Wedding Reception Ideas for Any Budget

How much can you afford to spend? Here, experts come up with six great reception ideas for three different budgets.

The Budget: $20,000

Summer Beach Soiree (Guests: 100)

“For an elegant beach reception, keep the décor summer chic; use a broad stripe or checked pattern in pale blues and white or terra-cotta and greens,” suggests Jennifer Brisman of Jennifer Brisman Weddings in New York City. “Guests can sit in classic white outdoor folding chairs around small cocktail tables. Instead of flower centerpieces, highlight your waterfront atmosphere with oversize hurricane candles and an amazing display of seashells and sand votives. (Fill a regular votive candle holder a third or halfway with powdery white or natural sand, then nestle the candle in.) Place piles of oversize pillows on the beach for lounging.”

Fresh Catch: “Offer a lavish raw bar that includes lobster tails, giant prawns, oysters and jumbo lump-crab cocktails. Pair the seafood selections with a variety of homemade-style Tuscan breads and flavored olive oils and a huge, beautiful salad of greens and garden herbs with cucumbers, colored peppers and a lemon vinaigrette dressing.”

Perfect Pairings: “Add a wine-tasting component by serving regional wines selected to complement the seafood dishes.”

Summery Sounds: “Hire a six- or seven-piece band to perform fun, classic summer tunes like ‘California Dreamin’ ’and ‘Surfin’ U.S.A.’—and anything else the two of you especially like by the Beach Boys, Jimmy Buffet, the Eagles and the Beatles.”

Fun Favors: “Compile a CD for your guests to take home. Select the same or similar songs that the band played and present them in personalized packaging with your monogram and wedding date. This makes the best memory!”

Budget Breakdown
Venue rental:$2,500
Rentals (tables, chairs, place settings):$3,000
Total: $20,000

Rustic Wine Country (Guests: 200)

“Many country venues feature fabulous barns,” says Corridan. “Some of them are even part of a vineyard. If yours is, start your party with a wine reception and then walk to the barn; if there’s some distance, transport guests in horse-pulled carriages. For the barn I suggest a color palette of merlot, avocado or a rich navy blue. Seat your guests on dark bentwood chairs at long feasting tables that accommodate 50 guests each. Any type of in-season flowers will work for centerpieces—hydrangeas, roses, larkspur, delphinium, sunflowers; arrange them in old-fashioned French milk containers for the best effect.”

Fabulous Fare: “Treat your guests to a hearty meal of steak or lamb, potatoes, rice and steamed vegetables. Have waiters serve the entrée individually, but the accompanying dishes can be laid out on large, attractive platters arranged down the center of the table.”

The Pour: “Serve beer and wines to complement your meal. If your event is at a vineyard, partner with the pros there to select the appropriate wines.”

Foot-Stomping Fun: “Hire a contemporary country-western band to entertain your crowd.”

Homemade-style Goodies: “Finish with a dessert buffet that has your wedding cake as the centerpiece. Opt for a traditional cake—carrot with buttercream frosting or any flavor with a fudge frosting—but make it look homemade. Fill out your buffet with brownies, frosted cookies and handmade candy.”

Budget Breakdown
Barn rental:$1,200
Table/chair rental:$1,480
Table decor:$350
Fabric for draping:$300
Floral centerpieces:$920
Horse-drawn carriage:$350
Dessert buffet:$600
Total: $20,000