While the ceremony is what actually makes your big day a wedding, it's the reception that will most likely take the bulk of your planning energy—and budget! The reception generally makes up about half of the total wedding costs. It's also the truly festive part of the day, where you celebrate your brand-new marriage with friends and relatives.
The site where you choose to host your reception sets the tone for the entire event. All later decisions, including your invitations, dress, flowers, centerpieces, music and menu, will follow the style and level of formality of the site you select, which is why finding a spot should be your absolute first wedding-planning step—even before your gown.
It's a good idea to have an estimated head count before you look at sites, too, since different venues are more suited for different numbers of guests. All places will, of course, have a maximum capacity that you can't go over, but some sites may require a minimum amount of guests, so with a number in mind you can cut out too-big or too-small spots.
When you begin checking out potential sites, note how each location makes you feel the instant you walk in: relaxed, hip, formal, sophisticated. Classy hotels, catering halls and country clubs are obvious places to begin. Their staffs will most likely be professionals with years of wedding experience. Many of these facilities even employ a full-time wedding consultant who can explain your options and help you plan the event, start to finish.
If you're looking for something more offbeat or unusual, the sky's the limit. As couples seek more personalized celebrations, wedding-venue possibilities have increased. Places that had never dreamed of booking a wedding before are opening their doors to the experience. Consider hosting your event at one of these nontraditional choices:
- An elegant or unusual restaurant
- A bed and breakfast
- A historic building, mansion or estate
- A botanical garden
- A vineyard or orchard
- A museum or art gallery
- A zoo, planetarium or aquarium
- A fairground
- A yacht
- A dude ranch
- A ski resort
- An urban loft
- A theater
- A municipal park or beach
- A lighthouse
- A sports arena
- On the grounds of a private school or college
An important note to keep in mind: While some sites offer all-inclusive packages that cover the cocktail and dining rooms, food and beverages, cake and staff, others may quote a price that includes nothing more than the space itself. These locations, from a wedding on the beach to a reception in your own backyard, may call for you to coordinate and pay for all necessary equipment. This could include a tent, tables and chairs, china, flatware and glassware, serving trays and dishes, linens, a dance floor, lighting and electrical outlets, heaters or air conditioners, restroom facilities and bar equipment, not to mention a staff to cater to your every need. The costs of a "simple at-home wedding" can add up fast if you're not careful, so plan accordingly.