If you just got engaged, congratulations! Now comes the fun part which is planning the wedding reception. Did we mention it’s supposed to be fun?

If the mere thought of it has you and your partner stressed out, you’re not alone. 86% of newlyweds report experiencing anxiety, difficulty sleeping, and mood swings while in the throes of organizing the big day.

What you need is a checklist so you stay on track with booking vendors and making sure you give your guests a great time.

Here’s the ultimate wedding reception checklist

Set a Date and Budget

The first logical item on your to-do list should be to choose a wedding date. Most couples usually set a date a year or two into the future from the time they get engaged. The farther out the nuptials take place, the more flexibility you’ll have with wedding venue availability.

You’ll also need to have a budget in mind. Weddings can cost thousands of dollars so you’ll both need to decide what components of it are the most important to you when it comes to spending.

The big takeaway here is that it’s never too soon to start planning a wedding reception, even if it won’t take place for a couple of years. You don’t want to miss out on securing a location because it’s booked solid. Once you know the date, start researching venues.

Decide Who to Invite

This task usually attracts grief by family members, but you and your partner will need to decide how many guests are invited to your reception. Stick to your guns on this, because caving to demands to invite people you don’t know will only inflate the cost and cause you to go over budget.

Realize that there’s nothing wrong with smaller weddings. A guest list on the shorter side usually makes for a more intimate experience where you’ll get to catch up with everyone. But ultimately this decision is up to the two of you, and something you’ll need to decide on before booking a venue so it can accommodate your guest list.

Creating a seating chart can come later, but this should definitely be on your list of wedding duties.

Book a Venue

The good news about finding a reception venue is that you have so many options to choose from. Sure, you can go with the tried-and-true hotel ballroom or country club. But think out of the box: you can have your wedding reception at a winery, rented barn, and even a bowling alley if that’s your thing.

Most couples choose a venue that has special meaning to them. It may be located in a favorite place to visit or it may be where they had a date early in the relationship. Once you have your wedding date in mind, start gathering information on possible locations including pricing, and if they provide catering and other amenities.

Decide on Entertainment

No doubt your family members and friends will be looking to hit the dance floor to let loose and celebrate. The biggest decision you need to make in regards to wedding entertainment is whether to hire a DJ or a live band. There are pros and cons to each.

A DJ is more affordable, knows how to encourage the crowd to get up and dance, and can offer a greater song selection. A live band, on the other hand, is usually a pricier option, but there’s something special about hearing music played live. Many wedding bands can also work with you to create an ideal playlist with a nice mix of upbeat numbers and slow, romantic tunes.

Book a Photographer

You’ll want to hire a wedding photographer as soon as you know your wedding date. Although there’s no shortage of photographers, favorite ones that cover weddings get booked quickly.

Take a look at the photographer’s wedding portfolio and note what you like (or don’t like) about the photos and their style to help narrow down your choices. Read reviews from other customers to make sure they got their money’s worth. You should also decide if you want a videographer as well to film your ceremony and reception.

Choose the Menu and Floral Arrangements

Food and flowers are always a given at a wedding reception; you’ll want to nourish your guests and decorate the tables and location. Your chosen venue may already have its own in-house catering team and floral expert, or you may have to book outside vendors.

Don’t feel obligated to go all-out and offer a multiple course meal. It really depends on how many guests you plan on inviting and the vibe of your reception. You can focus on appetizers served by catering staff followed by a main course meal and dessert.

You can also have fun with your meal options by setting up a dessert station and offering a complimentary signature wedding cocktail. Speaking of drinks, you’ll also need to decide at this time whether to offer an open bar or make your guests pay for imbibing.

Design and Mail Invites

When all of the major moving parts have been booked, it’s time to design your wedding invitations and mail them. You can customize and order your invites online, or have a printing company do it for you. The latter is usually a more expensive option.

Choose a design that fits the theme of your wedding if possible for a nice touch. Aim to mail them at least a year before the wedding date. Don’t forget to include the RSVP card and envelope and a place for guests to indicate their meal choice if that is an option.

Refer to This Wedding Reception Checklist

Keep this wedding reception checklist bookmarked so you can recall everything that you need to do in the coming months. Just remember that it only applies to the reception itself. You’ll still need to make time to choose a dress for yourself and your bridesmaids!

Need some ideas on where to spend the honeymoon? Check out our Travel and Entertainment section to learn about beautiful places to visit.

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