There's got to be fun to had before 5PM
March 7, 2012 8:25 AM   Subscribe

How can I make my afternoon wedding reception not lame?

So I got engaged a few weeks ago. Yay! We're planning to get married this fall, which it turns out is kind of short notice in terms of finding an appropriate venue. We've found one we like which is available, but due to various constraints it looks like we're going to have the ceremony around 10-11AM with a reception at 1-5PM.

I am coming around to this idea, but I'm still a bit... hesitant? Thing is, I can get my head around what a really fun evening reception looks like. Cocktail hour, cover band, dancing, the whole nine yards. I get that. But I'm having trouble translating that to early afternoon. Cocktails (other than mimosas) don't really seem appropriate at two in the afternoon. So I'm trying to figure out what a really fun afternoon reception looks like.

What I don't want is another dreary affair where everyone wonders when it's going to be over and why no one is serving whiskey. I've been to quite a number of those myself and don't want to contribute to the trend. But we're still very early in the planning stages, so we've got the flexibility to point this thing in any number of directions.

Relevant details:
- We're looking at around 150-200 people, mostly friends and family. Ages range from a few infants up to a handful of octogenarians, with lots of people in the 25-35 (wedding party, siblings, friends, cousins, etc.) and 55-65 (parents, aunts/uncles, etc.) range, but only about two dozen minors.
- The venue is a converted cotton mill in a very scenic location, but we're basically talking indoors here.
- The crowd is going to be mostly fairly conservative Christians; though alcohol and dancing are definitely in the offing, we're not talking anything too crazy.
- We're open to the idea of some kind of after-party. Not only is 5PM pretty early to shut things down, but four hours isn't a huge amount of time.

So, in short: what makes for a time-appropriate, entertaining afternoon wedding reception?

(Also, previously, though I'm most interested in the time-appropriateness aspect here.)
posted by valkyryn to Grab Bag (32 answers total) 17 users marked this as a favorite
Lively live music.
posted by jon1270 at 8:29 AM on March 7, 2012 [1 favorite]

Focus on kids. Kid/adult games, etc. Beer, wine and champagne only.
posted by Ironmouth at 8:31 AM on March 7, 2012


- yes, plan an after party, and make sure people know where it will be.
- there is no reason you can't have alcohol and dancing. I would do some other signature drinks (it's fall, so probably spiked cider and champagne punch).
- are you serving a sit down lunch? If not, do stations around with different kinds of food - a chocolate fountain with fruit; little sandwhiches; deserts; etc. This tends to spread people out and get them talking, I think.
- live music if possible.
- some activities maybe? photobooth. one wedding i went to (outside) had a bounce house. Another was set up for card tournaments and lawn games. karaoke? really, it depends on what you might find fun. Do your 25-35 year olds like to line dance/do the hustle? find a DJ that can help with that if you aren't doing live music. (If you have a DJ: make sure they are not too loud; if they are too loud, everyone over 50 will be pissed and leave because they can't talk to each other).
posted by dpx.mfx at 8:35 AM on March 7, 2012 [3 favorites]

I am imagining a really lively lunch reception with an upbeat live band (bluegrass? or maybe zydeco? or swing? etc), brightly colored checkered cloth tablecloths, wild flowers, fun lunchtime food rather than heavy formal dinnertime food, and cocktails. YES, you can have cocktails in the daytime: mint juleps, mojitos, whiskey gingers, even frozen things like daquiris if that's your style.
posted by joan_holloway at 8:37 AM on March 7, 2012 [1 favorite]

Afternoon carnival-themed weddings are really big right now.
posted by np312 at 8:39 AM on March 7, 2012 [1 favorite]

A whole hog and a few kegs would go well with the carnival rides--make it a pig pickin'!
posted by MrMoonPie at 8:41 AM on March 7, 2012 [2 favorites]

For the most part, what people are going to do any time of day is eat and chitchat, in between the cake cutting and other scheduled events. Maybe focus on making it easy for people to mingle (for example, I didn't assign seating and people just sat in groups to eat and then table-hopped as they pleased afterwards) and let them make their own fun in between your planned activities. And not too loud, whatever you do about music, so that people who want to talk can.

The only awkward reception I've been to was in a location where there was just almost nowhere to sit down. Just don't do that, and you'll be in pretty good shape right out of the box.

If you're expecting a lot of non-drinkers, have non-alcoholic drinks besides water, coffee, and soda. Iced tea, a juice spritzer, punch, etc.

An afterparty sounds like a great idea, and something you can do pretty informally if you want.
posted by Lyn Never at 8:41 AM on March 7, 2012 [1 favorite]

I think cocktails are totally appropriate at an afternoon reception. Maybe not a full open bar, but you could do a few specialty cocktails just for the occasion - I was going to give you a few ideas but on preview joan_holloway said pretty much what I was going to say.

My best friend's wedding a few years ago had a formal afternoon reception, followed by a casual get together at her parents' house later into the evening for closer friends and family. You could do something like that, giving everyone the chance to grab dinner and change clothes and then meet up a a pre-arranged location at night.
posted by something something at 8:41 AM on March 7, 2012 [1 favorite]

(Ms. Vegetable)
I'd actually plan a whole tea party. It could be really formal and fun, or really proper and making fun of it, or anything you want.
I realize that's different, but I thought I'd throw it out there anyway.
(One of my friends contemplated an earl grey/lady grey tea party for her reception.)
posted by a robot made out of meat at 8:45 AM on March 7, 2012

Hi, I had an afternoon wedding (ceremony at noon, reception immediately after that) and I've been to a handful of others. I agree with everyone throwing around non-traditional ideas. It does feel weird to sit down at 2 PM and be served heavy mediocre wedding food, but if you embrace the afternooniness of it, people will have a great time. Yes, you can dance, and you can drink, though people will probably drink less than they would at night, and might trend more towards beer and wine than cocktails. You can also do all kinds of different activities like the ones people are suggesting above. If you haven't already, look around where there are tons of daytime weddings (and every other kind of wedding) and decide which ones seem like fun to you.

Also, I obviously don't know you, so this may be way off, but all of our guests were gone by 6 PM, and we were beyond exhausted. I can not imagine wanting to go to an after-party at that point. All I wanted to do was take off my shoes and be alone with Mr. Pangolin.
posted by juliapangolin at 8:55 AM on March 7, 2012

Friend of mine had a full-on BBQ picnic, which worked out very well (even the ice cream wedding cake).

The main event was a softball game, friends of the bride vs. friends of the groom. If the bride's team won, she got to keep her maiden name, and if the groom's team won, she would take his.

Exciting stuff, even if you weren't playing. In the end, the groom's team was slaughtered, but she was charitable about it and took his name anyway.
posted by Capt. Renault at 9:01 AM on March 7, 2012 [4 favorites]

Taking a look at the 1922 Emily Post wedding descriptions might give you some ideas. You won't serve aspic, but it's interesting to note that the afternoon "Wedding Breakfast" was standard in her day. That it was the afternoon was no obstacle to having dancing. There was (at least in the book) no drinking because it was during prohibition. Given the relative informality of a breakfast, Post says, as Lyn Never suggests, no assigned seating except for two tables for the wedding party. Her suggestion of ice cream might appeal in earlish September. Kids might enjoy "Make-your-own" sundays as both dessert and activity.
posted by Jahaza at 9:01 AM on March 7, 2012

We are having a Sunday afternoon wedding and reception. We're having grilled pizzas and creme brulee and having a photobooth. We're also doing cocktails- our signature cocktail are brambles, but we are Basically, we view this as a giant party for the people we like. We also aren't doing assigned seating, but are making sure that there are enough seats for everyone.
posted by Nimmie Amee at 9:04 AM on March 7, 2012 [1 favorite]

An afterparty or really "after activity" is probably a good idea, but you'll want to arrange it in such a way that people can participate or not (including you and the bride!) as some folks will be tired and want to go home/go sleep.
posted by Jahaza at 9:04 AM on March 7, 2012

Who says cocktails are not appropriate at two in the afternoon?

Oh, that guy? Screw his dumb opinion, then.

In all seriousness, of course you can serve alcohol at an afternoon wedding reception.

You can also have music and dancing, even a band. Come ON. Since when are we not allowed to have fun in daylight hours?

I agree with others that a fall theme really lends itself to this. Bluegrass music, mugs of mulled wine, cider with brandy. I think it would be cool to have some kind of ice-breaking "OK Guys We Are Here To Party Down Even If The Sun Is Still Up" event/activity, but I think the traditions around wedding dancing already lend themselves to that. Is your family or bridal party the sort of people who'd participate in some kind of silly choreographed dance? If so, then that, obviously. Will there be children? Children don't care what time it is -- they'll dance whenever. And children cutting a rug usually induces everyone else to hit the dance floor, too.

Best idea yet, unless guests will be driving from ceremony to reception: serve mimosas at the ceremony. Or perhaps at the door if people are driving to the reception space. Everyone will have a nice buzz on in time to be properly festive.
posted by Sara C. at 9:04 AM on March 7, 2012 [4 favorites]

Envision Ascot or Derby Day, where everyone is dressed like they are going to a wedding. Encourage hats. Serve bourbon, scotch and Pimm's No. 7 Cup. Have small sandwiches and ice cream. Make the kids play croquet.

Don't worry about it being in the afternoon; it's dark under the house.
posted by halfbuckaroo at 9:07 AM on March 7, 2012 [5 favorites]

I went to one of these, and it was great. The reception included...

- Nice home-brewed beer, white wine, and lemonade
- Lawn games! Croquet, bocce, badminton -- all of these being lawn games you can play in a dress/tux. These were AWESOME FUN, enjoyable for kids & adults alike, gave the bride & groom a chance to hang out with different groups of people, and yielded some of the best photos of the day.
- Snack buffet through the early afternoon (including crudites, dips, hummus, pita, etc), followed by a light sit-down dinner around 4ish.
- Music and dancing followed the dinner.

It was honestly the most enjoyable wedding I've ever been to. Embrace the afternooniness!
posted by ourobouros at 9:19 AM on March 7, 2012 [3 favorites]

Our afternoon wedding was near a large body of water, and after the standard stuff, we had a much less formal cruise at sunset, which many people have since said was the highlight of the wedding. Give folks two hours to go home, change, take a nap. Have drinks and snacks on the boat. Invite a core group if you'd prefer, but we invited everyone and there were very few who didn't attend. Bride wears herridiculous headgear with a t shirt.
posted by tchemgrrl at 9:19 AM on March 7, 2012

Congratulations on your engagement!

I got married at noon, reception from 1-4:30, at a winery. We did beer, champagne, and wine, and a truly delicious brunch buffet. (Seriously. I got told by many people that it was some of the best wedding food they'd ever had.) We didn't have a lot of dancing, but that's largely because I have a giant nerd crowd of friends and neither my father nor I dance, so nobody was really sure it was Time to Start Dancing. Nobody really missed it.

One thing that really made the difference for us was making a very kid-friendly wedding. Not only were children totally welcome, but I made sure to have a "chill room" in case someone needed to put a 3 year old in time out, or calm down an overstimulated baby. And for favors, we did little bags of jelly beans, which the adults could mostly take or leave but the kids were SUPER IN TO. My parents and in-laws hosted an after-party somewhere else, but since our wedding hotel was literally a quarter of a mile from our reception location and we were exhausted, we just walked to the hotel (with my maid of honor carrying my train and my veil blowing in the wind and cars passing and honking) and passed out cold. The after-party had a great time without us, I'm told.
posted by KathrynT at 9:20 AM on March 7, 2012

How much of the reception can you have outdoors?
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 9:36 AM on March 7, 2012

See that you're in IN. Take it for what it's worth (free advice) but in the South a Saturday afternoon wedding reception would also necessitate a football viewing section. One of the best reception's I ever went to had two outdoor tents, one with dancing and one with a giant screen TV for football games. They were side by side so it was easy to go from one to the other. I second the notion of limited drink options and multiple food stations.
posted by bmorrison at 9:45 AM on March 7, 2012 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Great ideas, folks! Some clarifications:

How much of the reception can you have outdoors?

Likely very little. Venue just isn't set up for it. There isn't really any kind of open yard space at all, so croquet, bouncy castles, etc., aren't going to happen.

See that you're in IN.

I am, but the wedding is going to be in the DC/Baltimore metro area. We're hoping late September is going to be early enough to still be warm, but late enough not to be beastly. Either way, we're going to be mostly indoors.

unless guests will be driving from ceremony to reception: serve mimosas at the ceremony

A good idea. Unfortunately, the church is about 20-30 minutes from the reception venue.
posted by valkyryn at 9:57 AM on March 7, 2012

Oh, then have someone handing out mimosas, bloodies, or a similar light-ish cocktail at the door.
posted by Sara C. at 10:10 AM on March 7, 2012

I went to an afternoon wedding once, and they pretty much pretended it was an evening wedding as far as dancing, DJ, drinking, partying, etc, and it was awesome. The only weird part was coming out of the venue and being like, "oh yea, it's still light outside and it's only 5:30, what the hell do we do the rest of the evening?" (The rest of the evening was just pretty much an afterparty at a bar nearby, btw). So if you're inviting people who would normally drink and dance at a wedding, and if that's what you want to do, then do that anyway and forget the rules. If you're inviting people who would normally sit around at a wedding and chat, then you need to come up with more activities, just like you would if those people came to an evening reception.
posted by at 10:35 AM on March 7, 2012 [2 favorites]

I had an afternoon wedding last September. We just treated it like a barbecue--we had a keg, a bunch of boxed wine, food, lemonade and iced tea from Andy Nelson's (a Baltimore area classic), homemade pie, and very very few structured activities, decorations, or other wedding-stuff. We just let people chill out and enjoy themselves, and we were told over and over again that it was the most fun they'd had at a wedding in a long time. (I think it helped set the tone that we cracked the keg before we even did the ceremony; ymmv!)
posted by mchorn at 11:12 AM on March 7, 2012 [1 favorite]

If you're just going to be on the hook for an after party anyway, I'd see about getting a different venue/evening reception.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 11:13 AM on March 7, 2012

Response by poster: If you're just going to be on the hook for an after party anyway, I'd see about getting a different venue/evening reception.

That's been considered, but 1) we really like the venue, which only has 1-5PM and 7-11PM slots, i.e. you can do one or the other or both, but nothing in the middle, and 2) the earlier slot is a lot cheaper. Several thousand dollars cheaper, all told. Which means we could quite possibly do an earlier wedding and an after party with the money we'll save.

The venue happens to have a fairly classy tavern right next door, so we may just send interested parties over there afterwards.
posted by valkyryn at 12:13 PM on March 7, 2012

Mr. erst and I had an afternoon wedding reception. To spice things up and provide entertainment, we hired a karaoke DJ with a really fun songbook (good mix of current hits and traditional karaoke-type songs, along with some country and some Broadway). It was a HUGE hit. They were only supposed to be there for an hour, and we had to extend it to the entire party, because EVERYONE wanted to sing. My father even got up and sang (something I never in a million years would have expected).

We got told over and over again that ours was the first genuinely "fun" wedding reception people had ever been to.
posted by erst at 1:00 PM on March 7, 2012 [3 favorites]

(And the video from the reception, with all our friends and family doing karaoke, is absolutely priceless.)
posted by erst at 1:01 PM on March 7, 2012

You should check out the blog/book A Practical Wedding. Lots of good info on there and I know there have been several posts on afternoon wedding.
posted by min at 1:52 PM on March 7, 2012

We had a sunday brunch reception. Ceremony at 11:30, fruit and pastries and mimosas and bloodies for half an hour or so, and then brunch food (eggs Benedict, omelets, waffles, etc). (our 'song' is A Sunday Kind of Love and that fit perfectly.). I, for one, drank a lot of wine; there was plenty of dancing; and we definitely continued drinking for quite a while afterward, and it was perfect, and yours will be too (and you'll be glad you saved the extra money). There are a few things about my wedding I'd do differently if I could do it over, but the Sunday brunch thing is decidedly not one of them.
posted by editrixx at 7:30 PM on March 7, 2012 [3 favorites]

Or high tea. Champagne, cucumber sandwiches, scones, smoked salmon. Champagne. Tea.
posted by kjs4 at 7:59 PM on March 7, 2012

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