Reception Management: A Look At The Typical Wedding Reception

April 8, 2008 by Mobile Beat Staff Writer

Since 1981, my wife and I have planned literally thousands of wedding receptions with our clients. One thing that we have learned is that there are numerous ways in which to organize a wedding reception. The old days of managing a wedding based on the book of etiquette have faded away. In the last ten years, brides and grooms have decided that the suggestions in the book of etiquette were too rigid and that they didn’t take into account the specific circumstances of each wedding or the bride’s and the groom’s personalities and personal preferences. Fortunately, brides and grooms today tend to organize and manage their wedding to suit their needs.Let’s take a look at the “typical” reception. Keep in mind that the suggestions we offer here are only guidelines. The sequence of events at a wedding varies from one client to the next, and also varies from one part of the country to another. As an entertainer, it is your job to plan with each client exactly what reception formalities will take place, and what sequence they will follow, regardless of what part of the country you are from. This provides your clients with the personalized service they deserve.

Once the bride and groom have exchanged vows and rings, and the ceremony is complete, the guests who attended the wedding ceremony usually drive to the reception. Normally, the bride, groom, and wedding party will stay behind for photographs. The DJ will start background music as the guests arrive, help themselves to hors d’oeuvres, and begin to socialize.

Most of the receptions that we perform include the Bridal Party Introduction. When this happens, the entire wedding party and any parents are usually announced, although occasionally this is scaled back to introducing just the bride and groom. If you take your duties as an Emcee seriously, you should take charge of lining up the wedding party for the introductions. This is a perfect opportunity to break the ice with the wedding party, and let them know that you are there to provide fun for everyone. It is also a good opportunity to double-check the pronunciation of the names of the wedding party as you line them up. It’s a good idea to keep anyone that is to be introduced from going into the reception area. Otherwise, it will take longer to get the introductions underway, if you have to go back into the reception area and round up the wedding party and parents.

After the bridal party has been introduced, the bride and groom may opt to have a receiving line. In recent years, receiving lines have become less popular than they used to be in the 70/80’s. One popular option to a formal receiving line is to allow 20 to 30 minutes after the Wedding Party Introduction for the bride and groom to mingle with their guests, and use this opportunity to thank them for coming. This option is attractive because it doesn’t force their guests to stand in a long line.

Prior to the buffet/sit down dinner, it is customary for a blessing to be performed. If there is a blessing on the agenda, you will need to identify the person to perform this in advance, so they are not taken by surprised when they are called upon to perform this task!

The toast may be done just after the blessing, prior to the meal being served. Equally as often, the toast is done with the cake cutting after the meal. The decision on this depends greatly on personal preferences. The more formal the wedding, the more often the toast is done prior to the meal, especially when a sit down dinner is served.

Whenever you decide to include the toast, the Best Man is usually the first person to offer the toast to the bride and groom. The Best Man’s toast is sometimes followed by the father of the bride, who can propose a toast for the bride’s family. Then, the groom’s father might follow. This depends greatly on the personal preferences of the bride’s and/or groom’s father.

The music during dinner is normally light background music. However, it is not uncommon for a bride to request that you play up-tempo oldies that will get people beginning to tap their toes!

You should be paying close attention to the flow of dinner, and make suggestions on when to move on to the next formal event of the reception. An experienced Emcee/DJ will know when the time is right to move on to the next event (usually the cake cutting). Pay attention to what people are doing. Have the guests started to mill around the reception, visiting with other guests? Have you noticed an unmistakable elevation in the conversation level of all of the guests? If so, this usually means that people have finished eating, and are now talking! This is your cue to ask the bride and groom if they are ready for the next scheduled event.

This brings up a good question. Should you set a time schedule for all of the reception formalities? I am not particularly fond of setting a time schedule. Why? First of all, time schedules almost never work. While they can be used as a guideline, one little glitch throws the entire schedule off track. An experienced Emcee/DJ will be able to assist in making sure the flow of your reception runs smoothly – making sure that the reception doesn’t become boring, as well as ensuring that it isn’t rushed.

If you do not have much experience at managing a wedding reception, perhaps a time schedule is a good idea. As you gain more experience, you will become more familiar on how to space out the reception formalities. Ideally, you will plan what reception formalities the client wants, and what sequence they are to follow prior to the wedding day. However, you will soon find that playing things “by ear” is a more effective method of determining the appropriate TIMING of the reception plan you have established with your client.

The cutting of the wedding cake is one of the big highlights of any wedding reception. We recommend that the bride and groom cut the cake after dinner, just prior to starting the dancing. In the event that you have older people attending the reception, cutting the cake right after dinner allows them to take part in this important tradition prior to them leaving. Some people also like the idea of serving the wedding cake as desert.

It is traditional for the bride and groom to cut the first piece of cake together. The feeding of a piece of cake to each other is usually customary. Often times, the bride and/or groom smash the wedding cake in the other’s face. I have personally witnessed more than one reception where the bride or groom became extremely upset or angry after having the wedding cake smashed in his or her face. This usually occurs after being coaxed by some of the well-intended onlookers. This obviously puts a damper on the rest of the reception. For this reason, I strongly suggest that the Emcee NOT encourage the bride and groom to smash the wedding cake, or make references over the microphone such as “ok, is this going to be a clean one, or a messy one”? Should the bride or groom smash the wedding cake in the other’s face, you could be held responsible for this if you encouraged it.

Ok, the dinner has been served, the cake has been cut, now its time for the fun to begin! Traditionally, the bride and groom share their first dance as husband and wife to lead off the dancing portion of the reception. Occasionally, a bride and groom share their first dance after the introductions, but that doesn’t happen often in our part of the country. I try to steer my clients away from doing their first dance right after introductions. As an entertainer, I want that “big moment” in the first dance to start building momentum on the dance floor. It doesn’t make much sense to me to have the first dance right after introductions, only to mix into background music during dinner. Occasionally, a client will want the dancing to start immediately, because they plan to only have a light buffet that stays open for the duration of the reception. In this event, having the first dance right away isn’t a problem. Either way – work this out with your clients in advance.

Once the bride and groom complete their first dance, a variety of parents and bridal party dances may take place. The bride and her father, the groom and his mother, the wedding party dance, etc, are all options that the client can choose. The dance floor is usually opened up to all of the bride and grooms guests after the parents and bridal party dances have been completed, and this is where things start to liven up!

The amount of interactivity and personality you deliver should be customized with each client prior to the wedding. Do they want you to be fun and interactive, or do they prefer that you use a more “low key” approach? Every bride has her preference, and you should always customize your performances to suit the bride’s tastes. Some brides tell us that they saw a DJ (from another company) at a recent wedding that just sat behind the equipment table and played music. They go on to say that there was little or no interaction to motivate the guests – indicating further that the reception was boring because the DJ didn’t have the ability or initiative to motivate the crowd.

On the other side of the spectrum, a few brides express concern about the DJ going overboard with the interactive approach. So how do you be that fun and interactive Emcee/DJ, without getting carried away? When requested to be fun and interactive, our goal is to strike a compromise between the two extremes we have identified. We will never be the “show-off” type of DJ who stands on chairs, screaming at your guests. Instead, we like to do interactive things that facilitate fun for the guests, and are careful not to take the spotlight away from the most important people that day: the bride and groom. Often times a little interactivity and personality by the Emcee/DJ is all that is necessary to give the guests a little “nudge” to get out of their chairs, and on the dance floor having fun!

The dollar dance is a tradition that is very common in the northern parts of the country. This tradition involves having the ladies line up to dance with the groom, and the gentlemen lining up to dance with the bride. Each person can make a donation of a dollar, five dollars, ten dollars, or whatever they choose to donate. There are several variations of the dollar dance, depending on which part of the country you are from. In one variation, it is only the bride who dances with the guests. One word of caution – dollar dances take time away from open dancing for everyone. During the dollar dance only four people, at most, are dancing at any given time. Often times, when open dancing is stopped to do the dollar dance, it is difficult to get people back on the dance floor at the conclusion of the dollar dance. While this is not always the case, it is a consideration for any bride and groom considering this formality for their reception.

Tradition holds that the person who catches the bouquet may be the next bride. It used to be a foregone conclusion that the bride would toss the bouquet, then the groom would remove the garter from the bride’s leg and toss it to the single gentlemen in the crowd. After that, the guy that caught the garter would place it on the lady that caught the bouquet.

In recent years, brides who prefer to do things that suit their needs and tastes are abandoning a lot of wedding traditions. Often times, the bride will toss the bouquet, but eliminate the garter removal. This is all a matter of personal preferences.

When the bride chooses to toss the bouquet, she usually has a “throw-away” bouquet specifically for this purpose. One word of advice to give any bride tossing a bouquet is to check for low ceilings or overhead obstructions prior to making the toss. Often, a “line drive” toss is necessary when a low ceiling or chandelier is encountered.

A “farewell” dance by the bride and groom is a great way to end the reception on a positive and sentimental note. During the farewell dance, invite the guests to form a circle around the bride and groom to give them a great send-off.

The custom of throwing rice has been replaced with bird seed as the preferred method of giving the bride and groom their final send off of the wedding day. The Emcee usually directs the guests to pick up a packet of birdseed and wait for the bride and groom to exit the reception.

One word of caution on birdseed: More than one bride or groom has been injured by an overzealous guest who throws the birdseed too forcefully. One alternative (that is a bit pricey) is to use rose petals, confetti or bubbles.

As you can see, there are a lot of details that need to be planned, if you want the reception to run smoothly. Planning the reception details of every wedding you perform should be part of the service you offer. If you have good organizational skills, your clients will recognize this and recommend you to their friends.

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Mobile Beat Staff Writer (228 Posts)

This is the general editors account for Mobile Beat Magazine and Website. Who reads Mobile Beat online and in print and attends Mobile Beat events? DJs, VJs and KJs to start with, especially those who own and operate mobile entertainment services. They provide music, video, lighting and a myriad other entertainment choices for corporate events, wedding receptions, dances and innumerable other gatherings.


Filed Under: Weddings