Planning a Pre-Dinner Reception for Your Wedding

A pre-dinner reception can be such a fun time at a wedding, when guests can mingle, enjoy cocktails and canapes, catch up, or get to know one another. But as every event planner knows, there are many potential pitfalls that can throw your whole schedule off or lead to a less-than-comfortable experience for your guests. Of course, nobody wants that!

Luckily we have wedding venue expert and former Head of Events at some of London’s top 5 star venues including Claridges, Kelly Mortimer, to help you out! As you’ll remember from her top tips on wedding ceremonies, Kelly is a woman in the know. Having managed weddings across the world, she now trains venues and their teams on how to be the best!

Today she’s sharing her advice for ensuring your pre-dinner reception goes swimmingly! Over to you, Kelly!

Getting There

Photography by My Beautiful Bride via Nu Bride

How you handle getting guests to your pre-dinner reception in good time will partly depend on whether your ceremony and the reception will be taking place at the same venue or at completely different locations.

If you’re getting married at one venue and then travelling to the next for the celebrations, think about timings and logistics. It may be worth a few hundred pounds to have pre-booked coaches to move people smoothly to the next venue. If you’re not putting on transport, ensure guests have been given options such as numbers for taxis or details of parking nearby. Be realistic about how much time this will take. In my experience, couples underestimate how long it takes people to move between venues (think chatting and photos outside the church for example!). Ensure you’ve left enough time on the schedule.

Having the ceremony at the same location as the celebrations can be easier when planning logistics, but you still need to think about what happens at the end of the ceremony. Once you and your beloved have said “I do” and made your grand exit, what will happen next?

Remember that your guests will not know what to do or where to go. Ensure that a toast master, MC, groomsmen, or members of the wedding party have been assigned to direct guests. Have someone make an announcement, and then lead everyone on to the next part of the wedding. (Nu Bride: Honestly, it’s like hoarding sheep. lol!)

Food & Drinks

Photography by Julie Michaelsen via Nu Bride

In many wedding packages, venues include a certain amount of drinks and canapes, but don’t be misled that this is necessarily the ‘correct’ amount. Think realistically about how many drinks people need per hour.

Two as a minimum is usual. If the allocation runs out, ensure the venue is clear what should happen. Do they continue to serve and add the extra cost to your bill, or can guests purchase extra beverages? If you are serving canapes and your budget allows, try to have between 4-8 bites per person. Over the course of an hour, even 6 bites is only an average of 1 canape per guest every 10 minutes!


Photography by Nick Church Photography

Ensure your area has some seating. Most people find standing for 60-90 minutes a bit uncomfortable, especially when the ladies might be in high heels. You are also likely to have some older guests and perhaps some pregnant or disabled guests. Plan for some seating rather than have staff scrabbling for chairs later on.

Come Rain or Shine

Photography by 2 Brides Photography

Many couples choose an outdoor option for the pre-dinner reception. This is usually a great idea, but do think about the weather. In the UK we always hope for sunshine, but on very warm days an hour or more out in the sun, fully clothed, can be incredibly uncomfortable. Is there an area of shade or somewhere to pop inside to take a break if necessary? Equally, planning for rain is vital. For any part of the wedding taking place outside, a suitable Plan B must be in place.

Formal Photographs

Photography by Louise Adby

Getting the logistics of your family and group portraits right is vital to ensure that you are time-effective with your photos, and to allow you the chance to enjoy part of the pre-dinner fun. Recruit two helpers ahead of time and have a list of the formal photos ready, including exactly WHO should be in each photo. This will make sure that you don’t miss key group shots, and enable your helpers to get those people lined up and ready for their photos. Rounding up family members is what takes all the extra time, so choose helpers who know your friends and family. Using your photo list, they should line up each group ready for the next shots.

The Table Plan

Photography by My Beautiful Bride

I have seen many couples make the mistake of placing the seating plan/escort cards outside the door to the wedding meal. Once dinner is called, this creates a queue as it can take a good 20-30 minutes for people to find their names and allocate their table! Avoid this by having your seating plan in the pre-dinner reception area. Depending on the number of guests, you might even want 2 or 3 around the space. During the canapes and mingling, they can look to see which table they are on. As soon as dinner is called, guests make their way straight in – no queuing!

Thanks again for sharing these wonderful tips, Kelly! Food for great thought. For more tips, you can follow Kelly on social media: Instagram | Facebook | Linkedin


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