Planning the Perfect Reception

There are a lot of pieces that go into pulling off your wedding reception. We talk about your vendors here, but keep reading to learn more about the additional details that will go into planning your wedding reception.


When it comes to pulling off a wedding, there are a lot of pieces you’ll need from tables and chairs to linens, place settings, servingware, and table numbers to the dance floor and that vaulted tent complete with chandeliers. If your venue or catering company don’t provide everything you need to pull off your reception, or you’re looking for a few personal pieces, have fun exploring the world of rentals.

Rental companies can also act as design houses and prop stylists, arranging everything from place settings to dessert buffets to mix and match seating around the fire pit, complete with cozy blankets and adorable s’mores bags that you’ve been ogling on Pinterest. If you’re in need of unique decorative elements or have a serious theme like romantic, rustic, or boho, rental companies are a great place to start. You can score unique items to set your wedding apart without having to lug it all there yourself or figure out what to do with it after your big day.

Arrange a time to speak with a few of rental companies, either by phone or in person. Prepare beforehand with a list of everything that you’ll need, and have a figure in mind as to what you’re able to spend on all rentals.

If you’re still not sure what you need, look at the amazing work our contributing experts have done.

Event designer Rebekah Carey McNall of A&B Creative says that choosing elements that are personal to the couple is “one of the most important elements of wedding design.”

“I love collaborating with couples to weave in aspects of their personalities, their history and cultures into their wedding design,” she says.

When you speak to a rental company, get a quote of what your rental items will cost and an idea of what the rental terms will be so that you’ll be prepared to make a decision.


Think back to your Top Three Things and the things that matter to you most. As you’re deciding what details and decorations you really want to incorporate into your wedding day, ask how it relates to these priorities. Make sure each of your details is adding to the emotional tone you’re trying to set for yourselves and your guests. For instance, a gumball machine equals super exciting if you’re going for fun and whimsical. But if you already know you’re going for a Great Gatsby-inspired wedding dress, stick with details that suggest period piece glam instead.

What areas of your venue(s) do you actually need to decorate? If you’re marrying indoors or in a large empty space (think event halls or ballrooms) and you want to personalize the space more, think of how you want your family and friends to interact with the space and where you want to draw their attention. Lighting, table arrangements, backdrop walls, and other details can transform a blank space into a personalized venue. If you’re getting married in an outdoor venue, nature might do the decorating for you. You can focus on the centerpieces and maybe a few aisle markers without going overboard to decorate your venue. Keep things in line with the environment around you, so focus on natural looking flower arrangements or even loose groupings of wild flowers. Small tea lights can add ambience without taking away from your surroundings.

When planning out your decorations for the day, event stylist Jenn Elliott Blake recommends that you “minimize the quantity of details and focus on the quality…simplify things. Invest in details that will bring life to your day (choose a stunning bouquet by the best floral designer in town and forgo arrangements down the aisle, maybe just some pretty and simple foliage for the ceremony instead?). Or get creative with the centerpieces if you’re on a tight budget – maybe not large flower arrangements, but again some simple and beautiful greenery down the center with candlelight to enhance the dimension and mood.”

Of course, this is where your wedding designer shines. If you already hired a wedding designer, trust his or her instincts and expertise and let her pull together the wedding of your dreams. If you haven’t hired a wedding planner or designer, some will sit down with you for a basic design consultation, mapping out the colors, textures, and pieces you should look for so you can pull it all together.


Once you find a rental company that suits your needs, arrange a time to sign the contract. Your contract should include the information below:

  • Who: name and contact info (your’s and their’s)
  • What: everything they’ll be providing
  • Where: the location of your events
  • When: dates and times of service and when items will be delivered and picked up
  • How much: cost per item, delivery and set-up fees
  • Receipt: the deposit paid, the balance due and due dates
  • Uh oh: cancellation policies and emergencies

Share this with your wedding planner, venue manager, or catering manager so that everyone is on the same page.


It’s fair to say that picking out your playlist can be an incredibly personal process. As you pick out songs for your processional, recessional, first dance, mother-son dance and father-daughter dance reflect back on special memories and moments you’ve had together. If you and to choose a song to tell them how you feel, what would it say?

For a little inspiration see Spotify’s guide to the most popular first dance songs. Or Buzzfeed’s round up of 144 songs for every part of your wedding.

You want your guests to hit the dance floor, so spend some time making a short list of “must have” songs you want your DJ or band to play during your reception as well as a “do not play” list if there are songs you really don’t like. If you’re using an iPhone, start compiling your wedding day playlist for your dinner reception and dance floor. If you’re making your own playlist, ask your bridesmaids and groomsmen for suggestions – they’ll have some.

A lot of couples ask their DJ or bandleader to open up the dance floor after dinner and dessert, but some couples choose to do their first dance and maybe even the mother-son and father-daughter dances sooner. How you schedule it is up to you. If you’re working with a wedding planner, DJ or band leader, or even a hands-on caterer he or she may offer suggestions about the schedule. If not, decide between yourselves what schedule you’d like to follow, and have fun with it. You could have your first dance followed by an open dance floor with breaks later in the evening for the mother-son and father-daughter dances, or you could do them all one after the other.

If the thought of twirling around in front of your loved ones gives you weak knees, feign an injury or consider pulling the fire alarm. Otherwise, man up! Find a dance teacher. The middle school shuffle never hurt anyone, but you can also step it up a notch in less than a handful of lessons from a professional dance teacher. If you do decide to seek professional dancing help, start looking into dance studios in your area. A lot of studios will offer a short and affordable series of classes for couples practicing their first dance.


If you’re planning on sending guests home with favors, think of ways that you can say thank you for attending while sharing something important to you or unique to your wedding location like small jars of local honey or bags of your favorite candy.

If you’re hiring a photo booth, you can also consider the photo strips to be your guests’ favors. “A photo booth can be a great value for couples as well, because it’s both entertainment and a personalized party favor for their guests. We all love taking photos of ourselves, and the photo booth is the original selfie!” says BotBooth founder David Chitwood.


Doing it yourself can sound super fun and exciting when you’re picking out your wedding decorations, but before you decide to tackle all of the details yourself, ask yourself if you have the time to take on new projects, the team to help you do it, and the experience making beautiful things with your own two hands.

If not, it might be easier to go through someone who does while still getting that same DIY feel. Wedding blogs offer loads of free printables like signage, escort cards, bride and groom signs, and photo booth props (mustaches are totally still a thing), Etsy vendors can DIY your details for you so you still get that unique cake topper and guest book or your special favors and garland without having to teach yourself how to do it all.


Once you have all (or most) of your RSVPs in, you can begin to decide where everyone should sit. While seating charts are optional, we think they’re good practice. Seat guests together who haven’t met, but you know they have a lot in common. Maybe even do a little matchmaking! It might feel like a puzzle at first but it doesn’t have to be a hard. And as with many aspects of planning your wedding, you have options when it comes to creating your seating chart. This isn’t rocket science. You can:

  • Assign nothing
  • Assign tables but not seats
  • Assign tables and seats

To get started, ask your wedding planner or venue manager for the dimensions and seating capacity of the tables at your reception venue. If the venue doesn’t provide tables, work with your planner, designer, or a rental company to figure out the best tables for your reception and how many you’ll need.

A seating chart tool can help you play around with different seating assignments until you find the right one for you. Hello Wedding lets you pick the your table shape and size and see the breakdown of male and female guests at each table so you can keep things balanced. Mathematically, there are literally over a trillion ways to seat your guests, so go for good enough and not perfect.

Even if you don’t plan to assign tables or seats, go ahead and build a table layout chart to share with your vendors before the wedding day. That gives everyone an idea of how the room will be laid out and where all of the decorations and floral arrangements should go.

Want even more tips for planning your wedding? Our weekly countdown walks you through the entire wedding planning process from beginning to end, telling you exactly what you need to do and when you need to do it. Check it out HERE.