Arguably, two of the most overlooked aspects of many weddings are the finale at the end of the night, and the reception room floor plans (or simply FPs as some wedding pros refer to them). I’ll briefly hit upon a few suggestions for each, and how to maximize these two areas of wedding planning that often get minimal attention.
The Finale. Most wedding guests have absolutely no idea when the end of the reception is. It’s not on the invitations. It’s almost never mentioned, or even talked about during receptions by most DJs unless it’s New Year’s Eve. Most wedding guests just assume that the end of the reception is when the alcohol runs out, or when the venue closes down. At almost all of my receptions, I let the guests know at the beginning of the night when the end of the night is – and more importantly – why it’s important that they should stay until the end. Not surprisingly, most of my weddings end with a packed dance floor. But there’s more to it…and a few challenges:
Most couples contract their venue for 6 or 7 hours or more of reception time. Most couples, likewise, think that in order to get “their money’s worth”, that they need to party until the end. The optimal reception time for weddings is 5 hours, 6 if you have a really rowdy crowd of late-night partiers. Beyond six hours, I’ve sometimes seen things get ugly. Real ugly. I’ve even heard a few photographer friends mention that they can’t even get good photos of people after 11PM because most guests are too drunk. That may be extreme, but keep in mind, longer is NOT better. It’s always best to end the party with people wanting a little more, than go an extra hour or two and have most of them leave. Think quality over quantity. Ending on a high note, with the majority of your guests still there, on a packed dance floor is priceless, and makes for some great photos, and equally as important, it makes for some great memories.
I always try to plan some sort of finale immediately after the last dance with my couples well before wedding day. It can be as simple as gathering the guests around the bride and groom to sing “Piano Man” or “Don’t Stop Believin'” (see photo). A bit more planning is required for exit tunnels, sparklers, limo getaways, and even fireworks (certainly not permissible at most venues but it’s pretty awesome when I’ve witnessed it). As with almost any part of your reception, it’s imperative to hire a DJ who has the experience to direct and keep guests updated on all the upcoming activities throughout the evening from cocktail hour, to dinner, through the dances and formalities, all the way to a full dance floor finale and exit.
The Floor Plan. This is basically a schematic of the layout of the room. Over the years, I’ve seen the good and bad. I’ve come to realize as being the Reception DJ & Director at most of the weddings that I am part of, that it’s imperative that I play an active role in the room’s layout to maximize the dancing, flow, and overall enjoyment of the guests. Ideally, every reception would take place in a room where all guests can easily see everything that happens throughout the evening regardless of where they are sitting. This is rarely the case, as most reception facilities were not originally designed for wedding receptions – especially many of the more historic venues. Sometimes tables are set up on the dancefloor that have to be moved, or guests are seated in separate rooms, or the bar is clear on the other side of the venue. It’s important to keep these thoughts in mind when choosing a venue for your wedding, but the good news is, even if you already have and it’s not ideal, there are six ways to easily deal with these issues:
- Centrally located the dance floor and do not block the DJ behind your guest’s tables. Consult with your DJ before your venue’s Walk Through Meeting so they can give you suggestions based on their experience at the venue.
- Try to locate the bar in the same room as the reception, as well as the photo booth (dancing feeds off the photo booth, and vice versa).
- Limit flower centerpiece height so guests can easily converse at their tables and see everything that is going on.
- Choose assigned seating over open seating. Grouping guests of similar demographics, families, and ages make sense. It creates more conversation. I’ve found that most weddings with open seating have less dancing.
- When making a seating chart, list names alphabetically – not by table. It makes it much easier for guests to find their name, and will prevent the dreaded logjam as guests enter the reception after cocktail hour and are trying to find their names on the chart.
- With the exception of the Wedding Party and Parents tables, go with assigned tables as opposed to specifically assigned seating. It gives guests freedom to sit where they want at the table, and eliminates the need for place cards.