beautiful summer wedding with lighting and beautiful dance floor

How do I start planning an awesome wedding reception?

The wedding reception is the kingpin of a beautiful wedding day, but it doesn’t need to be overwhelming. Instead, this step-by-step guide breaks it down into easy-to-plan tasks that create an incredibly fun wedding reception that everyone looks forward to and talks about for ages to come.

Decide on a budget and future planning.

If you haven’t already, make a few key decisions before you start wedding planning. You’ll find wedding planning really comes down to a series of wedding questions. Sit down with your partner and ask yourselves:

  • Where do we want to get married?
  • What is our style?
  • Do we want a big or a small wedding? How big is our guest list?
  • What is our budget? Who is paying for each wedding item?
  • Do we have time to plan the wedding? Or would we prefer to hire a wedding planner?
  • What is one thing we really want at our wedding venue?

Find the right reception venue.

This is one of the most important details of planning a wedding reception—after all, this is the backdrop of your big night! Choose a venue that fits with your wedding atmosphere and checks off all the practical boxes off the checklist.

If you want to host the ultimate dance party, make sure you ask about any limitations on volume and curfew times. Some venues need to shut down the party early because of local municipal and community regulations. Even outdoor venues need to abide by these restrictions. In addition, ask these questions:

  • Is the venue available on my wedding date?
  • How many guests does your venue accommodate?
  • Are other weddings or events held at the venue at the same time?
  • What is the cost of the venue? Are there any overtime fees or other costs?
  • Is alcohol allowed on site? Do I need to get the alcohol or is it provided by the venue?
  • What staffing is provided by the venue?
  • Does your venue carry liability insurance?
  • Is the venue handicap accessible? Is there parking nearby?
  • Are there local hotels my guests can stay at?
  • What is your cancellation policy?
  • Do you offer equipment rentals (i.e. chairs, tables, tablecloths, décor)?
  • When can I tour the venue? (Tip: never book a venue without seeing it in person.)

Once you have the venue booked, it’s time to start thinking about equipment rentals and décor (and venue policies). Most venues only allow free-standing décor that won’t damage the walls and structure. If the venue offers equipment rentals, discuss the specifics of your event needs. For venues that don’t offer equipment rentals, ask for recommendations for the best event rental companies and décor services. Start brainstorming ideas for wedding favors that fit with the décor and atmosphere.

In addition to finalizing event rentals, work with the venue to set a tentative wedding reception layout and schedule. Don’t leave any meeting with venue staff without setting deadlines for finalizing details and understanding the next step.

Hire a caterer.

The meal is a big part of the wedding reception, which is why booking the caterer is the first steps of planning a wedding reception. Sometimes, the caterer is part of the wedding venue package; for others, the process involves online research and asking friends and family for recommendations. When selecting a caterer, interview each caterer and ask a few questions:

  • Is your company available on my wedding date?
  • Do you have a guest minimum?
  • What is the cost per guest? Are there any additional fees or costs?
  • Do you offer different dinner services (i.e. buffet, family style, sit-down)?
  • Is bartending and drinks offered as part of your services?
  • Do you carry insurance?
  • Can I schedule a tasting? Is there a fee for the tasting?

If you want to keep your wedding reception dance party going well into the night, ask the caterer about a late-night course that fuels your guests. Another idea is to hire a food truck for a creative twist (with permission from your venue, of course).

Hire the best wedding reception entertainer.

You’ve got the place and the meal set, now it’s time for the fun: planning the wedding reception entertainment! Decide whether you want a band or wedding DJ (use this list of wedding entertainment pros and cons).

Wedding entertainment is one of three details that make the biggest impact on guests. The others are the venue and food. When setting the budget, allocate enough funds for a quality vendor that keeps guests on the dance floor.

There a lot of different ways to find the best wedding DJs in Chicago, including asking your friends and family or doing online research. Be careful about relying entirely on a “Chicago DJs near me” search, however; take your research a step further and check social media and popular websites like the Knot and Wedding Wire for other couples’ opinions of the DJ.

When you do narrow your options down, ask each DJ these questions:

  • Is there a wedding DJ available on my wedding date?
  • Do you have any experience with weddings?
  • Can you provide references?
  • What is the total cost of the DJ service? Are there any package deals that you offer?
  • Do you overtime fees? Is there a travel charge?
  • What “extras” do you offer (i.e. lighting, photobooth, etc.)?
  • Does your service offer back-up DJs and equipment in case of an emergency?
  • Is dinner music service part of your services?
  • Do you customize your play list to our tastes? When do we need to get our ‘must play’ and ‘do not play’ lists to you?
  • Does your service carry insurance?
  • What is your cancellation policy?
  • When can we meet?

Make sure to ask about any special requests, such as a bilingual MC, before signing the contract. You’ll be glad you did when you’re celebrating on your special day.

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