Wedding reception rituals are a great way to introduce guests to different familial, religious and ethnic customs followed by the bride and groom. To help you add a little personal charm to your wedding reception, we asked expert wedding consultant Nadine L. Poliard, founder and head consultant of Nadine Lynn ~ Weddings, Events, Creations, the dos and don’ts of practicing wedding reception rituals, and tips on how to create new rituals of your own.
Perfect Wedding Guide: What are some more recent reception rituals that couples are following?
Nadine Poliard: I’m seeing more personalization of things. I recently did a wedding reception where the groom loved doughnuts, so we ordered six dozen boxes of Krispy Kreme doughnuts and served them after the meal to the guests on silver trays with a shot glass of milk. I’ve also seen people incorporate themes into their wedding events. For example, if you love to travel you can maybe have place cards on postcards, or name each table after a city you’ve visited. There are tons of really cute things couples are doing these days.
Perfect Wedding Guide: Your reception should be a fun time for guests as well as for the bride and groom. What is a creative way for guests to interact with each other during the wedding reception?
Nadine Poliard: There should be some sort of cocktail hour immediately following the ceremony. Guests can mingle in a pre-function space like a lobby, nibble on hors d’oeuvres and have drinks at an open bar before the wedding party arrives. This gives guests a chance to look at photographs and sign the guest book. Just keep the bar open and the hors d'oeuvres coming and they won’t even know that the bride and groom haven’t gotten there yet!
Perfect Wedding Guide: Receiving lines were once a really big wedding reception ritual. Are they now a thing of the past?
Nadine Poliard: From what I’m seeing, the receiving line is outdated. But I have noticed that the bride and groom definitely want a chance to greet their guests during dinner service. They really want to walk around, go from table to table and personally greet people or say hello. The photographer can go around with the couple to take photos of them with their guests. Unfortunately, the challenge for the planner is to figure out when the bride and groom will have time to eat. One idea is to allow the couple to eat in a separate room for about 10-15 minutes before being announced, and once they’re done they then can go out and greet their guests.
Perfect Wedding Guide: The first toast is usually given by the best man, but are there any exceptions to that rule?
Nadine Poliard: Wedding reception toasts are definitely done by the best man. There aren’t any exceptions, unless the best man is too shy! But so far, I’ve yet to see that change. What I have seen are toasts given by the best man—along with the maid of honor, the father of the bride, or the father of the groom . . . and maybe others. Sometimes it gets to be too much. But, specifically, the best man still is the first and primary person to toast the couple.
Perfect Wedding Guide: What are some ethnic and religious wedding reception rituals that couples follow?
Nadine Poliard: It really depends on the culture because there are so many different things that can be done. Indian weddings are pretty obvious; the whole entire way they do things in term of ceremony. Even if they choose not to do a full three-day affair, they may still have a mehndi party where the bride and wedding attendants get henna. For Jewish weddings, everything they do (blessing the challah, dancing the hora, etc.) is traditional to Jewish culture. A lot of African-Americans jump the broom. Even if people aren’t heavy into their culture, they will try to infuse certain elements into the wedding reception—whether it’s with food, patterns or color. It's just what the couple chooses to do.
Perfect Wedding Guide: What is the history behind the ritual of the first dance?
Nadine Poliard: The first dance is a tradition of literally "giving away your daughter." Centuries ago, fathers would give a dowry along with the bride, sort of like a reward to the groom and his family for taking her. But in modern wedding reception times, the first dance with the bride and her father is symbolic of his last dance with his little girl. She’s married now and has someone else to take care of her. It’s a similar thing for the mother of the groom as well. The children are honoring their parents, but it’s also a way of saying goodbye.
Perfect Wedding Guide: Traditionally, who is responsible for announcing the wedding party?
Nadine Poliard: Well, I’ve had it work several different ways. The most popular is for the DJ (or if it’s a band, the bandleader) to serve as the emcee for the wedding reception. They usually do the announcing and the wedding planner will give them the names and an order in which to announce the wedding party. Sometimes, it is the wedding planner who does the announcing if the bride and groom want them to. One thing I think is great for the bride and groom to do is have a good friend who didn’t take part in the wedding do the announcing; a close friend with a great personality. It works because that person really knows the couple well and they can make little jokes—as long as they don’t get too out of hand! But this way it’s a lot more personal.
Perfect Wedding Guide: Last but not least—the mother of all wedding reception rituals—is there a rule of thumb for cutting the cake?
Nadine Poliard: It’s all about preference. The ritual behind cutting the cake symbolizes the couple sharing their first meal; they’re feeding each other for the first time. It’s totally up to the bride and groom if they want a pre-cut cake, but normally the photographer wants to get a shot with the couple cutting the beautiful cake. One wedding planning option is to have a wedding cake with one tier that’s real, cut into that one tier and have the first slice. Then, have a sheet cake in the back that the caterer cuts and serves to guests.