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How to Plan a Wedding

Reception and Catering

Like the ceremony, the reception and catering should reflect the bride and groom's overall wedding style. And just as with the ceremony, pretty much anything goes. Your reception can be an elaborately planned formal sit-down dinner, a relaxed yet elegant semiformal buffet luncheon, a glamorous cocktail party, or a casual outdoor brunch. No matter which style you both choose, you can click on the links for worksheets to help you plan the reception and catering.

Traditionally, a reception includes the following broad categories: a receiving line (which you may choose to include as part of the ceremony), a toast to the couple, a meal, cake, and music. The only must for a wedding reception, however, is lots of celebrating. In other words, do whatever you both like to make this a truly romantic, memorable, and -- above all -- lovely day.


While reception sites run the gamut from a formal restaurant to a backyard, you both want to make absolutely certain that your site can comfortably hold the number of guests you wish to invite. It also must accommodate guests' parking needs and any activities you want, such as dancing.

Before choosing a reception site, you both must define the mood of your reception. Even though anything goes, you still have to define what "anything" means to you both.

To begin, consider your other wedding decisions, such as the style of your dress, invitations, and ceremony. Will these be very formal and traditional? It might seem odd to go from a formal, traditional ceremony to a unique, creative reception ... but again, it's up to you both.

Once you set the mood, select three or four reception site possibilities that can accommodate your concept. After choosing the reception site that meets your needs, keep a detailed checklist of everything the site has and, more important, doesn't have, so you can be sure to rent what you need. Also provide the site with a schedule so the people in charge on your Big Day know what you expect. Be sure to map out a seating plan -- with help from your fiance -- and give a copy to the manager at the reception site and a copy to your caterer.

Reception Costs

You both will probably devote 35 to 40 percent of your wedding budget to the reception. Some ideas for stretching the dollars:

  • Serve limited alcoholic beverages. By limiting your bar selections to soft drinks, punch, champagne, beer, and wine, you will save a substantial amount of money.
  • Rent necessary equipment yourself. You'll cut out the middleman and save a significant amount of money.
  • Select a meal option other than dinner. Breakfast, brunch, lunch, high tea, and cocktails are all less expensive than dinner.
  • Limit the open bar. If you both definitely want an open bar but need to trim costs, limit the time your bar is open. Once the bar is closed, you can still have wine, beer, and nonalcoholic beverages available.
  • Always ask about packages. Many sites offer reception packages, and while these options may give you less room for special requests, they often come with a lower final figure.

The Food

There are basically three options for the reception food: self-catered, catered, or included with the total reception package. With the last option, you'll generally work with the food manager from a hotel, restaurant, or country club. Within these three categories, you can aim for a formal, semiformal, or casual menu.

A Caterer

Some hotels and especially private establishments such as museums or historical buildings do not offer food preparation services. In these cases, you need to hire a caterer. Make sure you choose a caterer you can trust who is experienced in weddings. Then let this person be your guide. Your caterer is an expert, and considering the fact that you're paying for his or her services, you might as well sit back and enjoy the help. Also, you both should insist on a tasting session before choosing a caterer. Give very careful second thoughts to anyone unwilling to provide this service.

Once you both have settled on a caterer, keep a worksheet on all of his or her contact information as well as details about the menu, including costs.

A Food Manager

This person -- while technically working for a private club, hotel, restaurant, or country club -- should be handled just the same as a caterer. Again, you need to be certain to find one that you're comfortable working with, and you need to sample the food offered before you make any decisions. Food managers should be able to accommodate special requests, although sometimes on a more limited scale.

A Self-Catered Affair

You may choose to prepare all of the food yourselves. If you both are planning a small, intimate reception, this is sometimes an option that can save some money. If you both choose this, be sure to go into it with your eyes wide open. The secret is to plan ahead, ask for help, choose as many make-ahead-and-freeze courses as possible, and organize, organize, organize.

The Cake

The wedding cake should be a work of creative art as well as a delicious dessert. Many reception sites and caterers include the cake with their wedding packages, but you may prefer to select a baker on your own. If doing so, you both first need to select a cake type, size, and style.

The number of tiers is dictated by sheer preference, budget, or the number of guests you need to feed. The icing is generally white, but the inside can be whatever flavor you desire.

Generally speaking, it is the outside cake decorations that most affect cost. The inside follows no standard rules and can be any flavor. As with the food, insist on a tasting session before you choose a baker. Also keep a detailed list of important information about the baker you've chosen that includes fees and specifics about the cake.

The Groom's Cake

The groom's cake is an old Southern tradition that fades in and out of favor. While it is certainly not mandatory, it does add a sweet touch to the day. This cake, generally chocolate cake with chocolate icing (as opposed to the bride's white cake), is cut, placed in take-home boxes, and given to guests upon departure. Legend has it that a single girl who places this cake under her pillow will dream of the man she will marry.

Many women have a picture of their dream wedding gown in their head long before they even meet the man they want to marry. But wedding attire involves more than just the bride's white dress. Check the next section for helpful tips on selecting the perfect wedding attire for the bride and groom.