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For your wedding reception, one of the first choices you need to make is whether the event will be formal or casual. You might picture an elegant soiree, complete with a jazz band, fine wines, gourmet food, and an extravagant setting. Conversely, you might prefer an outdoor picnic potluck where comfortable summer attire is appropriate.
Several couples I interviewed opted for a brunch buffet or luncheon instead of an evening meal, and holding a reception earlier in the day has several advantages.
One of the biggest is cost. A morning or midday meal is usually significantly less expensive than an evening one. Your guests aren't likely to drink as much as they would at an evening reception. If you choose to serve alcohol, only wine and champagne are necessary, although some couples choose to have an open bar with mixed drinks available.
Venue availability is also a benefit. You might have a better chance finding an opening at a popular venue if your reception will be early in the day.
Another advantage is that an early reception is generally shorter than a later reception. Some couples prefer this to a drawn-out evening event.
Jan and Mike wanted a simple reception, without dancing, so they chose to host a luncheon at a restaurant that is a converted train car.
"I have always [avoided] the limelight. [I] never enjoyed big weddings . . . with all the protocol, receiving lines, etc. . . I wanted to feel relaxed but still wanted to be the bride," says Jan.
Because of Jan's love of trains, the café they chose was a perfect fit. "I wanted something different. I have been to so many horrible weddings in legion halls. . . . I wanted people to have a decent lunch," says Jan, noting that they chose a buffet of hot chicken, salads, cheeses, and fruit.
If you have an earlier reception, you can still make it elegant. Lynette and Charles, who got married in December inside a Phoenix mansion, had an elaborate reception with brunch that included-among many other choices-iced jumbo shrimp, a carving station with prime rib, an omelet station, and eggs Benedict. The couple did not want dancing at their reception, so they had Christmas carolers as well as a harpist provide the music for the afternoon. They also decided to forgo the bouquet toss and the garter toss. "We wanted to make our day more memorable with the carolers and harp, [not] bore the guests with the typical reception activities," says Lynette.
White linen. Plates of scrumptious appetizers. Ice sculptures. Fruit displays. Gerbera daisies. Swanky jazz tunes. Wine. Tuxedos and gowns. A cocktail reception can be a sophisticated, yet less expensive alternative to a dinner event. Along with cost, many of the same advantages of a lunch or brunch reception apply for a cocktail reception. It doesn't usually last as long as a dinner, which can be good for couples who want to make their getaway sooner rather than later. It can have all the same rituals of a traditional wedding reception or none at all. Although many cocktail receptions are somewhat formal, they don't have to be. (One drawback, however, is that your guests might indulge a bit more on alcohol.) Usually a cocktail reception has no assigned table seating. Guests tend to stand and mingle.
Jane and Mike had a cocktail reception at a California inn rather than a sit-down meal. "We had appetizers and wine and [other] beverages with circulating waiters," says Jane, who says the food was "practically cheap!" She describes the reception as "bright, summery, festive, informal, [and] flowery."
Imagine tables full of desserts: three of your favorite kinds of cheesecake, some mocha and chocolate tortes, freshly baked pies, pastries, handmade chocolates, homemade cookies, and five kinds of ice cream. I don't know about you, but that sounds like my kind of reception.
A dessert reception, which can be held in the afternoon or evening, is a mouthwatering and flexible option. Dessert can be passed around by servers or placed on a buffet table. Although champagne and wine make nice accompaniments, they are not necessary. Couples who don't want alcohol at their reception might choose to serve tea and coffee. Just like the cocktail reception, this delicious event is usually short but sweet, and it is less structured than a dinner reception. One thing to keep in mind: If you have diabetics on the guest list, make sure you provide some sugar-free options.
From Christina Friedrichsen's Intimate Weddings: Planning a Small Wedding that Fits Your Budget and Style
12 Ideas for a Memorable Wedding
Who Pays for What?
Quick Guide to Planning a Massachusetts Wedding
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