With over a decade of experience in the wedding industry, I’ve attended a ton of receptions. Some as my couple’s selected MC & DJ, others as a photo booth host, or as a part of the A/V crew. I’ve seen – and heard! – the good, the bad, and the ugly.
And over time, I’ve realized that every “fun” wedding reception I’ve ever been apart of shares these ten simple commonalities. When followed, they lead to receptions where no one leaves until the house lights come on; and the memories your family and friends leave with will be talked about for years to come.
Here are my top tips for creating a really fun wedding reception experience:
1) Don’t Micromanage Your Reception’s Timeline
In reality, only three times matter at a wedding: the ceremony’s scheduled start time, what time dinner will be served, and when the reception ends. By not scheduling formalities to exact times, everything in between will flow smoothly and naturally, when handled by a competent professional.
2) The Floor Plan Matters
If you truly desire a fun dance party, please don’t place your DJ in an obscure location or in the corner of the room. In order to get a good feel of the crowd, the DJ needs to be easily visible and near the dance floor. The following is an optimal floor plan I would recommend for my most wedding receptions:
Slight variations are okay, but for the most part, keep the focus towards the center of the room for the majority of the night.
3) Be Mindful Of Who Is Sitting Where
Talk with your DJ about where speakers will be placed, and be mindful that only younger guests sit near or in front of them. Older guests are typically more sensitive to volume changes and bass frequencies, therefore they should sit in a location where the audio is still clear, but won’t affect their enjoyment of the evening.
4) Don’t Give Guests A Reason To Congregate Elsewhere
If guests are not on the dance floor, they often are hanging out at the bar or over by the photo booth. Keep these elements in the main room, as they provide a short path to the dance floor when someone’s jam comes on. Furthermore, if placed outside of the main room, it can make your party look “dead” and give some guests the impression that it is time to depart – well before they should.
5) Leave Them Wanting More
Here’s the secret that every headlining performer knows: end just before the audience knows they are ready to go home. Why? Because the next morning, concertgoers won’t stop talking about how much fun they had and how they wish that performer would have kept on playing. That’s the perception of the show, and it matters.
So, how does this apply for your wedding reception? Most wedding receptions usually go one hour too long. Often times I see a large percentage of guests leaving 30-45 minutes before the scheduled end time of the reception as they are worn out from the course of the evening. This means that had the reception been one hour shorter, they would have been there for the Last Dance and Grand Send Off. Furthermore, their perception is “I had a really nice time, thank you for inviting me” when it could have been “It was the most fun I’ve ever had a wedding, ever! I wish it never ended!”
Allow ALL of your guests to experience the wedding reception you’ve planned in its entirety: from Grand Entrance to Grand Send Off. Then, for those that want to keep celebrating late into the night with you, they can come back in to the ballroom for the after-party or head to the next location where the party continues.
6) Don’t “Handcuff” Your DJ With Your Song Requests
It is perfectly okay to request the songs that you really love, and a few that you don’t. But, if you hired a competent professional DJ, trust them to know how to program for the evening and put your crowd into an absolute frenzy on the dance floor.
Furthermore, do allow your guests to make song requests, as the right one can inspire some amazing moments on the dance floor. However, not all song requests are equal – so allow your DJ to use discretion and have final judgment on when the song should be played, or if it should be played at all.
7) Dance Lights Up, House Lights Down
For some guests, the difference between getting on the dance floor and remaining seated at their table is the brightness of the room and the fear of “being watched”. House lights, such as sconces, chandeliers, cafe lighting, string lights, etc. should be dimmed as low as possible when the lighting for the dance floor turns on.
8) Someone Needs To Orchestrate The Reception
A well-organized, insanely fun wedding reception requires an event director that can make sure everything – and everyone! – is accounted for before the action begins. For most weddings, this role should bestowed upon on your Master of Ceremonies, who not only captains the wedding vendor team during the reception, but also coordinates with the applicable members of your wedding party with what’s next on the timeline.
With great responsibility comes great power: your guests will consistently look to the Master of Ceremonies as he/she guides them throughout the evening. Therefore, make sure you have selected a Master of Ceremonies who is capable of maintaining complete control of the presentation and production of your wedding reception.
9) Make It Magical, Not Cheesy & Contrived
Make sure the timeline for your reception is well-thought out and makes logical sense. You don’t need to do a formality for the sake of doing a formality, or because that’s the way you have always seen it done. Envision your reception through the perspective of your guests and how they see it presented to them. Seek the advice of an experienced professional who can give you some insight on the order of your formalities and if they flow smoothly and naturally together.
Want to create magical moments that will become unforgettable memories? Focus on the presentation and desired result of each formality – the how, where and why – more so than the what and when.
10) Always Remember: The Ceremony Is About You, But The Reception Is About Your Guests
All of your invited guests are investing their time, money, and energy to be a part of your special day. Show them your appreciation by designing a party that will be worth their effort and expense. A great party involves only a few simple elements done extremely well: food, drinks, entertainment, and purpose (that’s celebrating you tying the knot!). If your budget dictates having to cut corners somewhere, don’t skimp on the food, drinks or entertainment – as these three elements will truly make or break the celebration for your guests.