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10 Tips for a Successful Wedding Reception

One of the best parts about being a professional wedding photographer is celebrating with you at your wedding reception. With nearly 200 weddings under our belt, we have learned a few tips for a successful wedding reception. No couple wishes for their reception to be boring or impersonal. In fact, it’s the opposite. The wedding reception is a once-in-a-lifetime party! It is something special to not only the newlyweds, but also to family, friends, and guests.

If you think about it, nearly half of a photography timeline encompasses the wedding reception. During this time, we photograph the cocktail hour, entrances, first dances, toasts, and all the dance-floor shenanigans. We love to see the laughs and happy tears!

And guess what? We want to photograph it! ALL of it! But sometimes receptions die early, and that is always a major bummer. One thing is clear: human beings are fickle, fickle creatures. We want to be informed, entertained, comforted, and fed. When that doesn’t happen, we leave.

This blog post is packed full of tips for a successful wedding reception that will keep your wedding guests at your reception! As professional wedding photographers, we want to provide you with the best advice to make your reception one to remember!

10 Tips for A Successful Wedding Reception
Winter Wedding at The Standard Knoxville

1. Plan For YOUR Personality

If you have read any of my Just A Tip posts, you know that I am BIG on couples doing what they want on their wedding day. No two couples are the same, and that means that no two weddings are the same. Feel free to customize any wedding event or tradition to best fit who you are as a couple. If a garter toss is not your style, leave it out. If you prefer to have a couples dance instead of parent dances then do it. Maybe you don’t want to dance at all. Fine.

Maybe you want to ADD something unique to your wedding! Guests react well to anything that’s unusual and fun. Just talk to your wedding coordinator or event team. Hiring a wedding planner is probably the single smartest thing you can do to create a successful wedding reception. Hiring a wedding coordinator can help you save time, money and add peace of mind. That way, you can enjoy your wedding reception even more!

Mountain Wedding at The Barn at Chestnut Springs

2. Keep Guests Comfortable

The wedding day celebrates the couple, but your guests are important as well. Many have traveled from near and far to celebrate. While you want your reception to showcase your personality and style, you must keep guests comfortable for your wedding reception to be a success.

Seating: As much as you might want everyone on the dance floor for the entire night, it’s not realistic. Think about creating a seating area for older guests or for anyone who just needs a space to get away. That way, they can step away for a minute without having to leave the reception completely.

Temperature: Whether your wedding day is in the summer or winter, keeping guests comfortable is key. On those hot days, provide cooling fans, cold drink, and shaded seating. In the cooler months, offer heaters, scarves, or blankets.

Facilities: People gotta pee. Ok, in all seriousness, when planning your wedding make sure that there are enough bathrooms. Also consider ideas for baby changing stations, easy parking, and accessible routes from your ceremony to your reception.

Thoughtful Extras: A few small comfort items are always appreciated. Consider stashing a basket of inexpensive slippers near the dance floor so the ladies can kick off their high heels. Stock hand lotion, tissues, gum, mints, or hairspray in the restrooms. At an outdoor event, provide sunscreen or bug repellent. Believe me, your guests will thank you.

10 Tips For a Successful Wedding Reception
Elegant Affair at The Vineyards at Betty’s Creek

3. Make Food Good, Fast, & Accessible

Food is a big deal at a wedding. Yourself and your guests will want a full tummy of delicious food that has arrived fast. You also want to allow guests to easily access food through the reception. I mean, you have spent the money on it, so you want to make sure that it gets used!

Good Food: There is no hiding bad food. Tasty food means great conversation. Great conversation means a great party. A great party means fantastic memories. The End.

Fast Food: No, not like Burger King. If you are considering a buffet, this one is for you. We have seen it time and time again. Couples want to provide great food to their guests, but the setup is just…off. Consider adding two lines for a buffet, or allowing waiting staff to serve it. If you are considering any type of idea in which the guests make the plates themselves (burger bars, taco bars, or make-you-own-potato), you will absolutely need extra lines or helpers. Human beings are fickle, but they are also sloooooow.

Accessible Food: Think about the cheesecake deserts, the late-night Krystals, or the hot chocolate bar. Many guests don’t know when these treats are “open.” Before you know it, there are just a few minutes left in the reception, and all of the food is still there! No! Ensure your DJ or Emcee announces that this food is available for consumption!

Obviously, having a team of professional caterers is a must on a wedding day. They will know how to make all the yummy food you and your guests and serve it in a timely and professional manner.

10 Tips For a Successful Wedding Reception
Fun Fall Wedding at 4 Points Farm

4. Hire a Professional DJ

A DJ does way more than just loading songs and hitting play. DJs have extraordinary skills, expertise, and the ability to read the crowd’s mood. They can transform a boring wedding party into an exciting and entertaining one! Before the wedding, professional DJs make solid preparations. They discuss the wedding plan with the couple, which includes the core theme or mood of the wedding. They aim to create the perfect reception of your dreams to ensure that the wedding goes off without a hitch!

Further, most professional DJs bring the LIGHTS! Lighting can transform a room from a casual dining atmosphere to dancing! Don’t underestimate the importance of proper event lighting for a wedding reception. Ambient uplighting will set the mood, while fun dance floor patterns and moving lights will make for a fabulous party.  

10 Tips For A Successful Wedding Reception

5. Allow Song Requests

Want to know the best way to get your guests out on the dance floor? Play the songs they actually want to hear. This doesn’t mean giving up full control to Uncle Joe. Yes, I know you don’t want to dance to The Wobble or the Electric Slide. But, guess what? Your guests absolutely do. It’s a fact. Couples can allow their DJ to announce that they will take song requests. These requests can be for just a small amount of time, but I guarantee that your dance floor will fill quickly.

10 Tips For a Successful Wedding Reception
Lively Fall Wedding at The Quarry Venue

6. Get On The Dance Floor

Don’t hide at the bar. Your guests want to party with you and see you shake your bootie on the dance floor! A dance floor fills up quickly when the wedding couple is dancing away. This doesn’t mean that you have to spend the entire wedding dancing. But, if you really want a party, this is part of it. “This is a big one,” says DJ Sammy Scott of Legacy Sound. “Brides and Grooms should be on the dance floor as much as possible. The guests want to be around them, so simply put, where you go is where they go.”

7. Bring The Alcohol

Having alcohol at a wedding is a delicate decision for any couple. If you choose to have alcohol at a wedding, it does not mean that you have to have a full-on open bar with top-shelf alcohol. But, open bars can be pricey. There are ways to make it work on any budget. Consider offering just beer and wine or a few cocktail options. Or offer champagne as a favor or during the toasts.

Alcohol does do one thing that other things cannot: it extends the length of a wedding reception. Many couples want to have a party that lasts into the late hours of the night. Alcohol makes that happen. With an average of four hours for a reception, those considering not having alcohol may want to reduce that time to two or three hours. That way, they can apply their photography time to other areas!

10 Tips For a Successful Wedding Reception
Casual Wedding at Ramble Creek Events

8. Provide Easy Entertainment

At the end of the day, your wedding reception will be remembered for how it made your guests feel. You can include engaging entertainment away from the dance floor to provide a good time for all your guests. These activities also give a nice opportunity for your guests to interact with each other. You can incorporate various games or events during a wedding reception.

For The Kids: If you’re having a kid-friendly reception, consider scavenger hunts, mazes, connect the dots, or word-finder puzzles. Have a special area or room designated as the kid’s corner. This will keep kids entertained and allow the adults to shake things up on the dance floor.

Photo Booths: This is one thing that isn’t going out of style. People love to put on silly hats and outfits for photos. You can create your own photo booth at the venue or consider hiring a photo bus!

Caricature: One of my favorite entertainment ideas by far and great as a favor, too! Employ an artist to come and draw photos of your guests! It is a perfect way to provide entertainment and a gift.

Yard Games: For those beautiful summer evenings, yard games are a great way to entertain guests away from the dance floor.

Cigar Bars: Cigar bars are great for any season. It provides a perfect opportunity to socialize away from the dance floor with other guests.

10 Tips For a Successful Wedding Reception

9. Provide Unique (and Usable) Wedding Favors

Handing out wedding favors to your guests is a great way to remind them how important they are to you. The best favors are ones that guests can enjoy at the reception or make use of a home. Remember, you don’t want to spend money on something that goes to waste. Candies for kids, personalized mugs or glasses, jars of homemade honey or jams, blankets, or East Tennessee Moonshine are all great ideas. Guests can use these at your wedding and afterward as well!

If you need to express your gratitude for those who help you in the wedding planning process, personalized bottles of wine are great gifts.

10 Tips For a Successful Wedding Reception
Feet-Washing Ceremony at Ramble Creek Events

10. Don’t Fret or Fight

You can plan like crazy leading up to your wedding, but on your wedding day, let it goooooo. Be happy. Enjoy your day. Your wedding day and your wedding reception will fly by. You don’t want to spend it upset, worried, or fretting about unimportant details. Let your wedding coordinator or event team take over the behind-the-scene stuff.

And guess what? Newley weds fight on their wedding day. Most of it comes from anxiety or frustration. If you know certain things can or will upset your spouse, don’t do them on your wedding day. If you know your bride doesn’t want cake smashed in her face, don’t do it.

We love to party with our couples, and we want all of their receptions to be a smashing success. If you are interested in hiring us for your wedding photography, please feel free to contact us anytime. I’m so ready to get down on the dance floor with you and yours!

10 Tips for a Successful Wedding Reception


Natural light + honest photographer for all humans.


Knoxville, Tennessee



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