Get With The Program: Perspectives on Reception Scheduling by Mike Ryan

June 26, 2006 by Mike Ryan

The who, what, why and when of reception timing-guaranteed to surprise youI recently had an incident with a venue staff over whose reception schedule took priority, his or mine. The “captain” said he had a signed contract, I told him I did too. I asked him who made their schedule, he answered the banquet manager! And where was the banquet manager? The captain responded: “Oh, the banquet manager never goes to the weddings.”

I wondered: who really has the ultimate responsibility for making a wedding reception schedule? It was off to a book store to do some research. I found lots of books on weddings, including ones with funny titles like: Chicken Soup for the Bride’s Soul, The Anti-Bride wedding planner and of course Wedding Planning for Dummies, but not one of them had any substantive information about reception scheduling.

Survey Says…
After interviewing dozens of mobile DJs, wedding planners, caterers and venue managers, it became obvious to me that all of us are not on the same page! In general, DJs were in agreement on scheduling, while the rest of the wedding professionals had a variety of views. For instance:

Responsible Parties. Who should be responsible for setting the schedule? DJs were evenly split between the wedding planner (if there is one) and the DJ. Not surprisingly, non-DJ vendors overwhelmingly choose the wedding planner. The banquet manager rated a distant third.
Spaced Out. On the question of whether or not to space out the activities during the reception, a majority of DJs preferred to space the activities throughout the event. Reasons given include: “It provides entertainment throughout the evening; it gives the guests something to look forward too; it offers emotional peaks and valleys; each activity has entertainment value and keeps guests longer.” On the other hand, and this is a major disagreement, most vendors preferred doing activities one right after another. Reasons given: “It is most efficient; spacing activities out seems to drag on…guests get bored.” And several said, “Get on with the dancing!”
First Things First. When to do the First Dance? Nearly everyone was in agreement: right after the Grand Entrance. Reasons given: “Start things off with a bang; you have everyone’s complete attention; it’s the WOW factor!”
Parental Guidance. When asked what the best time was to do the Parent’s Dance, most DJs said right after the First Dance. Other wedding vendors were split between after the first dance and after dinner.
Don’t Burn the Toast. No matter how you slice it, everyone was in agreement: limit the Toast. Answers given: “Alcohol and microphones don’t mix; avoid inappropriate or rambling toasts; with an open mic, things can and very often do get ugly; don’t give guests an opportunity to ruin the reception; once guests start drinking, it’s hard to regain control.”
Toasty Timing. When’s the best time to do the Toast? DJs were evenly split between doing it before or after the meal. Answers given: “Before dinner to avoid wait staff bussing tables; after dinner to let the guests settle down; when the meal has started, guests can eat during the Toasts.” Vendor’s answers were spread all over without any general agreement: “During the Grand Entrance; during dinner; after First Dance; after the salads are served; just before or after the Cake is cut.”
Toss Up. Almost everyone sided with tradition, doing the Garter Removal and Toss before the Bouquet Toss. However, several vendors said they do the Garter first with the Bouquet Toss at the end of the event as the couple leave. Even Martha Stewart agrees: “The Bouquet Toss should take place thirty minutes before the end of the reception” (from Martha Stewart’s Keepsake Wedding Planner).
Cut to the Chase. When to cut the cake? Keeping in mind there is a general consensus that many guests tend to leave right after the Cake Cutting, most DJs said to do it as late as possible. Vendors were more focused on exact timing, cutting the cake from 45 minutes to an hour and a half after the meal.
Post-Cake Escape. What that about guests leaving after the cake is cut? All DJs said “yes,” this happens, with percentages ranging from 10 to 40 percent. Three vendors said they never experience this, while the rest acknowledged the problem, with percentages ranging from 25 to 50 percent of guests leaving! A good summary comment: “The people who leave after the cake are the guests that attended out of obligation, not necessarily desire, and the cake is usually the last traditional formality.”
Dancing for Money. The Money Dance, or the Honeymoon Dance, as it is sometimes called, is probably the most controversial reception activity of all. What percentage of clients ask for it, and when is the best time to do it? The percentages ran the spectrum from 5 to 90 percent! And everyone agreed that it’s cultural thing, especially common in the Latin and Asian populations. The answers as to when to include the dance were just as varied: “Before the cake; after the cake; after the Bouquet and Garter; after the Parent’s Dance.” Anthony Milkey, certified Wedding Event Planner at the Famous La Costa Golf Course and Resort in southern California related an interesting take on the Money Dance: “…from the four corners of the dance floor guests threw bundles of brand new $100 dollar bills, showering [them] down on the bride and groom as they danced!” Talk about confetti!
Marital Calculations. Regarding the Anniversary Dance, which I call the Longest Married Couple Elimination Dance most of the vendors had no comment, while DJs familiar with activity offered some neat tips: “We do the dance after the cake as a way to get people back on to the dance floor; we give the longest married couple a cool gift and I don’t eliminate; I have them join the others on the dance floor for continued dancing.” And as to the best time to schedule the Anniversary Dance? Answers varied: “After the toasts; before the cake; after the cake and after the bouquet.”
For Your Viewing Pleasure. Video presentations are popular; everyone said they run them during the meal.

Trading Spaces
In the final analysis, it appears the biggest difference between the DJ and other wedding vendors is whether or not to do all of the activities one right after another, with DJs preferring to space them out while other vendors prefer them in close sequence. As to who has the ultimate responsibility for making the schedule, there is general agreement that if there is a wedding planner, that person should take the lead; otherwise it should be the responsibility of the DJ. Everyone prefers to limit the toasts. With the Bouquet and Garter it is worth repeating that several non-DJ vendors prefer delaying the Bouquet Toss until the very end of the reception as a signal the party is over. Not surprisingly, almost everyone was in agreement that some guests tend to leave after the cake is cut. Opinions on the Honeymoon Dance ran the full spectrum from some vendors never doing it, to others almost always including it.

The last question I asked was for any additional advice on scheduling. Answers included: “Really listen to your couple-they will make your job easier; after consulting with the bride and groom, check with other wedding vendors to make sure everyone is on the same page; always provide copies of the schedule for the other vendors involved; don’t over-program the event; everyone should have a list of contact numbers and names; I really appreciate it when a good DJ and Photographer run the show.” And my favorite piece of advice: “Just because it’s a tradition doesn’t mean it always works.”

One final thought, as one who has helped numerous brides and grooms plan their reception schedule. I agree with James Baker, former U.S. Secretary of State, who said, “Never let the other guy set the agenda.”

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Mike Ryan Mike Ryan (19 Posts)

Mike Ryan spins at the Corvette Diner in San Diego. He also invented the Air-Powered speaker stand the FRANKENSTAND. He is a 20-year veteran of radio, and served on ADJA and NACE boards.


Filed Under: Business, Issues from 2006