Complete your perfect day with a memorable reception.
With all the fun that you will have planning your wedding, perhaps the part most enjoyed by brides and grooms is planning the reception. Who doesn’t love a party? Especially one where they’ll eat, drink, dance and be merry with their family and friends, celebrating their marriage.
It can be daunting, but knowing your wedding style, the size of your guest list and the mood you want to create for your guests will help ensure you end up with the celebration of your dreams.
Here in the Lowcountry, you can throw an epic reception at one of the many four-star hotels, event halls, country clubs, plantation clubs, restaurants, or local venues like Honey Horn.
Here are some tips on planning the perfect party:
A Grand Reception
Choosing the reception site is one of the biggest steps in wedding planning, and the research should begin shortly after the engagement. Step one of many is determining the guest list, even if it’s just an estimate. This will allow you to target venues based on facility size. Here are a few other things to keep in mind:
- Make sure the venue is roomy enough for the all essentials — tables, chairs, stage, bar, etc. — while still providing plenty of elbow room for your guests.
- Try to visit the venue at the same time of day you’ve scheduled your reception and in the same month or season in order to get a first-hand natural experience.
- Determine what kind of setting you want — something outdoors, something by the water, something urban or a rustic locale.
- Check out everything at the venue: the hall itself, restrooms, dressing rooms, the foyer, acoustics, indoor and outdoor lighting, and parking.
- Be sure to also check the linens, tables and other items that might come with the rental to ensure that you are pleased with the offerings. In many cases, you may want to rent different chargers, plates, chairs, flatware or even furniture.
Not all reception facilities are equal. Is the venue full-service? Is it handicap-accessible, does it have any restrictions on music or liquor service, and does it offer security service, coat check, staff on site, and liability insurance? Are there overtime fees? Are there local ordinances on noise and event ending times? The staff at most Lowcountry venues will be able to guide you through this process. Be sure to ask questions and take notes.
When it comes to rental contract, be sure everything is in writing, from the time of the deposit and the payment of the final bill to the cancellation policy, details of all services performed, taxes and service charges. Also document all your conversations with the professionals you hire. Make a folder with your email correspondence and save everything.
Hotel Room Service
Some hotels offer discounted room rates when a certain number of rooms are reserved and filled by your party, while others charge regular room rates for guests but provide the bride and broom’s suite free. Either way, blocking rooms ensures that your guests have suitable accommodations.
Typically, rooms should be reserved for about 50 percent of the total number of out-of-town guests you invited. So for example, if there are 150 people on your guest list and 60 are out-of-towners, you should book 30 rooms. Most of these guests will spend two nights at the destination, and they’ll probably hope the hotel will offer an early check-in, be close to the reception site, have free Wi-Fi and serve a free breakfast. Post all the relevant information about the hotel on your wedding website.
When you call hotels for room rates, discounts, special requests and policies, expect to sign a contract to confirm reservations. This should be finalized about a month prior to the ceremony.
Recipes for Success
This exercise should be mouth-wateringly fun. Who doesn’t love planning a sit-down dinner with appetizer and entrée selections? Or maybe you’re going with a buffet, a handful of meal stations for custom-sliced prime rib and Italian antipastas, or a family-style meal with bowls and platters set on the table.
Having trouble deciding on the menu? Think about what you like to eat, as well as the favorite foods of your family and friends. Take advantage of local delicacies, like seafood fresh from Lowcountry waters and home-grown produce. Also think about the flow of the evening; you don’t want your main course to be ruined if the cocktail hour runs a half-hour later than planned because of photographs or a delayed start to the ceremony.
As social maven Martha Stewart says, the standard of today’s wedding menu is not yesterday’s of filet of beef with twice-baked potatoes. Now, anything goes, with selections coming from all over the globe — think Spanish tapas, Chinese dumplings and Italian-grilled panini for the cocktail hour. At dinner, try a small plate of artfully arranged salads or garlicky prawns for the appetizer, followed by the main course of filet mignon or poached salmon with a starch and veggies and a lemon tart for dessert.
A buffet dinner should be overwhelming in its variety: wild mushroom tartlets, miniature crab cakes, smoked salmon, bow tie pasta in a cream sauce, spinach dip with toasted pita triangles and Lowcountry roasted turkey.
The professional wedding planner can do as much or as little as you want her to do, given your budget and comfort zone. Wedding planners can take care of every detail from start to finish for a hefty fee, or they can hands off until the big day, when they can coordinate every step of the celebration. Ask plenty of questions as you discuss with them how much help you think you’ll need and what, exactly, you’d like them to do.
At the initial consultation, discuss your needs and wants, and ask about their expertise and experience. A full-service planner will manage your budget, vendor negotiations, venue details and wedding day logistics. A day-of coordinator will execute and manage all of the plans you’ve made, finalize details with all of the vendors you have chosen, work with the venue personnel, oversee setup of the ceremony and reception sites, make sure everyone in the wedding party is escorted in on time, and serve as the liaison between you and the rest of the world on your big day.
Excuse Me, Is This Seat Taken?
Unless you’re hosting a buffet, you’ll probably want to establish a seating chart. The focal point of the room is the bridal table, where the groom sits to the bride’s right next to the maid of honor and the best man sits to bride’s left. Other wedding party attendees also are seated at the bridal table, if room allows.
Seat both sets of parents near the bridal table, along with grandparents, siblings not in the party, the officiant and other close friends. The rest of the seating is the wild card; it makes sense to seat people next to those they know. Just be sure you don’t leave one person out of the mix, and don’t separate singles and couples.
Trends Now, Traditions Later?
There are traditions and there are trends. Some trends flash and fade, and some become tradition. Here’s what’s going on now:
- Mixing it up at the cocktail table like a premier mixologist would, down to the shape of the ice.
- Pairing the dessert sweets with coffee and espresso bars with a dash of Kahlúa, Tia Maria or Irish Mist.
- Handing out a handful of selfie sticks complete with cameras. Collect the cameras at the end of the night for a candid look at the festivities.
- Trying new flowers like sweet peas and garden roses in the bouquet.
- Giving your bridesmaids a little glitz and sparkly with glittery dresses, shoes or headpieces.
- Partying hard with cocktail parties that allow guest to mingle, big time.