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The Top 20 Reception Ideas

A rowboat wedding in Wagner Cove in Central Park.  

Guests' response cards on display at a Fête-designed reception.   

10. Make your guests the center of attention.
“For one wedding’s response cards, we sent blank square cards that read, ‘The favor of a creative response is requested,’ ” says Jung Lee. “Guests sent back wonderful replies. We displayed them like artwork at the reception so the guests could see one another’s interpretations.” At a different wedding, Lee printed all the guests’ names on individual thank-you cards that everyone received at the reception.

More memorable than monogrammed napkins: a personalized marquee at the Loew's Theatre in Jersey City.   

11. Get married at an unusual location.
Not another wedding at the Tribeca Rooftop! Sure, the space is amazing, but its popularity is turning it into a bit of a factory. Instead, look into some more unexpected places: For starters, there’s BAM in Fort Greene, the Coney Island Aquarium, the Hudson Theatre in Times Square, the old Loew’s Theatre in Jersey City, or the Central Park Zoo. One New York City couple got married in rowboats bobbing atop the lake in Central Park. “We chose a corner called Wagner Cove because there was a gazebo close by from which more guests could see the ceremony,” says Addie Juell, whose other guests were in rowboats themselves (see below).

12. If you’re giving favors, select gifts that won’t be immediately discarded.
Will anyone really use that silver frame engraved with your names? Realistically, probably not. Give a favor that is much more personal (FYI, stamping your moniker on something does not make it personal). For example, for a winter wedding, florist Matthew Robbins of Artfool supplied a couple with hundreds of evergreen saplings, each wrapped in twine, with cards attached saying that a donation was made in the guest’s name to the Central Park Conservancy. Alternately, just give something that’s functional: If the weather forecast predicts rain, why not give everyone an umbrella? For a wedding in the late fall, planner Alison Hotchkiss of Alison Events rolled up colorful fleece blankets and piled them on a table for guests to take as they walked to the outdoor reception area. If you’re marrying in summer, near a pool or beach (with some potential for communal late-night dipping), give beach towels. For one wedding, Liz Seccuro of Dolce Parties ordered striped towels for all 300 guests. “We knew they’d end up in the pool at 4 a.m.”

A chilled, self-serve vodka-and-caviar station.  

13. Make boozing an elegant activity.
For oenophile clients, planner Francesca Abbracciamento stations wine stewards on the dining-room floor and at the bar, each pouring from beautiful decanters into custom handblown stemware (for expert sommeliers, call Joshua Wesson of Best Cellars, from $2,000; 212-426-4200). At a black-tie reception at Capitale, planner Lyndsey Hamilton and the design team at Artfool placed individual vodka-and-Malossol-caviar stations (see left) carved out of ice on each table (from $185 for each ice station; 212-842-0630;

14. Showcase what you’re passionate about as part of the entertainment.
If you’re a cheese connoisseur, have staff roll cheese carts to each table during the first course, or before dessert. If it’s dessert wine you love, create a little self-serve station after the cake-cutting. If it’s cigars, hire La Casa Grande (718-364-4657; to hand-roll them.

15. Get your favorite takeout place to cater your wedding.
Since opening her hole-in-the-wall Indian restaurant, Lassi, Heather Carlucci-Rodriguez ventured into weddings almost by accident, and found it a mutually beneficial arrangement: “Smaller businesses really appreciate a big event like a wedding, and we can cost a lot less than a big catering company.”

A wreathed vintage table number.  

16. If you can afford extravagances, do something that will elicit an emotional response.
Planner Francesca Abbracciamento recommends skywriting. Yes, skywriting! (Go to “One father-of-the-bride chartered an old-time White Baron plane to fly over the reception, streaking the sky with puffy white hearts around the bride and groom’s initials.” For something over-the-top at night, commission a fireworks display. “No one is better than the Grucci family,” says Karen Bussen, author of Simple Stunning Weddings (Fireworks by Grucci; 631-286-0088; If a big-budget show isn’t in the cards, late-night sparklers, while not as awe-inspiring, are just as—if not more—fun.


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