Category Archives: wedding planning tips

beautiful summer wedding with lighting and beautiful dance floor

Your Fool-Proof Formula for Planning the Best Wedding Reception

If only planning a rocking wedding reception was as easy as basic math! Fortunately, it can be—if you use these tips for planning a wedding dance your guests’ll be talking about long after the honeymoon is over.

Spend your budget on things your guests care about.

Setting a wedding budget should be one of your first steps of planning a wedding reception—and an incredibly important one. Your wedding budget is your chance to allocate your dollars for items that play the biggest role in making the wedding reception incredible for you and your guests. These big-ticket items include: venue, food, and entertainment.

Research your vendors.

Once you’ve allocated your funds, it’s time to hire the professionals that can turn your vision into reality. While it may be tempting to just hire the first caterer or wedding DJ you find online, it’s incredibly prudent to research potential vendors before you hire them.

There are a few ways to research vendors: in-person (at a friend or family member’s wedding), online, or from recommendations. Obviously, the first method is the most reliable; if they did awesome at another event, you know they are high-quality. However, don’t forget to ask the couple that hired them about their experience with the vendor. You don’t want to hire someone that doesn’t return your calls or is difficult to deal with.

If you research venues online, always check third-party websites for reviews from other couples. There are a quite reputable sites for wedding vendors, such as Wedding Wire, the Knot, and Yelp.

The last way to get names of wedding vendors is to ask friends or family. If you ask friends or family for recommendations, be careful about “my brother…” or “my friend’s cousin has a DJ service.” While it might be appealing to hire a low-cost wedding DJ, the hire also comes with a risk. Unfortunately, many one-man DJ services offer a one-size-fits-all playlist with no chance for customization. They typically don’t have back-up DJ in case of an emergency or back-up equipment after a breakdown.

Interview, interview, interview.

Before signing on the dotted line, you should always interview each and every wedding vendor. Ask every wedding vendor about their availability, liability insurance (incredibly important), cancellation policy, costs (including the number of hours and services), additional fees (i.e. overtime fees, travel fees), plus a few other important questions. (Here are some specific questions for a wedding caterer and wedding DJ.) If you’re serious about hiring them, always ask about any deadlines so you can stay on schedule with your wedding planning.

Trust the pros.

You’ve hired your wedding vendors because you trust them. Now it’s time to enjoy the wedding planning process, take a few de-stressing breaks, and look forward to your special day!

guests at wedding reception enjoying dances during wedding reception order of events

What is the wedding reception order of events?

Planning your wedding is almost impossible without a wedding reception order of events. After all, the 4-6 hours of the wedding reception should be packed with fun! This list does come with a disclaimer; every wedding is a personal event with an order of events, songs (more on how to set a custom wedding playlist here), and games that fit with your unique style. So let the planning begin with this general wedding reception order of events!

Cocktail Hour

The cocktail hour is the short time after the ceremony and before the dinner. This is a time all about the guests because the wedding party is typically getting photos taken and socializing. Typically, cocktail hour comprises of muted music from a live entertainer or wedding DJ. (Ask the wedding DJ if cocktail hour and dinner music is included in the package.)

Wedding Party Entrance

Your wedding party entrance is your chance to make a big splash! A wedding party entrance can be as different as you are (check out this list of wedding party entrance ideas)—and the start of a fantastic celebration. If you’ve hired an experienced DJ (this list of wedding DJ hiring tips can help), ask them for ways to coordinate your unique wedding party entrance.

Dinner & Toasts

The wedding dinner is a muted occasion (at least, when it comes to music volume), but it’s also a part of the wedding reception that requires coordination. To make sure the dinner goes smoothly, you need to make sure there is a sound system for toasts (which may be provided by the wedding venue or DJ) and an emcee to announce the toasts and order of dinner (especially important if the dinner is a buffet). Some wedding DJs provide this service; couples should always ask if this service is included in the wedding DJ services.

Cake Cutting

This sweet part of the wedding reception may not always involve cake (non-cake desserts are a delicious wedding trend), but it should involve a big announcement from the emcee and a coordination with your videographer or photographer (an experienced DJ can make this happen).

Wedding Dance

The wedding dance is one of the most custom part of the reception; this is your chance to make your big night especially you! The good new is that a good Chicago wedding DJ or band can customize the evening’s events (if they don’t ask about your preferences, be worried) to include your favorite songs and games (plus a few wedding reception surprises!) A traditional wedding dance usually includes:

  • Wedding Party Announcement
  • First Dance (ideas for a fantastic first dance here)
  • Mother-Son Dance
  • Father-Daughter Dance

One of the biggest wedding reception trends that guests appreciate is a late night course. This is a couple’s chance to keep their guests fueled for the dance floor—and provides a chance to get creative with your menu! A late-night wedding course does require an announcement, so make sure to mention this part of the wedding reception order of events to your band or wedding DJ.

Last Dance & Exit

If you don’t want the wedding reception to fizzle out, talk to your band or wedding DJ about ending with a bang. An experienced wedding DJ or band leader may have ideas, or you can come up with your own idea for the end of your wedding reception.

wedding dance floor with deejay

Wedding Reception Schedule and Planning Tips (For a Night of Fun!)

Couples planning a wedding reception, beware: the one commonality among every wedding reception schedule is that they are all different. However, there is a general outline (and a few tips) that can make planning a wedding reception easier—and a lot more fun!

Typical Wedding Reception Schedule

Cocktail Hour



Cake Cutting

Wedding Dances (Wedding Party Announcement, First Dance, Mother-Son Dance, Father-Daughter Dance, Etc.)

Last Dance

Wedding Reception Planning Tips

  • Choose wedding vendors that coordinate services for a seamless wedding dance (like a DJ that coordinates the schedule with a photographer so you can make sure you get shots of your first dance).
  • Be careful about hiring vendors that a friend of a friend recommends. Always research and look for red flags so you hire the best vendors.
  • Don’t hesitate to ask venue staff and vendors for suggestions; they may have ideas you haven’t considered yet.
  • Plan a lay out that keeps guests circulating and entertained (i.e. such as a photo booth near the dance floor or wedding games in a strategic location that guests can find and enjoy).
  • Hire a wedding entertainer that can serve as emcee and make announcements. Your guests’ll appreciate it.
  • Make sure there is a beverage station near the dance floor so guests stay hydrated…and can keep having fun!
  • Give guests who aren’t dancers other ways to entertain themselves at the reception.
  • Use a wedding budget checklist to ensure that your funds are being allocated for really important items that guests enjoy (i.e. food, dance music, etc.)
  • Add a surprise to the wedding reception schedule for an awesome and memorable moment guests can talk about long after your wedding is done.
  • Make your first wedding dance different from the norm with these dance ideas.
  • Don’t skimp on wedding entertainment; while it might be tempting to hire the cheapest, the entertainment can make the evening or send guests to the door.
  • Tell your wedding dance entertainer songs you want played—and don’t want played—at your dance. Be careful about hiring entertainers that don’t ask; this night is all about you!
beautiful summer wedding with lighting and beautiful dance floor

9 Amazing Wedding Themes You’ll Love

Planning a wedding reception requires a good wedding planning guide and, in some cases, a wedding theme list. The latter is incredibly helpful if you’re a couple who wants to use a theme to start creating an atmosphere with details that are completely and entirely you.


We’d be remiss as Chicago wedding professionals if we didn’t include this nod to Chicago’s heritage on our wedding theme list. A jazz wedding theme can be as modern or as vintage as wanted. A more modern take may include record accents, unique lighting, and a jazzy playlist. For a more vintage wedding, consider reproducing the atmosphere of an old jazz club—even going as far as to recreate a speakeasy with card and poker tables.


A nautical or lakefront wedding theme is the perfect opportunity to enjoy all the perks of being on the lakefront. Picture a wedding at a popular lakefront venue, marina, or yacht club filled with an atmosphere in line with a day on the water. A nautical wedding theme is an opportunity plan the ultimate menu filled with your favorite local tastes and seafood dishes.


A retro or vintage wedding theme is a throwback event, complete with touches and a playlist reminiscent of a different era or time. This is a theme that can be as unique as the era you choose—especially when choosing your favorite touches from that period. Best yet, this wedding theme lends itself to a wedding dance filled with your favorite songs from that era. (Hire a wedding DJ or band that can make that happen.)


This is the perfect wedding theme for a Valentine’s Day wedding or for an intimate wedding reception. A romantic wedding theme can be as unique as the couple planning it: a neutral affair with upscale floral bouquets or late-night reception filled with roses and candles.

Fairy Tale

A fairy tale wedding brings the wonder of your fairy tale to life. This is your chance to make guests feel like they stepped into a vintage story book or a more modern version. In addition to wonderful décor, this is also a chance to incorporate the theme into the wedding dance with a royal wedding entrance and a fairy tale first wedding dance. (Your wedding DJ may have ideas as well, just ask.)


A rustic wedding can be as modern or as country, and as formal or casual, as you prefer. This wedding theme is filled with natural elements that exemplify the rustic atmosphere: wood, greenery, floral accents, and atmospheric lighting.


An urban wedding deserves a modern wedding venue with a completely urban feel. The planning should continue with every detail that lends to a feel of the wonder of the urban landscape.


A winter wedding includes the wonders of the season—what those wonders are is different for every couple. This is your chance to select your favorite parts of the season and incorporate it into a beautiful wedding atmosphere. The result can be a neutral affair that exudes a winter wonderland or a cozy setting with tones of the season.


A spring or summer wedding is an atmosphere with fresh details: floral, greenery, seasonal menu dishes, and all the beauty of the season. This is an occasion where fresh blooms and ingredients are expected and celebrated.

3 BIG New Years Resolution’s Every Bride & Groom-to-be MUST Make

engagement ringIf your holidays included one of those wonderful engagement stories we’ve been hearing about, it’s time to make a whole new New Year’s resolution: a wedding planning resolution.  (Or a whole set of wedding planning resolutions!)  Trust us: you’ll be glad you adopted one of these New Year’s resolutions when you’re enjoying the most important day of your life dancing the night away and loving every minute of it.

I will not procrastinate during wedding planning.

It’s so easy to see why this common wedding planning mistake happens: your wedding day seems far off, right? Don’t fall into the trap. Many a bride and groom has waited too long and missed out on booking their favorite DJ, caterer, or wedding venue.

How to fulfill this resolution: Don’t procrastinate when searching and hiring the wedding vendors that matter, such as the venue, DJ, caterer, and any other parts of your wedding that you really, really want (the best vendors’ calendars fill up fast!).  Once you have your ‘must haves’ booked, use a wedding planning calendar to make sure you get all your wedding planning tasks done on time.

I will think about those ‘what if’ wedding day situations.

We see this happen when couples book DJ’s: they hire that friend of a friend that’s going to give them a killer deal—without thinking about what’s going to happen if their friend gets sick.  The same thing can happen when they book an outdoor venue without a plan ‘B’ for the weather.  The list of possible disasters could go on and on if you don’t have a contingency plan (or hire a vendor with a plan).

How to fulfill this resolution: Be aware that things can go wrong, and think through possible contingency scenarios.  Have a plan B at your outdoor venue in case the weather goes bad.  Hire a wedding DJ service so you have a back-up DJ or equipment available just in case.  If you have any questions, ask your vendors about their plans for those ‘what if’ situations.

I will not just book the cheapest wedding vendors.

When your wedding budget is tight, it’s easy to feel that the cheapest is the best option.  However, you’re going to feel that on your wedding day when the cheapest vendors provide service that feels, well, cheap.

How to fulfill this resolution: If you have the budget to do so, don’t just automatically book the cheapest vendor.  Look for quality over cost.  That doesn’t mean you need to book the most expensive, but it does mean to do your research and book quality wedding vendors that can give you top-notch service.  If you want to save money on those quality vendors, use these tips to save money on wedding planning. In short, allocate more foods for the things that count: venue, entertainment, all the things that matter to you—and save money in other areas for a memorable night you’ll be glad you made a New Year’s resolution for!

5 Things You Shouldn’t Forget to Tell Your DJ

wedding guests dancing at great wedding reception after you gave all your information to the DJWe’ve seen a lot of wedding couples walk through the door in the Chicago area, and we have dealt with quite a few couples who came to our meeting ready to plan with documents and checklists.  While a good checklist of questions to ask your DJ never hurts, it doesn’t take a book the size of an novel to hire a good wedding DJ and get a wonderful wedding reception—as long as you give your DJ this vital information.

Contact info for your other vendors

A good wedding DJ is not a one-man (or woman) show; they are actually part of a team that makes your wedding reception a memorable occasion.  A good DJ works with your photographer, videographer, venue staff, and other key staff to make sure everyone is present for photographs and special moments.  If your wedding DJ doesn’t think this is part of their job, it’s time to go back to the drawing board and find a new, quality DJ.

What you don’t want to hear

It is perfectly okay to come to your planning meeting with your DJ with a ‘Do Not Play’ list—or to compile a list at the meeting.  Think of songs that bring back bad memories, songs you can’t stand, songs that your friends and family can’t stand, and any other songs that you don’t want to hear that night (it’s okay to not want to do the YMCA dance).  Your DJ should be happy to get the list, because it helps them prepare a customized list for your wedding dance (if they don’t put together a special play list for you, warning bells should go off). If you want to make your list extra special, give your DJ a second list with the special meaning behind songs on your ‘Do play’ list.

How to pronounce everyone’s names

Don’t make your DJ guess how to pronounce your name, or your parents, or the names of everyone in your bridal party.  Avoid any guffaws by giving your DJ a full list of special parties with pronunciations—even the names that should be easy to pronounce.

Volume restrictions

If there are restrictions on the volume of music or the length of your wedding dance, let your DJ know it.  Some wedding venues or communities have restrictions (and legal repercussions) on loud music, so it pays to do your homework and let everyone involved in your wedding reception know it.

Special requests

If you have a special request for your DJ, don’t wait until the night before your wedding reception to do it.  Mention any special requests at your initial consultation with your DJ, especially if they are above and beyond the “normal” DJ requests.  Not all DJ’s may be able to fulfill your request, and it’s better to find out earlier in your wedding planning than later so you can find a quality DJ that can make your wedding dance vision reality.

7 Money-Saving Wedding Hacks

wedding table with estomas flowers arrangement and candles how to save money during wedding planningWhen you’re crafting your wedding budget, the list of wedding expenses can get really, really long—and so can your desire to save money as you plan your wedding. It can be done, and done without your guests noticing if you’re smart about getting the most out of your wedding budget.

Prioritize your wedding budget.

What is really important to you and your fiance? Allocate the money in your wedding budget accordingly—and to areas that have the most impact. Your guests are most likely going to remember the setting, food, and fun they had at your wedding, so make those vendors your top priority. Your goal is to save money while still hosting a very special night, so make sure you don’t make price your only factor in choosing entertainment for your wedding reception. Your guests will thank you later—and you’ll avoid one of the top wedding regrets.

Ask about package deals.

When you contact your vendors, ask about package deals if you use one or more of their services. For example, if you want photo booths and a DJ at your reception, choose a DJ that offers both as a package deal. This not only consolidates your costs; it also consolidates your time researching and contacting vendors as you plan your wedding.

Schedule your wedding day off-season.

As long as you don’t schedule your wedding on a holiday, you’re likely to get cheaper rates for your venue and other vendors if you schedule your wedding during off season. Sorry, that means no June dates. Remember, even if you do plan your wedding during the less popular days of the year, make sure you book your vendors early to make sure you get the best wedding DJ, fantastic caterer, beautiful venue—all for a cheaper cost.

Get married on a Friday.

bride and guests having fun at wedding after enjoying planning wedding dayActually, you can get cheaper vendor rates for getting married any time between Sunday and Friday. Think of hosting a Friday evening wedding, a Saturday luncheon, a Sunday brunch, or weeknight fun to get discounted rates from your DJ, venue, and other wedding vendors.

Save on décor.

If you want to cut your church or reception décor costs, choose venues that don’t need a lot of décor. Consider venues with a fantastic view or beautiful atmosphere. Another tip for saving money on your décor is to select one venue for both your ceremony and reception so you can use the décor for both parts of your big day. Holding your wedding at one venue also eliminates transportation costs.

Be creative with your cake—by not having one.

If you haven’t been dreaming about your wedding cake all your life, or you really don’t care for cake, ask your fiance about alternative ideas for a wedding desert. For a brunch style wedding, order a pancake-layered cake or donuts that you can make into a beautiful display. Hosting a summer picnic? Simplify with a selection of summer pies, or pumpkin pies for a fall wedding. Macaroons and cake pops can also make a sweet impact on your guests. We’ve even seen pictures of cookies, truffles, and candies that looked absolutely sweet. One couple even had their guests bring deserts for a pot luck effect; the guests were exchanging recipes and sweets. If you do decide to go this route, make sure you actually save money on your non-cake alternative.

Don’t go nuts on the wedding favors.

Wedding favors are a sweet gesture, but make sure that you’re reasonable when placing your order. Not all of your guests are going to take your wedding favors, so don’t order an extreme amount of wedding favors for the occasion. To save more money, keep your choice of favors simple to keep the cost of your wedding favors low.

4 Wedding Planning Tips for a Less-Stress New Year

bride and guests having fun at wedding after enjoying planning wedding dayThe excitement of getting engaged shouldn’t end when wedding planning begins. After all, your wedding shouldn’t be a stressful day, and neither should the wedding planning leading up to it. After you’re done making New Year’s resolutions about your health and finances, make a resolution to enjoy your wedding planning—that’s right, enjoy (gasp!)—and go through the planning process without all the stress and drama traditionally associated with wedding planning.

We will not go all “bride-zilla.”

It’s okay to be excited about getting married (especially if you’re excited about who you are marrying!), but try not to go over the top. Gushing to friends and family ALL the time, either in person or on social media, can get to be too much.

Then there’s the other side of the bride-zilla coin: the transformation into a bossy, this is my day, do what I say bride or groom (yes, this can happen to grooms as well). Try to keep it in check. Yes, this is your day. Yes, everyone knows that you want it to be perfect. The key is to remember that you still need friends and family members to like you after your wedding day is over.

We will not procrastinate.

The best vendors’ calendars fill up quickly: caterers, venues, DJ’s, entertainers, photographers, videographers. You don’t have to frequent every bridal fair (though it’s not a bad idea to get ideas and make contacts!), but you should make it a point to start making calls, sending emails or contacting vendors via social media. Try to confirm as many of the major details you need as soon as possible, so you’re not scrambling at the last minute and settling for mediocre vendors.

We will take breaks from wedding planning.

It’s easy to get caught up in wedding planning, and even easier to get overwhelmed by the long list of to-do’s that need to be done before your big day. Try to schedule time away from wedding planning so you can tackle your wedding planning checklist with a fresh and new perspective.

We will keep the lines of communication open.

Even though one of you may have been planning every detail of your wedding day since you were five, remember that your wedding day is about who you are as a couple. Have a discussion about each of your ‘must haves’ before you confirm your wedding venue, or start any of your wedding planning. Set your budget, date (could be just month and year), and location (in the city you live, destination wedding, or a hometown); these factors dictate nearly every wedding detail for your big day.

Keep your lines of communication open—with your fiance, family and friends—by sharing schedules and discussing your wishes with everyone. Don’t rely on social media or hearsay to spread the word. Those two tactics can backfire, leaving you with a beautiful wedding day and unhappy guests to ruin the occasion.

We will listen to our friends and family.

This doesn’t mean you have to listen to your crazy aunt and buy that really, REALLY ugly wedding dress. And you don’t have to stock stogies at your wedding because your dad wants it. What this resolution does mean is that you listen to valuable advice, such as testimonials about caterers they really liked or a DJ who did an excellent job at a wedding they attended. You can even take the latter advice a step farther, and ask for their input about a song they want to hear at the reception. All you have to do is add a line to the wedding invitations that asks for their song requests. A good DJ (note, a good DJ) can honor many of those requests when they ask for your input, and personalizes the play list for your wedding. (Find out how to craft the perfect playlist here.) The result is a memorable wedding night, and—hopefully—a great time putting all the pieces of your wedding day together.