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Planning Your Reception
by Hugh R. Wilde

Your wedding reception should represent to you the best party you've ever attended as well as the best party you'll probably EVER attend! Your primary goal is to make sure that you have things just the way you want them and that you'll literally have the time of your life!

But what's that you say? You and your intended are dedicated Classic Rock fans, but the average age of your guests will be over 50?

You've already reached the first level of "compromise", your key word for wedding reception planning! Your vision of your primary goal will immediately start to pale as you begin to think about your secondary (and pretty much equal) goal: Keeping your guests happy, comfortable and entertained.

The following is a concise guide to compromise while planning your reception.


Now, the average person feels, and rightfully so, that the occasion of a marriage is more than enough "theme" for the event and that many people nowadays are getting carried away with the so-called theme party. However, by adding an overriding element to every aspect of your wedding day can lend an air of excitement to any event and can make your day extra special by personalizing the components.

Here are some of the more appealing of the recent trends:
The "All White" wedding is definitely "in" for 2002/2003. By color-coordinating everything from the carnations on the tuxes, to the table settings, to the bridal party gowns, to the table settings, right down to the frosting on the cake, you can give your wedding a magical feeling. The white is the latest trend, but by no means are you limited to that. Your favorite color or color combination is a great way to put your mark on the day. As always, however, you must remain within the boundaries of good taste. If your favorite colors are jet black and fire engine red, you may want to rethink things! White is perfect. It is the traditional color of a wedding and super easy to coordinate. Beyond that, any light color - pastels - is an easy mark to hit. Wouldn't you wish your wedding to look more like a watercolor painting than a NASCAR event?

The traditional ethnic wedding, from the clothing down to the music and food is regaining popularity after a period of decline. What could be more exciting than the Greek wedding, more enticing than an Italian wedding, more exotic than a Hawaiian wedding? Don't be afraid to wear your ethnicity proudly. You don't have to go overboard; you can apply elements of the traditional ethnic events to each of the pieces of your puzzle. Get a band or DJ who plays a healthy sampling of Canadian quadrilles, but also plays the other music commonly heard at receptions. Serve Greek stuffed grape leaves as one course on your traditional chicken dinner menu. Have your ring bearer and flower girl wear traditional costume from the country of your heritage. Or if you think your families and guests would enjoy it, then by all means go for a full-fledged event in the traditional ethnic style.

Planning your color scheme, menu and events to suit the time of year and/or location of your wedding is by all means a great way to make everything more intimate. If you're in a seaside area, choose a venue with a panoramic ocean view and encourage your guest to dress accordingly, especially if there's a deck available for mingling or dancing. Serve fish as an appetizer or one of the courses. If it's mid-winter, find a hall with a working fireplace and serve hot cider during the cocktail hour.

You get the picture - you can really have a lot of fun with this idea and really put a fun stamp on the proceedings.

A classic, often first, point of controversy is the number of guests invited. Let's say the bride and groom wish to have a "small" reception: A casual gathering of 50-100 guests at a reasonably priced rental hall. The parents want to have "the big wedding": 300 people at a formal affair held in the largest ballroom in town. Work it out, slowly but surely. Start at both ends and work towards the middle - how about a medium sized wedding? You could have 150-200 people at a country club and split the the two choices in both number and cost just about right down the middle.

For a medium to large-sized reception, a large hall or banquet room (such as a country club, hotel ballroom, large restaurant or commercialized mansion) can be the answer to a prayer for a couple in the planning stages. Venues like these have everything you'll need in one place (including things you haven't even thought of yet!). Most rooms will have various price packages available which will offer a variety of services and goods personally suited to your plans and style. Your first step is to phone ahead for either an appointment and/or to have some descriptive literature sent to your home. Make several appointments and compare not only prices and amenities, but get a feel for the coordinator with whom you tour the facility. This is the person with whom you will be making most of your plans and you really want to make sure you get along with and feel comfortable with this individual right from the start.

For an intimate to small wedding, your options are not necessarily more limited. You can hold your reception pretty much anywhere you'd like, limited only by the number of guests (and of course, as always, good taste!). A good place to start the decision making process is to poll those involved on the following location ideas:

- a private home
- outdoors
- a small rental hall (such as a VFW or American Legion Post or a Church hall)
- a private room in a restaurant, hotel or banquet facility

These locations offer an endless variety of stylistic and financial opportunities when planning a small wedding and depend mostly on how much planning and how much of the work you and those helping you are willing and able to put in.

And keep one thing in mind when trying to please yourselves and others at the same time: not only CAN it be done - it WILL be done. Everyone wants to get along and have a great day and cool heads will always prevail in the end. One of the great truisms of wedding planning is that "it will all be over before you know it."

From a backyard barbecue to a full-course sit-down dinner, the meal you serve at your reception is the focus of the early part of your reception and will set the tone for the rest of the party. Whatever you choose, here are a few things to keep in mind while planning your menu.

As a general rule, not many people are expecting to attend a wedding reception featuring filet mignon grilled to order and an open bar. Most everyone simply expects a nice meal to get things off to a good start. Set a realistic budget and STAY WITHIN YOUR BUDGET.

If you're planning a casual affair (at home, outdoors, a rental hall), be sure the food you are planning can be accommodated by the location. For instance, what will your guests do with steaks from the grill if there are only plastic knives and forks, paper plates, and limited seating? Use your heads!

For a formal or semi-formal setting, make sure your guests are aware of the "style" of your reception and will feel comfortable in that setting. Jeans at a country club or a suit at a cookout are surefire downers every time.

Another item which needs to be addressed these days is the need to provide meals for vegetarians and others on special diets for health or philosophical reasons. Find out which guests would prefer or require a meal other than the one you've planned and work with your caterer or coordinator to accommodate them.

One approach which had fallen out of favor in recent times, but is making a big comeback, is the buffet. A buffet can be set up in any manner from the most casual self-serve to the most formal with servers in tuxedos. And the buffet gives you a broader base not only in style, but in menu items, allowing you to make sure that there is truly "something for everyone".

Back to the original question that started this whole thing off: Provide your guests with music they'll all enjoy while making sure the bride and groom hear the kind of music they most enjoy. This is easily accomplished. Most professional bands and disc jockeys servicing the wedding reception business are experienced in presenting all styles of music for all ages, in a manner that will have everyone out on the floor and no one sitting around bored. Just about anyone can sit through a song they don't like as long as they know the next one up is something that will get them up and out of their chairs.

Don't be selfish with your choice of music. Satisfy all tastes and age groups. Just make sure that the entertainer knows what your favorite music is and makes it a point to focus on your favorite songs.

Make sure you have a schedule of events for the duration of your party and stick to the plan. You won't want any lulls in the action or the party could easily get boring and wind down early. This is especially important in a situation where you have your reception location for a specific amount of time. For instance, if you have an afternoon reception and the room is booked for the evening as well, there's no possibility of going into overtime. This makes planning and pacing an absolute necessity. Do you want to have a party with only 45 minutes left over for dancing after the meal and special events?

Here's a checklist:
1. After making their way through the receiving line, make sure your guests can either be seated, with wait service, or can proceed to a cocktail area. Don't leave them standing around with nothing to do or no refreshments.

2. Utilize the time between courses, have the coordinator or entertainer make announcements or dedicate some of the special dances. Have them play a game for the centerpieces. At the very least, make sure you have good background music playing at all times. One recent innovation (which has rapidly turned into a "must") for an activity while at table is to place a disposable camera at each centerpiece. Ask the guests to take pictures of each other and deposit the used-up cameras at the gift table. When these are developed they make a great souvenir to accompany your professional photos: candid, informal, often funny pictures of every single guest at your reception! (You can also send copies to the guests in with your thank you notes as a souvenir!)

(As an aside, if you're wondering about feeding your entertainers and photographers/videographers, there are several things to consider. First, you should most definitely make refreshments available to these important people. Think of how much time you and your guests will be spending at the reception and then add another 3 to 4 hours to that for the hired professionals. They've got to arrive before anyone and be all set before anyone else arrives. And then there's the pack-up and load-out. It's a long day for these folks and sustenance is required. Second, consider serving these folks first so that they can get back to business and keep the party moving while everyone else is still eating. Many coordinators feel like the musicians and other professionals are like second class "guests" and feed them last. But mostly they're tucked away in a corner near the stage or often in another room and they can be taken care of efficiently and quietly and be ready to get back to the tasks at hand while everyone else is still eating. It's all just good sense.)

3. After dinner, get right into whatever special activities or ceremonies you have planned (cutting the wedding cake, the garter & bouquet, special dances with parents, etc.) and make sure the entertainment continues until you are either ready to change or form a final receiving line or circle to say goodbye.

In conclusion, careful planning of your reception is the key to a great party. Rely on the professional assistance of the people you've hired: the reception coordinator/host, the caterer, the florist, the entertainers. Their experience will provide perfect guidance in planning just the the perfect party for you. Just remember that a wedding reception is nothing but a really, really big party and the buzzwords for any gathering are always "keep the party moving!"

A Guide to the Roles and Responsibilities of Your Bridal Entourage
by Carleen Melody

The selection of the members of your wedding party comprises a very personal and important part of your wedding plans. The roles played by the various members of the party are parts of a time-honored tradition. And as with most honors, there comes a certain amount of responsibility. Each role in the party carries with it particular duties and you should choose the members with that thought in mind - is this something they can handle?

Your wedding party should consist of those relatives and friends who are closest to you, people on whom you can always depend. The careful selection of those close few who will share the honor of a special place in your party will give you the feeling of being surrounded by those you love. And your feelings of security and affection will only add to your enjoyment of your special day as you'll be certain that everything has been "taken care of."

Here are some guidelines to think about when choosing the members of your wedding party.

To get something out the way up front, the bride's choice of an honor companion is very often a married, divorced, widowed, or older woman these days, referred to as the "matron" of honor. We are aware of this subtle distinction, but for the purposes of this article we will refer to the bride's choice throughout as "maid of honor".

The maid of honor is your closest friend, whether or not she is a relative. This special role carries with it many responsibilities. She will assist you with the details of your wedding plans, like shopping for your gown, addressing invitations and choosing flowers. It should be kept in mind that traditionally the Maid of Honor will pay for her gown and accessories. She also usually arranges the Bridal Shower in conjunction with the bride's family. The maid of honor is "in charge" of the bridesmaids and should organize the fittings, instruct them on their duties, and coordinate the purchase of the maids' gift to the bride. In addition to attending the rehearsal, the maid should be committed to helping the bride dress and get ready before the ceremony. She assists the bride with her bouquet, and veil or train, at all times. it is important to note that she will also be signing the certificate of marriage or wedding license as a legal witness. At the reception, she should stand immediately after the groom in the receiving line, a place of honor, and her duties will continue throughout the party.

Again, we are aware of the designation for best "person" if the groom's choice of honor companion is a woman, but will stick with "best man" for this article to keep things clear. The duties would remain the same.

As with the bride's choice, this position of honor should go to your "best friend", relative or not. The best man normally pays for his own attire. He is in charge of instructing the ushers to their duties and will coordinate the groom's transportation to the ceremony. The best man usually holds the rings until the ceremony, although many couples prefer to have the maid of honor hold the groom's ring, leaving him only with the responsibility of the bride's ring. He will also sign the certificate as a legal witness to the marriage. The best man handles the miscellaneous payments such as the clergyman, church, or tips. At the reception, he holds a place of honor escorting the maid of honor in the receiving line and in all other wedding party activities. At the head table, he is the toastmaster, offering the first toast to the couple which marks the official start of the festivities. Your best man should also make sure that your car is ready to go (or be returned to a safe place) and he should be prepared to return your tuxedo to the rental store in a timely manner.

Bridesmaids should be prepared to help out, when asked or when needed, with the plans for both the wedding day and the bridal shower. They usually pay for their own attire and contribute to the purchase of the gift for the bride. Bridesmaids may be asked to coordinate special details during the ceremony preparations or at the reception.

First and foremost, the ushers should be prepared for an early arrival at the ceremony to literally act as ushers. They must make sure everything is in order: flowers have arrived, musicians at the ready, heat or air conditioning adjusted, etc., and should be ready to run errands and or handle any minor crisis using intelligence guided by experience. They will seat the guests as they are arriving and then escort the bridesmaids down the aisle. They should also be prepared to deliver special assistance to the elderly or disadvantaged, and to coordinate the guests' trip from the ceremony to the reception, with special consideration for the out-of-towners.

If you decide to add in these lovely traditions to your wedding party, choose carefully and spend extra time with them at the rehearsal. The flower girl will carry a basket of flower petals to sprinkle down the aisle, or flowers to be passed out the to women seated near the aisle. The ring bearer may either escort the flower girl down the aisle, or follow her, with the rings on a pillow.

(Give careful consideration to the ages of these members of the party. Although you may be tempted to consider the youngest members of your families for these positions because it would be so "cute", be sure they can handle the responsibilities. Ages 4 to 10 seems to be a good guideline. However since first addressing this subject in an earlier issue of this magazine, we've seen a really well-behaved, well-coordinated two year old boy serve as a bearer! By pinning the rings to the pillow for extra protection, he got down the aisle all by himself and in his tiny tux he was an adorable addition to the ceremony. Just make sure you're confident the child can handle the responsibility.)

The Mother of the Bride is usually called on to help with the selection of the bridal gown, the particulars for the ceremony, and the menu and events at the reception. She is also generally the coordinator of the guest list and invitations. She serves as the hostess at the reception, standing first in line to greet guests.

Here are some helpful hints to organize the role:

About three months before the wedding, announce your daughter's engagement in your primary local newspaper/newsletter, and the groom's hometown paper (if he's from a different area, state or country).

If desired, this would be the time for the parents of the bride to host an engagement party for the members of your immediate or extended family and your closest friends.

Before any plans are made, organize a list of tasks to be accomplished and a schedule. Then divide the list into three parts: Items for the bride, for the mother of the bride, and those to be handled together.

In general, the mother of the bride may be called upon to help out in any area of the wedding plans and may often act as the principle coordinator as the day approaches. But there are great rewards in knowing that you've helped to make your daughter's wedding a perfect one!

The traditional "movie" role of the father of the bride is no longer with us. It is not an automatic assumption that he will be footing the bill. But his other duties are pretty much the same. He will escort the bride down the aisle, and escort the mother bride in the receiving line. He can also be depended on to take care of the final bills at the reception (caterer, entertainment, ec.). By this we mean, he will be in charge of writing the checks or distributing the cash no matter who actually paid for the reception. And remember, no matter what year this is, he wants a special dance with his daughter!

The role of the groom's parents has remained traditional and customary. They usually host the rehearsal dinner, they generally stand in the receiving line, and they should be prepared and willing to assist the bride and groom in preparations if called upon. Often nowadays, the bride and groom, bride's parents and groom's parents act together as "one big, happy family" and the parents of the groom are as involved in all aspects of the planning and execution of the wedding as anyone else. This, of course, would be determined in the very early stages of the planning and would depend how you'd like things handled.

Other guests at your wedding can be called into "service" as well. They can fill any role from go-fer to coat checker or simply stand around looking good! This can help you add to the fun by giving special attention to someone who was excluded from the "official" party but is still close to you and holds a special place in your heart. Here are some suggestions.

Personal Attendant
The bride and groom could each have a special person to run errands or fetch things when the maid of honor and best man are otherwise engaged with their other duties. For instance, they can get drinks for the bride and groom, help out in the restrooms, bring up the car - whatever needs doing right away. This is an especially good job for older teens who may otherwise feel out of place at these kinds of affairs. It gives them a sense of purpose and keeps you and your attendants from fretting over minor details.

Cleanup Crew
These folks will help set things in order at the end of the reception. They'll gather up the gifts and deliver them to their proper destination, distribute centerpieces, cake slices and favors, help with the cars, and generally attend to any details which might see something or someone left behind! This is a great job for anyone who was left out of the wedding party for space or other reasons. It gives them a special role on your special day and you'll be sure someone you trust is in charge of some very important, often overlooked details.

Honorary Attendants
This role is usually reserved for grandparents. However, in recent times with divorce/remarriage as an almost omnipresent consideration, the role has been extended to step-parents, step-siblings, step-grandparents and other members of your extended family. It also is a great way to honor friends and siblings at a small wedding. In other words, if it indeed had been a large wedding, these folks would have been in the wedding party. Generally, these honorees are not required to fill any special role, but are set off from other guests by wearing corsages or bouttonieres which the bride and groom provide and are often seated at a table or tables adjoining the head table.

In conclusion, as with all other aspects of putting together a wedding, careful planning, thoughtful choices and early decisions will add to your carefree enjoyment of your wedding when the roles each person are clearly defined and will enhance the memories of your special day as you recall what each member of your party did with you and for you at your wedding.

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