The time has come to plan the party portion of your big day, otherwise known as the fun part! Same as with the ceremony, you need to find a venue first that is available on your date (again, this is assuming you are having separate venues). If at all possible, you should visit venues in person and get a tour to see how big the space is and what you’ll be working with in terms of table set up and decorations. You should have your venue booked at least 4-5 months in advance. Here are some questions you need to ask:
What is the room capacity?
Are we allowed to bring in a caterer and/or our own food?
Do you have any requirements concerning decorations such as candles, tacks and pushpins, or adhesives?
Will we be able to set up and decorate the day before the event?
Where are (or are there) cleaning supplies we can use?
Where is the best place to put the DJ? (Look for at least two outlets that can be dedicated entirely to the DJ. A room corner usually works best)
Do you have tables, chairs, and linens?
Keep in mind that you should have a decent gap between the end of your ceremony and the beginning of your reception to allow for pictures (unless you take your pictures before the ceremony. This ruins the whole “groom can’t see the bride before the wedding” but some people do it. I myself was completely against it, even though some wanted us to do it that way). I planned our day with a 2 hour window between for pictures, and we did pretty good sticking to that. We were only 15 minutes late to our reception, and nobody even noticed.
Once you have your venue, seek out a caterer or decide on your foods. We went against all “wedding etiquette” I had found and we had a potluck reception. Small town folks love potluck get-togethers, and for weddings everyone makes their best dishes. You can’t go wrong with that. I asked guests to bring their best finger food to share and our families provided punch, plates, utensils, and napkins. (And of course dessert was also provided – the cake. Duh!) Both of our mothers made a few dishes too. We had so much good food! And it saved us so much money. Caterers can cost thousands of dollars, and in my experience the food is not always that great. You must check with your venue to see if you can host a potluck or even bring in your own caterer. One venue I went to said I had to have a professional food caterer and couldn’t bring in any outside food except the cake. Another venue I spoke to told me I had to use their catering service.
You should book a DJ no less than 1-2 months before your wedding. Most DJ’s don’t fill up for events that early, so this should be a safe time frame. Some people are bound to tell you that a DJ is just an added expense and you’d be just fine playing music off your iPod. No. They have obviously never planned a wedding reception. A DJ does more for you than just hit play on a fancy device. Your DJ should be able to introduce the wedding party, announce reception events when they are going to happen, and keep music flowing seamlessly. They enable you to enjoy your party without having to play host. Ask around to find out if there are DJ’s in your area that people you know recommend, or that have good reviews.
We were incredibly blessed with our DJ, Marc. He wanted to be there a half hour early to set up and be able to play music while guests were arriving, and bought music that we wanted played that neither of us had. Marc met with us on our time schedule two separate times to go over the location, playlists, the reception events, names of the wedding party members, and all the other details. He brought in a few lights, his own table, and all of his equipment. I sat down and made a general playlist for him, and also made him a playlist on my iPad of songs that we already owned that he didn’t need to buy. We paid him $500 for 4 hours of work, and I know he could have charged a lot more. He didn’t charge us extra for arriving a half an hour early or for the music he downloaded.
In addition to having a playlist, you will need to have a typed up copy of your reception flow of events. The events include the introduction of the wedding party, first dance, father-daughter dance, mother-son dance, bouquet and garter toss, and cutting the cake. I have posted our events timeline here for you to use if you’d like.
Lastly, decorations. You should begin buying and collecting your decorations at the beginning of your engagement to help save money and to avoid the “cost shock” of dishing a large amount of money at one time. Here you can find some decoration ideas and a little bit of advice. I hope this helps you sort out your reception. I’m sure the stress is beginning to build if it hasn’t already. Just remember to take a deep breath, pray for patience and strength, and maybe take a day or two off from planning. It could do you a world of good!
“So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.” (1 Corinthians 10:31 ESV)