Head Off Unexpected Problems at Your Wedding Reception

You don't have everything -- and we mean everything -- covered till you've read our roundup of wedding reception tips.
by Kate Wood
Umbrellas for a rainy wedding
photo by James Christianson

You've been one dutiful duo preparing for every possible wedding day catastrophe, from red wine hitting white silk to the nightmare of the no-show wedding pro. Think you've got every last detail crossed off your list? Maybe not! There are some difficult-to-anticipate problems out there -- but you don't have to worry, because we're giving you the heads up.

Damp Dress Distress

The Problem: It's the morning of and it's raining. The wedding ceremony and reception are being held inside -- but first, the bride has to get there in her voluminous, princess-style gown. You could throw a tarp over her or roll her up in a carpet, but we've got a more stylish option.

The Solution: No couple wishes for rain on their wedding day, though we hear it's considered good luck. If you're worried you're going to get lucky (even if it's not in the forecast), consider packing a golf umbrella. Why? It's the only umbrella with coverage large enough to get the bride from the limo to the church to the reception to the hotel without letting raindrops mar her gown. And besides, some of our all-time favorite wedding photos are of newlyweds smooching beneath an umbrella big enough for two.

Wild Child

The Problem: Your flower girl, ring bearer and young cousins: so angelic during the ceremony, so C-R-A-Z-Y after overindulging in your sugary wedding cake. Kids will be kids -- but that doesn't mean they must be screaming, crying and racing around a formal reception.

The Solution: You can put them in tiny gowns and tuxedos, but you definitely can't force them to uphold a formal atmosphere. If you're inviting kids to your celebration, you have to understand they might not make it through without getting rambunctious. That said, there are some great ways to keep them from knocking things over and making a mess. Tykes that are part of the party should get their own table -- sans centerpiece. Instead, cover the table with butcher paper and leave a box of crayons at each place setting. Rather than a five-star meal, serve a kid-friendly favorite, like mac 'n' cheese or chicken fingers, which they'll like better. If you're worried they'll go wild, set up the young ones with sitters, either on- or off-site. Get the crew an extra hotel room and show a double feature of The Lion King and Shrek, or hire a clown or magician to come in and entertain them. With the kids out of your hair, you (and the many appreciative parents among your guests) can keep things adult.

Think and Drink

The Problem: You know it's a successful party when you start running really low on supplies -- especially liquor. Everyone's had a good time, but everyone might not be fit to drive. What do you do?

The Solution: You already know that lots of responsible brides and grooms book buses or shuttles to ferry guests back and forth from their reception to the hotel. What you might not realize is that you may need more runs than you think. While no one's going to say they require a ride prewedding, after a few too many cocktails they might. A couple more bus runs will ensure you've got a seat for everyone to get home safely.

Not-So-Fresh Picked

The Problem: The main course hasn't even been served and your flowers are already starting to wilt. It happens to the best of flowers -- a lot more often than you think.

The Solution: Brown might be a pretty wedding color, but not for flowers. When you're shopping around, stick to hardy blooms that don't bruise easily and can go the distance (especially if you're marrying in a particularly hot or humid place). Sunflowers, gerbera daisies, dahlias, lilies and hydrangeas are all reasonably safe bets -- their woody stems and slightly tough petals will last longer than other varieties, and hide their age. Avoid supersoft flowers like gardenias, lilies of the valley and tulips, which are more likely to wilt in the spotlight. If you simply must have these blooms, take preventative action. Your florist should take care of properly cutting and feeding the flowers, but you can help prolong their lives by keeping them away from radiators and other sources of heat, including windows with southern exposure. Also, if you're providing the vases or containers for your centerpieces, be sure that they've been washed with an antibacterial soap so nothing in your vessels is promoting decay.

The Paper Chase

The Problem: When you chose your pros, you dotted your i's, crossed your t's and got it all in writing -- except for all those little details you worked out over the phone as you changed your mind and renegotiated. A savvy move -- at least until it's time to pay the bills and you're scrambling to remember exactly how much they said each different bit would cost. You don't want to spend more than you planned, but how do you deal with everything you didn't get on paper?

The Solution: Finish what you started. No matter how small, no matter how nitpicky, get it all in writing. If you don't want to deal with asking a pro to amend the contract every time you make a verbal change, simply follow up your phone conversation with a quick email confirming what was just said. It doesn't have to be elaborate -- a simple note saying, for example, "Thanks for taking the time to chat with me earlier about the new menu ideas. I just wanted to confirm that the price of the beef filet for 150 would be X." Save copies of your messages and replies, compile them, and give the stack to a family member to bring to the reception (or summarize in one email and ask the vendor to okay it). That way, there will be no question or argument when the time comes to pay.

Guests Gone AWOL

The Problem: The wedding ceremony is over and it's time for the cocktail hour. Delicious hors d'oeuvres, fabulous drinks...but where are the guests? Arriving in scattered clumps and clusters, still disoriented from the trek between ceremony and reception site -- oh no!

The Solution: Unless your ceremony and reception site are one and the same, you're going to have to deal with the logistics of getting guests around. This doesn't have to mean splurging for a bus -- as long as everyone has directions. Sure, you might have sent that adorable map with your save-the-dates, but how many guests brought it with them? To avoid having to assemble a last-minute motorcade or having anyone muss up their keepsake map, include brief directions to your reception site at the very end of your wedding program. If you're not keen on that idea, print directions on small, separate sheets. When the ceremony concludes, the same helpful folks who handed out your programs can head to the back once again to give guests the directions as they recess, leaving you with zero guests lost or late.

Let There Be Light

The Problem: Little can beat a wedding reception site with amazing sunset views -- unless guests are blinded by them. Same goes for candlelit receptions overwhelmed by natural light. Who knew what all those windows could do!

The Solution: Don't fall out of love with your reception site's great view -- simply arrange to see it at the time of day your wedding will take place. If you know that there will be a lot of light (or just a little), you can plan your lighting accordingly. Remember that the season will affect light too. Worried it will be too bright? Rent sheer, colorful drapes or simply hang fabric so the sun can still shine in -- it'll just tone it down a bit. Will your sunny site be too dark come evening? Turn low lighting into mood lighting with strategically placed candles.

Gimme Shelter

The Problem: The great outdoors is a great spot for a wedding. The flora, the fauna...the skies opening up and pouring rain minutes before the start to the ceremony -- but naturally, now you're ready for that one with umbrellas. But what about other complications? When it comes to hosting an outdoor wedding, having a plan B is just as important as having a plan A. And it doesn't just stop with renting a tent. Once you're covered, solving one problem may create another, such as guests coming in out of the rain and tracking mud with them.

The Solution: Unless the bride plans on holding her hemline aloft for hours, go with plan C: Clean 'em up! When you're talking to your tent company or reserving your reception site, confirm with the vendors that they have mats that can be set up at entryways or around the perimeter so guests can wipe their feet. That way, if the skies are threatening, you can just remind your wedding coordinator or deputize a family member to get things laid out. It'll ensure your dance floor stays spotless.

Dancing in the Dark

The Problem: Is someone turning down the lights on your romantic, candlelit reception? No, wait, it's actually the candles that are burning out! Yikes!

The Solution: You don't want your wicks to wear out before you do, so when you're shopping for reception decor, start by picking up one of each of a few different candles. On a day when you'll be home for a while (we know you know, but never leave burning candles unattended), light them all at the same time -- on the hour works best, since it'll be easiest to remember -- and see how long they burn. You need not sit there and watch, just check periodically to see how far they've made it. Once you know your votives, tapers or columns can cut it through drinks, dinner, dancing and, of course, your grand departure, you're safe to buy the quantity you'll actually need. And you'll be all set to light up the night.

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