Wedding Reception Ideas and Etiquette

In these budget-conscious days, we all know that every penny counts. And, when it comes to wedding receptions, expenses can really add up fast. Here, MyGatsby offers some fun and functional ideas, along with some easy tips, to make the most of your wedding reception budget…no matter what your wedding style.

Money-Saving Reception Tips

  1. Natural Resources
    Take advantage of your natural surroundings. Stop and pay attention to the natural beauty of your favorite spots, and we bet you’ll find plenty of inspiration. If your backyard has lots of lush trees, play they up with plenty of white twinkle lights or chandeliers to draw the eye up. Do you love the “Zen” feel of your favorite aunt’s backyard? Ask if she’d be willing to host the reception, and add nothing but plenty of oversized paper lanterns for dramatic effect. How about your grandparent’s farm? All you need is a clear night and some hurricane lamps lining rustic wood picnic tables to transform a wide-open space to a cozy, intimate setting. And, your search for the perfect setting shouldn’t stop in your own backyard. Local parks and public spaces are often overlooked, but can make the perfect backdrop for your special event. Contact local officials to determine any costs, permits, or restrictions that may exist. Then, you’ll be free to creatively make the space your own!

    Final Thought: Keep in mind that transforming a space into something it’s not can double your decorating cost. Elegant, elaborate tents for outdoor spaces are especially pricey, just as giving an indoor reception hall a flowery, forest-y feel will quickly eat up any budget. Take advantage of what already exists you for maximum impact at minimal expense.

  2. Consider the Clock
    The vast majority of wedding receptions are held in the late afternoon and evening. By choosing a less conventional time (think morning, mid-afternoon, or even dawn), you’ll tap into a whole slew of cost-saving options. Popular reception locations don’t book-up as quickly during off-peak times, so you might get lucky booking your dream location. Vendors, bands, DJs, and caterers will likely be available and willing to take on extra work during the day, sometimes at a cheaper rate. Also, hosting a reception at a less traditional hour will help set the expectations of your guests that your reception will be far from ordinary. Morning and afternoon weddings are naturally less stuffy (and often less costly) than more formal evening affairs. You can encourage your guests to dress casually, bring their sunglasses, and join you in soaking up the sun!
  3. Holiday Celebration Receptions
    With rising fuel and airline prices, this is an especially difficult time for people to travel. In order to help all your guests take part in your special day, why not celebrate two occasions in one? If your family gets together for the Holidays, consider planning your wedding reception for a night that all your loved ones will already be in town or gathered in a cherished location. Your family and friends will appreciate your thoughtfulness in ensuring they can attend, and everyone will have an extra reason to feel joyful this holiday season. You can be as formal as to throw a holiday-themed event in honor of your wedding, or simply send an invitation announcing that this year, everyone should plan on making an extra toast to the two of you around the fire. Added bonus? No one will ever forget your anniversary!
  4. From the Heart
    Do you have a cousin who bakes fabulous, mouth-watering cookies? A beloved piano-playing uncle or a co-worker who plays in a band? How about your childhood friend, the budding photographer? Ask your family and friends to put their talents to use for your special day. Whether as your wedding gift or for a fee, your loved ones will love the opportunity to contribute something meaningful and personal. By incorporating sweet, nostalgic, and even homemade touches like these, you’ll be sharing a piece of yourself with all your guests…and you’ll save yourself some money along the way!

    This is a great opportunity to share little-known facts about the two of you as a couple, as well. The winery where your fiancé proposed? Write a letter to the owners telling them your engagement story and ask if you can purchase wine cases at discounted rates to serve at your reception. Make a CD of favorite songs and send guests home with a copy. The theme park where the two of you first met, or the restaurant you went to on your first date? Why not provide coupons to these nostalgic spots as guest favors that truly tell your love story, and that your guests will actually both cherish and be able to use!

Ideas to Break from Tradition…Not Break the Bank

Don’t be afraid to break from tradition when it comes to your wedding reception. The wedding reception ideas we offer here may seem unconventional, but we’ll show you how to include a splash of nostalgia and a sprinkle of sentiment to make even the most low-key, low-budget reception everything you’ve always dreamed of.

As an alternative to the traditional church-filled wedding ceremony and elaborate sit-down dinner, why not consider a small, intimate wedding ceremony for immediate family and your closest friends? With all your extra time, money, and energy, you’ll be able to plan a truly fabulous reception for as many guests as you please. We love the idea of tying the theme of your actual wedding to that of your later reception. Running off to Mexico to tie the knot? Pick up a traditional Mexican wedding dress to wear to your reception when you get home, or snag some postcards of the wedding location to send as invitations to your reception. No matter where you officially wed, here are some fun ideas for an unforgettable wedding reception truly unlike any other:


  • Serve individual quiche and cupcakes
  • Set up a bloody mary bar and offer mimosas
  • Fresh fruit looks beautiful and doubles as dessert
  • Get coffee “to go” from your favorite local shop (they’ll give you a large self-serve container and will provide cups and sugar)
  • No formal seating necessary – just set up some comfy chairs and convenient tables
  • A simple lace curtain or free-flowing ribbons are all the table decorations you’ll need.
  • Brunch Reception Invitations: Go for something simple yet elegant to match the feel of your unstuffy yet stylish reception.


  • Have mariachis meet your guests with a cheerful song
  • Sombrero centerpieces with brims filled of colorful, fresh flowers
  • Serapes serve as buffet table decorations
  • Bring in catering from your favorite local taco shop (they’ll provide serving platters, etc.)
  • Set up a taco/tostada bar
  • Margarita machines (alcoholic and non-alcoholic)


  • Tiki torches at sunset
  • Sticky rice and BBQ chicken
  • Live ukulele or reggae music
  • Ask guests to get in the spirit and wear “resort” attire
  • Pineapple centerpieces
  • Mai Tais and Pina Coladas – don’t forget the tiny umbrellas!
  • Order a pack of leis to serve as decoration/favors

Western – “Get Hitched”

  • Hay and cowboy boots filled with plants and flowers
  • You can wear a simple white dress with a pair of boots
  • Chicken and Ribs or steak “chuck wagon style”
  • Corn on the con and cornbread
  • Bottle beer in oversized steel tins
  • Country music (hire a band or just make a great playlist)
  • Ride into the sunset together!

Champagne Toast

  • Set up a “toast tree” on which guests can tie handwritten toasts to the couple onto the individual branches
  • Hire a harpist or live piano player
  • Monogrammed cocktail napkins
  • All types of finger foods and horderves on elegant trays

Cocktail Reception

  • Ask a friend to play bartender
  • Give your friends an excuse to dress up and catch up
  • Plenty of white twinkle lights is all the decoration you’ll need
  • Signature cocktail and ho’rderve
  • Mini cakes or cookies
  • Head to Ikea or a restaurant supplier, and buy cocktail glasses or martini glasses in bulk


  • Invite your guests to join you as you “start your new adventure”
  • “Class up” the idea of jungle with an elegant punch bowl and fresh fruit
  • Banana leaves and palm fronds as tropical decoration
  • Napkins and tablecloths in various animal prints

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