Wedding Reception: 30 Ways to Wow Your Wedding Guests

Yours won't be just another cookie-cutter wedding -- here are our top ideas to make your wedding a standout celebration.
  1. A Luxe Reception Lounge

    Photo by Aaron Young Photography
    Give guests a place to mingle between dance breaks by creating a lounge area at your reception. 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.

    > See more reception lounge photos
  2. Reception Ushers

    Photo by Brian Dorsey Studios
    You may already be planning to have your ushers escort guests to their ceremony seats, but consider having 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.
  3. Guest Transportation

    Photo by 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!"

  4. Preceremony Cocktails

    Photo by 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 -- think: 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.

  5. Standout Escort Cards

    Photo by 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.

  6. Upgraded Welcome Bags

    Photo by Woodland Fields Photography

    Make your guests feel like VIPs with welcome bags that go beyond a map and a few snacks. 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.

  7. Thoughtful (and Useful) Favors

    Photo by 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.

  8. A DIY Flower Station

    Photo by Allan Zepeda

    Let guests know that it's not just the wedding party that's special to you (it's everyone!) by letting each one 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.

  9. "To-Go" Valet Gifts

    Photo by 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 -- 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.

    Knot Note: Hangover kits (if you're sending guests home on a shuttle) should include Aspirin -- not Tylenol -- for safe headache-busting.
  10. Convenient Child Care

    Photo by 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.

  11. A Bubbly Bar

    Photo by 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.

  12. A Memorable Guest Book

    Photo by 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.

  13. A (Friends and) Family Tree Seating Chart

    Photo by 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 -- it'll help break the ice for those who haven't already met.

  14. A First-Dance Confetti Drop

    Photo by 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 waitstaff will be standing by to clean up.

  15. A Video Confessional Booth

    Photo by 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.

  16. A Hip After-Party

    Photo by Cory Ryan Photography

    Instead of just hitting the bar next door when your reception venue closes, plan a true postwedding 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.

  17. Allover Lighting

    Photo by 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 won't be able to stop staring (in a good way!).

    > See more reception lighting ideas
  18. A Decked-Out Entryway

    Photo by 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. 

    > See more reception decor photos
  19. A Showstopping Ceremony Exit

    Photo by 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.

    > Get 150+ more wedding transportation ideas
  20. Unexpected Wedding Music

    Photo by 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.

    > Get more creative wedding music ideas!
  21. A Wedding Dress Change

    Photo by 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.

    > Search short wedding dress photos
  22. Cocktails Served Differently

    Photo by 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 par-tay.

    > See more wedding cocktail hour ideas
  23. Extra Signage

    Photo by Beautiful Mess Photography
    If it's an outdoor wedding, create custom chalkboard 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."

    > See photos of wedding signs from real weddings
  24. A Photo Booth (Rented or Handmade)

    Photo by 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.

    > See creative ways to show off your photos
  25. Wedding Favors With Entertainment Value

    Photo by 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.

    > Get hundreds of wedding favor ideas
  26. A (Really) Creative Groom's Cake

    Photo by 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. 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.

    > See our top 100 groom's cake photos
  27. A (Surprise) Choreographed Dance

    Photo by 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. (Bonus points if he can do the worm!)

    > Check out this father-daughter wedding dance video
  28. Killer Midnight Snacks

    Photo by Bee Photographie
    Just when everyone thinks the fun is winding down, liven up the party with late-night nibbles that will 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 even a waffle truck! 

    > See more wedding dessert ideas
  29. Decked-out Transportation

    Photo by Christine Wedding & Portrait Design
    Come up with a transportation plan 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 bicycles -- tied off with fresh flowers -- would create a memorable exit.

    > Get more wedding transportation ideas
  30. Social Media Integration

    Photo by 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. Upload vlogs (aka video blogs) of your bridal party, poll guests on the reception music, add animated elements, or even create a "wedding guest of the week" spotlight column. Start your web page on (ahem) or get the souped-up version on ($30, but so worth it!).

    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

    Start a wedding website

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