5 Tips from a Wedding DJ on How to Have the Best Wedding Reception Possible
Weddings are one of the best rituals that humanity has to offer. Think about it: people will travel thousands of miles to sit in a room and watch two people commit their lives to each other. It’s a celebration of two people finding each other and the collective hope for a good and prosperous future. It’s beautiful. And it can be a lot of fun too.
This post is for everybody who wants to pull off an amazing reception to your ceremony. Here are some tips and observations that I’ve picked up over the years that will help you have the most amazing wedding day ever.
The service is for you, the reception is for your guests
The cliche is that women have been thinking about their wedding day since they were kids. Men started thinking about it once they found “the one”. Regardless of when you started day-dreaming about your wedding, the focus is always on the wedding couple.
The best way to ensure a successful reception is to think about the wedding differently: the service is for you, the reception is for your guests.
This is pretty intuitive, really. If people are going to travel and spend money in order to witness you tie the knot, the least you can do is feed them and provide a little entertainment.
This shift in thinking, one that considers “what would my guests like?” rather than, “what do I want to do?” will go a long way towards making your reception incredibly awesome.
How to pick the place for your reception
The main question you need to ask yourself is, “What kind of vibe do I want to have?”. If you can answer this question, you’re 80 percent of the way there to pulling it off.
Think about your crowd: your family, your SO’s family, your friends, your SO’s friends, and the others that will be at the wedding. What are the natural tendencies of everybody? Do you have a bunch of dancers? A bunch of talkers and watchers? Are you a group that is going to be killing it on the dance floor? Are folks more low-key and would rather visit with each other? Is pomp and circumstance really important? How you answer these questions will determine the kind of reception you want to have and thus, the venue that you want.
Generally speaking the reception venue does two things:
- Provide a place to eat, sit, and dance
- Have some amenities to make doing #1 easier
The trade off that you’ll have to consider is how a place looks and feels versus how practical it is for what you want to do.
The two real considerations are food and restrictiveness.
- Food – Does the venue have a kitchen? If so, you’re probably getting food through the venue and this gives you certain freedoms with what you can serve. Generally speaking, the more you care about what food is served, the better off you are at picking a venue with a kitchen on-site. Match your venue to your food ambitions.
- Restrictiveness – How big is the place? Are you in a building? On a porch? On the beach? In a backyard? On a lawn overlooking the Intracoastal?
Different venues offer a different amount of space for your guests to fill. And generally speaking, the more space your guests have to occupy, the easier they’ll think it is to leave early. If you’re sure you want to have your wedding in a more open space, make sure you have a lot of things for your guests to do: think about a candy bar, a photo booth, even stuff like cornhole will go a long ways towards keeping people happy and occupied.
If you want to dance and party, make sure the venue is enclosed somehow. In a room, on a porch, in a backyard – those are all good options. But if you put people under a tent in an open space, you’re likely going to have a lot of people leave right after dinner.
The trick to picking great wedding food
The food you choose for your wedding is partially going to be decided by the venue that you choose. If there’s a kitchen (and kitchen staff) on premises, then you’re likely to choose from what they have to offer. This makes things very straightforward and easy.
If you’re in a place without a kitchen, you’re going to bring in a caterer. Regardless of the caterer you choose to bring in, a few things will always be true: namely, everything is likely to be served buffet style.
This being the case, the most successful wedding food is food that works great in a buffet setting. Locally, barbecue is pretty common and it’s ALWAYS a good choice. It’s simple, tasty, and uncomplicated.
On the other end of the spectrum is something like Mahi Mahi with a mango chutney. Or more commonly, shrimp and grits.
Both of these dishes can be a challenge to pull off for a dinner party of 8 at a restaurant, much less 100 guests at a venue without a kitchen. If you don’t have a kitchen on site, resist the temptation to get too complicated with your food.
If food is a big deal for you at the reception, then choose a venue that can do it appropriately.
Let’s talk music and what to expect
When it comes to being a DJ, you’d think that my primary job is, you know, the music. But I’ll tell you a dirty little secret: music is actually #2 to us.
Our primary job as DJs is to make sure the wedding reception runs smoothly. In most cases, your wedding planner isn’t around to direct the reception.
That leaves the DJ as the only person around that can reliably be thought to be “in charge”.
And this is true because we’re the only ones with a time line.
Here’s a weird fact about wedding receptions: nobody knows what’s going on except your vendors. Generally speaking, your DJ, event staff, photographers, and food vendors have all done dozens to hundreds of weddings. We are aware of the general flow of a reception. The DJ has the timeline of events, and cues everybody else on what to do and when.
It’s everybody else – the wedding couple, wedding party, and guests who don’t know what’s coming next.
It’s like putting on a play. The cast and staff have seen it dozens of times. But for the audience, it’s all fresh.
What this means is that the primary job of your DJ is to make sure that the reception goes smoothly. The feel and flow of the evening is what’s most important. Music is secondary.
Why? For one of two reasons: 1) You’ve picked too many songs already, or 2) We’re playing to the crowd.
The first is easy to explain. I commonly have wedding couples choose between 60-80 songs for a 4-hour reception. In these cases I try to create the best playlists I can for the crowd but let the couple’s tastes dictate the night.
Whether or not that’s the case, what is true is that you have a diverse group of people who all want to hear something different: you have the old-timers that want some oldies. Shag or literal oldies works here.
You have what I like to think of as, “the Aunt contingency”. These ladies love 70’s dance music. These folks love, “Brick House”, “Celebration”, “It’s Raining Men”, etc.
There’s the country contingent. They either show up in force or don’t show up at all.
Younger folks are going to want hip-hop. And dancers are going to want line dances.
This means that urban line dances are going to be popular: The Wobble and The Cupid Shuffle are highlights of the night.
Pretty frequently I’ll run into couples who don’t want line dances. Take my word for it: you want line dances.
If the country folks show up, this includes Copperhead Road and Cotton Eyed Joe.
My point is: dance music is about dancing. Let it happen. your DJ isn’t going to mess this up.
Regardless of what your personal taste in music is, remember that the reception is really for your guests. Pick music (or trust the DJ to pick music) that your guests will like.
How to handle being the center of attention
The weirdest thing for most wedding couples is dealing with being the absolute center of attention for an entire evening. This isn’t such a problem during the actual wedding since everything is more or less scripted.
But during the reception, it’s not uncommon for the bride and groom to try to minimize their visibility.
There’s one easy trick to mastering the wedding reception: Imagine yourself to be Jimmy Fallon. If you think about it, Jimmy Fallon performs the role of being an avatar for having a good time. He sings, he dances, he’s interested in the guests on the show. He’s a consummate host and entertainer.
Your job, as a wedding couple during the reception is to both be a host and entertainer. You’re going to get introduced, to music. You’re going to have a dance number. You’re going to have toasts in your honor. You’re going to cut a cake. And you’re going to dance. If that’s not hosting and entertaining, I don’t know what is.
So own it. Know that’s your responsibility and embrace it. Dance during your introductions. Be gracious during your thank yous. Put a bit of effort into your first dance. And participate once the dance floor is open.
Everybody is there to support you and to celebrate you. But that requires that you act celebratory.
This comes easier to some than others. If you’re an introvert or feel awkward for some reason, this could prove challenging.
But know this: Your wedding and reception happens quick. You’re going to be surprised at just how fast the entire thing feels. So make the most of it. We’re all here for you.
Follow the pointers above and you’re guaranteed to have a wedding reception worth remembering for decades to come. Look through Wilmington Today’s wedding section for recommendations and ideas on caterers, sites, salons and all the other things necessary to make your day special.