Rachelle Mazumdar, owner of Style-Architects Weddings + Events
Photos courtesy of Melissa Hesse, Rivets and Roses
Everyone dreams of their wedding being an amazing party for their family and friends, but how they achieve this can vary drastically. As a wedding planner, I hear directly from guests how delighted they are when couples change things up and I’m definitely seeing a shift. Many couples are opting to avoid the formality and tradition of sit-down ceremonies and dinners and are choosing instead to host ceremonies in the round and free-flowing receptions instead.
CEREMONIES IN THE ROUND
Ceremonies are getting shorter and shorter with few (if any) readings, little music, and a singular focus on sharing the story of the couple and reciting heartfelt vows. Because of shorter ceremonies, many couples are opting to host their ceremonies as stand-up ceremonies in the round. Not only is this setup more intimate and removes the awkwardness (for some) of being the center of attention during a processional and recessional, but it helps the budget, too! You don’t have to rent, setup, and tear down ceremony chairs and it allows you to immediately transition the space from ceremony to cocktails without having to rearrange the room. Hosting your ceremony on the dance floor, if you have one, and using the same room for your reception increases venue options and decreases room rental costs (savings which you can potentially apply elsewhere). There are so many additional and unique spaces to consider when you only need one room instead of two.
But with these informal ceremonies, what do guests do when they arrive and how do you transition to the ceremony and then to the reception? That is where free-flowing receptions come into play.
What is it?
Free-flowing receptions skip the formality and rigidity of a sit-down dinner and enable guests to move about and mingle throughout the entire night. Whereas sit-down dinners require two hours for dinner service, larger venues and a table, chair, linens and centerpiece for every guest, free-flowing receptions allow you to work within smaller spaces and perhaps put some of that saved money toward non-traditional seating options such as lounge groupings and low cocktail tables, creating a more intimate, comfortable, and relaxed environment for your guests.
What does it look like?
Start the party off right away and host a cocktail reception prior to the ceremony. Offer passed hors d’oeuvres to take the edge off any hunger. This works especially well if your ceremony is on a Friday and guests are either fighting traffic to get there on time or just want that drink to unwind after a long work week. It’s a pleasant surprise for guests and cues them to the fact that this wedding is going to be unlike any other!
Roughly 45 to 60 minutes in, have your officiant instruct guests to gather in a circle around you for the ceremony. Keep the ceremony to no longer than 15 minutes. Following the kiss, consider having servers pass champagne to your guests for an impromptu toast. Welcome your guests and fill them in on the evening’s activities.
Move into more passed appetizers and open food stations. Offering both alleviates the rush toward the food stations and keeps the mingling and flow of guests through the space comfortable. Keep the surprises coming throughout the evening to keep guests engaged and entertained.
What are the keys to success?
Having planned this style of reception many times, let me share with you the keys to success.
- Make sure you have seating for roughly 75 percent of your guests. This can take the form of dinner tables, lounge groupings, stools at hightops and low cocktail tables. Though you may likely want to consolidate the dining tables, the remaining seating should be scattered throughout the space. If you are going to do lounge groupings, I always suggest at least two groupings so it doesn’t look like an afterthought.
- Spread out the food stations so guests are not concentrated in areas but are rather utilizing the entire space throughout the event.
- Place the dance floor in the center of the room. This is where the energy is and having it in the center ensures no corner of the room gets too sleepy.
- Plan for transitions throughout the night. Whereas sit-down dinners have a cadence to them that people expect (ceremony followed by one-hour cocktail reception, two-hour dinner, and three hours of dancing}, free-form receptions are a new format to most people. After about 90 minutes, guests are going to wonder what’s next to keep their interest and energy flowing. Therefore, plan to transition your event every 90 minutes or so. Here are a few ideas:
Food: Transition from food stations to a dessert station to a late night snack station.
Music: Transition styles of music from cocktail music to more upbeat tempos suitable for dancing. Or, transition from DJ/iPod cocktail music to a band or vice versa.
Activities: Open up alternative activities throughout the night such as a whiskey station, a photo booth, games, or pool tables and darts (which can easily be rented).
- Communicate with guests so they know what to expect. Create signage near the entrance to the event which outlines the flow of the evening. It sets the tone for the evening and lets guests know what to expect.
To do it right, this reception format requires proper forethought and planning, but we are always happy to work with you to create your unique wedding. Your guests will be thrilled that you made the effort to give them a new and memorable experience.