Advice for a non-traditional wedding reception
October 5, 2019 6:59 AM   Subscribe

We're throwing a casual, friends-only wedding reception next month. How do we fill the time traditionally filled by dancing/DJ?

soonertbone and I got married at a very small ceremony earlier this year with plans to have a big celebration with friends later in the year. That celebration is next month! It will be held at a fancy-ish taco joint, which serves killer rosemary margaritas and is a blank-slate kind of space (community seating, brick walls, sound system, etc.)

We decided not to do a DJ/dancing, wanting to go for a "this is a party!" vibe rather than "this is a wedding reception!" vibe. (There will be a great playlist.) Now I'm fretting that we're not providing something to do for folks, especially those coming from out of town, who might have some expectation of being entertained. 

A) Do you think people will have an expectation of being entertained? We were fairly explicit with the vibe in our invitations. B) If so, what else could fill that unstructured time if drinking and general merriment isn't enough?
posted by coffeeinanIV to Society & Culture (16 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
Maybe you could bring some bar/parlour games? Big-size Jenga, cornhole, darts... even if there’s not a DJ, make sure there’s some room for people to dance if they want to.

But really I think people will be fine having a simple party with friends and drinks and food, and you probably are right that you’ve communicated expectations clearly.

Congratulations, enjoy!
posted by SaltySalticid at 7:08 AM on October 5, 2019 [8 favorites]

We had a standard wedding, small group of family and friends. Did a 2 hour reception in nice clothes with a cake yadda yadda. (that was all we could afford time wise for renting the room) then everyone changed into summer casual and we had a dead standard American bbq at a friend's backyard. Coolers of beer, pitchers of rum drinks, grillws veggies and meats, a literal radio playing.... It was sublime. We were so happy and surrounded by so much positivity and love. It was seriously one of the happiest evenings of my life. And i kid you not, the most basic grocery store cookout. Imho you dont need to do anything special. People just want to be around you and wish you well and be in love with your love. Anything you want to do will be amazing!!

Crap, abusing the edit window because I forgot to say congratulations!!!
posted by chasles at 7:10 AM on October 5, 2019 [14 favorites]

I mean, you don't worry people will be bored when you throw a cocktail party, do you? (Hint if you've never thrown a cocktail party: the answer is NO!) If you're really worried about it, just scatter borrowed board games around the community tables.
posted by DarlingBri at 7:24 AM on October 5, 2019 [11 favorites]

We had our reception-but-beforehand-because-immigrationnonsense in a pub so there was pool and whatnot.

There was no dj or dancing. We would have had ice skating in hell as a fun party event before we countenanced dancing in an environment where Well Meaning But Still Bad People might attempt to induce us to dance.

Everyone seemed to have fun. Nobody has ever informed us that they wish to have danced.

The best wedding receptions I remember are (1) the one at the groom's family's mountain cabin where after cake everyone put on their outdoorsy clothes and tramped around on the AT and (2) the one where there was a shortish formal reception in the church basement and then everyone went back to the parents of the bride's house and all the wedding-age kids hung out in the garage because that's where the keg was.
posted by GCU Sweet and Full of Grace at 7:59 AM on October 5, 2019 [1 favorite]

We had board games at our wedding reception and it was perfect. We picked about 15 easy to play games and bought a gigantic gorgeous wooden Connect Four game. (Like this one.) People mingled and played, we had an iPod playlist and drinks. A++++ would wedding again.
posted by kate blank at 9:01 AM on October 5, 2019 [1 favorite]

Have a cake or some other "fancy" party-like thing. Possibly have a section of the event where you do toasts and/or thank the people who are special to you for $REASONS. If you really want the place to feel festive, really do it up with decorations and have a running slide show or something that has a lot of photos of the two of you and/or photos of you with friends/family/etc. Bonus points for trying to get a nice looking photo of everyone who will be at the event. I think it will be fine. Keep in mind that people may bring gifts/cards, so have a space where those can go. Congrats!
posted by jessamyn at 9:53 AM on October 5, 2019 [1 favorite]

We had a big, long, slow dinner for our reception; there were a couple of toasts at the start to kick things off -- less than 10 minutes of "formal program" -- but otherwise, it was just family and friends and food. I guess the restaurant had music on.

Look at it from the other perspective; I've never expected to be entertained at a wedding reception. I've expected to go and celebrate the couple; to show my love for them; to see friends or family that I don't get to see often enough and catch up with them; maybe as a bonus there's an awesome auntie or someone you meet. It is good from the perspective of a guest to know what the vibe and structure will be, so I'm not wondering or guessing if there's something happening after dinner or when to go around and mingle, but other than that - and literally our structure was just "toasts over, now buckle up for dinner" - you don't need to do anything more. It's your wedding, not your 8th birthday with a bunch of sugared up kids that need to be herded.

posted by Homeboy Trouble at 10:05 AM on October 5, 2019

Is there no way for people to dance given the music? People like to dance at weddings and don't need a dance floor and a live brass band to do it. A first dance for bride and groom is very nice and kicks off at least a little dancing for others.

Please do have some toasts. Once again, fun, and expected, and if you don't have a bridal party you can have freedom with those who give toasts.

Cutting the cake is also a great photo op and importantly it tells people WHEN THEY ARE FREE TO LEAVE which is a very important part of hosting a reception competently.
posted by MattD at 11:23 AM on October 5, 2019 [3 favorites]

Also ... the suggestion of board games and cards is charmingly Metafilter, but if your demographic is other than charmingly Metafilter, activities which are faster, more interactive and more kinetic might make sense. A tequilla tasting station with an educated tequilla somelier (or whatever you call that sort of person) might be great for your setting. Setting up some video game consoles for the (inevitable) big screens with fast playing games only might be appreciated. Etc.
posted by MattD at 11:27 AM on October 5, 2019 [4 favorites]

I think you should mostly just make it easy to mingle - try not to get people locked in to their seats so that they’re stuck at the same table all night. One of the nice things about dancing at a wedding is that it gives you lots of opportunities to say, “Oh, I would love to dance to this song,” or “Gosh, I need to sit back down after that one!”

If you have like one or two things to do (sign a guest book, look at baby photos), and/or people have to go up to a bar to get drinks (i.e. no table service after dinner), I think you’ll fill that mingling-signal need.

Also if the playlist includes music that people can dance to, some people will dance, even if it’s just in the corner or something. You can either leave a space for that or not. I’ve been to at least one “no dancing” reception where there was plenty of dancing, just no first/special dances and no expectation that people would dance.
posted by mskyle at 1:58 PM on October 5, 2019 [1 favorite]

If your reception is somewhere that happens to have a piano, and if any of your friends play, someone might sit down and start tickling the ivories and others might join in an impromptu sing-along. Something similar spontaneously arose at my reception. Or maybe someone has a guitar or autoharp or accordion or something they might like to bring.
posted by Hal Mumkin at 3:53 PM on October 5, 2019

A first dance for bride and groom is very nice and kicks off at least a little dancing for others.

We had a large number of children at our wedding and they were fascinated by the whole concept of a wedding and basically swarmed us as soon as they heard the word "dance" so our first (and only!) dance was the Hokey Pokey.

10/10 would do the Hokey Pokey again.
posted by DarlingBri at 4:23 PM on October 5, 2019 [4 favorites]

We didn't have a DJ or dancing at our reception. We brought board games (our friends are serious gamers), put on a playlist of music in case anyone wanted to dance, and put little bottles of bubbles on the table.

Everybody spent the entire time talking to each other and having fun. No dancing, no gaming, and they blew bubbles at us when we arrived and when we departed.
posted by telophase at 6:44 PM on October 5, 2019

I hope you have been and will be very happy.
posted by Cranberry at 11:45 PM on October 5, 2019

A cousin of mine did this. They had a casual, catered dinner at their house, mostly in the backyard. Hired a bartender. Food, drinks, conversation, just like any cocktail party — more casual, if anything. They had not-particularly dancy music playing over their sound system. No one spontaneously started dancing.
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 6:30 AM on October 6, 2019

We skipped the DJ/dancing part of our reception, too. We did not have other activities planned. We did have music. Between food and catching up with relatives and friends, no one missed the dancing. I still get compliments on what a lovely wedding it was six years later. No one missed the dancing and no one thought there should be something other than eating and talking.
posted by carrioncomfort at 6:27 AM on October 7, 2019 [1 favorite]

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