Honestly, There’s No Correct Way To Format A Wedding Reception

October 2, 2015 by Tony Schwartz

Last week, my blog entry on how to structure a plated dinner reception generated a ton of views, as well as a bit of controversy in the comments on the entry itself, as well as on Facebook where it was shared countless times. (Thank you for that, by the way!)tony-schwartz-wedding-entertainment-script

And honestly, that was primarily why I wrote the piece.

I wanted everyone – wedding vendors, couples, wedding party members and guests – to realize that when it comes to designing the flow of the reception from an entertainment perspective, this statement always rings true:
There is no correct way to format a wedding reception.

Whether my couples choose to feature a buffet, plated meal, food stations or opt for a family style dinner is up to them. Whether it is two hours or 45 minutes doesn’t matter to me. The meal service is only a small piece of the puzzle.

The only thing that matters is that the flow of the reception smoothly, and naturally, transitions from formality to formality. And there are a multitude of ways to accomplish that goal.

When I first started in this industry ten years ago, I was under the assumption weddings were ran only one way: Ceremony, Cocktail Hour, Grand Entrance, Dinner, Toasts, Cake Cutting, Formal Dances, Tosses, Open Dancing, Last Dance. That was what I had experienced as a guest, and that was all I knew for a while. As a wise man once said, “And you don’t know what you don’t know.”

While that format may work for some weddings, for the majority of the receptions I perform at, it doesn’t. The key to a smooth reception is anticipating where the focus of the room will be before and after each formality, as well as the energy level.

To be able to assist my clients with the perfect flow, the following are just a few of the things that need to be taken into consideration, as well:

The Venue
Room Layout
Event Time Constraints
Regional Differences
Desired Atmosphere
Guest Count
Couple’s Desired Pace of Schedule
Vendor Time Constraints (Especially Photographers!)
How Caterers & Servers Operate
My Client’s Style & Personality
Which Formalities Are To Be Included
Before I plan anything with a couple, I want to know the answers to all of these considerations. For example, some venues, such as ballrooms are straight-forward, while other venues may have the cocktail hour in the foyer, dinner in one room, and dancing in the other. In the latter case, the ability to move people from room to room, in a way that makes sense, is a valuable skill for a Master of Ceremonies and DJ to have.

A couple of weekends ago, I performed at the Historic 1625 Place in Tacoma, Washington. This venue is essentially two rooms, with dancing in one room and dinner in the other. As an experienced Master of Ceremonies and DJ, I know that doing all the formalities in the dinner room and then asking guests to celebrate in the dancing room runs a huge risk: what if nobody gets up to dance? Now what?

So, I offered my clients a better solution to consider: after dinner service was finished, we’ll invite guests to the next room by having the toasts in the dancing room, with servers passing champagne as guests enter the dancing room. Since the dance floor would be the focal point for the First Dance, it made sense to have the toasts take place there. The last step in the transition from toasts to First Dance, was easy: I encouraged my groom to say a few words of gratitude and then invite his bride to join him for their First Dance. Done.

(Plus, it likely helped to add the motivation of a free adult beverage. ;))

So, to the engaged couples looking to hire a DJ: when interviewing, don’t just ask if the DJ has worked your venue before; ask what their thoughts are on entertaining at that venue, as well as how they might possibly design the reception’s flow. You’ll get an insight into their professionalism, knowledge and expertise. These things matter; it will make the process of planning the biggest party of your life a little less stressful.

And wedding vendors, especially the planners and day-of coordinators: please involve your Master of Ceremonies and DJ in the planning of the reception flow. Our unique perspective matters; when the flow and pace is natural, what we do positively affects the room and allow us to help our clients create some truly special moments.

Finally, to the wedding DJs reading this, especially the novice ones: really start to consider and think about the flow during your planning meetings. Imagine the wedding in your mind’s eye and paint that picture for your clients so they can understand and visualize what you see. Make sure it makes sense. Being able to offer this expertise is a huge value to your clients. And more value brings a higher performance fee.


This post was originally published on June 2, 2015 at www.TonySchwartzBlog.com

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Tony Schwartz Tony Schwartz (36 Posts)

Tony Schwartz is an award-winning MC & DJ, a business entrepreneur, stock market investor, a dog lover, a daily blogger, and a die-hard Red Sox & Seahawks Fan.


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