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Change Into Something Comfortable
Let’s put it this way: You won’t have a good time at your reception if you can’t breathe, right? So after the first dance, swap your veil and train for a little white dress. (This applies to grooms too — depending on the formality of the wedding, guys can change out of a restricting tux into a more relaxed suit.) If you and your new spouse are comfortable enough to move freely, you’ll dance more, chat more and laugh more, and that’ll rub off on your guests.
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Play Danceable Music
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 Lady Gaga and Madonna — so let them!
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Serve a Leisurely Dinner
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Jazz Up Your First Dance
All eyes will be on you during your first dance, which means it’s the perfect opportunity to shock your guests. Imagine starting with a slow dance to “At Last” and then suddenly switching to a fast, sexy Latin dance or a jazzy swing step. It’ll totally throw your guests for a loop and set the tone for a lively dance party.
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Plan an Interactive Food Station
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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. So arrange a few cocktail tables near the bar, provide an outdoor seating option or set up a dessert table of bite-size sweets.
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Bring in an Expert Tasting Station
A full bar is a must-have for a great reception, but amp it up a notch with an interactive drinking 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!).
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Put on a Welcome Dinner
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.
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Plan an End-of-the-Night Treat
Nothing stops a party in its tracks faster than guests heading for the door early. Take out an insurance policy against a skimpy crowd and 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.
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Arrange Seating Assignments Thoughtfully
It sounds obvious, but it belongs on the list: Seat guests with people they’ll know and get along with. A well-thought-out seating chart leads to great conversation, which leads to a great dance party, which leads to…well, you get the idea! So seat your high school track teammates near your college running buddies, and put your tween cousins with other kids their age rather than their parents (and keep track of it all with our seating chart tool).
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Order Good Food (That’s Not Stuffy)
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.
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Keep the Toasts Short (And Prep Your Toasters)
As meaningful and wonderful as toasts can be, it’s important that you don’t let those toasting to drone on and on. Quite frankly, it’ll put a lull in the evening. When it comes to toasts, it’s really all about quality over quantity. So direct anyone who is speaking in advance to keep their speeches to two minutes max and ask them to share any other long-drawn-out stories at a prewedding party like the rehearsal dinner.
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Have a Game Plan for Kids
To keep the little ones entertained throughout the night (and to give their parents an opportunity to hit the dance floor!), set up an area specifically for them. In a separate room, arrange for a babysitter who can set up movies for them to watch. Or designate a couple tables just for the kids and pack them with coloring books, crayons, and small toys.
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If You’ve Hired a Band, Make Sure There’s Good “Break” Music
We’ve all been to that wedding before: Just when the dance floor starts to get packed, the band takes a break and the party dies. Don’t let that happen to you. When you hire your band, ask specifically about how they plan to handle breaks. Some bands will take them in shifts and split off into a smaller 2- or 3-piece bands. Others will turn on filler music. If yours is planning to use filler music, ask whether you can provide the mix.
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If You’ve Hired a DJ, Make Sure You Share the Same Tastes
Okay, this is an obvious one, but it made the list because music is a major fun factor at the reception and it 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 “chicken dance” comes on. So, make sure to talk to your DJ about your do-not-play list.
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Add a Lounge to Your Reception
If at all possible, create a lounge-like area in your reception space. Why? People can get antsy. 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. Look into renting or borrowing couches, chairs, and other pieces of furniture that you can then stage with pillows and votive candles in your wedding colors.
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Give Out Party Favors
Don’t forget that a reception is a party! Let your guests know that it’s okay to cut loose after a formal ceremony by passing out crazy wedding favors at the reception. A few of our favorite ideas? Funky masks, noisemakers, or Silly String. We even know one couple who handed out neckties and encouraged their guests to tie them around their heads on the dance floor. Quirky, but definitely fun!
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Keep Your Guests Fueled
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 a self-serve taco 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.
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Plan a Surprise
Sometimes the best parts of a reception are the things guests don’t see coming. Surprise your guests with unexpected entertainment during the cocktail hour or reception, like a belly dancer (a la Rachel Getting Married), a mariachi band, or even a salsa dancer.