Reinventing the Reception

Not all couples want to follow a traditional wedding run of show. For some, the tightly scripted progression (from ceremony to cocktails to dinner and dancing) is great. But eschewing that convention frees you to plan a reception that’s entirely your own one that can be punctuated by spontaneous moments rather than premeditated cues. For some examples of how to make over the old-fashioned recipe, we enlisted event planner Loulie Walker to create blueprints for three alternative affairs. In the end, no matter how you do it, what distinguishes a wedding reception from a regular party is not the pomp and circumstance. It’s the happy couple everyone’s drinking to.

A Very Dapper Picnic

Blue Hill at Stone Barns.Photo: Erik Ekroth/Courtesy of Blue Hill at Stone Barns

Hosting a midday affair will require a beautiful outdoor space. Scout venues with a garden or terrace, such as the Xchange on 28th Street, the New Leaf Café in Fort Tryon Park, or Blue Hill at Stone Barns (although food isn’t served outside here, guests can enjoy drinks on the patio). Keep decorative elements crisp; whites and various shades of yellow make for a fresh, summery look. Deck out the reception area with white wooden picnic tables and benches, or in a larger venue, create canopied seating areas to define the space. Have waiters serve rose champagne and ladle out peach, raspberry, and green iced tea as guests arrive. Work a signature flower into topiaries adorning the tables and nestle your guests’ escort cards into a bed of the same blooms (miniature daisies are especially sweet). Further play up the garden-party vibe by serving sandwich combinations that represent pairings (croque monsieurs and croque madames, for example). For dessert, offer petits fours to complement a cupcake tower, or have a pushcart vendor dish out sorbets or ices (drape the cart’s umbrella with fabric that matches your décor). When it’s all over, send guests home with baker’s boxes of lemon squares or your favorite kind of pie, along with the recipe.

Cocktails at Six O’Clock

The bar at the Campbell ApartmentPhoto: Courtesy of the Campbell Apartment

Don’t bother with a raw space; book an elegant venue with plenty of character. The swank twenties aura of the Campbell Apartment is ideal, as is the ‘21’ Club’s Puncheon Room, which evokes a bygone, glittering era. Be sure there are enough seats to accommodate half your guests at any given time and be creative with the layout: Chaises longues and velvet ottomans help establish a decadent, loungelike atmosphere. Offer a dramatic, multitiered raw bar (load the room with candles to offset the sparkle) and bite-size versions of your favorite meals, focusing on entréeish options like short-ribs and mac-and-cheese terrines. If your guest list is small, serve individual miniature wedding cakes in a range of flavors. To change up the ambience, switch the lighting from blue to pink to amber every hour. Set up a vintage photo booth for guests to enjoy. Place an album nearby so they can leave the shots for you, or offer personalized sleeves for them to take as favors.

Friday Night Feast of Sweets

The penthouse suite terrace at the Soho Grand. Photo: Courtesy of Soho Grand

For this kind of party, you’ll want an unconventional space, like the Jacques Torres Chocolate boutique in Hudson Square, where guests can watch chocolate being made in the back of the shop. Or take a more formal route by booking the penthouse suite at the Soho Grand. Decorate the venue with oversize glass vases filled with pebbles and giant feathers. Make the desserts a focal point by setting up elaborate displays of chocolate truffles and candies corresponding to the décor’s color palette. Have a small sampling of savory hors d’oeuvre to start things off, then quickly switch to sweets like bite-size Rice Krispies treats served with dipping sauces and shots of vanilla milkshake topped with crumbled Oreos. Offer a couple of dessert bars featuring your favorites—an assortment of pies, cupcakes that guests can frost—or a hot-cocoa bar stocked with fresh whipped cream. (Waiters should staff each to keep everything looking immaculate.) Throughout the event, serve a variety of champagnes, like rosés and Proseccos, in old-fashioned bubble glasses for additional flair.

Reinventing the Reception