One Awesome Party
How to pull off an unforgettable reception
By Klein Aleardi

Your wedding day is all about celebrating the love between you and the person you’re about to marry. But let’s be honest: it’s also a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to throw an epic party that your guests will be talking about for years to come. 

The best receptions incorporate personal, fun and unexpected touches to keep you and your guests eating, drinking and dancing the night away. It can be a tall order to organize and pull off an unforgettable party, but it all comes down to the right planning, says Laura Reese, director of catering and sales at The Madison.  

The first step is to establish your vision and find the unique details that will put your own stamp on the party, says Reese. Thankfully, today’s social media-savvy brides can find loads of inspiration on Pinterest, with ideas on everything from DIY sparkler send-offs to setting up an after-party snack bar.  

And while Pinterest can be an amazing starting point for ideas, Reese urges brides to run their boards and ideas by their wedding planner before finalizing any details. 

“We’re industry professionals, and that means we stay on top of the current trends,” she says. “We also know what does and doesn’t go over well. We know what you should DIY and what should be left to a professional.”  

Professional wedding planners like Reese and Neil Dinsfriend, director of catering at Cherry Hill Crowne Plaza, also know how to get your party started on the right foot.  

“The worst thing is to have a room that’s kind of dull,” says Dinsfriend. “When the room opens, the music should be playing, it should be active. There should be excitement in the air when you enter.”  

When it comes to a party’s atmosphere, Reese says music and food are key – and she’s sure to remind her couples of that fact. “I tell them that guests probably won’t remember your centerpieces, but they will remember what a great time they had dancing and how delicious the food was.” 

The key to creating a menu that guests will rave about is to think outside the box – or plate, suggests Reese. “My favorite trend right now is bite-sized foods served in unique vessels, like mini cups of hummus served with crudité and individual shooters of tomato soup with a slice of grilled cheese on the side.” 

These interactive hors d’oeuvres contribute to an atmosphere that Dinsfriend has termed a “grazing party,” when guests are encouraged to be up and about instead of sitting around waiting for food.  

“A lot of the time, people are dancing and don’t want to be held down to their tables,” Dinsfriend says. “So you get them settled there at the start, but then you get them up and grazing.”  

Dinsfriend’s couples have thought up everything from slider stations with chicken, crab cakes and burgers to a mashed potato and chili bar, which are definitely modern updates from the traditional sit-down dinners from receptions of the past. 

That creativity and modern twist doesn’t have to stop at dinner, says Dinsfriend. With dessert bars becoming the new staple at weddings, he suggests taking it a step further with items like milkshake shots, cupcakes or chocolate-covered frozen bananas for easy maneuvering on the dance floor.  

Creativity beyond the menu can be a great thing, but making your reception unique and enjoyable is a careful balance. Reese reminds couples that they don’t need to go overboard with every detail – sometimes less is more. In fact, some of the sweetest touches she has seen are subtle. “Not every part of your reception has to have something unique, but you definitely want to add particulars with things that represent you as a couple.”  

For example, Reese remembers an especially sweet twist on the place card display. Instead of having the typical board with a list of names, one couple decided to embrace their love of reading and swapped plain name cards for vintage library cards.  

“People love seeing different things that show meaningful moments in the couple’s relationship,” says Reese. “And it’s especially great when those items, like place cards, can double as favors which will have a personal touch.”  

Reese suggests her couples discuss every aspect of the reception to find their sweet spot between the typical checklist and their own preferences. She often finds that a couple’s middle ground turns out better than the typical wedding ideas, especially when it comes to décor.  

One of Reese’s favorite decoration pieces came about after one couple ditched the usual flowers and candles for black-and-white framed photos to line the mantle of The Madison’s cozy fireplace. “It was completely inexpensive and made it feel homey and unique,” she says.  

Couples should also determine what typical wedding traditions they do – and don’t – want to include on their big day, says Reese. “People sometimes think they have to include everything: first dance, maid of honor and best man speeches, bouquet toss, garter toss. But your reception is not any less of a reception if you choose to skip some of those traditions.” 

Reese says that at the end of the night, the most meaningful – and important – moments should be the intimate ones between the bride and the groom.  

Take the first dance, for example. These days, some bride and grooms are tempted to try eye-catching dance moves, a flash mob or other viral choreography. Reese loves when couples are willing to embrace their daring side, but she also urges them to consider the sweetness of this intimate moment.  

“Weddings often become so much about everybody else,” says Reese. “There are few intimate moments that you get on your wedding day, and your first dance is one. Just make sure you’re thinking as much about sharing that intimate moment as you are about putting on a show for everybody.”  

Reese also urges her couples to share their meal together as a way to cherish another intimate moment. But most importantly, she encourages them to relax and enjoy the day. 

“While it’s one of the biggest days of your life, remember that it’s your wedding day and not your marriage,” she says. “So just try to relax, enjoy it and have fun.”

Rock Your Reception
Keep your guests movin’ all night long with this awesome playlist. 

  • Uptown Funk – Mark Ronson featuring Bruno Mars 
  • ABC – The Jackson 5 
  • Dancing Queen – ABBA 
  • I Can’t Help Myself – Four Tops 
  • Happy – Pharrell Williams 
  • Love Shack – The B-52’s 
  • My Girl – The Temptations 
  • Crazy In Love – Beyoncé & Jay-Z 
  • Can’t Stop the Feeling – Justin Timberlake 
  • Signed, Sealed, Delivered – Stevie Wonder 
  • The Way You Make Me Feel – Michael Jackson 
  • Shout – The Isley Brothers 
  • Livin’ On A Prayer – Bon Jovi 
  • Jump Around – House of Pain 
April 2018
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