1. Walk Down Memory Lane. Make the guest feel like integral parts of the day by incorporating them into the décor — in a gallery of meaningful photos. “We do something we like to call ‘memory lane,'” says Northern California event planner Sasha Souza. “We hang pictures of the bride and groom with friends and family along the walk from the ceremony to the reception. It’s a fun cocktail party conversation starter.” As guests take a leisurely stroll and find pictures of themselves with you, they can reminisce and socialize.
2. Break the Ice Creatively. When you enter your reception for the first time as husband and wife, don’t just take a conventional arm-in-arm stroll. “Run. Skip. Dance. Swoop in on a rope swing!” suggests Alyssa Brown of AE Planning+Design in San Francisco. Brainstorm with your groom about the most creative, appropriate way to make a big impression. This is a great way to break the ice and set up for a fun vibe for the rest of the event.
3. Play Party Games. “We did a wedding where the menus were puzzles, so each person got one piece of the puzzle at their place setting, then everyone had to put the pieces together to get the full menu description,” says Brown. “Crossword puzzles are fun for the back of a program or if you have guests going on a long bus ride to get to the reception venue.”
4. Be Entertaining. Guests always love the energy of a live band but tend to want to hear the original artist sing their favorite tunes. As a compromise, a bride may hire a dance band but also play DJ’ed music during the breaks, or she’ll arrange to have live music during some parts of the event and recorded music during others. Souza suggests combining the best of both worlds — at the same time. “We’ve worked with a band called The Infusion Experience,” says Souza. “The DJ plays the original music while the percussion players play live. It’s a huge crowd pleaser!”
5. Surprise ’em!”Pablo Neruda is the world’s most romantic poet,” sats Bussen. “And a modern, pretty paperback edition of his love poems makes a wonderful, lasting guest favor that’s much more meaningful that a bag of Jordan almonds! If you buy in bulk, you might get a discount — contact your bookseller directly. And don’t forget to add a personalized bookmark thanking your friends and family for sharing your big day with you.”
6. Offer a Dessert Buffet. You can assume most people have a sweet tooth, so have guest get involved in creating their very own dessert. “A cupcake-making station is a reinvention of the popular hot fudge station,” says New York City event planner Shawn Rabideau. “Have abundant trays of different flavors and colors: a guest might pile crushed Oreos on a chocolate buttercream cupcake or top a red velvet cupcake with cream cheese.” This sort of do-it-yourself treat is absolutely guaranteed to bring out the kid in everyone!
7. Be More Entertaining. “Consider unexpected, untraditional entertainments, like tarot card readers, magicians and flip book stations (booths where guests create quick movies and make mini books),” says Marcy Blum, an event planner in New York City. She advises asking yourselves what sorts of activities the two of you like to do. You can use your shared interests as surefire wedding inspiration. (Did you meet at a comedy club? You may want to hire a stand-up comic.) Or you can use your heritage as inspiration: “I’ve had couples surprise their guests with ethnic dancers or musicians who share a set with the band,” says Blum. “You can hire square dance instructors,” adds Blum. “Have them teach guests to do a line dance — they’ll have a blast.”
8. Host Those Stations. Guests love having a chef prepare a dish just for them. “We’re doing more chef-hosted stations of single items,” says Souza, “like an heirloom tomato salad bar with local tomatoes and cheeses. We’ve also done gazpacho made to order.” Look to your region’s specialties, says Souza. “If out-of-town guests can’t get it at home, it’s a special treat. That tomato bar get a huge crush of people — I’ve never seen anything like it!” Bussen agrees that local food can be a hit. “Display a ‘100 Mile Table’, filled with local produce and artisanal foods, all from within one hundred miles of your celebration — handmade cheeses, homemade pickles — and great local beer!”
9. Make a Special Toast. Instead of a pricey tasting bar, make one toast with a favorite liquor. “We’ve done tequila toasts, when it’s special to the couple,” says Souza. “Then you can limit the amount everyone drinks, which allows you to serve better quality liquor.”
10. Have an Informal After-Party. Some brides plan an after-party that’s almost as complex as the reception. But what most guest really want is just to let loose. Save yourself some planning time by renting a bus or van to drop guests off at a local nightclub. You can go with them if you like, or just have some alone time with your groom rather than party late at night. “Usually the bride and groom don’t go,” says Souza. A wedding is all about the experience that you and your guests share, Souza adds. “When guests leave feeling that they had a wonderful time, you’ll know that day was a huge success.