There’s a lot to think about when it comes to planning a reception, and that’s why a thorough checklist is always a good idea!
Any professional event planner will tell you, the key to a successful event, is planning. And at the very heart of planning, is lists. Lists of vendors to hire, things to do, and the order they should be done in. Lists are crucial. Boring, possibly, but crucial. So if you’re stepping out into the wonderful world of wedding planning on your own, sans planner, you need some lists. But don’t worry, we’ve got you. Because we’ve compiled the ultimate wedding reception checklist just for you.
We have put together a comprehensive, and detailed checklist of everything you should/could have as part of your wedding reception. Everything from decor, to rentals, to stationery and bathroom baskets. But don’t panic, a lot of the items on our list will be sourced, and looked after by your wedding reception venue, or vendors. However, it’s important nonetheless that you know what should be present at your celebration.
It’s also worth saying that this list is extensive, but these are not all compulsory items. Meaning, you don’t have to have everything on this wedding reception checklist on your wedding day. It’s just a guide. Something for you to pick and choose from depending on your celebration.
Wedding Reception List of Events
Before we get started with the items on this checklist, let’s look at a typical wedding reception timeline, as that should help you better understand where and when things are needed.
The cocktail hour serves a dual purpose. First, it is a relaxed, less formal way for loved ones to chat, mingle and catch up following the wedding ceremony, and before the actual reception. Secondly, it acts as a useful buffer for the wedding venue, especially if your ceremony is held within the same space as your reception. Signature cocktails, or other drinks, are typically served alongside hors d’oeuvres at this time.
The Wedding Party & Newlyweds Entrance
Once your guests have entered the reception space, and found their seats. It’s time for the VIP’s to make their entrance. This would usually consist of the bridesmaids (bridesmen), groomsmen (groomsladies), flower girls, and ring bearers. Followed by parents, and then the happy couple. At this time, the DJ would normally play some uptempo music for the wedding party to dance into the room with.
The first dance can come before or after your meal. The timing of it really depends solely on when you think the vibe is best. And if your nerves can handle waiting until after dinner!
A nice opportunity for the happy couple and possibly parents to welcome, and give thanks to those present at the reception.
The moment most of your guests have been waiting for! A lovely chance to refuel, chat about the day and prepare for the festivities to come.
Typically, the wedding speeches take place while guests are eating, and importantly sitting down. Having a captive audience makes it a lot easier for the various speech givers to make themselves heard. The traditional order of speeches is: best man, maid of honor, parents of either spouse (traditionally, father of the bride).
It is however the 21st century, and anyone can give a toast, in any order you choose.
These special dances can also be done before dinner if you, or your parents, prefer.
Time to Hit the Dance Floor!
Following either the first dance, or parent dances, the DJ would usually call everyone onto the dance floor to start the party! This could either be sound tracked by your DJ, or a band, or both.
Cutting the Wedding Cake
While your guests are cutting shapes on the dance floor, you’ll be requested to have your cake cutting moment. This can either be done in the middle of the reception space on a movable cake table. Or in a prearranged position. Just make sure there’s enough room for your guests, and your wedding photographer, to see you smash cake into your partners’ face!
Bouquet and/or Garter Toss
If you would like to include this traditional ritual, try to do it while everyone is up and dancing, if you want maximum effect.
The Last Dance & Your Exit
As the night draws to a close, the DJ will normally announce that the last dance is coming up, and encourage people to join together on the dance floor. Once the lights go out, it’s time for the newlyweds to make their grand exit. Whether that means running out to a waiting vintage sports car, or taking part in a sparkler send off with all your wedding guests.
Your Wedding Reception Checklist
Now you know a typical wedding timeline, let’s move on to your to-do list. And we start with, rentals.
As we said above, your venue and vendors will likely look after much of the critical items on your wedding planning checklist. But it’s important you know what they should be providing, so you can tick everything off yourself too.
Tent for the Outside Area
Whether you’re planning an outside wedding for the height of summer, or the deepest of winter, you should always provide coverage from the elements. A quality wedding tent from a reputable company allows your guests to enjoy the outdoor spaces, free from the worry of rain, or heat from the sun.
Speak with your venue, or tent rental company during the planning process to check if you’re expected to rent special catering equipment, and/or generators too.
Tables & Chairs
The configuration of the seating plan at your rehearsal dinner and reception will have a massive impact on the overall guest experience. Long banquet tables allow loved ones to share and eat family style, but can leave some feeling isolated. While round tables encourage group conversation, but can also break up groups and force people to sit with people they don’t want to.
Talk over options with your rental company or venue coordinator, and consider carefully your guest list before choosing the seating style.
Good lighting can transform a room, and turn what was once a very ordinary space, into something extraordinary.
Where will dad embarrass you the most? Where will your bridesmaids steal the show? And where will you have your first dance as a married couple? The dance floor, an essential on any wedding checklist.
A typical wedding venue layout will include some kind of staging area. Somewhere for a band or DJ to perform that is slightly raised off the floor.
Dishes, Silverware & Glasses
Unless you have a unique look and feel you want for your tablescape, your wedding caterer or rental company should be able to organize your plates and silverware etc. They’ll have countless options available to you, and will be experienced enough to suggest the best for your reception. Just make sure your guest count is accurate before giving the rental, or catering company your final figures.
Other Reception Table Elements
Alongside glasses and dishes, you’ll also need salt and pepper shakers, baskets for bread, boards for cheese, plates for butter, napkin rings etc. These items may not be vital, but the table will feel very unfinished without them.
During cocktail hour, and possibly during your reception dinner, the caterers will need trays and utensils to serve your food with. Be sure to choose a style of tray and tool that matches your wedding theme. Again, your catering team should have options.
The table linens and runners you select to decorate your reception tables with, will hugely impact the overall look of your celebration.
If the seating from your venue or rental company is not to your liking, a simple chair cover can transform it. While also making it feel a part of your color scheme, or style.
Wedding Cake Stand
Your wedding cake should take pride of place on your dessert table, and the cake stand helps it to do that. This decorative base will usually be provided by your baker, but be sure to check the look of the stand before the big day. In case it doesn’t match your overall theme, cake design, or other dessert displays.
Wedding Decor Items
The major elements of your reception, such as lighting, table layout and the venue itself, will play a massive part in creating your wedding theme. However, it’s the smaller decor items that often transform the feel of a space. Whether that’s some DIY decor you’ve spent months creating, or a floral masterpiece put together by your florist. It’s typically the tiniest details that have the biggest effect.
Wedding Photo booth
Photo booths are a crowd favorite that encourages guests to get together, while also creating a little memento of the occasion. These days, there are countless styles of photo booth, each with a look or feature that better suits a particular type of celebration.
The flowers you choose as part of your decor will dramatically affect the overall look of your big day. There are many floral elements required as part of a traditional wedding day, and we have listed them below.
- Floral centerpieces
- Floral arrangements on the guest book table
- Greenery to decorate empty reception spaces
Of course there is also the bouquet, and buttonhole flowers etc, but these are not strictly decor elements. If you want a checklist of all the wedding flowers you’ll need for your wedding, head over to our ultimate list.
Nothing can bring soft romance to a room quite like candles. Be that, large statement pieces freestanding in your reception space, or on an ornate candelabra as part of your centerpiece design. There are lots of ways to bring a fairy tale flicker to every part of your celebration, and no doubt your wedding planners will have plenty of suggestions!
Centerpiece & Table Items
Unless you’re going for a super minimal wedding theme, it’s usually nice to bring extra interest to your tablescape with some decor items. Elements that match your wedding style, and further the theme. This could be a little display with vintage vases to hold your flowers, and somewhere to place some candles. Or maybe extra stationery that playfully continues the idea of your theme.
Little design details you’ve picked up along the way that’ll add further excitement to your table design.
We love a ‘Mr. and Mrs.’ wedding chair sign, but there are so many other opportunities for you to have fun with signage. Directing guests to the restrooms, letting them know there are flip-flops available, showing how to use the guest book etc.
No wedding is complete without a well-thought-out bathroom basket. Medicine, sanitary items, deodorant, safety pins, sewing kit… Try to think of every eventuality that could happen on your wedding night, and then prepare for it.
Wedding favors can really fall into any category on our entire wedding reception checklist, as they can be whatever you want them to be! A bag of sweets with a label printed by your stationer, some honey from your garden in a pretty bottle, or a fat Cuban cigar! The possibilities are endless.
From escort cards to seating charts, paper design details must be carefully crafted, if they are to have the aesthetic effect you desire. Check out our wedding stationery checklist here.
These large signs show guests exactly where they are sitting within the reception space. Their design should coordinate with your wedding invitations, and match the place card they’ll find at their seat.
Place Card or Escort Cards
If you would like your guests to sit in a specific place around a given table, you need place cards. For more casual affairs, you can use escort cards, which only direct guests to a certain table.
Table Numbers or Table Signifiers
The table number is a classic way to show guests where they should sit. However, that doesn’t mean you can’t get creative, and come up with a more personal system. Such as tables named after your favorite movies, or special places you’ve visited together, for example.
Food & Drinks Menu Cards
Even if your guests pre-selected their meal beforehand, or you’re having a buffet, it’s a nice touch to include a food menu on each table, or place setting.
Guest books provide a uniquely lovely keepsake for the couple, following their big day. One that can, like your wedding photography, be enjoyed for many years to come. Be that a classic book with personal messages written inside. Or something more alternative such as a video guest book, a piece of art, or a Polaroid camera and sharpie.