Category Archives: Receptions

Brainstorming: Dry Wedding or Keg Party?

Fear not — these extremes aren’t your only options. But for a lot of brides, the extremes are what happens.

I’ve been to many a dry wedding, and for all the people who say no alcohol = no fun, I want to ask, since when do you require a chemical enhancement to enjoy a friend’s happiness? I’ve also been to open bar weddings, which have had varying levels of prudently imbibing vs. tipsy/obnoxious guests. And then there’s the wine bar/limited cocktail hour, where drinks are only served until the amount of alcohol consumed reaches a certain price point — then the bartender closes up shop. Or the much-maligned cash bar, where guests pony up for their own adult beverages.

And before I go any farther, let me just say I love every option — as long as it’s the right option for each wedding. But that’s up to you to decide, not some wedding etiquette guru who tries to tell you a wedding must have alcohol or a relative who insists you keep it dry. So let’s go through the pros and cons of each option.

No Alcohol:
Pros: You won’t be paying (likely a minimum of $500 or more) for drinks; you’re guaranteed no alcohol-induced shenanigans or embarrassing performances from guests.
Cons: Some guests might feel you’re neglecting your role as host; the dance floor is likely to be less lively than if you allow guests to loosen up with a drink; no champagne toast.

Is a no-alcohol wedding for you? Consider how many of your friends and family drink socially. Then consider whether you have friends or family who habitually overindulge. If the answer tilts toward the latter, an alcohol-free wedding will preserve your sanity on the big day. Also consider your budget: if a lot of your guests will be just as happy without wine to accompany their dinners, you’ll save quite a bit of cash while still enjoying a nice party.

Cash Bar:
Pros: This allows guests to enjoy alcoholic drinks without adding a hefty sum to your reception cost; a cash bar means guests can have the drink of their choice.
Cons: Some guests might be offended at the thought of spending their own money at your party; cash bars are frequently considered gauche by wedding experts (although my reception coordinator recommended it!); you might end up with tipsy/drunk guests.

Is a cash bar right for your wedding? Chances are, your budget is going to play the biggest role in deciding the answer to that. If you want to provide your guests with a lavish and gracious party, you might hesitate to ask them to pony up for the drinks they want, but if your budget is tight, making alcohol cash-optional is a way to let them have the option to drink without sending you into debt.

Wine & Specialty Drinks Only / Cocktail Hour / Cash-Limited Bar:
Pros: You get to offer alcohol to your guests on your own terms — serve “signature cocktails,” serve drinks for a certain amount of time only, or until you reach a certain price point, all of which save you $$.
Cons: With a predetermined cutoff bar or cash-limited bar, some guests might drink their way through eight brewskis and help you reach your cash limit well before other guests have even gotten their first drink; you might end up with tipsy/drunk guests.

Are any of these alcohol-inclusive but limited options for you? If you want to give alcohol to your guests but keep control over the cost or quantity of drinking that takes place, you’re best bet is to choose one of these options.

Open Bar:
Pros: You can truly wine and dine your guests.
Cons: You’re all but assured of a very high bar tab and quite likely to end up with tipsy/drunk guests.

Is an open bar the way to go at your wedding? If budget isn’t an issue and you have friends and family who love to sample different types of drinks throughout the night, an open bar is probably the way to go. But if you anticipate a lot of guests will overindulge because the booze is on you, consider scaling back to a quantity bar — after X number of drinks are served, it’s time to switch over to virgin cocktails and sparkling cider for the night.

Whatever option you’re leaning toward, when it comes to serving alcohol — or not –making sure you, your fiance and your family are comfortable with the decision is more important than trying to please anyone else, even your guests. You know what you do and don’t want at your wedding. You also probably know your guests well enough to to assess which offering would suit them best. Talk it over with your closest family and friends, and ask previous brides how they’ve handled it at their weddings (and what results they’ve had).

And, whichever way you go, cheers!

~ Laura

Wedding Brainstorming: First Dance

The first dance can be one of the most memorable...or most nerve-wracking...parts of your wedding. Photo by Laura Yang.

If you’re a spotlight-loving performer, your first dance will be a few moments of pure bliss.

But if you get stage fright, know you’re a weak dancer or just plain don’t like being the center of attention, well, you’ve got a problem on your hands.

There’s no law that says couples must have a first dance.  As far back as I can remember, though, I’ve only attended one wedding that didn’t have one. If you’re having dancing at your reception, it really does make sense for the couple to kick things off — especially if the bride and her father want to follow up with a father-daughter dance.

No matter whether you’re giddy with excitement or queasy with nerves, brainstorm how you want your first dance to go and you’ll feel a lot more confident once all eyes are on you. Use these simple questions to get started.

1.) Do you want to use a sentimental song (“your” song, song you remember from your first date, etc.) or choose a romantic standard or a piece of classical music?

2.) What sort of tone do you want to set/how do you want to feel during your first dance (lighthearted, romantic, joyful, etc.)?

3.) Would you like your dance choreographed, either to look fancy or give you a basic roadmap?

4.) Do you know any formal dance styles? Would you like to learn before your wedding so you can aptly waltz, swing, or foxtrot your way around your reception?

5.) Think back on first dances you’ve witnessed. Which did you, as a guest, enjoy? Were there any you thought looked embarrassingly bad or overly theatrical? Figure out what you did and didn’t like, and plan accordingly.

6.) Would having your bridal party or parents join you midway through the music add to your enjoyment of your first dance?

In the weeks leading up to our wedding, D and I practiced well into the wee hours of the morning on several occasions. And, amateurs that we are, we still fumbled during our first dance. But it was a lovely few minutes of feeling all alone together — yet still surrounded by the people we loved most. No matter whether you glide with perfection or trip on each other’s toes, I hope you enjoy your magical moments, too!

~ Laura

Your Reception, Your Way

A cocktail reception, with just drinks and assorted hors d'oeuvres, may not actually be less expensive than that buffet dinner. Plan wisely!

A cocktail reception, with just drinks and assorted hors d'oeuvres, may not actually be less expensive than that buffet dinner. Plan wisely!

Every bride has her own preferences. Some want a sunset wedding on the beach. Others want full-blown church weddings.  Some want slinky sheath dresses, while others want Cinderella ballgowns. Some want laid-back parties, and some want swanky black tie affairs.  But every bride wants to make sure she, her new husband, and their guests have a fabulous time.  And when it comes to receptions, there are so many ways to do that.

The thing is, your reception is going to take over at least half your wedding budget. That’s just the way it goes when you’re feeding several dozen or several hundred guests. At receptions, some type of food is mandatory, but by choosing your reception time and style, you can find food that fits your budget.

Breakfast/Brunch Reception

Following an early morning ceremony, nothing beats an elegant breakfast or a creative brunch. For intimate affairs, consider hosting the party at home or in your back yard; for larger celebrations, a country club or boutique restaurant should fit the bill. You’ll save money by not  serving hors d’ourvres, and it’s a rare guest that will expect alcohol (unless you make it a champagne brunch) before noon. While you’ll still need tables, linens, and centerpieces, you can go simply elegant for a breakfast or brunch — the over-the-top “wow” factor of many dinner receptions would seem out of place in the cheery daylight.  A breakfast or brunch reception is a lovely way to cap off a sunrise beach wedding, a quiet chapel or garden wedding, or a ceremony at home.

Lunch Reception

In the early afternoon, you can bypass multi-course meals and serve a simple buffet or offer a dinner meal. For lunch, many venues offer the same quality food in slightly smaller portions, and at a lower price. But, seeing as it’s lunch, instead of serving filet mignon or sea bass, you could put out a gourmet spread of cold cuts, artisan cheeses, crisp fresh fruits and vegetables, flavorful dips, and unique microbrews. At small, casual gatherings, you can bypass assigned seating, saving money on escort cards and table numbers. And your guests will likely feel at ease, more relaxed and laid-back than at a fancier nighttime gathering. If you’re hoping for a no-nonsense fun time, a lunch reception could be your dream party.

A cocktail reception can be a fun mixer -- literally.

A cocktail reception can be a fun mixer -- literally.

Cocktail Reception

Taking place any time from mid-afternoon to late evening, cocktail receptions are heavy on alcohol and finger foods and light on silverware and seating charts. You won’t need arranged seating at a cocktail reception, which will save you money on escort cards, and since your guests will be mingling the majority of the time, you can keep tables to a minimum as well — slashing the number of linens and centerpieces you’ll need to purchase or rent. (Just be sure there are plenty of seats for guests who want to rest their feet!) Keep in mind that guests will likely consume more alcohol at a cocktail reception than at a dinner reception, simply because mixing — with cocktail shakers and with other guests — is the main objective.  You’ll have to keep the hors d’oeuvres passing and the liquor flowing, but the fun festivities of an upscale cocktail party might be just what you ordered.

Buffet Dinner Reception

Traditionally less expensive than a seated dinner reception, but heartier than an hors d’oeuvres-only reception, a buffet can be as formal or casual as you make it.  Buffet servers in tuxedos lend an air of refinery, while a do-it-yourself approach can make your dinner reception less expensive than breakfast at a country club.  Keep in mind that you will need table space for all your guests, and assigned seating, as well as designating which tables may serve themselves first, is a good idea. That way you can ensure your elderly grandparents don’t get stuck standing at the end of the line. In some parts of the country, buffets are more expensive per-person than plated dinners, but you can all but guarantee your guests will get as much food as they’d like. If your guests’ comfort and a variety of mouth-watering foods are your top priorities, providing a buffet may be your best bet.

Seated Dinner Reception

The traditional seated dinner reception is most commonly associated with black tie celebrations — but it can also be a cozy, down-home shindig, if you’d like. In some parts of the country, seated dinners are less expensive than buffets. Just remember that you will be paying more in your gratuity, because you will need approximately one server per table, versus one server per ever twenty or thirty people at a buffet. One benefit is that your guests will be able to remain comfortably in their chairs, keeping the reception room traffic jam-free, as servers bring out their meals. Ideally, assigned seating ensures your guests share a table with other acquaintances, or at least other guests they’ll get along with, so prepare to pay for escort cards or a seating chart. Many brides also choose to provide their guests with a menu card, one per guest or one per table, if the guests have not previously been offered a menu option. But if you’re hoping for an elegant, hassle-free meal at your reception, the seated dinner is what you’ll want.

Dessert Reception

A dessert reception is a delicious way to celebrate your new marriage.

A dessert reception is a delicious way to celebrate your new marriage.

Following an evening wedding, a dessert reception is a chic way to cap off the evening. Whether you choose to provide a wide array of unique desserts, or simply some sweets, wedding cake, and coffee, guests will have plenty of time to mix and mingle, as well as dance. Like a cocktail reception, few guests will want to sit throughout the reception, so you can use fewer tables and save on linens and centerpieces. Similarly, assigned seating and escort cards are unnecessary.  Brides who want a reception that’s out of the ordinary and heavy on sugar but light on alcohol should consider offering just desserts.  (Just make sure your guests know they should eat dinner before they arrive!)

Potluck Reception

While you might see this frowned upon in some bridal magazines and blogs, potluck receptions can be a beautiful and personal way for a couple to celebrate with their loved ones. That said, keep in mind — potluck receptions are probably best celebrated only with very close family and friends. Extremely easy on your budget, because of the many contributors, potlucks allow you to enjoy old favorite family recipes. But if there’s a chance your Uncle Ted will bring his infamous chili corndog stew, you might want to pass — or set up a potluck theme, which would give you a tad more control over the dishes served. Think ethnic to celebrate your heritage(s), or a Hawaiian luau theme if you and your new husband are headed off to the South Pacific. Assigned seating would seem pretentious at such an intimate gathering, and your decor could be as plain or as fancy as you’d like. For a couple who prizes family and simplicity, hosting a wedding potluck would make a wonderful new memory.

I’ve attended or at least known people who have held each of these types of receptions — and every kind has been a great and happy successes for the families involved.

Happy reception planning!

~ Laura

Curb Your Cashflow

When actress Elizabeth Hurley wed businessman Arun Nayar in 2007, the pair spent $2.5 million on ceremonies and parties in both England and India.

When actress Elizabeth Hurley wed businessman Arun Nayar in 2007, the pair spent $2.5 million on ceremonies and parties in both England and India.

Whenever I look at my reception plans, I want to whip out a pair of pruning sheers and snip off the extra expenses.  Those expenses are trying to overgrow my neat and tidy budget like kudzu swallowing up a garden, and people: if it happens, it won’t be pretty.

At least there are some couples out there who to whom money is no object.  Just this week, I browsed through a delightful slide show on msn.com. The title says it all: “The 15 Most Ridiculous Celebrity Weddings.”

Holding your wedding at an English, Scottish, Irish, Italian or Indian castle or palace is, you know, normal if you’re a celebrity.  If Elton John and Oprah Winfrey and Donald Trump are going to watch your vow swap.  If your budget tops out at a measley couple million dollars.

For the rest of us, money is an object the size of Texas.

But as I’ve been doing research for the book, and working my way ever closer to my own wedding, I’ve picked up a few tips from the pros about where to save money.  (And, I like to think, sleuthed my way to a few solutions myself.)

So, without further ado: ten tips on how to avoid a budget buster at your reception.

1. The earlier in the day you plan your wedding, the more money you’re likely to save on reception costs.  Some sites have lower minimums for a daytime (or weekday) wedding, guests will expect less and food — and less formal food — and will consume less alcohol.

2. Serving a beer and wine bar instead of a full open bar will usually save you a few dollars per drink — and keep all but the most determined guests from getting tipsy.

3. Find out if your reception venue allows you to serve your own alcohol.  The site might charge a corking fee, but the price difference between your bottle of wine + corking fee and their bottle of wine might still come out in your favor.

4. Discuss your reception venue’s drink-clearing policy in detail.  Some locations instruct staffers to remove any unattended drink includingglasses that are completely full, which means that when your guest realizes her drink has gone missing, she’ll return to the bar — and you’ll get charged another $8 for her second appletini.

5. Paying a little extra for butlered hors d’oeuvres may well pay for itself: with guests only able to eat one piece of food at a time, you won’t have to deal with guests who decide the cocktail hour should be their first full meal of the night.

6. Ask about a kids’ entree for the little ones.  If your venue doesn’t serve kids’ meals often, ask if they can work with you to create something that’s financially proportional to the amount the kiddos will eat — and that’s palatable to the chicken-fingers/macaroni/hot dog-loving age range.

7. If your reception venue has a wood, tile, stone, or cement floor, skip the rented dance floor and artfully arrange the edges of your dance floor with plants, ribbons, or flowers dangling from the ceiling.

8. Before you begin buying vases or decorations for your centerpieces, check with your venue to find out if they offer centerpiece basics for free.  If not, check with your florist, rental company, or local fabric specialty store to get price quotes for renting, rather than buying, the items you need.

9. Have your decor pull double duty: send it home with guests as favors.  Set out cheery wildflowers in aluminum watering cans or mason jars for a spring wedding; decorate with elegant conch shells and sand dollars for a summer bash; add a splash of autumn color with gold, copper and bronze votive holders in the fall; hang a miniature wreath over the back of each chair for a Christmastime celebration.

10. When it comes to your cake, most of the cost is directly tied in to the time and talent necessary to create it.  A simply decorated, butter cream-frosted cake will be cheaper than an elaborate fondant one; a few-tiered cake will be cheaper than a multi-tiered one.  Cheaper still: order a tiered cake that’s too small to feed your guests, and order an identical sheet cake to make up the quantity difference.  If you want a fancy cake without a fancy price tag, consider having your baker decorate a styrofoam cake, and just serving sheet cake.

Just remember: it’s your party, and probably the biggest party of your life.  You want to make sure it’s everything you dream of, but that doesn’t mean you can’t still cut corners, cash-wise.  Your wedding day is the beginning of your new life — and you probably want to start that new life with as little debt as possible!

~ Laura

A Bit of Bubbly

One wedding tradition I love is the champagne toast. There’s something so magical, so intimate about raising a glass with everyone in the room, drinking to the health and happiness of the glowing couple. Or perhaps I just love a good glass of bubbly. Either way, champagne toasts are one of my favorite parts of a wedding.

There's nothing like a good glass of Champagne...or Cap Classique, or Cava, or Espumante, or Prosecco, or....

There's nothing like a good glass of Champagne...or Cap Classique, or Cava, or Espumante, or Prosecco, or....

But these days, trying to cut costs often means substituting a less expensive drink for champagne, or skipping group toasts altogether. Look for unique ways to save your cash and save the toast — you’ll get points for creativity and get to share a special moment with your guests.

Cava is basically champagne without champagne’s price tag. Spanish-made cava sparkles a delicate white or pink, tastes delicious — and unless you tell your guests, or have a professional sommelier in attendance, there’s a good chance no one will even realize you’ve swapped wine from the Champagne region of France for wine from the country to the southwest.

Other countries craft their own varieties of sparkling wines: Italy offers refreshing Prosecco; South Africa’s version of Champagne is Methode Cap Classic or Cap Classique; Portugal produces Espumante. Here in the USA, we usually just call them sparkling wines.  The price range can start at under $10 a bottle, and climb into triple digits — though none of them can rival the prices of the world’s most expensive champanges.

Champagne punch is a tasty alternative to serving your guests straight champagne.

Champagne punch is a tasty alternative to serving your guests straight champagne.

If your reception site or catering agreement allows you to supply your own alcohol, you’ll save a considerable amount of money if you shop your local wine sellers for great deals on cases of great wines.

Another option is to offer your guests a lot of flavor with a little less bubbly: Champagne punch.

Mix up a batch of Pomegranate Champagne Punch, Pink Lemonade Champagne Punch, Guava Champange Punch, or Apricot Brandy Punch for your guests, or create your own recipe to coordinate with your menu or add a splash of just the right color.

If you’re not one to dilute your alcohol with fruit, consider serving kir

Elegant and delicious, kir is a cocktail traditionally made of a blend of creme de cassis and champagne, but it comes in varieties ranging from Kir Cardinal (which substitutes red wine for champagne) to Kir Breton(which substitutes Breton cider for champagne) to Hibiscus Royal(which features an edible hibiscus flower).  Hint: any kir with “royal” in its name features champagne, but you can easily swap a less expensive sparkling wine.

Sparkling cider is also good to have on hand for toasts.  Not only is it far less expensive (think $4 a bottle at your local grocery store) than alcohol, but there’s a good chance some of your wedding guests aren’t drinkers, or that you’ll have underage guests who would like to participate in the toast.  Besides, when you’re serving a nonalcoholic drink, you won’t feel bad if your guests keep going back for more — and more — and more.

With your drinks taken care of, all you’ll have to worry about is writing that pesky toast.  Cheers!

~ Laura

Making Cents of Reception Site Costs

One of my top priorities when I got engaged was to locate and book an elegant, sizeable and affordable reception venue.

It took me about an hour to learn those three are almost universally mutually exclusive.


In the three weeks after my engagement, my mother and I contacted and visited fourteen potential reception sites, some decidedly more upscale than others.  What we discovered, though, was that cost didn’t always equal better service or even a better location.  Even more important, after hours of number crunching with my fiancé, I realized that, no matter where we held our reception, the total prices at each venue would be within a few hundred dollars of the other venues’ costs.  The less we paid up front, the more we would end up spending on decorations or other embellishments.  The more we paid up front, the less we would sweat the details that add up quickly.

Along the way, I learned a few tricks about how to spot hidden costs in reception packages, how to negotiate away some of the expense, and how to figure out what you just can’t do without.

1. Weigh the Venue’s Aesthetic Pros and Cons.
          For my dream wedding, an elegant reception site was a must.  In my quest for the perfect venue, I visited country clubs, ocean front resorts, quaint bed and breakfasts and historic meeting halls.  While some looked perfectly lovely without sprays of flowers bursting from the side tables, others looked dog-eared, like a worn paperback book that’s been passed from one reader to the next.  Although I realized most of those locations would look revitalized with a facelift of potted trees and plants, I calculated the money I would spend on decorations and quickly came to the conclusion that it wouldn’t be cost effective.  The lesser cost of those sites would be completely offset by what I’d spend sprucing it up.
          Now, if you’re simply looking for a wide open space where you can set up a dance floor and party away, reserving a less expensive venue is definitely the way to go.  But if you want to create a sophisticated atmosphere, do the math before immediately ruling out the sites that come with their own built in mood, whether from ornate architectural elements or a stunning view.

2. Make Sure the Site’s Feel and Amenities Blend with Your Vision.
          You might find a hip loft that offers a great price for a Sunday night or a grand ballroom that will comfortably seat your 300 guests, but if you want a traditional wedding or a relaxed country-style affair, neither location works for you.  No matter how cheap they may be.
          Don’t sacrifice your wedding style for a location that upsets the mood you’d like at your reception.  Don’t be overwhelmed by the chef’s watermelon carvings if you had your heart set on an eight course French dinner.  Don’t zero in on the breathtaking landscape if you’re planning a nighttime reception.  Make sure the site offers what your wedding needs, not what made someone else’s wedding beautiful.
 3. Make Sure You Work Compatibly with the Site Coordinator.

          I only took Danny to one reception venue — the very first one we checked out — and by the time we left, he’d already had too much.  The overbearing site coordinator left such a bad taste in his mouth that he calmly requested I visit the rest of the sites on our list alone.
          Site after site, I met aloof or blunt or saccharine-y event coordinators.  By the time I visited LPGA International, I’d gotten tired of  coordinators who couldn’t care less about my vision for my reception — coordinators who just wanted to sell me their most expensive package — coordinators who tried to convince me their site was better than my first impression.  Then I met Lorraine.  Following a thorough tour of LPGA, we settled in to a table in the clubhouse’s bar.  Within minutes, Lorraine was excitedly affirming my color scheme and offering ideas of how to implement it throughout the reception.  She wanted to know what kind of food my fiancé and I loved.  We discovered we had mutual friends and acquaintances, and chatted about other weddings she’d overseen.  Lorraine, as much as the beautiful site itself, sealed the deal: I had found my reception site.
          A few weeks later, I took Danny to see the site.  He was delighted with the views and the rooms’ layout — and with Lorraine, too.  When your fiancé tells you he’s glad you picked a certain site because of the coordinator, you know you’ve found a gem.

4. Request a Full, Itemized Quote for the Services You’d Like.
          Don’t rely on adding up the numbers in your head or you will be dismayed when you read the final price.  Just multiplying the price per person by your number of guest leaves out to major costs: gratuities, which usually range from 18% to 21%, and taxes.
          Ask the on-site coordinator to draw up a quote that includes everything you might want at your reception — from a dance floor to an ice sculpture to butlered ahi tuna bites to valet parking.  Once you have your high-end estimate (which will probably be astronomical; don’t panic), you can begin slicing and dicing to fit your budget.  That’s what Lorraine at LPGA International, did for me.  She also drew up two quotes: one based on a plated dinner for 175, the other based on an hors d’oeuvres reception for the same number of guests.  It was incredibly helpful as my family and I worked on figuring out how much and where to spend our money.

5. Ask if You can Skip Unnecessary Ad-Ons or Waive Fees.
          At one reception site I visited early in my hunt, I ran headlong into the harsh reality of cake cutting fees.  I’d never heard of them before: the fee a reception venue or caterer slaps on to each slice of cake they cut and plate.  At that venue, the fee was $2.50 per slice — something I simply could not afford on top of the projected bare minimum $3.00 per slice the cake itself would cost.
         The coordinator quickly assured me the site would waive the cake cutting fee if I would wave the dessert that came with the meal.  Since I was serving my guests cake anyway, I decided saving myself the extra cash (and, of course, saving my guests the extra calories) would be well worth it. 
          Although I opted to have my reception at another location, I held on to the little nugget of wisdom I’d gleaned: trade-offs are always open for discussion, and no bride should be afraid to ask about swapping one service for another.

6. Consider the Distance from Your Wedding Site.
          Through a very odd series of events, we were forced to change our wedding location from a beautiful old church I’d attended as a child to the smaller, far less beautiful church where Danny and I met.  I say we lucked out, even if we’ve downgraded from a church with gloriously exposed rafters and a bell tower to a small building with stark white walls.  Why?  Because now our guests are just ten minutes from our reception site.  And that’s ten minutes on a straight road.
          Keep the distance your guests have to travel in mind, but don’t let it be your only deciding factor.  Think about how difficult the reception site will be to find, and whether it’s an easy drive.  But if your dream site is a hike from your wedding venue, I’d still say go for it.
          My friends Tom and Brittany got married in Fresno in May 2008.  Their reception site was almost 45 minutes away, at Yosemite Lakes Park.  The drive was picturesque, through the rolling California foothills, orange and olive groves, and vineyards.  The site itself was gorgeous, propped under the foothills beside a sparkling pond.  If they hadn’t held their reception outside of town, many of their guests from the East Coast would have flown in and out of Fresno without ever seeing the spectacular scenery!
7. Check and Double-Check What the Venue Allows and Disallows
          When I began going over reception details with Lorraine – before signing a contract! – I quickly discovered that there are more rules to receptions than I’d realized.  Example: I can bring in my own wine instead of using theirs, but a “corking fee” applies to each bottle used.
          Get a solid idea of what each venue will and won’t let you do.  Some venues work exclusively with certain florists, DJs, bakeries, photographers, videographers, and caterers.  Others require that you use their on-site caterer; some even require that you purchase your wedding cake through their baker.  If you have your heart set on a certain photographer or really wanted to get a mocha almond cake like the one you saw at your cousin’s wedding, make sure your reception site will allow you to – or, where applicable, make sure they will work with you to recreate what you’d wanted to get from another vendor.
8. Take Advantage of What Comes with Your Reception Package
          Dance floor?  Check.  Table linens?  Check.  Cake cutting service?  Check.  Magical dolphin show for your guests?
          Okay, so the last one’s a joke (although Marineland in St. Augustine, Florida, really does offer dolphin weddings!) but the other services are included in my package at LPGA.  I liked finding a site where so many of the things I would need were included in my package price.  At many reception sites I checked out, I had to pay for each service or item individually, and it added up quickly – and became much more expensive.  One site, for example, charged $50 per hour per staffer who helped with the setup and breakdown.  I knew that meant we were looking at several hundred dollars on top of the cost of the room rental.  At my site, I didn’t have to worry about any of that.  Look for locations that provide all-inclusive packages.  Even if they look expensive at first glance, when you tear up the numbers, it’s usually cheaper than paying per item.
          Also be sure to find out if your site provides decorations, complimentary centerpieces, etc.  Most reception sites offer basic centerpieces such as mirror chargers and hurricane lamps or votives, or small candelabras.  If you’re looking at having your reception at a hotel, ask if they provide a free honeymoon suite for the wedding night, and if they will discount rooms for wedding guests.  If you’re having your reception at a golf club, as we are, ask about discounted golf for a bachelor or bachelorette party outing.  Don’t be afraid to ask what else your reception venue can do for you.
~ Laura