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How to Plan Your Wedding Reception

Wedding receptions can be so insanely fun! From the dancing to tossing bouquets to sparkler exits! But what a lot of people don’t realize is that in order to keep the party moving along (and get all the shots you want) you need to create a timeline of events and stick to it! I’m going to explain how to plan your wedding reception to get everything you want below!

Planning your wedding reception

Know what you want

Father daughter dance wedding photos

First make a list of things you want in your reception. Know if you want to cut the cake, if you want toasts, do you want to do a lot of dancing. Make sure to list what’s the most important on the top. Keep your venue location in mind as well. While you may want fireworks, but your venue may not allow that. This step is very important because it will help you know what you absolutely want to keep and what you may be ok with not doing.

Know how long you have your venue (including clean up)

Dancing at wedding reception

When it comes to planning out all of your party ideas, you need to know how long you actually can stay at the venue. For some you may have it until the next day. For others you might have to be out by 10. This may or may not include clean up so you’ll need to plan accordingly. Your list of what’s most important to do may come in handy here. If you want a lot of dancing but have less time, you may want to cut or limit some areas.

Have someone keep track of events

This is me bossing people around at my brothers wedding

If you have a wedding planner or day of coordinator then this is taken care of! If not consider asking a bridesmaid, groomsmen, or family member. You’ll be so busy talking with guests, taking photos, and having a good time it’ll be hard for you to constantly check the time and get things going.

If you have a DJ then you’ll want to give them your timeline so that they can help direct your guests to the next thing. If you don’t have a DJ make sure you give a mic to the loudest person you know.

Know how long your photographer is there

If you are wanting coverage of basically all the important things (and some dancing) you’ll want to push those things to the front of your reception. Most photography coverage is not all night long. I’ve been to weddings where my coverage and the entire wedding ended at the same time, and weddings where they definitely partied until midnight and my coverage ended at 9 or 10pm. 

It’s also good to know how long all other vendors will be there too. If your videographer is leaving before the photographer then you need to plan accordingly. 

My overall point is make sure the vendors who are there to capture the action are actually there to capture the action! This leads me to my next point…

Consider having a controlled exit

Wedding sparkler exit

A controlled exit is when you and your now spouse decide to do your big exciting exit, but don’t actually leave your reception. This allows you to have pretty photos and a fun time, but doesn’t mean you have to actually leave. 

Some pros of this are: You get photos/videos of your exit. All your guests are more likely to be there and participate. (Not everyone will stay the entire reception so this is a great way to include those people) 

Some cons: Some guests will take this as a time to leave so don’t do this too early into the party.

It might be good to do it after all other formalities are finished and people have had a chance to dance and mingle. I personally feel the pros outweigh the cons! I’ve shot at weddings where the exit didn’t happen because it was so later and the guests had already started to leave. So consider either having a controlled exit or scheduling your exit to end before all your guests leave.

Don’t worry about putting every single traditional thing in there

So lastly I just want you to know you do not have to put every single traditional thing in your wedding reception. You may find the idea of the groom going under the bride’s dress to get thee garder just nooo. Or you really hate cake so you don’t want one and don’t want to cut one…

You don’t have to do anything you don’t want to! Some of my favorite weddings I’ve both shot and been to have been ones where the couple just does what they want. Also receptions are so much fun when there’s not hours of traditional stuff to go through. 

Do what you want, don’t do what you don’t want and have a good time! The reception is meant to be a time where you celebrate with you friends and family that you are now married!

Make sure to enjoy it!

If you want more wedding day advice check out this post on why you should have a first look!

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Alyssa is an international weedding and senior portrait photographer based in North Carolina

Alyssa Joyce Photography