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The Top 20 Reception Ideas

Cocktail hour at the Central Park Zoo.  

Guest's escort cards hanging from branches.   

17. Display seating assignments in a unique way.
Stationer Rebecca Schmidt-Ruebensaal likes to hang them from a tree with different-colored ribbons. “Have a pair of antique scissors on hand for guests to cut off their cards” (see right). Event designer David Stark did an escort-card table that wasn’t really a table “as much as it was a wall of sunflowers where each place card was pinned to the center of the flower.” For a truly innovative alternative, Jung Lee took all the guests’ names at one wedding, asked the bride and groom to come up with a funny, inside-joke phrase with which to describe each guest (e.g. “Debate Team Leader,” “Pickpocket,” “Man who was Late,” “Swedish Movie Star,” etc.), and after compiling them, ran their names, nicknames, and respective seating assignments like film credits on TV screens as guests entered the reception area. Also, for table numbers, nothing says “corporate event” like sterile laminated cards on stands. Do something prettier. At one barbecue-and-bluegrass vineyard reception, planner Alison Hotchkiss wreathed vintage numbers (found at a local antique shop by the bride) with a eucalyptus branch.

18. Take your cue from Truman Capote and host a themed reception.
“Certain time periods work well—like a twenties-style wedding with a speakeasy-inspired bar and jazzy music,” says Xochitl Gonzalez. “Ethnic-based themes—Havana, Cuba; Russian winter—are never cheesy, as long as it’s not arbitrary.” Communicate your theme through your invitations, décor, and cocktails, but don’t impose it on the dress code, unless it’s something easy, like black and white.

19. Make a cool video of the party.
Super-8: It’s the home-movie look we associate with our earliest memories, or The Wonder Years. Jessica Lysons of Worker Bee Designs films in Super-8 and finishes with state-of-the-art editing software (from $3,000; 917-318-7858; Alternately, rent a video booth. It’s a private, more comfortable (though potentially more incriminating) way for guests to leave fun messages on camera. The mechanism works much like a photo booth; guests tap the touch-screen to start a two-minute recording—long enough to say something nice or funny; brief enough to avoid getting into too much trouble (try

20. Plan for after-hours action.
For places to visit around the city, turn to page 118. Or stay put. Turning your reception into an after-party spot can be a costly endeavor, but the perk is that guests don’t drunkenly straggle to the wrong location. Planner Harriette Rose Katz transformed a room at the Pierre into an all-white retro South Beach lounge. “We served sliders and gooey grilled cheeses on white-leather beds and sofas. It was unforgettable.”


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