Wedding ceremonies are often incredible, elaborate affairs, but the reception is typically a little more casual, even at a formal wedding. Whatever your style, planning your wedding reception is almost as important as the ceremony itself. A good meal, some music and dancing and lots of toasts are part of the fun on a wedding day. Unfortunately, creating a beautiful reception takes a lot of planning. There are many small details that all matter, like ice and a place to put jackets.
Luckily you don’t have to start from scratch and play guessing games. Generations of people getting married have streamlined and simplified the process. A good reception checklist will help ensure you have all the essential elements, from large furniture to small pieces of paper like place cards. You can always adjust things to suit your personal style but start with a checklist to make things simple.
What Is a Wedding Reception Checklist?
A wedding reception checklist is a perfect tool to ensure your reception goes according to plan. Every item you need is broken down into simple categories to easily check what you have and what you still need to find for your big day. Using a checklist keeps you organized and on-task, so nothing gets missed.
The Ultimate Wedding Reception Checklist
Planing a wedding and the reception afterward can be stressful if you’re not sure what you need. Start with the guest list to know how much space, how many chairs and meals, and other things you need like tables and decorations. All you have to do is follow the Ultimate Wedding Reception Checklist and tick off each category and item as you handle it.
Decorations and Flowers
Decorations and flowers can be as simple or complex as you want them. Below are some of the most common choices.
- Vases with flowers for the tables
- A floral or balloon arch
- Food warmers for tables
- Standing displays of flowers
- Hanging paper lanterns
- Photo booth displays
The size of our wedding party and guest list will determine how many pieces of furniture you need. Some weddings use a single long table for a catered meal with servers. Others have a buffet and 10 to 100 small tables with chairs for a huge guest list. Adjust this list according to your expectations and always add an extra chair or two in case you need them at the last minute.
- Tables for eating, presents, a buffet, the bar, and wedding favors
- Chairs for every guest
- Sofas or comfortable seating
If you are setting up outdoors or have a specific style in mind, you may need to purchase some lanterns, string lights, or other lighting options. However, many receptions are indoors at venues with preexisting lights.
Pro tip- Choose electric candles for the table to prevent fires.
Printables, Paper, and Signage
Whether you put these together yourself or have a professional company print them and a calligrapher do the lettering, you will need a few paper and signage items to help people.
- Guest book for people to sign
- Reception signs for parking, restrooms, bar, and other locations of note like a photo booth, coat check, and gift table
- Place cards
- Tags for wedding favors
- Table numbers and stands
- Music playlist
- Vendor Information
- Allergy information for the foods and drinks
Linens are easy because there’s not a lot in this category. If you plan to save, reuse or resell the tablecloths afterward, consider putting a clear vinyl cover over the tables.
- Cloth napkins
- Possibly table runners and placemats, depending on your setup
The meal is the center of any reception. This is where people go after a long (or short) ceremony to relax, make toasts, dance, and congratulate the newlyweds.
- Serving dishes
- Salt, pepper, and other table condiments
- Cups and glasses
- Utensils for serving
- Hors d’oeuvres and Appetizers
- Side Dishes
- Champagne Flutes
- Champagne for the toast
Not every wedding has a bar, but most do. It’s best to narrow the menu to a few basic drink and shot options.
- Drink Cups or glasses
- Table or bar
- Nonalcohol options like water and juice
Cake and Dessert
Some couples opt for a more nontraditional dessert setup like a donut wall. If this is you, skip the cake and knife, but make sure you still have plates and napkins. Likewise, you can do cupcakes, cookies, pies, or other treats. Make sure you ask guests if they are gluten-free, vegan, vegetarian, or diabetic before you make your plans so you can include a safe option for special dietary needs.
- Cake Stand
- Cake plates
- Decorative cake knife
- Small napkins
- Coffee and teacups
- Coffee and tea
- Coffee and tea makers
- Sugar bowls and creamer options
- Spoons or stir sticks
Music, Entertainment, and Dancing
A reception without dancing is like a cake without frosting or decorations. You can pull it off, but most people expect to see it. If you are not the dancing type, it’s alright, but you should still have music for ambiance.
- Dance floor
- Stage or DJ booth
- Power Source
- DJ or band
- Tip for DJ or Band
- Music selections
- Other entertainers are optional, but they can add glamour, humor, and excitement.
- Photo Booth
- Photographer or disposable guest cameras
Whether you have an outdoor reception or an outside area, you need a few extras. Make sure you check these items off for any reception that uses a lawn, porch, pool, or other space outdoors.
- Citronella candles or tiki torches
- Bug spray
- Tents for shade
- Heaters in winter or fans in summer
- Ashtrays for smokers
Having a small handful of courtesy amenities on hand for female guests can make the event much classier. More importantly, it will be more comfortable and enjoyable for the ladies at your reception.
- Wraps for outdoor events in the evening
- A basket of feminine hygiene products for comfort
- Flats or other flat-soled shoes for dancing
Not every wedding allows children. However, if you plan to have your friends and relatives bring their little ones, they will need a few basic kid-friendly amenities.
- Kid-friendly dining options
- Plastic cups, preferably with lids
- A play area for little ones
- Kid’s activities like coloring or games to keep them busy
A few other items you need don’t quite fit in any of the categories above. The five things below will help your reception go off without a hitch.
- Tips for all the serving staff and vendors (put these in envelopes)
- Extra power strips
- Chargers for devices
- Garbage cans and bags
- A coat rack or other place for jackets
- First aid kit
Wedding receptions are a lot of fun, but they also require a fair amount of planning. If you want it done right, you need to see all the details on the checklist above. Here are a few more frequently asked questions to help make your special occasion memorable.
The list below is a simple order of events for a wedding reception.
ᐅ Receiving Line
ᐅ Cocktail Hour for Bride and Groom’s Family
ᐅ Guest Entrance
ᐅ Wedding Party Entrance
ᐅ Newlywed Entrance
ᐅ Welcome Speech
ᐅ First Dance
ᐅ Guest Dancing
ᐅ Bouquet and Garter Toss
ᐅ Cake Cutting
ᐅ (Optional) Coffee, tea, and entertainment
ᐅ Thank You Speech
ᐅ Seeing the bride and groom off (skip the rice and confetti throwing, it’s bad for animals and the environment)
The food is the most important part of a wedding reception. A bad meal can put everyone in a crummy mood, while a good one will be a happy memory. People associate smells with their memories, so recalling the delicious scents from a fantastic spread literally makes a wedding memorable.
A good wedding reception lasts 4 to 5 hours. It would be best to have enough time to enjoy drinks, food, speeches, toasts, and dancing, but not so much that people get drunk or bored and antsy to leave. If you want to dance all night, book a spacious hotel room and have an after-party with your new spouse and maybe a few close friends instead of making everyone stay late at an overlong reception.
The best wedding receptions are the ones that go smoothly. Pay attention to details like seating arrangements and keeping a schedule so that your reception runs according to plan. The Ultimate Wedding Reception Checklist will help you make sure you have all the supplies you need to plan the perfect wedding reception.