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33 Unique Wedding Ideas for a Standout Celebration

Yours won't be just another cookie-cutter wedding.
justine lorelle blanchard the knot wedding planning expert
by Justine Lorelle Blanchard
justine lorelle blanchard the knot wedding planning expert
Justine Lorelle Blanchard
Wedding Planning Expert
  • Justine Lorelle LoMonaco is an Editorial Consultant for Motherly.
  • Justine is a writer, editor, social media expert, and digital engagement specialist.
  • Justine served as an Editorial and Community Assistant and Assistant Editor for The Knot.
Updated Apr 24, 2020

Your wedding reception will be one of the most important and memorable events of your life. Make sure you create an experience that showcases your unique style and taste. Take a look at these awesome and wedding ideas for inspiration, then take our fun Style Quiz for a truly customized wedding vision. Once you have a plan for your out-of-the-box wedding reception ideas, search out the right vendors in your area to help you bring it to life. From tricked-out transportation to mouthwatering midnight snacks, these unique wedding ideas for your ceremony and reception are sure to make a last impression.

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A Luxe Reception Lounge

wedding reception lounge area ideas
Aaron Young Photography
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Give guests a place to mingle between dance breaks by creating a lounge area at your reception. To implement this fun and sophisticated wedding idea, fill the space with couches or chairs and plenty of pillows to sink into. It's the perfect way to keep everyone in on the party even when they're resting. Really want to wow 'em? Close off the area with curtains to create a VIP vibe.

Reception Ushers

wedding reception with tall floral centerpieces
Brian Dorsey Studios

You may already be planning to have your ushers escort guests to their ceremony seats, but here's a unique wedding idea: consider  reception ushers. These "live escort cards" walk guests to their tables for an upscale restaurant experience. Ask your reception venue or caterer if its waitstaff can do this double duty, or assign a few ushers to the job.

Guest Transportation

hot air balloons wedding transportation
In Design Weddings

If you're planning on shuttling your guests from the ceremony to the reception, make the journey part of the fun by renting some seriously cool mass transportation. Take wedding transportation to new heights with a hot air balloon ride. Or, if it'll suit your wedding style, get nostalgic with some charming yellow school buses. And for extra flair, customize the ride by playing fun music or decking out the bus with a sign that reads, "Sarah and John's wedding or bust!"

Preceremony Cocktails

wedding reception cocktail ideas
Elizabeth Messina Photography

Your guests won't be expecting any drinks until the reception, so give them a pleasant surprise by setting up a table of light beverages on the way into the ceremony. Just don't serve anything too strong—try mimosas or fruit-infused iced teas they can sip before taking their seats (and don't forget to have nonalcoholic versions too). Have your caterer or ushers collect any stray glasses to make sure the space is tidy before the processional begins.

Standout Escort Cards

wedding reception escort card ideas travel themed
Kara Purtell Photography

Instead of a paper card that'll get lost or thrown away, upgrade your escort cards to something worth keeping (or eating). Try personalized cake pops with guests' names and table numbers written on them in icing (or on a cute tag), or engraved martini glasses that double as favors.

Upgraded Welcome Bags

wedding welcome gift ideas
Woodland Fields Photography

Make your guests feel like VIPs with welcome bags that go beyond a map and a few snacks. To make this great wedding reception idea come true, stuff personalized tote bags with mini bottles of bubbly or a six-pack of a local microbrew, a gift certificate to your favorite local coffee shop and an individual "Welcome!" note from you.

Thoughtful (and Useful) Favors

wedding reception useful favor ideas
Lindsey Hahn Photography

Keep your guests comfortable all day by thinking ahead. Out of town guests will appreciate a custom scented soap so they don't have to rely on the standard hotel samples. Planning on dancing until the next morning? Put out baskets of flip-flops (in your wedding colors, of course) so guests can take their shoes off. Having an outdoor reception that might get breezy? Make sure guests keep warm by offering up some cozy pashminas. And for a summer outdoor ceremony in the afternoon, provide a station with spray-on sunscreen and a stack of inexpensive sunglasses.

A DIY Flower Station

Allan Zepeda

Let guests know that it's not just the wedding party that's special to you—let everyone stand out with their own corsage or boutonniere. Ask your florist about setting up a make-your-own-flower station: Put out some sturdy blooms like spray roses or mums, supply lots of colorful ribbons and pins, and add labels with easy-to-follow instructions. Guests will love this colorful wedding idea. 

"To-Go" Valet Gifts

wedding waterbottles favor ideas
Brian Phillips Photography

Send guests home feeling taken care of by having your valets place small favors or end-of-the-night snacks in guests' cars before handing over the keys. No valets? Set out baskets of the gifts, such as soft eye masks with notes that say "Sleep tight!" or even hangover kits (filled with Aspirin, water and snacks) for guests to grab on their way out of the reception venue. If you've arranged bus or shuttle transportation, have a favor waiting on board for guests.

Convenient Child Care

wedding reception child care kids' activities
Shelly Kroeger Photography

Hire a babysitter (or two) and set her up in a room so your youngest guests have a place to go when they tucker out. If it's possible, pick a room near your reception location so parents can stop by to check in on the tykes and then return to the party easily. Stock the room with snacks, games and a portable DVD player to keep them entertained, and make sure there's a soft sofa and blankets for those inevitable naps. Parents will love you forever for this helpful and unique wedding idea. 

A Bubbly Bar

wedding bellini bar reception ideas
Anne Marie Photography

Make toast time delicious by letting guests customize their champagne. Dishes full of fruit purees, lavender sprigs, citrus twists and flavored ice cubes that can be spooned into glasses of bubbly will make the toast that much more fun.

A Memorable Guest Book

wedding guest book ideas personalized puzzle pieces
Vue Photography

Think beyond the typical guest book. One creative idea we love: Create a jigsaw puzzle of your photo and let guests sign each piece. Or put out silver trays with engraving pens so guests can carve a lasting message on a useful keepsake for you.

A (Friends and) Family Tree Seating Chart

wedding reception creative seating chart ideas
Julia Newman Photography

You worked hard on figuring out that seating chart, so get the dinner conversation started by showing guests how they're connected. Create a sign that shows the relationships between the guests who will be sitting next to each other—this wedding idea will help break the ice for those who haven't already met.

A First-Dance Confetti Drop

wedding reception dance floor confetti drop
Embrace Life Photography

Your first dance will be one of the highlights of your wedding, so add this extra-special touch to up the entertainment factor (and make for some serious photo ops). If your song is slow and romantic, have fresh flower petals instead of confetti dropped from the ceiling. Your rental company and florist can work together to make this happen—and don't forget to make sure the reception wait staff will be standing by to clean up.

A Video Confessional Booth

wedding reception photo booth ideas
Brian Dorsey Studios

For a fresh twist on the hot photo booth trend, rent a video booth where guests can record a quick on-screen message for you. Ask your videographer to edit some of the best clips into your wedding video. Then, post your other favorite video "confessions" on your wedding website and encourage guests to check them out in your thank-you notes.

A Hip After-Party

wedding reception dance party ideas
Cory Ryan Photography

Instead of just hitting the bar next door when your reception venue closes, plan a true post-wedding bash for you and your hardest-partying guests. Book a space with a completely different vibe from your reception (like a relaxed patio bar or a karaoke club to offset a formal ballroom) to keep the party going.

Allover Lighting

wedding reception creative decor and lighting ideas
Cliff Mautner Photography

Revolutionize your venue with creative lighting. Project falling leaves or snow to add drama to a boring, beige wall; add a funky geometric pattern or your monogram to the dance floor; or get basic up-lighting for the perimeter of the room to instantly transform the space. Your guests will be so impressed.

A Decked-Out Entryway

wedding reception entrance décor ideas
Jared Wilson Photography

We're not saying you should spend a gazillion dollars on a 20-foot-tall floral arrangement, but first impressions are important, so take time to think out the entrance to your reception. Add a couple flower arrangements to the escort card table or have your stationer create a stylish seating chart display. A table topped with your engagement photos, your parents' wedding albums, and any other from-the-family artifacts would make meaningful additions.

A Showstopping Ceremony Exit

Brandy J Photography

If you play it right, your ceremony exit will be one of the most heavily photographed moments of your wedding, so forget the rose petals and birdseed. Jazz up your exit by passing out small bags of colorful confetti, paper airplanes, mini beach balls, or even lavender buds for everyone to toss your way. Even better: Stage your own mini parade by passing out parasols and noisemakers for your guests to escort you to your getaway car.

Save the Planet

If keeping a low environmental footprint is important to you, then make an effort to reduce, recycle, reuse for your ceremony and your reception. You can do that in lots of different ways. For example, use recyclable dishware for your meals, skip the fireworks, and purchase carbon offsets for all your guests who traveled to your ceremony. You may also be able to donate your flowers, your extra food or even your wedding dress after your event.  Now that's a wedding idea that will make you feel good. 

Perform a Sibling Dance

​The father-daughter dance and mother-son dance are well-established wedding traditions. Unfortunately, not every father or mother can be present at a wedding. Instead of scraping your dance altogether, why not choose a sibling or two (or all of them) and bring them out on the dance floor with you? A sibling dance lets you celebrate the people who have known you the longest and have been by your side for all your trials and tribulations. This is also a great chance to bust a move to your favorite childhood song and even do some fun choreography.​

Unexpected Wedding Music

Jen Disney Photography

Sure, a string quartet is nice, but you'll blow guests away with a jazz trio or a Spanish guitar player. To get the party going during the cocktail hour, look into hiring a mariachi band, a bluegrass group, or even a barbershop quartet for some seriously memorable melodies.

A Wedding Dress Change

Gertrude & Mabel Photography

All eyes will be on you, so it'll be a huge shocker when you go from a classic wedding dress for the ceremony to a shorter, flirtier dress at the reception. Whether it's a cocktail dress you bought (but couldn't find an excuse to wear) or a sparkly, white dress that's just too short for the aisle, have fun with it. If you honestly can't imagine changing out of your wedding dress, make other changes: Let down your hair, switch your shoes, or add a few new pieces of jewelry.

Cocktails Served Differently

Jen Huang Photography

Grab guests' attention as soon as they arrive at the cocktail hour by having drinks and hors d'oeuvres displayed on colorful trays or even placed along the shelves of a makeshift bookcase-turned-bar. Or, have a fleet of waiters standing at the entrance, drink trays in hand, ready to greet guests at the door. The message will be clear: It's time to party.

Extra Signage

Beautiful Mess Photography

If it's an outdoor wedding, create custom signs as pointers for guests ("this way to the cocktail hour" or "wedding this way"). For a more formal wedding, make beautifully scripted table numbers, monogrammed cocktail napkins, and even bathroom-door labels that read "ladies" and "gents."

A Photo Booth (Rented or Handmade)

wedding reception photo booth photo display
Riverbend Studios

Having a photo booth is a surefire way to capture memories a photographer might miss. For an extra-special touch, outfit your booth with themed props (snorkel gear and an under-the-sea backdrop for a summer wedding, opera masks and monocles for a formal affair, etc.) to get your guests in the mood; then be sure to send them a copy of their photo in your thank-you note.

Wedding Favors With Entertainment Value

creative wedding reception favors personalized maracas
Sarah DiCicco Photography

Think of your wedding favors as an accessory to your reception. Want a packed dance floor? Distribute kazoos, maracas, or even rally towels for a good time that just won't quit.

A Creative Groom's Cake

wedding groom's cake Reese's Peanut Butter Cup cake
Images by Aaron Rebarchek

How could your guests not take a picture of that? Find the right cake baker and go nuts with your groom's cake for a unique photo op that also happens to be delicious. We've seen everything from elaborate guitars to football stadiums to armadillos to library book cakes. Other non-cake ideas: a table decked out in donuts, an ice cream bar, or a giant Rice Krispies Treat cake.

A Surprise Choreographed Dance

wedding reception dance floor
EE Photography

Take a few dance lessons before your wedding, but instead of the standard waltz, kick it up a notch by learning a sultry tango or a high-energy swing routine, and then surprise everyone during your first dance. For an unexpected surprise, get your dad or even your grandpa in on the act. Imagine the looks on your guests' faces when you and your pops break into a hip-hop routine mid-father-daughter dance.

Killer Midnight Snacks

Bee Photographie

Just when everyone thinks the fun is winding down, liven up the party with late-night snacks that'll leave everyone ready for an after-party. Think about it: crinkle French fries, fresh chocolate chip cookies and milk shooters, a fully loaded taco bar or doughnut truck.

Decked-out Transportation

wedding exit transportation getaway car
Christine Wedding & Portrait Design

Come up with a wedding exit that'll get guests talking. Maybe your car-obsessed uncle would be willing to play driver for the night in exchange for showing off his ridiculously cool Mustang. Your oversized clunker from high school might actually look pretty cool decked out with streamers and a "just married" sign. Even your bicycle adorned with fresh flowers would create a memorable exit. 

Social Media Integration

Jessica Miller Photography

Start the party long before your wedding day with a brilliant wedding website (computer science degree not required). Get your guests involved with live tweets or an Instagram feed, so you and your guests have a record of the day just as it happened.

Special thanks to Amy Nichols of Amy Nichols Special Events in San Francisco; Josh Brooks of Fete in New York; Thomas Bui of Thomas Bui Lifestyle in San Diego; Melina Dreyfuss and Dawn Van Dyke of DM Events in New York; Vicki Grafton of My Simple Details in Washington, DC; Emilia Jane of Sweet Emilia Jane in Los Angeles; Kristen Jensen of Sugar Rush Events in San Francisco; Lauren Knuepfer of LK Events in Chicago; Claudine Ursino of La Belle Soiree Event Planning in Seattle; and Claire Weller of Big City Bride in Chicago

Not sure where to begin with your wedding planning? Take our Style Quiz and we'll pull together a custom wedding vision and vendors to match, just for you. After that, create a free, personalized wedding website to keep your guests informed (and excited!) about your plans, and a time-saving Guest List Manager to organize your attendees. Even better? You can sync your Guest List Manager and wedding website to update everything at once. 

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