©Copyright. February 2016. Linda Leier Thomason

All Rights Reserved.

How to Look Like a Wedding Reception Pro Without Being One

Plan a Wedding Reception without Losing Your Mind

You know the feeling you get when your boss asks you to learn something new at the same time you’re already working overtime to get a major project done? Part of you wants to tell her off while the other half of you celebrates her recognizing your talent.

Well, that’s how many wedding couples feel when faced with adding reception planning to their already busy lives.  Of course, they’re excited about getting married but overwhelmed with all the new learning, planning and decision making.

Wedding receptions are often one of the most memorable parts of the wedding day and are the first social event hosted by the couple.  The reception sets the tone of the celebration and says a lot about who the couple is. No pressure!

It helps to have an understanding of locations, reception styles,  catering, reception flow, ceremonial events and table terms.

Here’s a guide to help you begin planning a memorable wedding reception without losing your mind.

image1Choose the Right Location

The location depends on the number of invited guests, budget, and formality of event. The site sets the tone of the wedding reception and most communities have plenty of locations to choose from including private clubs and halls, hotel ballrooms, church hall, historical locations and outdoor venues. Before booking get answers to these questions:

  1. How many people does the location hold according to the Fire Marshall Code?
  2. Will there be other events here at the same time as our reception?
  3. Do I have to use your catering service? If so, if there a price difference between a sit-down dinner and buffet? What is the cost per person/per plate? Do you provide the banquet servers and bartenders? When must I have my menu selections chosen? When is the final count due and when are payments made? What is the cancellation policy?
  4. If not, will you allow any caterer to work here or do I have to use one from your preferred vendor list?
  5. Am I permitted to use my own decorations?
  6. Do you provide the band or DJ and dance floor?
  7. How early, and when, can we get into the location to decorate? Is there a charge for this?
  8. Will I be able to set up the location according to my wishes or do I have to use your layout?
  9. Are there tables for the guest registry, cake, and gifts?
  10. Is there adequate parking?
  11. Are the tables, chairs, linens and centerpieces provided?
  12. Does the price include China, stemware and flatware?
  13. Are there adequate outlets?
  14. Is there air conditioning?
  15. What time must we be out of the location? Can we collect our personal items the next day? Is there a charge for this?
  16. Are there overtime charges?
  17. Are guests permitted to blow bubbles, throw rose petals, rice or birdseed when we leave the reception?
  18. What measures are taken for liquor liability?
  19. Will I need to pay for security?
  20. Is the space handicapped accessible?

Hire the Right Caterer

A wedding reception consumes about 1/2 of a wedding budget. Food and beverage are typically the highest priced line items in the reception budget; therefore, it’s important to select a caterer who not only makes great tasting food with visual appeal but also one who listens to your ideas and gives you a feeling of confidence and trust. Interview at least 3 caterers and, before placing a deposit, ask for a food tasting.

strawberry5 simple questions to ask all caterers:

1. How do you handle attention to detail? You want to hear they use checklists, timetables and flow sheets and assign certain staff to specific areas and functions. Organization for proper timing is critical.
2. Is your staff regular or contracted and what is the guest to staff ratio?
3. May I have contact information for your last 3 wedding reception clients? Contact them.
4. What is the best way to reduce my catering bill? Don’t be surprised if you’re told to reduce your guest list. No good caterer will suggest you skimp on food quality or service.
5. What are the advantages and disadvantages of the various service styles like sit-down dinner, buffet style and passed hors d’ oeuvres? Follow up this question by talking about which style they use most and is best fit for your reception.
Once you’ve interviewed caterers, selected one, signed a contract and left a deposit, decide on reception type and style, menu choices, bar service, reception flow and creative food service.

Reception Styles

  • Seated Dinner-Appropriate for formal event. Typically five hours. There is a set menu, often with a choice of entrees. A different wine may be served with each course. The first dance and ceremonial dances may take place between courses.
  • Cocktail Reception-Usually three hours. Hors d’ oeuvres are passed butler style (waiters carrying trays) to keep guests moving. A limited number of seats are available. Eight different offerings are typically served and 12-15 pieces per guest are prepared. Either background music or dance music is appropriate.
  • Buffet Reception-Normally four to five hours. Food is placed in decorative containers on serpentine (S-shaped) or rectangular tables and guests serve themselves. Or food stations are placed throughout the room and guests wander from station to station enjoying the offerings. Action-oriented stations are popular. At these, a chef prepares food for the guests: Omelet, fajita, pasta, mashed potato bar, tapas, sushi or steak. Seating if provided for all. Dancing is encouraged.
  • Tea Reception-Held between 2-5pm. Guests are offered finger teasandwiches, a selection of fruits, nuts chocolates and cake along with a variety of hot and cold teas. Background music is  provided. Guest seating is typically not assigned.
  • Breakfast or Brunch Reception-Begins around 10 or 11 am and lasts two to three hours. Guests are served a variety of brunch style foods including eggs, breads, fruit, meats, potatoes, juices and specialty coffees and teas. Champagne is often offered. Background music is provided and seating is not typically assigned.

Guest Seating

Assigned seating for dinner allows a reception to flow more smoothly. Escort cards, another name for table cards, are used to let guests know which table they are assigned to. Historically, these cards were placed on a table right inside the reception hall entrance for guests to pick up and take to their assigned table. Today these escort cards have become quite creatively customized and carry the wedding theme. Consider letting your guests know where they are seated using one of these:

  • Old-fashioned chalkboard on easel-write guest name and number. Great for teachers and lecturers.
  • Color code escort cards to match table linen. Instead of using numbers on tables, guests go to the table that has the linen color of their escort card.
  •   Hang snowflakes or origami cranes, a symbol of happiness, with guest names and table numbers near the reception entrance. These double as party favors.

If guests do not know one another, it’s fun to place a directory on each table of names and how they know the couple. Or, list each guest name and an interesting hobby or fun fact about each person. This starts conversation quickly and helps guests get to know one another.

Table Terms

Head Table-designated for honored guests and bridal couple. This table is usually raised up on a platform with the bride and groom in the center and bridal party on either side of them. Parents can also be seated at this table. If a raised platform is not available, the caterer can designate another table for honored guests. If the bridal party is small, spouses or significant others of bridal party attendants may also be invited to sit at this reserved table. This table is served first.
Parents’ Table-If parents are not seated at the head table, they can host their own table with other honored guests. If the parents are divorced, each hosts their own table.
Place cards-Unless you’re having a very formal evening wedding where every place setting has a place card, these are usually used on the head and parent tables. These cards designate an assigned seat. Escort cards designate an assigned table.

Ceremonial Events at Wedding Reception

  • Introduction of bridal party and couple-Provide the DJ or band leader a list in advance so all names can be properly pronounced. Sometimes parents and Godparents are included in group introductions. Include something personal in each introduction.
  • Couple’s First Dance-Pre-select this meaningful song and practicechasewphoto or even choreograph it. Remember all eyes are on you, so keep it tasteful. Special lighting can add to this dance. Guests do not dance before your first dance.
  • Ceremonial Dances-These spotlight dances include bridal party dance, father-daughter dance, mother-son dance and parent’s dance. The songs for these dances need to be selected in advance.
  • Toasts-The best man, maid of honor, bride’s father and groom typically offer a toast. Limit each person to three minutes or less. Make sure your toasting goblets are full and that the photographer is present for the toasts.
  • Cake Cutting-ask the Master of Ceremonies, usually the band leader or DJ, to announce this. Cut the first slice of cake together. The groom offers the first bite to the bride and then she offers him one. After the photograph, step aside so the caterers can serve the remainder of the cake.
  • Bouquet Toss-Consider your guest list before deciding to do this. Will single females of marrying age be present? If not, give your bouquet to the longest married couple.
  • Garter Toss-Are single males attending the reception? If so, play special music to set this up.
  • Couple’s Last Dance-When it’s announced that this is your last dance, guests are signaled that you will be leaving soon. Some couples do private last dance. As guests line up outside for their departure, they dance in the hall alone.
  • Couple’s Departure-Usually guests shower you with rose petals, confetti or bird seed or wave sparklers or ring bells as you leave.

Flow of Events

You picked a reception style, menu, the music and decorations, cake, napkins, toasting goblets, cake knife and server, guest book and even the place cards. Now it’s time to plan the reception flow of events and think about what you do upon entering the reception as husband and wife. Look to your hired professionals for suggestions and pre-arrange who will move these events along so the reception ends on time, unless you are willing to pay overtime charges. If your budget allows, hire a bridal consultant or wedding director. If not, ask your DJ or band leader or a friend to be in charge. And, of course, the photographer will want to capture all of these special moments too.

Questions to Answer About the Flow of the Reception

  • What is happening in the event location when the 1st guest arrives? Will beverages be passed or will guests go to a bar? Will hors d’ oeuvres be passed? What type? How many? Will music be playing?
  • Is there a separate room or area guests will be directed to for the cocktail hour or will guests be seated immediately for dinner?
  • How will guests transition from the cocktail reception area into the area for the buffet or seated dinner?
  • How will it be announced that dinner is being served?
  • How will guests know where to sit?
  • Where does the person saying grace before the meal stand? Will a microphone be provided?
  • What happens between courses?
  • When are toasts made?toast
  • When do the couple’s first dance and other specialty dances take place?
  • When is the cake cut and served?
  • When does the bouquet and garter toss happen?
  • Will there be a last dance played for the couple before they leave the reception?
  • What form of transportation is the couple leaving the reception in?
  • Where is the couple spending the night or are they immediately leaving for their honeymoon after the reception?
  • Will the couple be changing before leaving the reception?
  • Will the caterer be preparing a food basket for the couple to take when leaving? If so, who places this in the go-away vehicle?

Planning  a wedding reception for you and your guests to celebrate your marriage should be a fun. These definitions, tips and guides should help. Remember, the reception doesn’t need to be flawless or perfect. Chill out! If you’re both relaxed and enjoying the moment, so will everyone who’s there to congratulate you and wish you well.

Know someone planning a wedding? Do them a favor. SHARE this post with them.

Linda Leier Thomason is a former CEO who writes freelance business and travel stories, along with feature articles. Her work experiences include a Fortune 500 corporation, federal government, entrepreneurship and small business. Find out more about Linda by clicking the “Meet Linda” tab above. Interested in working together? Complete this form below.

Have a wedding planning or etiquette question. Ask me.

©Copyright. February 2016. Linda Leier Thomason

All Rights Reserved.


100 Innovative Food Choices to Impress Wedding Guests

Eat With Eyes & Stomach

A meat, two sides and bread have long been replaced as standard wedding reception fare. Today’s couples understand we eat with our eyes and our stomachs and are choosing foods with high quality ingredients, vibrant color and intense flavors. All of this can be done without being overly costly.

Here are 100 food choices to serve at your wedding reception.

Pick and choose those that meet your budget & style.

fruitHors d’oeuvres or Appetizers

  1. One-sip soups
  2. Vegetable spring rolls
  3. White vegetable crudités
  4. Duck quesadillas with mango salsa
  5. Deviled eggs
  6. Mini-reubens on cocktail rye
  7. Shrimp puffs
  8. Polenta squares
  9. Endive spears stuffed with shrimp and mango salsa
  10. Parmesan beignets
  11. Dilled cucumber & smoked salmon and asparagus finger sandwiches
  12. Mini crab cakes


  1. Raspberry mint lemonade
  2. Bubbly bars with champagne-guests choose to add fizz, fresh fruit and fruit juices to the flutes or shot glasses
  3. Iced coffee
  4. Italian sodas
  5. Flavored martinis-pomegranate, apple cider and green apple
  6. Peach and mango margaritas
  7. Sangria (A blend of wine, liqueurs & seasonal fruit)
  8. Cappuccino and espresso bars
  9. Cocktails served in Mason jars, especially at vintage-style events
  10. Micro-brewed beers
  11. International coffee bar with Kahlua, Bailey’s, Tia Maria, Grand Marnier and other cordials.
  12. Zero-alcohol bars with infused waters, homemade lemonades and specialty ice teas

Food Stations

  1. Frozen vodka and caviar bar
  2. Action Station where chef prepares omelet, fajita, pasta, tapas, sushi or steak
  3. Carving board (Ham, turkey, beef or lamb)
  4. Pancake bar with multiple topping and syrup choices
  5. Mashed potato bar where chef folds in caviar, lobster, roasted garlic or sauteed mushrooms
  6. Sushi
  7. Pasta (Two types with variety of sauces)
  8. Salad bar
  9. Seafood-Shrimp, oysters, scallops, clams (Add a lit ice sculpture & use as a focal point)
  10. Grilled meat, including hamburgers, hot dogs and Polish sausages
  11. Ice cream sundae bar
  12. Breakfast bar with heart-shaped waffles and specialty syrups, popovers filled with scrambled eggs, and a variety of frittatas


  1. Rack of lamb or grilled baby lamb chops in plum sauce on a bed of spaghetti squash
  2. Artichoke and wild mushroom risotto
  3. Ginger marinated smoked duck breast
  4. Filet Mignon with truffle sauce
  5. Pecan encrusted chicken
  6. Chilean sea bass
  7. Grilled cheese and Soup (variety of breads, cheeses and soups)
  8. Miniature pizzas
  9. Smoked chicken orzo
  10. Lamb spring rolls
  11. Curried Chicken
  12. Bacon themed food-wrapped shrimp, bacon wrapped figs, etc.
  13. Potato leek soup
  14. Grilled swordfish kabobs
  15. Chicken satay
  16. Meatballs-pork, beef, lamb and pistachio, etc.
  17. Halibut steak
  18. Breakfast food for dinner
  19. Grilled portobello mushroom
  20. Lobster salad
  21. Lettuce wraps
  22. Fish tacos
  23. Sausages of duck, venison or rabbit served with specialty mustard
  24. Wiener schnitzel
  25. Crab-stuffed trout
  26. Pepper-encrusted filet of sirloin
  27. Calamari
  28. Chicken breast with rosemary and wild mushrooms
  29. Wild game: Buffalo, pheasant, grouse, deer and rabbit
  30. Grilled quail or quail pie
  31. Baked cheese grits
  32. Vidalia onion souffle
  33. Pot stickers and wontons with sweet potato puree
  34. Fried soft shell crab
  35. Quail and pheasant quesadillas
  36. Oysters Rockefeller
  37. Goat cheese chive whipped potatoes
  38. Fresh pineapple soup


  1. Chocolate sponge wedding cake with raspberry filling
  2. Rum cake
  3. Apple crisp with cinnamon ice cream
  4. Coconut macaroons
  5. Mini pudding shots (lemon meringue, sour cherry, praline, etc.)
  6. Carrot cake with cream cheese
  7. Glazed donuts
  8. Souffles
  9. Cheesecake or cheesecake lollipops
  10. Chocolate mousse torte
  11. Snow cones
  12. Cronuts (1/2 croissant + 1/2 donuts)
  13. Warm gingerbread

snowconesLate Night Snacks

  1. Frozen yogurt
  2. Hot pretzels
  3. Finger sandwiches
  4. Desserts like cookies, angel food cake with fresh berries, strawberry-rhubarb pudding, tiny fruit tartlets, tiramisu, key lime pie or cheesecake
  5. Pizza or taco bar
  6. Vegetables and dips & cheese and crackers
  7. Chocolate fondue and fresh fruit
  8. Milk shakes
  9. Snow cones with cocktail syrups
  10. Gourmet teas and coffees
  11. Ice cream sundae bar and sorbets
  12. Flavored popcorn
  13. Specialty chips and dips

Have a wedding planning or etiquette question? Ask me. SHARE with those planning weddings.

Linda Leier Thomason is a former CEO who writes freelance business and travel stories, along with feature articles. Her work experiences include a Fortune 500 corporation, federal government, entrepreneurship and small business. Find out more about Linda by clicking the “Meet Linda” tab above. Interested in working together? Complete this form below.

©Copyright. February 2016. Linda Leier Thomason

All Rights Reserved.