Well lovely readers, I’m back again for the third instalment of our wedding advice mini-series and now, with less than two weeks to go until Christmas (yippee!), it seems rather fitting that this week, we’re talking about drinks and dinner! So, can I suggest that you grab yourself something lovely to sip and possibly a seasonal nibble as well so you can really get into the spirit of this feature…

After the build up to your wedding day, the morning of the big day and the ceremony itself, it’s definitely time to celebrate! Most couples serve drinks and food after they’ve taken their vows before heading into the dinner itself but, of course, you’ve got so many options and choices here so make sure that whatever is on your menu suits you. However, the drinks reception is where your party really starts so enjoy yourself as Emmanouela from couture design house Nymphi Design says:

You’re at a party for you and you only! This doesn’t happen often so make sure that you enjoy every minute.”

Araminta from Jacaranda Catering absolutely agrees and offers some more wise words: “Have fun!! This is your time to shine in all your glory and in that stunning dress. People will want to grab you and talk to you so do it. Your head will be a whirlwind and the reception time will go so quickly. Make sure you eat some canapés, if they don’t come to you then just get a waiter to get you some.”

Eating and mingling seems to feature highly on the advice from many of our Little Book for Brides experts so, let’s talk about all things edible (and quaffable!) first:

“Make sure that people have a drink in their hand as soon as possible after the ceremony,” advises Rachel from stationers Paper Arrow Press and she’s definitely right – serving drinks quickly after the ceremony really helps the atmosphere and helps everyone relax. After all, you’re celebrating a momentous occasion so ask your venue or caterers to be on hand with drinks as quickly as possible post-ceremony.

Whilst champagne might be traditional here, there’s absolutely nothing to stop you serving something a little out of the ordinary:

“If you’re having a relaxed outdoor drinks reception, use drinks dispensers, mason jars and straws to tie in with the rustic theme,” says Karen from Passion for Flowers. “For a touch of glamour, you can serve drinks on beautiful trays decorated with flower heads or ask your florist to add some blooms to your drinks reception tables. I also love seeing bar fronts that have been decorated with lush garlands.”

“Get creative with your drinks,” suggests Sonia from The Wedding Bliss Thailand. “Classic cocktails like Margaritas and Mojitos are always on trend but it’s really fun to put together something unique for your wedding bar. Our favourites are alcoholic popsicles for summer weddings, ‘mix your own drink’ stations for laid-back celebrations and quick bartender masterclasses for young creatives.” “Personalised cocktails have proved to be a massive hit this year for couples,” agrees Harriet from De Winton Paper Co. “We’ve been commissioned to illustrate a number of beautiful watercolour images on signs to let guests know just what they’ll be indulging in.” And whilst indulging is certainly to be encouraged, over-indulging is best avoided at this stage in the day so don’t let those canapés pass you by: “Plan for your canapés and drinks to be served around the same time,” says Claire from wedding stationers Littlebird Weddings. “This will help avoid those sparkles going to guests’ heads!” And you do need to keep a slightly clear head here because as well as photos, you’ll also have a LOT of people who are really keen to spend some time with you: “Try and speak to everyone!” says Sam from Sass & Grace Bridal Boutique. “I know it’s hard but you really are the star of the show and everyone will want a piece of you!”

“Definitely greet every guest,” says Sian from Tilly Trotter’s Brides. “I didn’t get to speak to all of my guests and three years later, I still feel pangs of guilt when I think of some of my wonderful friends who travelled so far to celebrate with us and who I didn’t make enough time for.”

“You can be organised with your mingling,” advises Georgina from chic stationers Georgina Read Creative. “Set a chit-chat time limit in your head. Greet and talk to each guest for what feels like a maximum of five minutes and then move on to the next one.”

Whilst this might seem a bit too much like hard work, you do have to make a bit of an effort to mix, mingle and move on because, as well as celebrating with your nearest and dearest, it’s usual to have photographs taken during this part of the day too. Obviously, you’ll want to look your best for the camera so here are our makeup experts with a few tips:

“Flushing is super common during the drinks reception – after all, you’ve been on the fizz since about 10am!” says makeup artist Kylie McMichael. “Stay hydrated throughout the day and ask your makeup artist to apply a colour correcting foundation/concealer to keep redness at bay. I love Nuxe’s DD Cream, Amazing Cosmetics concealers and Kiehl’s BB Cream for this.”

“You might need a touch of colour on your lips or a little more powder before your photos, particularly if it’s a hot day or if your ceremony was rather emotional,” says makeup artist Maxine Wilson. “Drinking through a straw can help keep your lip colour in place but really, this shouldn’t be your first priority!”

With all that in mind, it’s time to move on to the photographs and Ross Hurley has some invaluable advice about timings for this portion of the day: “When planning your drinks reception, think about the timings. I would highly recommend having it last a minimum of 90 minutes. The reason? There is an awful lot to fit into this section of your day and with a small drinks reception, things can feel very rushed and a little stressful.”

What exactly needs to be captured during your drinks reception? I’ll hand you back to Ross Hurley to explain all:

“Within this time, you will want to say hello and welcome your guests. You will then probably want a few family group photos. This can take a lot longer than you would expect. (I photograph a maximum of 6 family setups, as this can take 45 minutes! There is always someone in the bar, or the toilet and trying to organise this section of the day can get a little frustrating).”

“You will also want pictures of your details within your reception room and most importantly, you will want those natural photographs of your wedding. They document your day telling the story from start to finish.”

“But, no doubt you will also want some beautiful shots of you both! The ones of you walking through the long grass, or the stunning woodland! Ones you can hang on your wall. Using the time allocated this should be at least 20 minutes to half an hour.”

“As you can see, even 90 minutes for this period pushes the boundaries and that’s why, when you plan this section of the day, make sure you have plenty of time to do all the things you want to do.”

Of course, there are no hard-and-fast rules stating that photos must take place at this time and, as photographer Winston Sanders explains, there are some really great reasons why you might like to put them off a little:

“To start with, you’ve just got married and you’ll no doubt want to celebrate with a drink with your friends and family. However, a really good reason why you might want to put the photos on hold for a bit is that you’ll likely get more flattering images when the light is softer later in the afternoon. If your ceremony finished early in the afternoon and you’re having a summer wedding, you might like to have a chat with your photographer about having some of your group or couple photographs taken later.”

Whenever you decide to have your group photos taken, there are a few things that you can do to help the process run much more smoothly:

“Think about who should be in your group shots before the big day,” says photographer Annelie Eddy. “Write a list and share it with your photographer. It can be helpful to go over the list with any family members who are set on having certain group shots. This gives you a chance to manage expectations and avoid any conflict on the wedding day.”

A photo posted by Annelie Eddy (@annelieeddy) on

From my own time as a wedding planner, I’d suggest writing out the names of everyone who’s going to be required for each photograph and then detailing a couple of groomsmen (ideally ones who know your families and close friends) to assist in gathering everyone together in the right place at the right time. I’d also urge you not to stress too much about managing this part of your day to the n-th degree – trust in your photographers and their amazing abilities and experience to run this section of proceedings. It’s not your responsibility and you certainly shouldn’t be stressed about your photography at all. “When it comes to you on the day, you need to have a bit of a ‘go with the flow’ attitude,” says photographer Fiona Kelly. “There’s a chance that things might run late or not go fully to plan. That’s fine, it happens and it happens far more frequently that you would imagine. Not getting stressed about the small stuff when it comes to your reception will mean that you enjoy the time fully. Once you hit the wedding day if something’s not right, delegate it to a bridesmaid or groomsman to sort out. Don’t try and sort it out yourself and end up missing half your own wedding reception.” Wise words indeed. Lastly, before we make our way into dinner, there are just a few more tips that I want to pass on to you and we’ll hear from The Flower Lounge’s Sian first: “If you’re planning on preserving your bouquet, then ask your florist or the venue to have a vase waiting for your flowers during the drinks reception so they’re not out of water too long. This will keep your flowers looking fresh for photographs and your bouquet will also be in the best condition for preserving. Plus, you’ll have your hands free for that first celebration drink!”

A photo posted by Sian (@flower_lounge) on

Also, if I make a sash with hooks and eyes or poppers, I sometimes make it so that it can be loosened a little before the bride takes her seat for dinner,” says Helena at Heavenly Vintage Brides. “That advice goes for all gowns really – it’s a long day and it’s important to be comfortable and relaxed.”

As your guests prepare to make their way into dinner, what should you be doing? Araminta from Jacaranda Catering has a brilliant idea:

“I also suggest that, as your guests take their seats, this is the time for you and your new husband to take some time together. Go and sit together, on the steps of the venue or on a bench in the garden. This is the only moment you’ll have alone together in the midst of your big day so don’t let it pass you by. Finally, make sure that you take off your veil before you go into dinner – the formalities and photographs are over, it’s time to relax.”

But, before you can eat, everyone has to find their seats and all of our experts agree that a table plan is a real wedding must-have:

“Arrange a table plan for where guests should be seated. This can be complicated and time consuming, with the chance of late changes. But, it is of my humble opinion that a seating plan works best. Catering companies will recommend you have one as they will need to know who is having what food and where,” says photographer Ross Hurley. “But for those weddings whereby a BBQ has been chosen, it seems the ‘relaxed’ feel of no seating plan seems to be more and more popular. I’ve seen on a few occasions within my recent wedding season, the sign that says, ‘Now that we are together forever, please feel free to sit wherever’ or alike. As much as that may sound like a good idea and a lovely sentiment, the realities of this do not work.”

Ross explains: “When guests first enter the room, there is an element of confusion straight away. People want to be told where to sit and they pretty much expect it. When it’s realised they can sit anywhere, people stop and survey with their friends. They go and take up 5 spaces on a table of 8. The next group come in and does the same thing. Within a short space of time, all tables have guests seated around them, but still half of the guests are yet to enter!” “So now, a group of four want to sit together, but only three spaces remain on one table and one on another. One decides to pick up a seat and move it onto the other table with their friends. Quickly a very untidy room is created and guests are moving all over the place. The top table also doesn’t exist and it means the main family can be split all over the room. The idea of this is lovely and the sentiment is there. But in reality, your guests need order and to be told where to go to avoid confusion and stress.” Aside from the practical benefits of a table plan, there are some aesthetic plus-points too: “A statement seating plan can kill two birds with one stone,” says Tom from florists Agent F. “They’re practical and, if dressed as a beautiful tableau, they can reduce the need for large, expensive decorations. Go for something dramatic and elegant such as hand calligraphy on a mirror and your guests will all have something to talk about. They’re also certain to notice it too!”

A photo posted by Agent F (@agent.f) on

Lorna from stationers EYI Love agrees:

“Organise a gorgeous table plan in advance so that everyone knows where they’re sitting so no-one’s left wondering where to sit. Once they’ve taken their seats, having some talking points on the tables is always a great icebreaker. It could be a fabulous place setting, a brilliant favour or something more interactive for guests to read or fill in.”

When it comes to creating a great atmosphere at the tables for guests, Tom from Agent F has this to say:

“To keep your guests at ease and the conversation flowing, it’s vital to ensure that your guests can all make eyes at one another across the table! Don’t place tall, bulky arrangements in the centre of your tables. Add height and drama instead with tall centrepieces held aloft on slender vases or elegant candelabra. Also, don’t overcrowd your tables – remember that your caterers will need space for cruets, condiments, glasses, table numbers and napkins to name but a few.”

Now’s the time to eat and your menu, like the rest of your wedding day, can be as personal as you like:

“We recommend ‘feast style’ dining with long rows of rectangular banquet tables to fit whole groups of family and friends,” says Amanda from wedding tent and teepee company PapaKåta. “Our Farmhouse table, part of our Farmhouse-Luxe range, is wider than standard trestles allowing for more luxurious dining with statement tablescapes, crockery, glassware and floral centrepieces.”

“Focus on quality and creativity with your menu,” suggests Sonia from The Wedding Bliss Thailand. “Think about seasonality and trends such as ‘farm to table’. Modern cuisine leans towards healthy and sustainable ingredients.”

“Choose something that reflects you as a couple,” advises Hannah from stylists All Things Borrowed. “Whether it’s a lovely three-course meal, a sharing feast or food wagons, food is something that people really remember so opt for a menu that’s seriously yummy!”

Lianne from stationers LoveLi agrees:

“Have the meal that you want and don’t worry about the fussy eaters! If you want something alternative, go for it. It’s your day and if that’s what you want to eat, roll with it. Your nearest and dearest will, I’m sure, come to love the idea because they love you too.”

Of course, we can’t finish our wedding meal without speeches but, as with all things wedding, you can choose to do these at a time that suits you best:

“Consider having your speeches between the main course and dessert,” says Claire from Littlebird Weddings. “That way your guests will have had something to eat and will probably be more welcoming of speeches than they would be before the meal and they might well be grateful for the chance to let their main course settle before you bring out the puddings!”

When it comes to the speeches themselves, Joanna from videographers Viva La Wedding has a few tip tips for anyone who needs them:

“A pinch of humour goes a long way but don’t recycle tired old jokes from the Internet. Share stories that say a lot about someone’s character and whilst we know setting out to embarrass the groom might be the done thing for the best man, don’t stitch him up too much. He can probably take it but can his Mum? We’ve seen a fair few speeches fall flat because the Best Man has been too harsh for the taste of the wedding party. So, consider a ratio of two parts friendly ribbing to one part of ‘seriously, what a guy!’”

With the content of the speeches nailed, the delivery makes a big difference as Joanna again explains:

“Stand up straight, speak up, slow down and make eye contact. If you do all that, your audience will be eating out of the palm of your hand, trust me!”

“When you’re planning your speeches, try and encourage everyone to speak from one spot,” suggests videographer Julie from Mintyslippers Media Ltd. “And if there is a microphone available, try to use it. Some people in the room will struggle to hear you at the back!”

As your dinner comes to an end, your guests are happy and you’re looking ahead to the evening party, don’t forget one last thing as Sian from The Flower Lounge explains:

“This is the moment, when you’re sat with your new husband, that you should take a moment to look around the room and soak it all up. The vision you had all those months ago for your perfect day is now a reality. The decorations, the flowers, the music, your friends and family, it’s all here and you’ve made it happen. This moment makes all the months of planning worthwhile so don’t miss it.”

And with that, I’ll leave you to enjoy some happy thoughts of how amazing that feeling in your special moment will be but I’ll be back next week to talk about the evening party and share a few expert tips for those post-wedding weeks and months.

Love Tamryn x


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Wedding Advice From The Wedding Experts – Drinks & Dinner (Wedding Talk )

Tamryn Lawrence/

Self-confessed wedding addict Tamryn spends her days in her Berkshire studio writing about all things beautiful and romantic with her black Labrador for company.

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