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Recption Tips

So, what are the essential ingredients when you are cooking up a hot wedding reception? Read on to find what you'll need:

Cocktail Hour. Most receptions kick off with a cocktail hour. While you and your bridal party are click-clicking away with the photographer, your guests will be chatting it up over vodka gimlets and merlot in a more informal area separate from your dining room. If you're not into the martini thing, don't worry. Cocktail hours are by no means required, but you need a small area with a few scattered tables and chairs for your guests to mingle and for seniors to sit.

Don't let your cocktail hour slip to much more than just that, an hour. You don't want your guests to drink too much; it's more expensive and they'll get drunk and disorderly at your fabulous reception.

Dining Room. If you're not planning a sit-down dinner, you won't need those rows and rows of banquet tables. But you'll still need a large and sumptuously decorated room for your guests. Even if you are keeping your reception short, make sure you have plenty of chairs for the older crowd. And check with your caterer to find out how much room they'll need for their bar and food stations.

Catering Stations. We've all laughed at stories of temperamental French chefs (or at anyone called Anatole), but your caterer won't think it's very funny if you plan the layout of your dining room without checking with him or her first. They'll need room for food and bar stations, or for served dinners, and they'll want input on how far apart tables should be spaced so their staff will have room to maneuver.

Kitchen/Prep Area. What's a dining room without the food? Your location might have a kitchen, but you still need to check with your caterer to make sure it's adequate. If not, you'll have to allocate a place for your caterer to set up his or her own cooking space. Make sure it's close enough to your dining room that your wait staff won't have to run a marathon, but far enough away so that the banging of pots and pans isn't an unexpected accompaniment to your first dance.

Bandstand/DJ Booth. It's so strange. Mention a night of dancing to most men, and they'll squirm, squeal and fake heart attacks to get out of it. But for some reason, weddings are the big exception. Make the most of this natural phenomenon with a hopping band or DJ. And be sure to give them a good spot with plenty of room so they can really cut loose.

Dance Floor. Whether you go daringly diva with sultry tangos, or chicly classic with Benny Goodman, we bet there will be a million magic moments on your dance floor. Make sure that the dance floor you request is big enough, and give it prime real estate at your reception. When you see your flower girl teaching your grandmother the YMCA, it will all be worth it.

Bathrooms. From the sublime to the mundane, you're thinking, but trust us, having adequate bathrooms is really important. Make sure your location has decent facilities, or bring in portable restrooms. You don't need to cringe at the thought of those ugly aqua construction site eyesores spoiling the look of your reception. You can now rent full trailers with gleaming steal or stone countertops. Ask your florist for small arrangements for the bathrooms, and prepare a little kit with a needle and thread, safety pins, feminine supplies and mints for your guests.

Tents. If you're planning an outdoor wedding, make sure you organize a shady area for your guests. You may need to order a tent (especially if you are worried about the weather). Make sure your location has enough room to set up a tent, and talk to your rental company about what size will work for your guest count.

Parking. Organizing valet parking or shuttles for your guests and vendors is an absolute must. If you are holding your wedding in a remote locale, make sure that there are access roads and careful directions for your guests.

Make sure you have enough valet attendants, and if needed, enough traffic directors and runners. You don't want your guests to be on a high from your fabulous wedding, then have to wait 45 minutes for their car and have the sweet memory ruined!

Power. You might think your love is bright enough to light up the world, but face facts: If you are holding a wedding at a public building with a limited power supply or somewhere in nature, you're going to need a generator. Rent one.

Do It Yourself (At-Home Wedding)

If you've heard that an at-home wedding is a sneaky way to throw a fantasy wedding on a real-life budget, stop right there. Weddings with hundreds of guests nibbling on caviar and milling through majestic tents in your parents' garden are certainly lovely, but they're not cheap. When you factor in all the rentals, down to the generator and portable restrooms, you're better off choosing a hotel reception package. But if you've got something more intimate in mind, say a delightful tea for twenty or a cozy candle-lit dinner, an at-home wedding might be the perfect prescription for all your budget woes. Read on for some tips on at-home weddings.

The Guest List. Half the charm of an at-home wedding is the personal atmosphere. So be strict with your guest list and really limit yourself to inviting only close friends and family. Once your guest list starts expanding, not only will you lose the intimate charm of an at-home wedding, but your costs will start to skyrocket.

Grandma's China. What could be lovelier than serving your guests on your grandmother's delicate Wedgwood china, which she received for her wedding some 50 years earlier? In addition to making your grandmother beam with pride, you'll save on expensive rentals.

The Frugal Gourmet. Because you're having a small affair, you may be tempted to do your own cooking. Instead, we suggest having a close friend take over for you. On your wedding morning, you should be teary with joy, and not because you've been busy chopping onions.

Darling Décor. Getting married in the house where you grew up or in your grandmother's gracious garden is such a joy because you are surrounded by all the memories of your childhood. So don't go overboard on the décor -- funky lighting or huge lace swags may mask the natural charm of your location.

Flower Power. Love the look of lush flowers, but hate the price tag? Don't despair -- you can have bowers and bowers of blooms at a very reasonable price, if you're willing to do a bit of work. Ask around, and find out where your florist does his or her shopping; most large cities have a downtown flower market, where the professionals buy their buds at just a fraction of the retail cost. Just remember, doing your own flowers can be overwhelming if you're having a large wedding.

If you're planning an at-home wedding, don't feel that you have to limit yourself to your own shoebox-sized apartment. Ask close friends or family members if you can use one of their houses for your big day. Most people are flattered to be asked, and their garden may just have the perfect spot to pitch your tent.

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