A wedding reception can be formal or informal, but you must make sure you do it right — in other words you should follow the normal wedding reception protocol as that is what people will expect. Note however that the protocol is not as rigid as you might think, and can be regarded more as a set of guidelines. But what is the traditional wedding reception protocol?
A formal wedding reception is normally held in the restaurant of a hotel where facilities and staff are on-hand for a full sit-down meal — sometimes still referred to as the “wedding breakfast“. An informal reception with a buffet menu can be a less expensive option.
When the guests arrive at the reception, they should be greeting by a receiving line. This is normally the bride’s mother and father, the bridegroom’s mother and father, the bride, and finally the groom — in that order. If there is a large number of guests you might want to simply have the bride and groom welcoming the guests.
Guests are then normally presented with a drink, and when everyone has arrived they can start to look for their name cards in the dining area. The bride and groom should have sorted all this out well in advance, and the only point of protocol here is that at a formal wedding reception there is normally a top table for the principal members of the wedding party.
At some point the cake is normally cut — this is either at the end or part-way through. The bride holds the knife in her right hand, with the groom’s right hand on hers, and then the bride’s left hand on top of that. This is a big photo opportunity and the couple will have to stand in that position with a smile on their faces for several minutes! The cake is then whisked away by the restaurant staff to be cut up ready to be given out at the end of the reception as people are leaving. You may want to rescue the top tier to save for the christening of the first-born.
After the cake-cutting comes the highlight of the reception: the speeches.
The first to speak is the bride’s father. He will normally say a few words and then propose the main toast: “Health and happiness to the bride and bridegroom” (or something similar).
The bridegroom then responds, thanking the bride’s parents and the guests, and he ends by proposing a toast to the health of the bridesmaids.
The best man then speaks, replying for the bridesmaids, reading out the congratulatory cards and telegrams. The best man will also relate some stories about the groom (and bride, if they are friends too).
That is it as far as tradition is concerned but, if they wish, the bride, bride’s mother, and the maid of honor (chief bridesmaid) can all make speeches — but it is best to check with the bride and groom first.
Any and all of the speeches can be serious or humorous, but giving a speech is a high-stress activity for many people. You may want to consider using a pre-written speech. This is worth considering, and there are several web sites offering such material, and you can edit what they give you to make it completely suitable and applicable to your wedding reception. Getting someone else to do the work is not only a great time-saver, but relieves you of the large amount of stress — and you can have confidence that what they give you will work. Such pre-written speech templates can be bought for next to nothing — and trust me: paying for them is worth it as they have been created and honed by professionals.
If there is to be dancing, the bride and groom are first on the floor. they are followed by the maid of honor and the best man, and then members of both families.
At some point the bride and groom will slip away to change into “normal” clothes and will then return to say good-bye before heading off on their honeymoon. Just before they leave, the bride throws her bouquet into the air — and tradition has it that the female to catch it is next in line for marriage. Sometimes the groom will toss the bride’s garter to the men, and the one who catches it is then expected to place it on the leg of the girl who caught the bouquet.
The bride and groom then get into a car that has been decorated by other guests and drive off into the sunset for their honeymoon and the rest of their lives together.
Finally, remember that the whole point of the wedding is for the benefit of the bride and groom, and that wedding reception protocol is, after all, just a set of guidelines. It’s what the guests will be expecting, so if you plan to deviate from tradition it’s probably best to let everyone know in advance so as to avoid disappointment.
Plan it carefully, then relax and enjoy yourselves!