How to have a very, very simple reception: Have everyone park their cars in a circle in a nearby field. Set up a keg and a boom box and have everyone search their glove compartments for mix CDs. Bring cups, batteries, and bug repellant.
Which, now that I think about it, sounds kind of fun.
But if you’d like to go more elaborate, you may want some decorations.
The first thing to check is whether it’s OK to pillage the flowers from your ceremony location. (This is, of course, assuming you bought them in the first place. That friendly wedding chapel in Vegas gets a lot less friendly when you start ripping down the fake orange blossoms.) Secular locations should be fine with this, but many houses of worship believe that any flowers you bring in should be a gift for the community as a whole. Just make sure you check in before you start loading up the car.
A few more things to think about:
Ribbons, tulle, balloons, floral swags, and flowers in general are reception decoration standards because they work well. They’re easy to get and look terrific. Unless you really have your heart set on wall-mounted marlins and fisherman’s nets as a part of your theme, you don’t need to reinvent the wheel. Your reception guests want to dance, indulge, and congratulate you – you don’t have to pressure yourself to blow their minds with your reception design.
The reception entrance
If your guests are traveling to your reception or if you’re having it in a hotel with several ballrooms, you may want to decorate the entrance to give folks a hint. Live costumed cherubs swaying feathered fans are ideal, or you could go with the elegant simplicity of magic marker on a square of cardboard.
In between those extremes, you can go with an archway, potted plants, or floral swags. Balloons are a nice way to get a fun, festive look on a tight budget. For an extra hint, have one of your ushers stand near the door and periodically jerk his head in the right direction.
The gift table
The gift table will be looking pretty festive on its own with all the gifts on it. You can go basic with a simple table and a floor-length cloth and not hear a word of complaint. If you want a little more, flowers or potted plants can be nice here too, though they’re hardly mandatory. It’s also a good idea to have a holder for cards. My mom wants you to have a wicker basket for that because she wants everyone to have a wicker basket, but you can choose whatever you want. A wire card holder with clips will allow guests to display their cards. Or have you thought about a wicker basket? Just tell my mom you did.
The dining tables
Again, you have a huge leeway and can swank it up or go more casual depending on your budget, though your theme should also be a guide. If your guests will be using crab mallets at any point during the meal, you may want to steer clear of the lace. If you’re going all-out, you may want floral centerpieces, or even mini-ice sculptures, but you can also have a fun, lovely table with small potted plants, glass vases filled with colored stones, or, heck, Tinker Toys if you want them. Just make sure your guests can see each other and talk past them. You can also have fun with napkin rings if you want. Yes, you can go crazy and use actual napkin rings that match the color scheme of your wedding. But you can also play with the idea – anything that is round, tieable, or twistable can secure your napkins. Tinsel? Old 45 records? Poseable action figures? The sky’s the limit.
The buffet table
If you’re having a buffet, you want to draw people’s eyes to the table, but keep things sanitary. Ice sculptures are favorites because they won’t, for example, drop pine cones into the food. That doesn’t mean you can’t have sprays of fresh wildflowers or dried arrangements – just talk to your caterer about the logistics of how much space he or she will need, and where tricky items like chafing dishes will be. Candles can add a soft romantic touch, though, again, think about where people are likely to be leaning in.
Of course, your decorations don’t need to tower above the food. You may just want to have layered tablecloths of different colors, or swaths of fabric along the side of the table. Sometimes snaking lines of small decorations can be fun – I’ve seen everything from flower petals to brightly colored glass beads to confetti and bits of Lego. If you’re going a little more upscale, swag garlands or swaths of tulle make a beautiful table.
The cake table
Put a cake on it.
Seriously – this is another area where your guests are unlikely to notice you’ve gone low-key unless the rest of the wedding is especially elaborate. You’re fine with tablecloths and a cake.
You can also surround the cake with other sweets, or with punch bowls and champagne glasses or a champagne fountain. Some couples surround the cake with the bridesmaid bouquets, or you can have special flower arrangements made just for the cake table. A scattering of flowers or petals is beautiful, especially if the cake itself has floral decorations.
The main rule is there are no rules.
Of course, everything I’ve just said can go straight out the window depending on your taste, theme, and budget. You want a lace-and-unicorns reception? Arabian Nights? All knit and only knit? Go for it. Your guests will love it because it’s you.
And because there’s cake.