Planning Advice – Starting early in with any wedding planning is the key

Starting early in with any wedding planning is the key and carries through to the reception. Popular reception spots book up early along with caterers and DJ’s and other good service professionals.

Before you start your reception planning, have a few details about your party such as:

Budget: how much can you spend in each area before meeting with a service provider.

Size: how many guests are you planning to have?

Special Requests: do you require a certain food or music, do you want table services? Make sure the service providers you contact can provide you with your special requests before investing a lot of time or any money.

Once you have this information, your next step is to compile a list of providers you would like to call and interview. Create a list with your families on what you are looking for. Then call around for availability and estimates.

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Finding a reception site


Your reception site can be a grand hall or a church meeting room, a community center or a club. Depending on what type of reception you are planning your site can be as imaginative as you wish to get.

How do you find the perfect reception site? You need to focus on what the two of you want, then spend some time and view only those sites that meet you specifications.

Where do you find reception sites? Check with your local chamber of commerce as well as other wedding professionals for sites. Look in the yellow pages, local bridal magazines and also check with motels and convention centers. If you are wishing a more unique reception site, check with wineries, lighthouses and historical buildings/societies.

Once you think you have found the perfect site, here are a few questions to ask:

Rental fee and what does it include? How much to reserve the site and what extra fees might be added? How many hours does the fee cover? How late can the event go?

Are other services available and if so, what are the charges? (e.g., doorman, coat check, valet parking)

Is Parking for guests easily accessible, enough space and are there any charges (e.g. meter parking, parking garage, etc.)

How many people can the site hold comfortably, seating and space available for a sit-down meal or buffet?

Will you have the site exclusively or do they hold more than one event at a time? If so, how are the facilities divided? How is privacy ensured?

Can you decorate the night before the event? What times can you have access to the site? What restrictions, if any do they have on decorating the site?

What type of restrictions does the site have? Can you use outside sources (e.g. caterers, DJ’s, bartender) or must you use their staff?

Is the site air-conditioned or provide adequate heat depending on the weather?

Is there a dance floor? What size? how many people can it hold at any one time?

Bathrooms are adequate and clean? Is there a changing room for the wedding party?

Will the site manager be on hand during the event? If not, who will be in charge?

Does the site carry liability insurance in the event a guest is injured?

What is the cancellation or refund policy?

All these questions need to be answered before you sign any contracts or exchange any money. Make sure all requests are agreed to in writing and any uncertainties are answered and fully understood.

When you are ready to “Book” the site, make sure you receive any copies of agreements. Get a date and time confirmation on the reservation, and an outline of all the details and prices. Get in writing of any security deposits paid and when they will be returned.

Avoid reception rip-offs

Some caterers and reception sites have been know to take your booking fees and go out of business, or book another wedding for the same day then ask you to switch. Here are some tips to avoid being ripped-off.

Find out if your site will take responsibility for anyone they sub-contact.

Ask for references, then call them.

Check with the Better Business Bureau in your area about the business you are considering.

Pay with a credit card for everything. This gives you recourse with the credit card company if the service provider does not come through and is unwilling to work with you to solve the problem.

Out of Town Guests

Your guests – Letís give them a warm Welcome!

Let your out of town guests know how much you appreciate all their efforts to get to your wedding by making them feel especially welcome. Here are some tips for the red-carpet treatment.

Accommodations

Well in advance of your wedding day and before you mail out invitations, inquire with hotels and inns near your ceremony and reception sites about availability and rates. Reserve a block of rooms (You should be able to get a group rate). Send reservation forms, prices and the hotel or inn phone numbers or business cards with your invitations to out of town guests.

You may wish to create a welcome basket of fruit, chocolate, doughnuts, anything to say thanks for attending our wedding. You might include a list of area restaurants, map to ceremony and reception, and any special activities. You should also list phone numbers for you, your groom, and family in town for guests in case there is a problem.

Ask the hotel staff to place the baskets or other information in each of your guestís rooms, or have them given to your guests at check-in.

Transportation

Make a master list of arrival times for guests coming by plane, bus, or train. Then ask friends, family and attendants to meet the guests and transport them to their lodging destination.

Transportation to the church and reception can also be a challenge. You might want to check with hotel or car rental for a van or shuttle service. In some areas bus rental may be available to carry a large amount of guests to and from the activities.

Activities

To make guests feel especially welcome, try to line up or notify them of activities. Guests with children will appreciate this, especially if they are arriving a day early and are not participating in the wedding or invited to the rehearsal dinner.

Make a note of local points of interest– shops, parks, beaches, historical sites, etc. Let the guests know if there is a pool at the hotel or Inn for their use.

If the reception is held at hotel or Inn, and you have guests traveling with children, you may want to consider hiring a baby sitter or two. An additional room at the hotel for child sitting may allow grown-up guests to enjoy the reception a little more, while the children have fun swimming, watching videos and playing games.

Hiring a caterer


Here is some “Food for Thought” when hiring a caterer.

Just like your reception site, you will want to acquire the services of a caterer early (minimum 8-12 months prior to the event if possible).

Depending on your reception site, you may work with an outside caterer or you may have to use their contract or in-house services. When working within the reception site, you may work with the banquet manager to plan out the entire reception from food and drink to decorations, tables and wait staff. The reception site may sub-contract these services or use their own staff and equipment.

If your site does not provide this type of service, suddenly you find yourself contracting and working with caterers, bartenders, waiters and rental companies to supply your reception. You may wish to look for a caterer that can provide all these services for you and act as sort of a “Contractor”, some provide this service for a fee. If you are using a wedding coordinator, they can also provide this service.

When checking out a caterer, you may wish to ask the following questions:

What is the estimated cost per person/plate for a seated meal? Buffet? What does the meal include? Do you provide drink? Added cost?

What is the wait staff-to-guest ratio? (this is very important for a seated dinner, usually one waiter for every 10-12 guests.)

Is there a set menu or can it be modified? Can they accommodate special dietary restrictions for you and your guests?

Has the caterer worked at the reception site before?

Can you arrange to check out a food display or catering at another reception or banquet? Can I sample the foods to be on the menu at my reception?

Does the caterer provide table linens, table service and clean up? If so, can you view the linens and tableware? (Make sure the patterns will work for you and that plates and silverware are in good condition)

How soon before the event does the caterer need a final head count?

What is the payment policy and is tipping included or additional? What types of additional charges might you expect besides those of food and beverage?

Does the caterer have proper license and is state certified? If they will be providing liquor, do they have a liquor license? Does the caterer carry liability insurance?

How much time does the caterer need to set-up at your reception? How long will they stay? Will food be available for late guests or throughout the reception? If food is left over, what happens to it? (you may want to keep a tray of sandwiches or salad if you are having a lunch the next day to open presents or for family)

How much is overtime and what is the cancellation policy?

If all these answers will work for you, check again to make sure the caterer is open for your wedding date, and secure the service. Make sure you read and understand their contract and any questions answered, and all special requests put in writing.

Reception food

One way to make sure your guests have a great time at your reception is to feed them, and feed them well. This does not mean you have to feed them New York strip steak or Lobster, just make sure there is a variety of food and everyone has plenty to eat.

Before shopping for a caterer you need to have an idea of what foods you will have at the reception. This will depend on several factors such as time of day, season, your tastes and your budget.

The time of day your reception will be held can vary the menu. If having an early morning wedding, a brunch or breakfast may be appropriate. An afternoon affair may include a seated lunch or buffet. Mid afternoon may consist of hors d’oeuvres, cake and beverages. Early to late evening may consist of a seated dinner or buffet.

What is the ‘norm’ for wedding receptions in your area? This may play in to the cost factor as many caterers tend to price for their area they work in.

The season you hold your wedding may also help you determine what foods to serve. Some foods may be more traditional or ‘in season’ during certain times of the year.

Your personal tastes and budget are what ultimately decide your reception menu. Your caterer should be able to put together a menu that reflects your personal tastes and stay within your budget. Foods should compliment each other while also providing what you want. Your caterer can make suggestions for your menu, ask him or her and they will be happy to help.

Wedding Cake

The serving of wedding cake began back in the Roman era when a bun or wheat bread would be broken over the bride’s head. The crumbs that landed were a symbol of good luck and fertility. In the seventeenth century, French bakers would stack the buns and coat them with icing, creating the first wedding cakes that were eaten by brides, grooms and guests.

Today, wedding cakes are as much an art as the tradition. Your cake can say a lot about your personality and style with the design of your cake. There are so many options that it can be hard to choose just the right one. Take a look at bridal magazines, cake decorator books, photos and displays your bakery may have.

Once you have in mind the design you want, it is time to find the right bakery. Check with friends, family, other brides, and your service providers (reception site, caterer, and photographer) for references. If you have a picture of the design you would like, call the bakery and make an appointment to talk with them. Have an idea of how many guests you will have, this will help determine the amount of cake you will need.

When you meet with the bakery, you will need to ask some questions such as:

What is the price per serving? Wedding cake? Sheet cake? (depending on your location and the bakery, serving per piece can run $1.00 per serving or more. Sheet cakes are considerably less, you may wish to consider this if your cake design will not allow for a large number of servings, or you are looking to cut costs.)

What flavors of cake and icing are available? Can you sample them?

Are their added costs for different or multiple flavors?

When and how will the cake be delivered and set-up at the reception?

Can you provide a groom’s cake? Cost? (The groom’s cake is traditionally cut and sent home with guests from the reception, it may also be served at the rehearsal dinner.)

Shopping tips for your wedding cake:

Contract your bakery about 6-8 months before the wedding date. Some bakeries only take a few cake orders for a weekend and you could find yourself looking for another bakery.

Talk with the bakery and ask them for recommendations on types of cake, flavors and designs. He/she may have suggestions that you may not have thought of or recommendations for cake if the reception is outside or you plan to have the cake set-up for a lengthy period of time.

Make sure you have provided the bakery with contact information on the reception site and information about set-up times. If the florist will be providing fresh flowers or greens for your cake, provide the bakery with contact information so they can coordinate this also.

Put it all in writing, make sure the contract spells out everything from the size and design of the cake, to the delivery time and date.

Preserving you cake:

It is considered good luck and an omen for long life together to preserve the tope tier of your wedding cake to eat on your first anniversary. You can easily carry on the tradition by following these steps.

1.Encase the cake tightly in plastic wrap and then double rap in aluminum foil or put in a specially designed cake freezer box.

2.If you have wrapped the cake in aluminum foil, also put the cake in an airtight container to help prevent freezer burn.

3.Put the cake in a deep freeze or in the back of you freezer until time to unfreeze.

4.To unfreeze, place cake in fridge for 48 hours to thaw, then place at room temperature for 2-3 hours and serve.

Reception Beverages

You caterer or reception site may provide beverages as part of the agreement or at an additional charge. They sometimes charge by the drink, bottle, keg, person or combination thereof. The charges may also depend on the types and brands of beverages served.

To save on costs, you may ask if you can provide your own liquor. Many times you can buy liquor at a discount store for much less. Some sites may allow you to bring in keg beer, but will not allow you to bring in hard liquors.

To conserve money, some liquor may be eliminated from the bar. Eliminating an open bar and have a cash bar only may also be an option. Consider your guests tastes also, keg beer may be a more inexpensive option for all with no bar all together.

If you will be buying your own liquor for your reception, this guide will help you decide how much to purchase.

Consider your guests, what are their tastes and drinking habits?

Remember, people tend to drink lighter drinks (beer, wine) in the summer and heavier drinks (mixed drinks) in the winter months.

As a general rule, calculate one mixed drink per adult per hour or two lighter drinks (beer and wine coolers).

The time of day your reception is to be held will also help determine, an evening wedding reception will consume more drinks than an afternoon reception.

Talk to your liquor store or supplier, can unopened liquor be returned? Untapped kegs? It is always better to have a little extra than to run out early.

Ratio Chart:

Bottle of wine = 6-8 glasses.

One case wine or champagne (26 ounce bottles) = 100 glasses

One Quart hard liquor = 20 – 1.5oz shots or mixed drinks

Pony Keg (1/2 keg) = 260 – 8oz glasses

Full Keg = 520 – 8oz glasses

Of course you will also want to provide guests with non-alcoholic beverages such as coffee, tea and punch. You may also consider soft drinks, juices, sparkling ciders and bottled waters. Whatever you do, just make sure underage guests and non-drinkers have alternatives.

Designate responsible persons to watch over the bar so guests do not become over intoxicated. As the commercials state, “Friends don’t let friends drive drunk” Make sure everyone has a good time and makes it home safely. Calling a Taxi service or having a groomsman drive a guest home may just save a life.

Reception music


Your reception music will set the tone, classical for a very formal gala or rock and country for a more lively party. Consider the following when choosing your reception music:

The size and acoustics of the reception site can determine the size of the band or DJ. If you are having a small trio, will they be lost in a large hall? A loud band or DJ might overwhelm a small room.

Your tastes and style may lead you to consider a band that plays only a small variety of music, or a DJ that can satisfy the many requests and age groups of your guests.

Sound and light shows may add or detract from your reception. Consider a band or DJ that will accommodate your requests.

If you want a live band, ask for references from friends and relatives. When contacting the band, ask how many musicians and what instruments they play. Do they have a demo tape or can you arrange to see them perform at another wedding or event. Do they have a list of songs, and what type of music do they prefer to play. Does the band perform special requests or will they play pre-selected songs?

If the band is right for your event what will you need to ask before booking them?

How long will the group perform? How many breaks will they need and how long will the breaks be? Can they provide taped music or other entertainment between the breaks?

Ask if they will provide the service of M.C. for your reception.

What type of dress will the musicians wear? Is it in a manner suitable for your reception?

Ask if the band has worked at your reception site before. If not, they may request to visit the site prior to the reception and determine any special needs prior to the date.

Require a contract that is specific! Make sure the contract includes the names of the musicians and the hours they will be performing. The contract should also include any overtime charges in writing, alternatives and no-show clauses. A payment of fifty percent is standard to book a band, with the remainder of fees paid after the performance.

Hiring a DJ

If you have decided a live band is not right for you, then a DJ is the way to go. The advantages of original music, variety of music and songs, no or little breaks and little space needed might be right for your party.

When checking out DJ’s, ask the one service professional who has worked with many of them, your photographer. Your photographer, if seasoned, has seen many DJ’s and can make suggestions on their style and show they give.

Once you have the names of a few suggested DJ’s, give them a call and check to see if you date is open. You will want to book a DJ as far in advance as possible, even more if your date is around a holiday or traditional party weekend for your area.

Ask for a play list from the DJ, this list consists of all the music the DJ has in his/her possession and can provide at your reception.

Make sure the DJ has wedding experience. It is one thing to play for an X-mas or new years party and totally different to MC a wedding reception.

Ask what type of entertainment or light shows they will be providing. Sometimes DJ’s can get a little carried away with their show/effects and it can detract from your reception.

You may want to arrange to see him/her at another wedding or event before booking.

When you are ready to book them, inquire not only about their rate but any overtime or special fees.

Get information on when they will begin their show, if they will provide dinner music, what time they will set-up and when does any overtime begin? Check with your reception site and find out if there is a noise ordinance or time the music must stop (many halls will ask the music stops at midnight)

Put in writing any special requests and music the DJ will provide. If necessary, provide them with special music on tape or CD.

Ask the DJ what they will wear, request special dress for your event if in question.

Ask the DJ is they have worked at your reception site before. Make sure they have contact information for the site as to set-up and where and when. Make sure the DJ is provided with any tables and power requirements.

Get everything in writing and be prepared to leave a 50 percent deposit, the remaining balance is usually paid to the DJ at the reception or after the date.

More reception entertainment ideas


Who says a reception can only have a DJ?

Other options can include comedians, magicians, clowns/mime, laser light shows, and fireworks. Just about anything else you love!

You can easily find entertainers by looking in your local yellow pages under “Entertainers”, you can also check with your local newspaper.

Talk to the booking agent to discuss your needs and preferences. Check to see that your date is open and find out the length of the performance, fees and overtime.

Check to see if you can review a tape or watch a performance at another event.

Find out, if any, what special equipment may be needed such as stage, spotlight, sound system, etc. Will the performer provide this or can your reception site provide these items?

Double check to make sure the performers dress is appropriate for your event.

Get in writing the name of the performer, the times the will perform, and any details such as skits, routines and stunts they will provide within your contract.

Typical deposit is 50 percent to book the performer with the balance being paid the day of or after the event.

Reception Don’ts


You have come this far and have a lot of planning and money invested. Here are some tips to keep your reception moving and guests entertained and happy to stay!

Make sure you do not have a long delay between the ceremony and reception. If you can, do not leave guests hanging between one event and another. If this is unavoidable, have someplace guests can go such as a hospitality suite or host a pre-reception gathering. For out-of-town guests, make sure they have directions to these sites.

Do not devote major reception time to the photographer. If you are totally against seeing each other before the ceremony, have the photographer take as many photographs as they can before. Formal photography after the wedding should be kept to a minimum and take no more than forty-five minutes or less.

Cake in the face at the reception may be hilarious, but in many instances is very messy. You have spent a lot of time and money on your attire and your look. Do you really want it ruined by cake frosting? Talk to your fiancé beforehand and let him/her know that you would like to be fed nicely.

Suggestive garter removal can be a little lewd, talk with your DJ about this beforehand.

Dollar dance, auctioning off the bride and groom dance, and other dances can sometimes get in the way of getting you guests on the dance floor. Talk to your DJ or bandleader about these dances or other entertainment they may have planned. Make sure you are informed and know what to expect.

How to make your reception unique

Many wedding receptions follow a similar path, here are a few ways to make your reception stand out for you and your guests!

Working with your photographer and videographer you can create very special features at your reception. One product that your photographer can easily offer is a signature portrait. This portrait is an image of the two of you from an engagement or other romantic photo session and enlarged to a 16” x 20” or larger, framed with a double matt around the photo of about 4” in width. The matt board should be a white or off white in color. Proving a lighted easel and permanent thin markers, ask guests to sign their names and a short message around the mat board, filling it completely with signatures and messages of love creates a long lasting keepsake.

With your videographer, talk to them about creating a “reflections” presentation. This is a video of still photographs put to music of you and your fiancé from your childhood up to your wedding. The images are then put to music in a photomontage, and shown at the wedding reception on a TV or via a video projector for your guests. Copies of the video can be given to your parents as gifts.

Ask guests to bring photographs of you and them together. Provide a large board and attach the photos to it as guests provide the pictures. This makes for a great conversation piece and creates a great keepsake for you!

Have you DJ announce or you can personally toast any milestone anniversaries, birthdays or special events such as graduation, new baby, etc. of family and guests at your reception.

If you are comfortable, introduce each of your wedding party personally to your guests with the aid of the DJ’s sound system. Tell your guests a little about each bridal party member, at the end, toast your bridal party and parents with a special thanks.

You can do a similar introduction with your bridal party by creating a “Cast Sheet” giving information, introductions and relationships about these special friends. These sheets are then printed up and placed on guest tables.

Working with your videographer, request he/she get video testimonials from your guests. These words of wisdom can be fun and creates a cherished memory captured on tape.

Party Punch Recipes

Use our punch recipes to make your get-togethers extra special.

These five punch recipes have been provided and rated by the Wedding Expressions staff as being our favorites for taste. You will want to take in to consideration the punch contents if your guests have certain food allergies.

Give these recipes a try, make smaller portions by cutting the amounts in half. Invite your friends over to help make them, and try them all to see which ones you like best.

Color the punch using different flavors or a few drops of food colorings.

* Please Note: some of these punch recipes will not work with “Fountain” punch bowls as they contain fruit and pulp that may clog and/or damage a pump motor.

Mix well, and have fun!

Kool-Aid Punch

Makes 4 Gallons:

24 oz. can of Kool-Aid Powder (tropical punch, cherry or grape, will determine color of punch)
2 cans 32 oz. pineapple juice
2 cans 12 oz. frozen lemonade concentrate
9 quarts of water
2 2-liter bottles of ginger ale (add just before serving)

Mix all contents except ginger ale in a 5 gallon pale with lid. Chill for 10-12 hours. Add ginger ale before serving and mix.

Cranberry Cocktail

Makes 2 gallons:

1/2 gallon cranberry cocktail
1 large package Jell-O (mixed fruit or raspberry) dissolved in 1 qt. hot water
1 32 oz. can pineapple juice
1 can 12 oz. frozen lemonade concentrate
2 quarts water
1 2-liter bottle ginger ale (add just before serving)

Mix all contents except ginger ale in a 5 gallon pale with lid. Chill for 10-12 hours. Add ginger ale before serving and mix.

Pineapple Jell-O Punch

Makes 3 gallons:

3 large packages of peach Jell-O dissolved in 2-qt. hot water
2 32 oz. cans pineapple juice
2 cans 12 oz. frozen lemonade concentrate
3 quarts of water
1 2-liter bottle ginger ale (add just before serving)

Mix all contents except ginger ale in a 5 gallon pale with lid. Chill for 10-12 hours. Add ginger ale before serving and mix.

Sparkling Punch with Fruit Ring

Yields 24 servings:

2 cups crushed ice
4 cups seedless green grapes
4-6 small orange slices
1 cup fresh or frozen whole cranberries
3 – 32oz. bottles cranberry juice cocktail, chilled
2 bottles non-alcoholic white sparkling grape juice, chilled

In a 6-cup ring mold place crushed ice, fruit and enough cranberry juice to cover. Freeze ring mold overnight.

To serve, place ring mold in warm water to loosen. Carefully un-mold and place ring in punch bowl. Add remaining cranberry juice and bottles of sparkling grape juice.

Fresh & Fruity Punch

Yields 36 1/2 cup servings:

2 (1 liter) bottles sparkling grape wine (non-alcoholic can be used)
2 (1-liter) bottles club soda
6-8 cups raspberries and/or strawberry slices
1 cup fresh or frozen cranberries chilled and sliced
2 12oz. cans of frozen Orange/Peach fruit juice

In a large punch bowl, stir together frozen punch, fruit, club soda and sparkling grape juice. You can garnish by placing fruit also on top of the punch.

*Pineapple or any favorite juice combinations can be substituted for the orange/peach frozen juice.

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