Best Reception Schedule: Grand Entrance, Dinner, Toast, First Dance, Money Dance, Cake Cutting with the Bouquet and Garter toss.
Plan the reception schedule in advance. It's not necessary to go into great detail, but a list of the critical events is, well, critical. Get input from the DJ, the photographer, the venue and the caterer.
Make sure the DJ or band has unloaded the sound equipment before your guests arrive. Not only is moving equipment a major distraction for your guests, it's dangerous.
The Grand Entrance is the bride and groom's moment - a wonderful time for the guests to give the new couple a big round of applause. It's also a good time to introduce the wedding party and any other important guests. Don't be bashful - include as many people as you want, including the flower girl, ring bearer, parents and grandparents.
After choosing Grand Entrance particpants, write down every name in reverse order of entry for the DJ. Don't forget to decide how the bride and groom will be introduced (Mr. and Mrs. John Randolph Smith, John and Nancy Smith, or something else).
During the Grand Entrance, I introduce couples using both first and last names. For example, for bridesmaids and groomsmen, I will say "Judy Jones escorted by Michael Smith." Or, "Maid of Honor Nancy Jones escorted by Best Man Edward Wilson." For parents, I might say "Mr. and Mrs. David Jones, parents of the bride."
It's helpful to plan the Grand Entrance route to the head table. Don't get caught wandering around lost through a sea of tables!
Light, melodic jazz works well for background music during hors d'oeuvres and dinner. I don't recommend anything either too sleepy or too complicated; just something nice to create ambience. Classical music is good also (and very classy). If you are having an informal reception, light rock and pop music with easy vocals works could be a good choice.
Keep the volume of the background music low. Guests should not have trouble hearing anyone at their table.
Don't ask the DJ to regulate the buffet by announcing table numbers. It may seem like an efficient idea, but it can interfere with the mood of the party. Also, it's sometimes difficult to grab attention, especially if your guests are having a good time. A better approach is to ask venue staff to approach each table individually.
I think the best time for the toast is just after the meal. Everyone is comfortable and probably still seated. Although a few guests may be wandering around, it will remain easy for venue staff to pour champagne. Some couples do the toast before the meal; that's OK, but sometimes more difficult to organize.
I like to see both planned and spontaneous toasts. To get it started, have the DJ introduce the Best Man. Then, after the planned toasts, the DJ asks the crowd if anyone else wants to speak. Hopefully, the cordless microphone will be passed around for several minutes while guests offer their good wishes. It's also an excellent time for the bride, groom or parents to say a few words.
The best time for the First Dance is right after dinner and the toast. It's a good transition between meal time and party time. During the meal, background music is playing. During the first dance, party music plays for the first time. No matter when it's done, it's a dramatic moment for the bride and groom.
Be sure to select the right first dance song; it's always best to pick a song that has personal meaning to both the bride and the groom. Don't let anyone influence your selection - pick the song that's right. Practice dancing together if necessary. In fact, many couples now have the dance professionally choreographed.
Many couples have a parents' dance right after the first dance. A popular arrangement is to have the bride dance with her father and the groom dance with his mother. Later in the dance, the spouses can cut in. When step-parents are involved, it's more complicated but can work. Plan it out in advance, and make sure that everyone involved knows what's happening; more than once I've had to track someone down in the bar!
Many times, the bridal party is asked up for a dance right after the parents dance. It's a good lead-in for the serious party music, which can start immediately after.
PARTY MUSIC: Make sure your DJ is sensitive to the music's volume. Loudness is easily controlled - it's a primary advantage available from disc jockeys. I make an effort to keeping the volume loud enough to be fun but low enough to be safe. Be sure to discuss this with the disc jockeys you interview.
Spend some time going over the music list. It's helpful for your DJ or band to know what you like. My partial music list list contains about 500 songs, arranged by decade. I ask my clients to highlight the ones they like, and cross out the ones they really do not like. The better the list, the better the show.
Get a DJ that takes requests and has a wide variety of music (like DJ Fogg). I bring at least 500 compact discs with me to every event. I think it's essential for the DJ or band to both take requests and actually PLAY THE REQUESTS!
One caveat on requests - not every request will be appropriate for a wedding. I try to go light on the break-up and heartbreak songs until later in the evening. I make an effort to play either lovesongs or songs that are neutral and fun during the reception. It's usually easy unless it's a country wedding!
Although I'm a disc jockey, I should say something about live bands. They're great! If you can find one you like that's affordable, by all means go for it. Just having that live-music vibe can be very exciting. Many bands specialize in weddings and other parties where a wide variety of music is necessary.
In defense of DJ's, I think we provide a greater selection of music and more control over music volume. DJ's are generally less costly as well.
The Money/Dollar dance is a fun way for the bride and groom to gather a little pocket money for the honeymoon. I start out by announcing the dance, instructing everyone to make one line for the bride, one line for the groom, and to get out their wallets. Then I play slow songs for as long as necessary. The money dance can go on for as long as 30 minutes.
Occasionally, families may have a special dance or wedding tradition to carry out at the reception. This is no problem for any good DJ, but it is critical for you to give the DJ detailed instructions ahead of time; don't expect him to pick it up on the fly. I recommend a rehearsal if possible. Another alternative is to arrange for either a family member or someone who understands the tradition to host the special moment.
Don't cut the cake too early; it signals the guests that it's okay to leave. I've seen it happen more than once; the cake is cut and the suddenly the room is empty! I recommend delaying cake cutting as long as possible.
On the other hand, some couples want to cut the cake early so "non-party" people can leave. After the exodus, the major party blowout begins. As a DJ, I endorse this concept. It's always more fun to have a party group that wants to dance.
Deciding on a time to cut the cake is often a trade off with the photographer. Since photographers usually contract for a specific number of hours, the later hours of the reception are often left uncovered. In these cases, the cake may have to be cut a little earlier than desired. Make the cake the last thing the photographer does before leaving.
Music for cake cutting: "Cut The Cake" by AWB. I have a double length version of the song that is over seven minutes long, just in case it takes a while!
I've found it convenient to do the garter and bouquet toss right after the cake is cut. By the time both activities are over, venue staff can be ready to serve cake.
Music for tossing the bouquet? How about "Chapel Of Love" by the Dixie Cups.
Music for removal of the garter? The de rigueur song is still "The Stripper" by David Rose. Unless the groom really gets into it (with his teeth!), it usually takes no more than a minute of music.
Consider carefully before leaving the reception to take pictures. I once had a couple decide to do some photographs on a nearby golf course during an afternoon reception. Nearly three-quarters of the guests left before they got back!
LAST TIP: Forget the rules. Do whatever makes you happy!
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