20 Secrets to a Fun Wedding Reception

Okay, they're not really secrets—just awesome ideas we encourage you to steal.
by The Knot

While your wedding ceremony is both special and crucial (it's when you'll actually get married!), the reception is probably what you and your guests are most looking forward to—who doesn't want to eat, drink and dance? The best celebrations incorporate personal, fun and unique touches to keep guests smiling and talking about it long after final call. Get inpsired by our favorite reception ideas, from simple planning tricks to wow-worthy entertainment, then start planning your party here.

  1. 1. Arrange Seating Thoughtfully

    Pink and gold place settings at outdoor wedding reception
    photo by Larissa Cleveland Photography

    It sounds obvious, but don't discount the importance of a solid seating arrangementPlace guests with people they'll know and get along with. It might seem like a great idea to play matchmaker, or force your guests to sit with strangers to make new friends—but at the end of the day, they're there for you, and to catch up with their own farflung pals. Put another way, a well-thought-out seating chart leads to great conversation, which leads to a great dance party, which leads to an unforgettable night. So seat your tween cousins with other kids their age and let your college friends sit together.

  2. 2. Hand Out Awesome Favors

    DIY face masks of bride and groom for dance floor
    photo by Rachel Pearlman Photography

    Wedding favors should be the cherry on top of a fabulous reception. Let your guests know how much you appreciate having them there by offering a take-home treat (think: doughnuts, hot cocoa mix and marshmallows, a bag of your favorite coffee beans or jars of local honey), a cute succulent plant or a pair of sunglasses branded with your initials and wedding date.

  3. 3. Keep Toasts Short and Sweet

    Bride and groom toast guests at wedding reception
    photo by Delbarr Moradi Photography

    Wedding toasts are all about quality over quantity, so ask anyone who's speaking to make sure their toasts are no more than two minutes. If they have any longer anecdotes, they can feel free to share at the rehearsal dinner.

  4. 4. Have a Plan for Kids

    Kids table decor at wedding reception
    photo by First Comes Love Photography

    To keep the little ones entertained throughout the night (and to give their parents an opportunity to hit the dance floor), give them their own designated area. In a separate room, arrange for a babysitter who set up and oversee movie time, games, crafts or a kid-centric dance party. You can also set up a few tables topped with coloring books, crayons, games and small toys.

  5. 5. Shake Things Up for Your First Dance

    Choreographed first dance routine
    photo by The Nichols

    All eyes will be on you during your first dance—it's the perfect opportunity to wow your guests with a fun surprise. Start with a romantic dance to "At Last,"or other classic first dance song, then suddenly switch gears to a energetic Latin dance or break it down to Bruno Mars's 24K Magic. 

  6. 6. Offer an Interactive Food Station (or Two)

    Grilled cheese food station at wedding reception
    photo by The Reason

    Great food makes for a great celebration, but offering dishes that everyone can customize to their liking is even better. Interactive food stations, from a mac-and-cheese bar to a sushi-rolling setup, where guests can create their own ideal bites will leave you with happy, well-fed friends ready to have a good time.

  7. 7. Rethink Dinner

    Farm to table small plates wedding catering
    photo by Al Gawlik Photography

    Instead of a typical three-course menu of salad, entree and dessert, stretch out dinner over four or five smaller courses (but don't stretch it too much if you're still hoping to get everyone on the dance floor). Plan small surprises between dishes, like a short toast from your hilarious aunt or a professional performance, like dancers, a musician or a magician. It'll give your guests the experience of a fun night out, complete with dinner and a show.

  8. 8. Change Into Something Comfortable

    Short reception dress with feather skirt and embellished bodice
    photo by Ashley Brockinton Photography

    Let's put it this way: You won't have a good time at your reception if you can't take two steps without snagging your train, right? So after the first dance, brides can swap the veil and bustle for a fabulous little white dress or jumpsuit, and grooms can change to a more relaxed suit. If you and your new spouse are comfortable enough to move freely, you'll dance more, chat more, laugh more and eat more cake—that'll rub off on your guests.

  9. 9. Plan Surprise Entertainment

    Acrobatic performance at wedding reception
    photo by Anne Almasy

    Sometimes the best parts of a reception are what guests don't see coming. Surprise your loved ones with unexpected entertainment during the cocktail hour or reception, like a belly dancer, magician, mariachi band, aerialists or a salsa dancer.

  10. 10. Make Sure Your Band Has Great Break Music

    Bride and groom dance to wedding band
    photo by Riverland Studios

    Everyone's been to that wedding before: Just when the dance floor starts heating up, the band takes a break and the party seems to take a yawn. To make sure this doesn't happen at your wedding, ask potential bands how they plan to handle breaks—before you hire them. Some bands will rest in shifts and split off into a smaller two- or three-piece band, while others will turn on filler music. If yours is planning on the latter, ask whether you can provide the playlist, or at least check and approve their picks before the party.

  11. 11. Find a DJ Who Gets You

    Wedding DJ plays music at Wythe Hotel reception
    photo by Chellise Michael Photography

    Okay, this is a little more obvious, but we have to mention it because music is a major reception fun factor, and has a lot to do with how long your guests will stay. The last thing you want to see is your dance floor clear out when the DJ plays obsure songs that are hard to dance to. Talk to your DJ about your do-not-play list upfront.

  12. 12. Play Music Everyone Can Dance to

    Reception dance floor under string lights
    photo by W&E Photographie

    Whether you've hired a band or a DJ, if you want to keep the dance floor packed (and we're guessing you do), plan a playlist of songs that will please the crowd, not just you two. You may love obscure indie rock, but now isn't the time to show off your discerning taste in music. People love dancing to Justin Timberlake and Katy Perry—so let them!

  13. 13. Have a Lounge Area

    Outdoor patio reception lounge
    photo by The Nichols

    If the space and your budget allow, set up comfortable lounge chairs and couches in your reception space. Instead of having your guests sit around the same dinner tables all night, a change of environment will promote conversation and keep even your nondancing guests entertained. It's also an elegant and comfortable way to let elderly guests relax and chat while others dance to Beyoncé. Look into renting or borrowing couches, chairs and other furniture to create stylish, cozy vignettes complete with pillows, flowers and votive candles in your wedding colors.

  14. Hire a Day-of Coordinator

    Bride and groom's first dance at tented wedding reception
    photo by Chennergy

    You may have a ton of fun ideas for your reception lined up—say, a rockin' entrance, amazing band and surprise late-night snacks—but the truth is, it's much harder than you'd think to keep each of those plans in check. If you already have an event planner, genius. If not, look into booking a day-of coordinator to oversee the details (trust us, it's worth it).

  15. Bring in an Expert Tasting Station

    Whiskey tasting station and cigar bar
    photo by Troy Grover Photographers

    A full bar is a must-have for a great reception, but amp it up a notch with an interactive drink experience. We're talking about a wine, beer or whiskey tasting, where guests can sample different drinks and learn a few tasting notes. A hand-rolled cigar station also fits the bill, as does a choose-your-flavor margarita bar (yum!).

  16. Create Zones

    Blue and yellow reception decor
    photo by K. Thompson Photography

    The key to a lively celebration? Movement. The best parties encourage lots of dancing, with mini breaks for mingling and snacking—not just sitting. So divide your reception into distinct areas for dancing, sipping drinks and chatting, and getting coffee or bites to eat. Arrange a few cocktail tables near the bar, provide an outdoor seating option or set up a dessert table of bite-size sweets.

  17. Order Good Food (That's Not Stuffy)

    Mini chicken and waffles wedding catering
    photo by Braedon Photography

    Just ask yourself: What would you want to eat? If you're not the meat-and-potatoes type, consider doing something more to your liking—maybe Spanish tapas, Mexican fajitas or a big Italian dinner. Or skip the sit-down altogether and opt for a heavy hors d'oeuvres reception. Think mini sliders, bite-size vegetable quiches or a cheese table.

  18. Keep Your Guests Fueled

    Late night pizza station at wedding reception
    photo by Bonnie & Lauren

    If you want to ensure an all-night crowd, arrange for your catering staff to bring out trays of late-night munchies like French fries or even a pizza bar. If you stick with low-key comfort foods like those, they'll wish the party would never end. Another great idea: Offer a coffee bar complete with special syrups and toppings to keep them caffeinated.

  19. Tell Your Guests About an End-of-the-Night Treat

    Fireworks over tented wedding reception
    photo by Aaron Imaging

    Nothing stops a party in its tracks faster than guests heading for the door early. To keep guests celebrating, plan a treat for the end of the night that people will look forward to: You and your new spouse can perform a song with the band for the last dance, or you can plan a reception getaway that'll gets guests excited, like a fireworks show or an exit with sparklers.

  20. Put on a Welcome Dinner

    Guests drink out of vintage glasses at party
    photo by Paper Antler

    Okay, so this tip isn't for your reception, but it will end up making the party more fun. Why? A casual event where all of your guests can meet and mingle the day before the wedding means that by the time your reception rolls around, everyone will have already gotten to know one another. That way, your guests can skip the pleasantries and get right down to celebrating.

  21. Still looking for your a reception space that speaks to you? Check out venues in your area here.

    Find a wedding planner to bring your dream reception to life, right here.

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