Next to the marriage ceremony itself, your wedding reception is going to be a huge part of the night (and, for your guests, it might be the most memorable portion). While saying “I do” is definitely the big deal for you, your guests always look forward to the cutting of the cake and the fun games that await them at the reception. But, thinking of unique wedding reception ideas that are both entertaining and memorable isn’t as easy as it sounds.
The two most important things to ensure guests will have a good time at a wedding reception are good food and good company. Good food is an easy one to manage – even if you’re on a budget, any guest will appreciate a simple, honest meal or a buffet of small bites. But good company is a trickier one, since often it’s one of the few times you’re mixing all of your important friends with your families, and it can be hard to predict which guests will mesh well. Some people opt for a series of scheduled wedding activities in the reception, but it’s important to have a balance so it doesn’t start to feel too stuffy and over planned for guests that just want to relax and chat. Below are a few ideas to help keep guests mingling and having a good time.
Setting Up Your Wedding Reception
Before we begin sharing some great ways to keep your guests busy and make the night memorable, let’s first get into a few ways you can setup your reception area to make the most of the space and everything you have going on.
Ideally, you will locate the food near the bar, and that should already be located somewhere near the bathrooms (that’s naturally where people will look). Your dining tables should be setup accordingly. Depending on how many guests you have and how large the area is, you’ll want to either keep the tables near the focal point (like the dance floor) or near the food.
You might also need the tables placed all around the reception area if you have a small venue or a lot of guests! Just make sure there’s plenty of walking space, with walkways intuitively setup between the dance floor and eating area so everyone can get around.
If you’re hiring a sketch artist or someone to entertain guests and they need to be in one area, they should usually be setup away from the dance floor to make sure that people standing around aren’t getting in the way of guests who are moving around. Obviously, the band or DJ should be right at or on the dance floor.
Typically, food and dance should be kept as separate as possible. Again, try to avoid mixing the stationary activities and the good talking spots with the dancing around and moving spots so that no one is bumping into anyone.
Unique Wedding Reception Activities
You want your guests to have fun, too, which is why the reception should give them plenty of ways to get up and interacting with one another. The reception, after all, is the night’s biggest party—and that means you need lots of great food and games to keep everyone occupied! The night should fly by and be packed full of memories, but that’s only possible if you have multiple activities for people to participate in.
Common Questions About Wedding Receptions
There are plenty of questions that come along with planning a wedding. When it comes to the reception, here are some of the most common:
Why do we have wedding receptions?
The wedding reception comes after the ceremony. It’s a time for guests to give their well-wishes to the newlyweds and usually when the cake is cut and dinner is served. Dancing and other activities will be included, along with plenty of photos. Oftentimes, there will be additional guests at the reception, such as colleagues and other non-relatives who were not present to witness the personal ceremony itself.
How long is the average wedding ceremony and reception?
Most ceremonies last around 30 minutes. A basic wedding reception is four hours long if you’re serving a full meal.
How many activities should my wedding reception have?
The number of games or activities a reception has depends on the couple and their guests. Some couples might want the reception to stretch well into the night with multiple interactive games and dances. Others might want a shorter reception with a few planned dance songs and 1-2 activities that guests can participate in.
More Unique Wedding Reception Ideas & Themes
To help inspire you, we’ve put together a list of fun unique wedding reception ideas. The best thing about each idea is that it’s totally customizable based on your personal preferences. We hope these unique ideas for your wedding reception help inspire you to add your own twist to each of the concepts below!
1. Lawn Games
If your reception is going to be held in a (hopefully) sunny lawn, why not have a few lawn games to break out for guests who don’t love dancing? People who are shy on the dance floor might appreciate having an alternate activity like lawn bowling or croquet to help them let loose. Often weddings feel a little uptight, and lawn games are the perfect way to help guests relax and mingle!
2. Make A Customized Wedding Playlist
If you have a good friend who’s willing to check in on the equipment in the event of a technical glitch, then you have a way cheaper alternative to a band or a DJ! This is a great way to give your wedding reception a more personal touch. You’ll need some good speakers to hook up to your phone or laptop for the sound quality to be good enough, but it’s possible to find speakers that have great sound quality for the price if you know where to look!
3. Table Board Games
Love board games? Having some board game options like Scrabble, Catan, and Carcassonne is a fun, quirky option for encouraging guests who might not know each other well to mingle. It’s hard to know what to say to your best friend’s sister’s mother-in-law at the best of times, but Yahtzee is a great ice breaker!
4. Polaroid/Instax Camera
Having a polaroid or instax camera that guests can pick up and use is a fun way to help make memories! The great thing about this option is you can also be creative with what to do with the pictures once they’re developed – do you want guests to feel free to keep the pictures they take? Or would you rather the pics be put in a basket, so you can collect them later? This can also be a fun alternative to a guestbook – guests who snap pictures can write a message on the bottom of the picture for the bride and groom!
5. Sky Lanters
If your outdoor wedding will go into the evening, it’s nice to have an extra late-reception event to bring everyone together again and make the evening extra special. Releasing sky lanterns can be a romantic, quiet pause in a party that’s getting wild, or a way to spice up a night that’s dwindling. Guests that want to participate each get a lantern to send their wishes floating up into the sky, and the lit lanterns floating up are a beautiful image of the night that will stick in their memories.
6. Kids’ Activities
If several of your guests will be bringing kids, a kid activity center is a great way to help entertain younger guests, so they don’t get tired out too easily. A few coloring books and crayons, a small chalkboard, or a play mat with cars, blocks, and other toys are all easy things that can keep kids entertained for hours. It’s important to remember that the best toys for this type of thing are ones that encourage the kids to play quietly without being too disruptive.
7. Take Home Cake
We know that the bride and groom get the top tier, but if you’ve spent more than you wanted to on a giant cake and you’re worried that the lower tiers will get left half-eaten, put some take home boxes beside the cake at the end of the evening! Make sure you’ve stowed away anything you want to take home before doing this though, so guests have a clear idea of what’s fair game!
8. Fun Foods
Dinner and cake are classics, but why not mix it up with your favorite snack foods? Candy tables are a big wedding trend right now and are a really fun way to entertain guests, but you can also rent popcorn machines, have an ice cream bar, or a selection of casual snacks. A fun extension of this idea might be a bar featuring the favorite snacks of the bride and groom, so two people hitting the snack bar at the same time have something to talk about!
9. Special Wedding Home Brew
Home brewing is fun, and if you’re at all interested in brewing your own wine or beer, make a batch for your wedding! It’s simple and easy to get customized labels, and guests who know that the bride or groom made their beer or wine will be much more interested in talking about it with their tablemates. You can also brew unique beer or wine with flavors that match your wedding theme, like pineapple wine for a tropical theme, or rosehip wine for a romantic touch.
10. Garter/Bouquet Toss Re-Imagined
Feel like the garter and bouquet toss is a bit outdated? Try handing out individual flowers from the bouquet, or choosing alternative things to throw, like plush favors or small cards with inspirational quotes
11. The Scavenger Hunt:
Photos are a huge wedding keepsake, and everyone loves a great scavenger hunt. This idea combines the two and makes sure that you’ll have plenty of great photos to put into your album! Provide a list of photo ops for your scavengers to seek out. For instance, make one of the checklists to take a picture of someone laughing or to catch the best dancer of the night in action. Make sure to include a hashtag on the scavenger hunt card so everyone can share their photos and look them over later!
12. Play With Your Food
Who said you can’t play with your food? Let the rules go out the window the night of your reception by adding an interactive food station. Chocolate fountains are a classic, but make sure you have plenty to dip. You can also do built-it-yourself tacos and burritos.
13. Listen Up
Everyone loves giving their input, and since not everyone will have the chance to do a big toast to the happy couple, give them the chance to write a special note for you. Have a note card for each gift titled “Dear newlyweds…” so they can write something for you to admire. You can also put a more entertaining twist on this by asking them a specific question, like “What’s the first activity we should try as a couple?”
14. Hold A Raffle
Everyone is brining the bride and groom excellent gifts for their new life together, so give your guests something in return. The raffle prize can be anything, like a giant gift basket or a gag present. You could also let the raffle winner smash the ice sculpture you had made for the wedding—the possibilities are endless!
15. Doodle Maker
This is another great way to get some good keepsakes from your wedding guest. Similar to the notecards addressed to the newlywed couple, you can ask your guests to doodle their favorite memory of the reception by providing a doodle card and markers.
This is a fantastic way for everyone to have fun keepsakes from your wedding night! Hire a caricature artist to sketch guests (upon request) so they can save their memories of your happy union for years to come.
17. Trading Cultures
Why not re-invent your wedding theme by incorporating a tradition from a different culture? This will leave a lasting impression on your guests as they get to experience something new in a familiar setting. There are also financial incentives for incorporating cultural decorations and themes into your wedding – the materials needed for decoration are often quite inexpensive. Ideas can range from unique jewelry, fabrics, hand painted pots, and more! Think back to your favorite vacations or foods and think about how you can incorporate them into your own celebration.
18. Jittery Bottles
Do you have old, empty bottles of wine lying around at home? We sure do! Don’t just throw them away, use them as hanging decor using wires or colored string. Simply tie the thin wire around the bottle’s neck and suspend it from a tree or rail. You can paint your bottles or write messages on them with a sharpie, or even put fresh cut flowers in them! Refractions of light shining through each bottle will create a wonderful kaleidoscope on the walls.
19. No Jar (Or Bowl!) Left Behind
Colored candles look stunning floating in glass or crystal bowls filled half-way with water. To take this idea to the next level, fill your bowl with colored pebbles, rocks, or even sand from the best beaches you’ve visited around the world. This is a great centerpiece for tables that have the potential to reflect almost any wedding theme. Intricately charming yet simple – and imagine the contrast against a white sheet!
20. I’ll ‘Hay’ Right Here!
Ditch the seats and treat your guests to a more intricate and comfortable experience. If you’re close to an animal feed store, purchase stacks of hay and cover them with your favorite fabrics or warm and soft blankets. This is a beautiful choice for bohemian or natural themed weddings, especially those taking place outdoors or in the country. Out of all the unique wedding decoration ideas for your reception, this option serves the dual purpose of both seating AND offering a unique design that is truly special to you.
21. Yard Sale Trinkets
Old mailboxes and containers serve as rustic wedding card collection boxes with this elegant and budget-friendly reception idea. The worn texture and look draws an earthy, rustic aura to your wedding. Take time to visit local art schools and scout projects of prospective artists. Sometimes you will be able to get original, un-seen decor items and art pieces for your wedding without the cost associated with established artists.
22. Wine Bottle Ring Toss
Need a unique wedding game that will keep guests entertained? Try this wine bottle ring toss idea. You can purchase an old milk-bottle holder and fill it with empty wine bottles. Pick up some cheap, fun, oversized rings at the mall or online and offer a small prize to your guests if they win their toss!
Much of wedding decor can be done at home, so get creative or find others that are to help you. Dive deep into creative, affordable ideas and spend the rest on your honeymoon or things that really matter.
We hope we’ve sparked your imagination with some unique and fun wedding reception ideas to add a spark to the evening’s festivities. Anything else you’ve seen in the past that has struck you as a great idea, or ideas you’ve had that you wish you would’ve thought of? Leave a comment below!