1. Find the right wedding venue.
Locating the right spot to host your fun, formal affair is your greatest challenge. Having the wedding in a hotel ballroom will lend a very different tone than having it in an old weathered barn on your grandfather's farm. Locate a distinctive venue -- scout out old nightclubs, movie theaters, city roof gardens, hip restaurants, art galleries, or historic mansions. Get reception ideas in your area! Or transform the space you choose into something different by setting up screens to create different environments for dinner and dancing. You can even change the mood from one area to the next with the lighting: one room might feature white and ivory paper lanterns hanging from the ceiling while the next may be outfitted with deep red beaded lampshades on every table.
2. Develop a theme.
Finding a common chord to play through all the elements of your wedding -- from your paper products to your party -- will help you put on a production that's truly unforgettable. Try a masquerade ball! Infuse your theme from the reception venue (a fancy ballroom or an old theater) to what to wear (have guests come in costumes, such as butterflies and angels) to the favors (give guests handmade masks) to the honeymoon (go to Venice during Carnevale).
3. Pick an unforgettable guest book idea.
Have a photo booth set up at the site so that your friends and family can take their own pictures or group shots. The results are a little like a home video without sound. Whether you pose properly, make funny faces, or try your best Rockette kick line, you'll be caught on tape showing your true colors. Compiled into a visual wedding-day guest book, these are photographs that will be treasured by brides and grooms for years to come.
4. Pay attention to the decor.
The vibe of every wedding is dictated by the decor. To achieve an event that reverberates with romance, adorn your space with dozens of red roses and golden ornamentation. For casual elegance, try candles set afloat in pools, flowers floating in fish bowls, and a string quartet playing love ballads.
5. Go classic.
White-on-white is never out of style. As many people as there are looking for hot, hip new colors and coordination there are those craving the ultra-traditional. Talk to your florist about mixing shades of whites for the bouquets; use all-white linens or linens that mix various shades of white -- ivory cloths with white overlays, for example; and have a white wedding cake with white rolled fondant frosting and accented with ivory sugar blossoms. Final touches: waiters dressed in tuxedos with white jackets (hello, James Bond), and, of course, a white limousine.
6. Embrace color.
Develop a visually stunning scene using monochromatic color, whether blue, violet, or kiwi green. See our favorite wedding color ideas. Consider setting up different sizes and shapes of tables (circular, square, rectangular) and use different textures or designs for the fabrics (pin-stripe fabrics on round tables and tiny polka-dot covers on square ones). Although your color palette will remain the same, each tabletop will render a distinct personality.
7. Set your tables apart.
Who says the tables must sport uniform arrangements? Think of your spread of tables as a garden, each row or corner with its own identity. Place some of your chosen blooms in tall opaque vases, float other flowers in short bowls, use others in clear vases filled with rocks and water. Accent the shorter centerpieces with tall taper candles and the taller ones with shorter votives or tea lights. Get more wedding reception table ideas.
8. Make it intimate.
If you've chosen a huge reception space to accommodate your massive family, make it more intimate by adding lounge furniture. If you can't bring in couches and plush chairs to create a sitting area, try seating only four people to a table instead of eight to ten, or drape the walls and ceilings with rich velvety fabrics to close in the space.
9. Go for good lighting.
Lighting is a key (and usually forgotten) element. Okay, so there's always candlelight or chandeliers or strung twinkle lights. But before you take an easy way out, ask if your venue has another form of lighting and use it! Find out if your venue can provide cool effects like gobo lighting to create shapes with light. Yes, it could border on cheesy if you overuse it, but initialing the white walls with your new monogram during your first dance can add an unexpected element to the occasion.
10. Give your guests a taste of the town.
Serve something regional. We know a bride who had a popular East Coast seafood soup poured at each place setting, as guests arrived in the tent. Another bride we know served sour-cream cornbread with mayhaw jelly, a local southern favorite. If you're marrying in a city that brews its own beer, be sure to stock the bar with it or with another signature drink from your hometown.
11. Drink it up.
Espresso bars are hot and a good accessory to dessert -- especially if you serve your espresso with cordials. These bars also provide a good jolt toward end of the night as the party winds down and the yawns start pouring in; plus, lattes and cappuccinos served on dainty china can be very sexy drinks.
12. Have a dessert buffet.
Bring in 20 different sweets like chocolate-covered strawberries, banana fosters, and creme brulee. Talk to your caterer for clever ways to decorate tables and present mini desserts. Your family can join in the fun -- ask your best friend's mother to make her famous brownies or your aunt to make those pecan delights. A dessert buffet encourages mingling and ensures getting people off their seats and closer to the dance floor. If you still can't pass on the multitiered confection, box the individual cake slices and distribute as favors.
13. Go pro.
Book professional entertainers. An a cappella group or singing waiters during cocktail hour will turn on the charm. Hire a group of dancers -- choose from belly dancers to Irish jig or salsa dancers -- who'll perform during courses. Bring in some different music for an hour or so, perhaps a steel drum band, a barbershop quartet, or a mariachi band.
14. Add a cigar roller to your reception.
A master cigar roller who demonstrates the art of cigar rolling will prove to be a big hit. You might ask him to display and hand out an array of rare or limited-edition cigars for guests to enjoy after dinner -- do this in conjunction with a lounging area or around a martini or vodka bar for an added chic factor. Or, have him entertain guests during the cocktail hour while you two are busy taking pictures.
15. Invest in a watercolor artist.
There are wedding watercolor artists who will draw in pastels, or paint in watercolors, the reception as it unfolds. This can be a great gift for the bride and groom, but it's also some quiet entertainment for guests and especially good for weddings set in great scenery -- creating a collage of events like guests dancing outdoors on the sand and the best man's toast by the water at a beachside bash