Wedding Reception Q&As

Answers to your questions about toasting, timing, and traditional reception rites and rituals.

Q: We’re about to start our search for a reception site. Any advice on what we should look for?

A: Choosing a reception site is one of the most important wedding-planning decisions you will have to make. The right location will enable you to have the best party ever. The wrong location can cause unlimited problems.

First, establish a budget. Discuss with your fiancé the type of wedding you both envision. Will it be a large, formal affair or something small and intimate? Determine how much money you can afford to spend on the reception. (This will be considerable chunk of your overall budget so you may have to cut back on your guest list to keep costs manageable.) The sooner you can set your budget and decide the number of guests, the easier it will be to narrow down your choices.

The reception site should, first and foremost, suit your wedding style. Some couples want a grand, opulent ballroom, while others prefer a venue that’s cozier and more romantic. You may opt for a country setting or feel that a sophisticated city site, such as a loft or an art gallery, is more to your liking. Once you decide on the ambience, you’ll be able to narrow your choices considerably. 

Next, think about your priorities. For instance, if great food is important and you are having a relatively small wedding, consider a favorite restaurant where you know the menu is excellent. Or if music and dancing will set the tone for your reception, then a location with a spacious dance floor, good acoustics and plenty of room for a live band will suit your needs. Finally, if it's the ambience that's most important to the two of you, the setting is key. You will feel most comfortable at a site whose environment reflects your personal style, such as a historic mansion, a country inn or even a yacht.

Be sure to visit each reception site on your list, survey the space and ask to see examples of how the room will look if it's not already set up. (Better yet, try to visit a reception site during another wedding so you can really get an idea of what goes on.) There should be plenty of space for the tables and chairs, the bar and musicians. And your guests should have enough elbow room to easily mingle. Make sure the room is big enough for the number of guests you expect to attend, and that the dance floor is large enough and well situated. Is there decent space for the band or DJ, and are there enough electrical outlets? Does the kitchen look clean and well maintained, and is the staff friendly and helpful? Are there enough parking spaces for guests, and is there adequate air-conditioning or heating? Check out the restrooms too, and find out if another wedding is to be held at the same time on the premises (you may prefer more exclusivity.) Ask to see the venue’s insurance and health department certificates, to make sure they are up to date, and find out if the venue has insurance in case someone is injured on the premises. 

You’ll need to ask what the reception package includes, such as gratuities for the maître d’, wait staff and bartenders, a wedding cake or basic decorations. And ask if any extra fees are required for valet parking, coat check and restroom attendants. Make a list of all your questions or concerns, get the answers and don’t rush into a decision. It’s wise to consider all your options and select the site that best meets your needs.

One last thing: After you have decided on a place, get everything in writing. The contract should indicate the day and time, the cost per person, the payment schedule, the deposit and refund policies, as well as any sales tax and gratuities (see if there is a policy on tipping for car valets, coat-check and rest-room attendants and bartenders). You might also include the staff's attire, your exact menu and when the band and florist can start setting up. Also check on overtime costs. Ask a lot of questions and leave nothing to chance: Your contract should be very specific to avoid any unpleasant surprises. After all your research and planning, you will want this to be the party of a lifetime.

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