Your Wedding Reception Etiquette Questions, Answered
Set the scene for a snag-free celebration following your "I do"s. The transition from ceremony to reception can be daunting, but we know just how to throw the party of a lifetime. Find out how to seat your guests, get toasting tips, and learn food and drink etiquette. Here's what you asked us about wedding reception rules.
We don't drink wine but would like to serve one white and one red at our reception. Which varieties are affordable and pleasing to a crowd?
No matter the time of year or location, you can serve a Pinot Grigio from Italy or a California Chardonnay as your white, plus a Napa Merlot as your red, says Liz Barrett of Terlato Wines. All are palate pleasers and taste delicious with dishes from salmon to rib eye. Because white tends to be a fan favorite, plan on serving a 60–40 ratio of white to red. If you can foot the tab, also offer a sparkling wine, like Prosecco. "It's fun to serve at a wedding without the investment that Champagne requires," she says. And remember this guideline: "The day is about celebrating with friends and family; doing that with bottles priced at $10 to $20 each is just fine."
How can we ask guests not to publish any pictures of our wedding on social-media sites?
It’s completely reasonable to ask guests to respect your privacy. Try including a separate card with the invitation suite requesting that wedding-goers refrain from posting images from your day anywhere online. You could also have loved ones send you their images, which you can then (selectively) upload to a password-protected photo album. You might also add a note to the program to remind forgetful guests. And, a bit of humor goes a long way. Joke that you're not Luddites; you'd just prefer to keep this one offline.
How long is too long between the ceremony and reception? The latest our church will marry us is 1:30 P.M., and we'd like dinner and dancing to start at 6.
This common conundrum can leave guests, particularly out-of-towners, wondering how to spend the hours in between "I do" and "Let’s party." In a perfect world, the ceremony would move right into the cocktail hour, then on to dinner and dancing. Kicking off the festivities earlier to follow that schedule is one option (and a smart one, wallet-wise; lunch parties are often more affordable than evening celebrations). But if your hearts are set on nighttime revelry, there are ways to deal with the time gap. "If your finances allow, arrange for a trolley tour of the city," suggests special projects editor Anthony Luscia. Or, let guests choose their own adventures by slipping cards with a list of local attractions and a map into invites or programs. When most attendees are old friends who will want to hang out, designate a lounge or café near the venue as a gathering spot, or ask a relative to open up her home and provide nibbles and drinks (soft ones, if you don't want people staggering into the party later). It almost doesn't matter what you propose as long as it's something. "Nobody likes being all dressed up with nowhere to go," Luscia says. "But you can keep guests happy simply by presenting them with options that turn the downtime into a good time."
How do I organize escort cards for guests with different last names?
The easiest solution is to provide a card for each guest. That would certainly eliminate any difficult decisions. However, this would mean you'd need almost twice the display space, which could pose a problem if your list is large.
A more space-saving option: use a single seating card for each twosome and follow the format you used when addressing your invitations. If the couple live together or are married, put the woman's name before the man's (and be sure to alphabetize by her last name). If an established couple does not share an address, however, each should get an individual card, just as they received their own invitation. If you sent an invitation with an "and Guest" notation, simply ask for the name of the person your friend is inviting before the wedding and make sure the date gets a separate seating card.
Is it okay to have open seating at the reception?
Open seating may seem as if it would be fun and spontaneous, but guests shouldn't have to feel like they're the new kid in the school cafeteria. You don't want them to be stranded, without somewhere welcoming to sit, or rushed into claiming territory.
That said, you needn't micromanage—only the most formal receptions require place cards at each setting, says Joyce Westin Dunne, a Chicago wedding planner. Assigning only tables and letting guests choose their chairs is perfectly acceptable.
Should you decide to forgo table assignments, remember that your guests will take longer to seat themselves. And you'll need to account for more settings than number of guests, since it's inevitable that there will be incomplete tables (for example, six guests seated at a table of eight).
Are we supposed to seat guests next to strangers or close friends?
The theory behind the conventional "don't cluster friends or relatives" wisdom is that guests will end up chatting with folks they might not otherwise meet—and could walk away with new pals. That said, most younger guests like to sit with their friends. As far as etiquette goes, the rule of the day is to make your guests as comfortable as possible. To that end, consider mixing up the older attendees and keeping the young partygoers together. At tables where you do seat strangers next to one another, try to pair people who have similar interests, as you would at a dinner party.
What kind of seating do I need for a cocktail-style reception?
To encourage mingling, cocktail parties should have fewer seats than there are guests. Provide chairs for approximately 50 percent of your total guest count. Start with a mix of tall and short tables. They won't have full place settings, so don't make them too large. Place the taller tables next to architectural elements (like columns) to anchor them, and set the short ones by the dance floor, so wallflowers will feel like part of the action. Then create some areas for lounging with couches and ottomans. Include a few eight-seater tables for the older folks and bridal party. Set up food stations or activities, like a photo booth, along the room's perimeter.
My venue has deer heads hanging on the walls. I hate them, but management won't let us remove them. Do you have any creative ideas for covering up taxidermy?
It's true that not everyone loves animal trophies, but we're hard-pressed to find anyone on staff who advocates hiding them. You could ask the venue if you can construct faux walls in front to obscure them, but that's going to be tricky and expensive. Instead, try consulting a lighting designer—they're genius when it comes to utilizing spotlights to camouflage what you don't want to see and showcase what you do, and it's a lot easier to enhance a venue's charms than it is to give it a total makeover. "Create a point of interest, whether it's an elaborate dessert table or a big central floral arrangement on your escort-card table," says assistant stylist Erin Furey. "Spotlight it, and that's what people will remember."
Who does the toasting and when do we raise our glasses?
You only raise your glass to other people, and most of the toasts will be to you. For the time being, your job as the newlyweds is to simply smile and say, "Thank you." In the first speech of the night, the host (traditionally the father of the bride) welcomes his guests. He can also toast the happy couple, but generally it's the best man who delivers the first toast to them. Sometimes the best man cheers just the bride; the groom would certainly drink to that! A toast by the maid of honor might follow. Then comes an often-overlooked tradition: The groom toasts his bride.
How much direction should you offer to those giving toasts, and what's the appropriate time limit?
The quick answer to both questions? Very little. Those who speak are the people you love and trust most. If one of them is nervous or long-winded, make a gentle suggestion like, "We'd love for you to tell the story of the day we met." Let them know the schedule and time guidelines beforehand. Toasts work well between courses. And like so many things, the best ones are short and sweet. Three to four minutes is ideal.
Can I vet my father's toast before the reception?
While it's not customary for the bride to preview the speeches, if you feel comfortable enough with your dad to make that request, go for it. He might say no, though. And if he does, you must allow him to exercise his First Amendment right. You may want to alert your mother to your concerns, so she can intervene should his plans seem inappropriate. Whatever the outcome, remember one thing: You are known and loved among the family and friends who will be in attendance (many of whom are acquainted with your father as well); anything cringe-worthy will likely be brushed aside or even chuckled over.
We don't plan on having dancing. How else can we liven up our reception?
Get creative and keep these four words in mind: movement, change, surprise, and activity. Try to use different spaces for different parts of the party. When guests move from cocktails on the terrace to a sit-down dinner to an espresso bar on the edge of the room, they'll feel they're having a rich experience. Inviting lounge areas with large, inclusive groupings of seats will also encourage guests to mingle. Other interactive activities to try are photo booths, build-your-own dessert tables, and even games set up in another room.