Planning the Reception

Planning the Reception – After the emotions of the wedding ceremony, it’s time to kick it up a notch and celebrate.

Get Organized
The first step to planning a successful and stress-free wedding reception is to write out a schedule of events in advance. To help you get started, we’ve outlined some of the more common wedding reception traditions. While you may or may not choose to include them all, they’ll help you decide how to begin personalizing your wedding.

The Receiving Line
The receiving line (unless you already had one after your ceremony), allows the bride and groom a chance to greet all of their guests – an opportunity they might not otherwise have during a large wedding reception.

The line is usually formed with the mother of the bride first, then the father, followed by the groom’s mother and father, the new Mr. and Mrs., and then the maid or matron of honor and bridesmaids (the attendants are often left off in order to speed this process up a bit). If divorced parents choose not stand together in the receiving line, than the other set of parents may stand between them.

Avoid making the receiving line a time-consuming process by exchanging brief but warm wishes with everyone as they pass by. And to help pass the time for guests waiting for their warm wishes, ask your caterer to have his or her servers circulate with drinks and hors d’oeuvres for them.

Now Introducing for the First Time Ever?
After you’ve said your hellos with the receiving line and the cocktail hour is finished, it will be time for guests to be seated. After all the guests have found their seats (make sure your guests names are properly displayed on the place cards), a master of ceremonies (often the band leader or DJ) should introduce the bridal party. Be sure to give the person making this announcement a list of the names in the order you want them read, as well as the phonetic pronunciation (it would also be a good idea to go over the pronunciations in person).

The bride’s parents should be the first to enter, followed by the groom’s parents, flower girl and ring bearer, bridesmaids and groomsmen, best man and maid of honor, then finally the bride and groom.

The first dance often takes place either right after the wedding party has been announced or after the meal is completed. This dance traditionally belongs to the bride and groom, with all wedding guests gathering around to watch. Toward the end of the song, the master of ceremonies or announcer should instruct the rest of the bridal party to join in with their respective partners. The guests may also be asked to join in at the end of the first dance.

At some time during the course of the wedding celebration (but always after the first dance as husband and wife), the bride traditionally has a farewell dance with her father, followed by the groom and her mother. In both cases, a nostalgic, sentimental song is often chosen. If your father will not be there or is deceased, you may choose another important male to share in this special dance with you (a brother, uncle or grandfather). If you are not close to your father and feel more comfortable with your stepfather, you may share the dance with him. The same options apply for your new husband as well. And be sure that both of you dance with your new in-laws and spouse’s honor attendants.

A Toast to the Bride and Groom
Wedding toasts and speeches can add a memorably personal note, but they can also bring the party to a halt if they are ill-timed or too long. As part of your wedding planning, decide on the order of speeches, and encourage the speakers to keep it brief (but heartfelt).

Just before the main meal is served, or immediately after, the best man should be introduced and ask everyone to stand. You and your groom should remain seated. His wedding toast may be brief and sentimental (‘Let’s raise our glasses to the happiness of Jane and Mark’) or it can be more detailed and personal, often amusing and anecdotal. If you’re worried about what the best man going to say (or even more so if he is worried) you may want to recommend he uses a custom wedding toast service. Based on questions he answers personally, their toast writers will custom write a speech that is sure to impress and leave a lasting and memorable impression on everyone (and let’s not forget about the fact that it will be captured on your wedding video for all of eternity, so it better be good!). Whatever the case, it should reflect best wishes for the two of you and your future. The best man then raises his glass and invites the other guests to do the same in a well-wishing toast. The bride and groom may then get up and say a few words of thanks and toast each other.

It is also customary at religious weddings to have the officiant say a blessing before everyone begins eating. Be sure to let your officiant know ahead of time if you would like to include this, so that he or she is prepared.

Time to Eat
The only two requirements for a wedding reception are cake and champagne, so depending on the time of day, your menu may consist of anything from a light breakfast to an elaborate dinner. An early-morning wedding calls for a breakfast or brunch; afternoon ceremonies may be accompanied by hors d’oeuvres or a light meal. Evening weddings generally call for a full dinner (sit down or buffet style). If your reception begins at 8 pm or later, you may choose to offer only cocktails and hors d’oeuvres. Your caterer or banquet manager can help you select an appropriate menu as part of your wedding planning.

When most people hear the words ‘wedding reception’ they think of a full meal. If this is not the case for your wedding, use the wording ‘cake and champagne’ or ‘cocktails and hors d’oeuvres’ in place of “wedding reception” on your wedding invitations so that your guests will know what to expect.

Have your Cake and Eat it Too
Avoid planning the cake-cutting too late, since guests are not supposed to leave before it and you don’t want anyone to miss it! Even if you want the dancing to continue for hours afterwards, serve the cake at a reasonable hour to release any wedding guests who want to leave earlier.

While the tradition of breaking the cake over the bride’s head dates back to the Roman Era, today’s tradition is much gentler and simply involves the bride and groom cutting the cake together. This task represents the first task they will complete together as well as provide a great photo op.

When you are ready, the master of ceremonies should announce that the cake cutting is taking place and direct guests’ attention to the location.

When cutting the cake, elegant silver plated cake knives and servers add a personal touch as well as provide a keepsake, when engraved with your names and wedding date, which you will cherish for years to come. To cut the cake, the bride should place her hand on the cake knife while the groom places his hand over hers. The first slice is placed on a plate and the groom feeds his bride a small piece (you may want to agree upon this ahead of time so there are no surprises if he decides to smother you with a not-so-small piece), then receives a bite from her. The remainder of the wedding cake is then cut by the waiters and distributed to guests. It’s customary to save the top tier of the wedding cake in a cake box, which is frozen and then enjoyed on your first anniversary.

Many couples also order an optional groom’s cake. This is traditionally a darker color than the bride’s cake, and is often made from chocolate (though really, any flavor and color you choose is acceptable). Often the groom’s cake is displayed during the reception, then sliced and given to guests as take-home favors.

Tossing the Bouquet and Garter
Toward the end of the reception, have the master of ceremonies ask all eligible ladies to gather in the middle of the floor for the bouquet toss – the lucky recipient of which is said to be the next woman to marry. The bride should turn her back to the crowd and lightly toss the bouquet over her head to the female guests and bridesmaids. (Or you may want to face everyone and take aim for a particular friend or relative!) Another way to throw the bouquet is to toss it out the window of your car or limousine to the waiting crowd as you leave for your honeymoon (or first night accommodations). Many brides now have two bouquets – one being a smaller, less expensive version called a tossing bouquet or nosegay, specifically made for tossing so that the bridal bouquet can be preserved as a wedding momento.

To toss the garter, the groom removes the garter from the bride’s leg and tosses it in a similar fashion to the eligible bachelors. The same tradition applies- the man who catches it is said to be the next to marry. Typically the two lucky recipients then dance with one another.

When to Leave
It was once customary for the bride and groom to make a getaway during the wedding reception to begin their honeymoon, which was also the signal that the guests could start to leave. Today, however, many couples are choosing to spend extra time with their out-of-town wedding guests and are planning to stay at the reception until the very end. You may still change into going-away clothes (check with your reception site about changing rooms when you do your wedding planning) and then come back to bid your guests a final farewell. Guests may throw rice, birdseed or potpourri, or blow bubbles, as you and your new husband make your exit.