How to Make the Most of Your Wedding Drinks Reception

How to Make the Most of Your Wedding Drinks Reception

Okay, so if you’ve been reading through my guide we just finished up at the ceremony, you’ve hugged your guests & now you’re making your way to your next location {possibly at a different venue entirely} for your drinks reception.

Most receptions are usually a couple hours long & it usually overlaps with the same window of time where you do your family/bridal party & couple portraits {unless you’ve planned a first look or sunset portraits} and possibly your speeches too.

So photography wise, for the most part of the reception I like to sneak around taking candid shots of you & the guests enjoying themselves and to get shots of all the little details you’ve put so much time & thought in to – decor, the entrainment, canapés, drinks, etc etc.

So I know I’m a broken record on this but my first bit of advice it time management.

How to Make the Most of Your Wedding Drinks Reception

Time Management for Your Wedding Drinks Reception

I think the key to a really enjoyable reception is striking the right balance between time spent taking your photos and allowing time to celebrate with your guests.

I’ve attended weddings where the couples were gone so long for photos that they barely got back in time for a sip of champagne before dinner was called. I’ve also shot some where the couple were having so much fun that insisted on putting off the photos and left themselves with barley any time for nice portraits. I think there’s a much happier balance to be struck between these two scenarios.

Again I’m going to backtrack to before the big day.

The handiest thing to do is to work out your reception window. So that’s the time you arrive at your reception venue to the time you’re called & seated for dinner.

For example if you have a 3pm church ceremony, followed by a 35 minute greeting line and a 40 minute drive you might only get back to your venue for 5.15. If you dinner call is at 6pm then suddenly you’re only left with 45 minutes for a reception & photos!

Generally you can’t go too wrong with a reception but sometimes this part of the day can end up feeling drawn-out & there can be a bit of a lull in the atmosphere.

The most important tip is just to keep the energy up & find the sweet spot where there’s enough time to relax, drink & mingle but not so long that it drags on.

Okay so for my next few tips I’ve broken it up into three sections; Food, Drink & Entertainment.

As always all of these decisions depend of your own personal preferences & budget but hopefully some of these tips will give you some cool ideas & inspiration!

Wedding cake tableDrinks & music at a wedding reception


There are so many different ways to incorporate food & drinks in to your reception. You can have the usual welcome drink & canapés floating around or you can make it more of a focal point & really go big! The main thing really is to not let people go hangry – especially if there’s a long time between the ceremony & dinner.

Here’s some of my favourite options I’ve seen at weddings.

  • Food trucks! These are such a fun & unusual option. You can do sweet &/or savoury options! So think ice-cream trucks, waffles,  crepes, wood fired pizzas, Mexican tacos, chips, sliders! This list is kinda endless. So if there’s a particular company or style you’ve come across at a market or festival why not give it a go & get in touch for a quote!
  • A big grazing table centrepiece. So essentially a grazing table is a big ole table laid out beautifully with all sorts of delicious charcuterie & nibbles. I usually see things like fancy cheeses, crackers, nuts, olives figs, crudités & dips but I mean you could go with any theme you like! Also picture it all served up on gorgeous raw chopping boards & slates!
  • So sweet carts have always been big but I think there’s room to take it to the next level! So rather than the little cart in the  corner for the kids when not take the grazing table idea and just make a sweet version! So you can do the usual vintage sweet jars {with jellies, flying saucers etc} but add in a few more desert snacks. I’ve seen donuts, pretzels, cute little cinema style boxes of flavoured popcorn, cake pops & stands of cupcakes. Things like this always go down a treat!
  • Cutting your cake during the reception instead of after dinner. I always think cakes are a little bit wasted after dinner. You & your guests are often too stuffed or too drunk to really notice. Why not cut it during the reception & have the cake as part of the sweet table mentioned above or simple just beside your tea/coffee station.


champagne reception at a weddingThe Shebeen wedding pub



There’s absolutely nothing wrong with just having a welcome glass of bubbly & a bar but if you’ve got the budget I think splurging on booze is a really lovely treat for your guests.

  • Go to town on cocktails! You could have a cocktail station with a bartender & a few delish curated signature cocktails on offer. The bit of  theatre of a bartender shaking & spinning up some cocktails is a lot of fun! Or you could do a DIY version with an unmanned station where people can make their own – so maybe a gin bar with a selection of different flavoured gins plus tonics, jars of herbs to muddle in & extras like berries, thin slices of cucumber & juniper berries! You could do this with any spirit you fancy. A whiskey one would be fab too!
  • Add a game element to the bar. So it can be more than a bit expensive to have an open bar {in Ireland anyway!} but I’ve seen a few fun ways that couples gamify it.  So at one wedding you could flip a coin with the bartender, one side says ‘free booze’ or ‘better luck next time’. There was also one with a cute lil ‘spin the wheel’ game!
  • Shot trays! Okay, this could be dangerous but I was at a lovely Mexican/Irish wedding where they had trays of Tequila shots. Needless to say it was awesome!
  • Drink ‘trucks’! You probably guessed from the name but these are just like food trucks but drink themed!  If you’re planning on having a lot of your wedding reception outside it can be a nice way to keep things where you want them & not have lots of guests heading back inside to the bar. These can be alcoholic or non-alcoholic too. There are a few super cute vintage tea/coffee vans and even mini replica Shebeens!


Donut tower & polaroid wedding displaywedding music


  • Music! If you budget allows for it then live music is brilliant for atmosphere. There are so many options to choose from. It can be a lovely background element with a duo on acoustic guitar, amp up the elaganza with a string quartet playing classical takes on popular songs or make it a focal point performance . For example the band Tropic Thunderstorm roam the reception taking requests for songs, they’re amazing! If live music isn’t your thing then make sure to have a really well curate playlist. Make sure it’s long enough to last the reception without repeating & check in advance that your venue have a sound system or speaker you can hook it up to.
  • I’m not sure if this counts as entertainment per se but Im chucking it in here anyway! Have your speeches during the reception. This is especially great in summer as it means you get gorgeous photos taken in super flattering natural light! It also makes them feel a lot more relaxed & casual and it can be easier to set a time limit that people will actually stick to!
  • Okay so these couple options might sound a bit cheesy but honestly they’ve been nothing but super fun whenever I’ve seen them at weddings – magicians & caricature artists!
  • Make a cool Photo Booth set-up. So this doesn’t have to be a package thing with an enclosed booth or one that’s manned by an extra person you have to hire. It can just be a cool styled up place for people to take their own photos & selfies. For example the shot below with the lighthouse. This was such a cool little set-up for their nautical themed wedding.  Also I’m obviously biased as I rent them but I’d suggest a cool display built around a neon sign!  You could pick one with a quote you love, hang it on copper rail or even balance it on feature at your venue {say a gorgeous big fireplace} & pop some stylish seating & props around to finish it off!
  • Lawn games – obviously this depends of the season but this can be a cute way to add a few games for adults & children alike! Think giant jenga & connect 4 or go bigger with a bouncy castle and proper beer pong tables!


white wedding bouncy castleGeorges Méliès inspired moon photo backdrop & signs


Styling & Decor

If styling is important to you I’d definitely recommend looking in to hiring a great stylist. Hands-down my favourites are Elk Stylist & Frog Prince!  But if you’re excited to tackle this element yourself it’s totally doable. It just takes thought, a good editing eye & planning …. & more than a few late nights scrolling through Pinterest!

Things to help get started

  • Do you have a theme you want the style to tie in with? For example in the the amazing Georges Méliès inspired moon backdrop & matching signage above was part of a wedding that had cool festival theme throughout it’s decor.
  • Tie everything in with your colour palette for a more polished & cohesive look. Also a lot of people don’t think they have a set colour palette but if you were to look at your venue & then line up all your bits – flowers, accessories etc – you’ll start to notice what your palette & accent colours are.
  • Properly check out  your venue. Take photos & really consider where needs additional styling most. It’s also helpful to look online at blogposts & galleries of previous weddings at your venue, just to get inspiration on possibles way to lay things out.
  • Set a budget. It’s way, way too easy to overspend once you get crafting! An extra glue gun here & can of spray paint there and suddenly you’ve blown all your budget in one Art & Hobby shop run!
  • Be realistic about what you can actual make & how much time it will take. Also make sure the projects are fun & excite you to do, otherwise it’ll just be another chore on the to-do list.
  • If buying lots of extra stuff doesn’t appeal to you {after all you do need to store it & either keep or sell it afterwards} then consider just working with extra florals & save on waste by renting any extras you want.

Some things you could include

  • Stylish signage. For example in the purple image below. You can do signs for pretty much anything! Welcome signs at the ceremony & reception, helpful direction signs, the dining room table plan, signs at the bar etc
  • Lots of weddings feature a memorial area where they include frames with photos of loved ones who couldn’t be there.
  • Guest book station. There’s loads of options here from a simple book to sign,  a polaroid for guests to take snaps & sign or even unusual items that couples then have as a keepsake – a few cute ones I’ve seen  are guestbook guitars, vinyls & globes!


nautical themed wedding with miniature hook head lighthousePurple, gold & glass pick a seat not a side sign with draped purple fabric smoke

Misc / Logistics

A few other random tips that popped in to my head!

  • This is fairly obvious but have a rainy & sunny option. It is lovely rainy Ireland after all so don’t pin all your hopes on a garden party – make sure you’re happy with the set up if it’s all indoors.
  • Consider the flow of space, generally you want to keep guests together. Often in large mansion venues or hotels that aren’t private venues guests can end up splitting up way too much and you lose the sense of the crowd/party. If you think that might be an issue try lay things out thoughtfully & in a way that gives enough space but still keeps everyone roughly together.
  • This is such an old lady thing to say but make sure there’s some seating. Older relatives love a good sit. Also it’s nice to have seating included amidst the fun rather than separated off in some side room.
  • Another random one but make sure you set the musician & any extras near where the guests will be hanging out. It sounds odd but I’ve been at several where musician are set up in a back room of the venue while everyone is out front on the lawn. Or where there was a gorgeous cake & tea station but nobody realised it was even there as it was so hidden!


wedding cocktail hour at the chocolate factory dublin


Click Below for Part 4 of my Wedding Day Guide – Timelines & Tips for Awesome Photos!

‘Fuss Free Family Photos’

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