When planning a wedding reception, it's easy for a couple to get swept up in all the decision making, whether it's a lunch at a country inn or a big-band dinner bash with dancing and an ice sculpture of the newlyweds' pet pooch.
Whatever form the party takes, the goal should still be the same: celebrating the just-minted couple and wishing them well in their new lives together.
While knowing how much to spend is crucial for the entire wedding, it's particularly important for the reception to focus a couple on how they want their celebration to unfold.
The first step in the process is for the bride and groom, separately, to make a draft guest list, but without thinking of a budget for either the reception or ceremony.
The couple then shares their lists with each other and, with the budget now in mind, begins the discussion about their ideal wedding in broad strokes, including potential reception venues.
Perhaps a couple has their heart set on a historic house or hotel for dinner and dancing to a jazz trio, but they can only afford to invite 100 guests, although their list of relatives and friends easily tops 200.
This is a difficult choice. Before trimming the list, a couple should think of ways to economize, like making their own floral centerpieces or swapping a catered sit-down meal for a buffet. Also be sure to compare the cost of music. Think of hiring a jazz trio to play for the ceremony as well as reception, instead of hiring a DJ for the party.
Check to see if the wedding party can provide their own alcohol as a cost-saving measure. You can also limit alcohol to wine and stop opening new bottles an hour before the party ends. Additionally, instead of an open bar or wine, serve two punches - one with Champagne, the other non-alcoholic.
While caterers can provide a cake, compare prices and taste of wedding confections made at local bakeries that deliver. Consider having two cakes - one smaller decorated cake for photos and the cake-cutting ceremony, and a frosted sheet cake to serve the guests.
This is a time for fruitful and fun creativity.
Is there anyone in the family or among friends with a beautiful yard or garden for the reception, and perhaps for the ceremony? Condominium buildings often have reception rooms to rent with terraces. Perhaps there's an art gallery, community hall or scenic park lodge?
Whatever the reception venue, it can be dressed up in wedding colors with garlands of ivy or tulle punctuated with sprays of roses. Votive candles in clear or colored glasses can be scattered on cloth-covered tables, along with rose petals and place settings marked with cards penned in elegant calligraphy. Use pretty menu cards that match your wedding colors.
A final touch: ask guests to come prepared with a memory of the bride, groom or couple for a series of toasts to their lives together. Creating moments for nostalgia not only makes memories, but encourages guests to linger and newlyweds to mingle. After all, whether throwing a large or small reception, it's the casual elegance and bride and groom - not the food - that will be remembered.