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A Wedding Reception Guide: Top Tips, Trends, and Traditions

Updated: May 16

 

The Ultimate Guide for Your Dream Wedding Reception

Welcome to our blog! We are Paper Birch Collective, your friendly neighborhood team of award-winning photographers and videographers. Today we will go over some tips, tricks, and inspiration for your Wedding Reception. We will go over wedding reception planning tips, decor ideas, fun party activities, common guest complaints, an example timeline for reference, time saving advice, kid-friendly ideas, and inspiration for your grand exit strategy.


You are about to embark on a beautiful journey—the celebration of your love and commitment. As a professional wedding photography and videography team, we have witnessed countless of magical wedding moments, and we are thrilled to share our insights with you. Whether you are planning an intimate gathering or a grand affair, this blog guide can help you create Wedding Reception memories that will last a lifetime! Let's make some memories!

Wedding Reception photo at the 1909 taken by Paper Birch Collective, California Wedding Photographer in Orange County

Top 10 Wedding Reception Planning Tips

1. Start Early & Tackle Big Tasks First

Begin planning your reception well in advance. Consider the season, the venue, and the guest list. Book the venue, hire a caterer, and decide on basic decor. Booking your vendors early helps ensure availability and can give peace of mind.


2. Personalize Your Space

Infuse your personality into your Wedding Reception decor. From custom signage to unique centerpieces, make your reception space reflect your unique love story. Our favorite is when couples implement the Engagement photos we take for them! We have seen couples use their favorite photos as signage, table centerpieces, cake toppers, and more! *Your Engagement photos can also make for beautiful home decor.


3. Create a Timeline

Having a timeline for your Wedding day will help keep your ceremony, reception, and everything in between in a timely fashion. Your Wedding will go by extremely quick, which is why it is important to have an outline/timeline of your day. This will ensure all your important wedding moments happen accordingly. Not to mention, having a timeline helps put all the vendors on the same page - such as when to expect what deliveries (example: cake, flowers, rentals, etc).

✨ For More: Read How to Create Your Wedding Reception Timeline by The Knot

Socal Beach Wedding Reception sweethearts table photo at Occasions in Laguna Beach taken by Paper Birch Collective, California Wedding Photographer in Orange County

4. Always Have a Plan B (or Plan C)

You can almost always count on something going wrong or something unexpected happening on your Wedding day. It is inevitable! But, having a plan B (and C, if possible), will be your lifesaver. Especially with an outdoor reception, you cannot always guarantee perfect weather conditions, so it could be a good idea to reserve a tent or make sure your location as an indoor alternative.


5. Hire a Professional DJ

A professional DJ has an incredible impact on the mood and tone of your reception. A great DJ will get everyone off their seats and onto the dance floor as well as play all your requested songs and more. Check out 5D Entertainment if you are looking for a highly trained DJ ready to spin all different types of genres. They are guaranteed party-rock hosts ready to entertain you and your guests all night long!

Check out our TOP Orange County Wedding DJ Below!


6. Separate Cocktail Area

If it is possible, having a separate area for your cocktail hour will allow the reception space to be closed off, which helps to create a sense of drama and excitement. This means you and your partner can view and take in your reception hall together, alone, before your guests join you. Having intimate time with your partner in your empty reception hall is a great time to bond and relax before your party begins. Not to mention, it will also allow you to capture great photos of you and your partner with your reception space.

Socal Wedding Reception bride and groom alone on dance floor photo at The Villa taken by Paper Birch Collective, California Wedding Photographer in Orange County

7. Plan Out Portrait Time

Be sure to plan out when you would like to take your wedding party portraits, family portraits, and newly wed romantics. Make sure you set aside enough time for all your desired photos and videos without rushing. Do you want to do this while your guests enjoy cocktail hour? Or would you rather spend cocktail hour mingling with your friends and family? It is your choice - just be sure to plan this ahead of time to avoid any last minute complications.


8. Have Entertainment

Interactive activities and entertainment is a wonderful way for guests to make memories, especially when dancing gets tiring. We love a classic photobooth because they're fun to pose for and the prints make for awesome wedding souvenirs! Some other fun ideas include a Polaroid guestbook station, a cigar roller, a tattoo artist, a live painter, and much more.

Learn More About Our Photobooth


9. Simplify Your Bar

An open bar always sounds like a fun idea, but there is really no need to have a full selection of liquor at your wedding. We suggest sticking to the basics: beer, a red and white wine, a sparkling wine, a nonalcoholic drink, and a signature cocktail from each of the newly weds. Having a signature drink of the Bride and Groom's favorite cocktail is a fun and personal unique touch to spice up your wedding reception. If you want to go all out with your signature cocktails, check out these awesome interactive drink stations below! (photos from Pinterest)


10. Help Your Helpers

Your hospitality should not end at your guest list, but also extend to your team of vendors and helpers that help make your reception happen. This includes your photography/videography team, waiters, musicians, DJ, and any other worker at your reception. It is important to make sure they have enough water and breaks when needed. Most importantly, please include a meal for your vendors (it does not need to be the same as the guest meal, as long as it is nourishing). Keeping your helpers well fed could really go a long way in making your wedding reception run smoothly.



5 Wedding Reception Decor Ideas & Inspiration

1. Floral Magic

Elevate your decor with lush blooms. From cakes to table arrangements, flowers can add beautiful romance and elegance to your Wedding Reception.


2. Lighting

When the sun goes down, this is when lighting can make or break the mood. Candles create a warm and intimate atmosphere, perfect for a romantic Wedding Reception. Amber colored string lights can also set the mood with its twinkling warmth. You should also consider incorporating candles and/or string lights into your table settings or other reception decor.

Wedding Reception photo taken by Paper Birch Collective, California Wedding Photographer in Orange County

3. Spice Up Your Entrance

Elegant and unique entrances can serve as a visual welcome and help ensure everyone's first look at the party is a grand one. Some ideas you can use include signage, photos, flowers, greenery, candles, lanterns, etc to decorate your entrance area. We love it when couples use their Engagement session photos as decor for their signage and entrance details! PRO TIP: Decor from your ceremony can make for a beautiful touch to your reception entrance, plus its a wonderful way to reuse your materials.

Wedding Reception photo of cool newspaper entrance taken by Paper Birch Collective, California Wedding Photographer in Orange County

4. Have Fun with Little Details

Use little details to incorporate you and your partner's interests. Some lovely ideas you can have fun with include: customized cake cutting knife, toasting flutes, or monogrammed napkins.

Wedding Reception photo of custom cake cutter knife taken by Paper Birch Collective, California Wedding Photographer in Orange County

5. Interactive + Unique Guestbook

You can go with a classic Polaroid guestbook where your guests can take their own photos, then add a little message. Other great ideas we love include an audio guestbook, where your loved ones can pick up a phone and leave a heart felt message to hear later and cherish forever. There is also a video guestbook, which is super fun because you can enjoy a video of your loved ones giving a kind message and you'll be able to see all their joyful emotions on your special day.



4 Fun Wedding Reception Activities

Whether you want your loved ones to make lifelong memories at reception or are looking for ways to entertain your guests, this list of party activities will be perfect for you! From capturing silly photos to fun games - everyone can join in on the fun.

1. Photo Booth Fun

Guests of all ages always enjoy posing with fun props at a photobooth! This is a wonderful way for your loved ones to interact as well as capture memories. Not to mention, you will get to have a print of your photos (and even an online gallery) to forever remember the special occasion.



2. Bride & Groom Games

Games with the newly weds are a great way to entertain your guests and have fun with your new husband or wife. The shoe game is an easy to set up game and suitable for all ages. Your DJ or a wedding party member can read the shoe game questions out loud for the reception group to hear, then, the couple raises the shoe of the person whom the answer to the question best represents. If you want to get your loved ones more involved in this fun wedding game, you can ask them to submit questions into a box before the start of the game. If you want to have questions already prepared, here are some questions to consider:

  • Who made the first move for a kiss?

  • Who is most likely to fall asleep during a movie?

  • Who is more organized?

  • Who said "I love you" first?

  • Who is the pickier eater?

  • Who's more of a daredevil?


✨ Check out more: 72 of the Best Wedding Shoe Game Questions from The Knot


2. Trivia with the Guests

An interactive game your guests will love will be a trivia about you, the newly weds! You can create a list of trivia questions about the you and your partner for your guests to answer. Ask the DJ or a wedding party member to host the game, then the person with the most correct answers wins. Here is a list of questions you can ask guests about the newly weds:

  • How did the couple meet?

  • Who made the first move?

  • What is their favorite song as a couple?

  • How long have they know each other?

  • Where are they going for their honeymoon?


3. Musical Chairs

You can play this the classic way by having your DJ play and pause the music. Last person standing without a chair is eliminated until there is one person left. If you want to put a fun twist on this game, make this a musical chairs scavenger hunt! Instead of your loved ones walking around during the song, an item will be said and the last person to bring that item back to their chair loses. This item of course shouldn't be their own. Our tip is to ask these items in order from easy to hard, or most available to least available. Some item examples can be: car keys, wallet, a watch, money, etc. Want more information and details on musical chairs scavenger hunt? Read this guide by The Game Master below!



4. Bride & Groom Games

Games with the newly weds are a great way to entertain your guests and have fun with your new husband or wife. The shoe game is an easy to set up game and suitable for all ages. Your DJ or a wedding party member can read the shoe game questions out loud for the reception group to hear, then, the couple raises the shoe of the person whom the answer to the question best represents. If you want to get your loved ones more involved in this fun wedding game, you can ask them to submit questions into a box before the start of the game. If you want to have questions already prepared, here are some questions to consider:

  • Who made the first move for a kiss?

  • Who is most likely to fall asleep during a movie?

  • Who is more organized?

  • Who said "I love you" first?

  • Who is the pickier eater?

  • Who's more of a daredevil?



6 Common Wedding Guest Complaints

1. Long Waits

Keep guests entertained during transitions. You can do this by offering appetizers, music, or interactive displays. Some interactive displays include a museum of your love story or a Polaroid instant photo guest book where your loved ones can also write a nice message to you.


2. Uncomfortable Seating

Ensure chairs are nicely cushioned and well-spaced. No one wants to feel squished or squirmy throughout speeches.


3. Music was TOO Loud

Mind the volume. Avoid this complaint by keeping tables/chairs away from the speakers as well as have older guests sit further away from the speakers. You can also provide some earbuds to protect guests with sensitive ears, especially children.


4. Speeches and Toasts Take Too long

Remind your speakers to keep their toasts about 2-5 minutes long. If time is extra crunched, you can even have someone time the speeches and give a signal to the speaker when they reach a certain time (just like in school).


5. Centerpiece Blocked Views

While centerpieces can be bold and beautiful to look at visually, you should also ensure they do not block any views for your guests. Extremely large centerpieces on the table can block your guests from seeing each other as well as block their views of the first dance and speeches.


6. The Newly Weds Did Not Greet Me

It is important you make your rounds to ALL of your guests at the reception. It is easy to get swept away in all the joy and commotion, but it is essential to show your love and appreciation to those that came to celebrate this important occasion for you. A quick greeting, a thank you, or even a compliment will go such a long way!



A Wedding Reception Timeline Example

Here is a sample wedding reception timeline, use this as an outline and customize to your liking.

  • 6:00 PM: Guests arrive, cocktail hour, small bites, light music

  • 7:00 PM: Grand Entrance, first dance

  • 7:30 PM: Dinner and mingling

  • 8:30 PM: Toasts, cake cutting, games, bouquet/garter toss

  • 9:30 PM: Dance party!



5 Wedding Reception Tips + Time Savers

1. Buffet vs. Plated Meals

Buffets allow for more flexibility, while plated meals ensure consistency. Buffets are always faster than plated meals, especially a double-sided buffet. Choose whatever suits your style.


2. Keep the Toasts Short

Remind your speakers to keep their toasts about 2-5 minutes long. If time is extra crunched, you can even have someone time the speeches and give a signal to the speaker when they reach a certain time (just like in school).


3. Delegate Responsibilities

A Wedding Coordinator will be a lifesaver when it comes to delegating responsibilities and any last minute issues or details. If you don't have one, you can always assign tasks to trusted friends or family members. They can help make sure everything runs smoothly and keep you on time so that you can experience everything on your wedding reception list. You don’t need to do it all by yourself!


4. Plan Your Group Photos

The best way to ensure you get all the group photos you desire is the write a list. Make a list of your "must haves" as well as a "wish list" and even a "do not" photograph list if needed. Planning and communicating what you want before hand can save you a great amount of time and stress at your reception. Some couples like to go with entrance photos because that ensures every guest gets to greet and take a photo with the newly weds. Guests also love having their photo with the bride and groom printed to take home as well, the perfect wedding for everyone!


5. Always on the Move

When you and your partner greet your guests from table to table, be sure not to linger at any one table too long. Keep your interactions brief because greeting all the tables can take more time than you may expect. You must keep moving to ensure you are able to thank all your guests.




Kid-Friendly Wedding Reception Tips

1. Kids' Corner

If you plan to have kiddos at your wedding, be sure to set up an area kids can hang out. The kids' corner can be stocked with coloring books, games, and snacks to keep little ones entertained while letting the parents enjoy the party. Both the kids and parents will enjoy this!


2. Kid-Friendly Menu

You should also consider offering kid-friendly food and drink options alongside the main menu. Finger foods are some great dishes that are kid-friendly. This can also be a fun time to offer a signature "kids" drink, such as a shirley temple. The kids will love it!


Wedding ring security kids photo taken by Paper Birch Collective, California Wedding Photographer in Orange County


4 Grand Exit Ideas for Your Reception

Depart from your Wedding Reception with style. Be sure to consult with your site manager beforehand to see what is permitted at your venue. Here is a list of fun and stylish ways to exit the party (or ceremony).


1. Glowing

Bid farewell with a glowing send-off. Your guests can hold sparklers or wave around glow sticks as you make your grand exit.


2. Bubbles

Pay homage to your childhood as you mark this make your grand exit with bubbles everywhere. This is such a fun and cute way to exit. Guests can have fun blowing bubbles at you and you can even have bubble guns for the ultimate grand bubble exit. PRO TIP: Kids will love using the bubble gun!


3. Vintage Car

Arrive in style and depart in a vintage car—a cool and elegant touch.


4. Confetti

Whether you want to use confetti to make a grand entrance or unforgettable exit, this is always an epic way to celebrate your love. Who doesn't love a huge explosion of confetti?! It definitely makes for an awesome wedding memories along with wonderful photos and videos to remember it all!


✨ For More: Check out 35 Unforgettable and Unique Wedding Send-Off Ideas from Brides



Thanks for Reading 🤍

Thanks so much for reading our blog. We hope our tips and tricks are helpful and we hope you have the Wedding Reception of your dreams! Remember, your Wedding is a celebration of your special love, laughter, and shared moments. Cherish every second and let us capture the magic of your memories. For more inspiration and tips, check out these awesome reliable resources that we love:


✨ Wedding Wire | https://www.weddingwire.com/

✨ Style Me Pretty | https://www.stylemepretty.com/

✨ Martha Weddings | https://www.marthastewart.com/


Let's Make Some Memories!

To make your wedding planning easy, we offer a couple simple packages. Our packages come with unlimited photos during your event with no upcharge for any delivered images. All our images will be edited to reflect how your big day truly felt. Each package can be customized to your liking including more hours or a second shooter. If you are looking for an elopement package, we have that too! For any specific questions or requests, feel free to reach out and contact us and we will get back to you as soon as humanly possible! Let’s make some memories!


~ Your friendly neighborhood photographer and videographer team (PBC)


 

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