Wedding dos and don’ts: Nine tips to hold the perfect wedding reception

If you – or anyone you know – got engaged recently, you'll be wondering about the pitfalls that await in putting together an unforgettable day. Hamish Shephard, founder of Bridebook and owner of wedding venue Hedsor House, shares his expert tips how to ensure your wedding reception goes with a bang.

Guests expect a lot from weddings these days, so how do you keep them satisfied without going over the top?

Don’t reveal everything at once. Think of a wedding as a film or a play with lots of different scenes. Surprising guests with something different at the moments of transition adds a huge impact.

People usually remember a ‘high’ or a ‘low’ moment – ensure food and drink flows right from the start, so guests feel relaxed and excited from arrival. Set an end time, to stop guests trickling out.

How long should a drinks reception be?

Don’t let the drinks reception dominate the whole day. If it’s too long, those in high heels will suffer and some people will drink too much. Aim for two hours maximum. This leaves time for photographs without being rushed. Note that it’ll take about 30 minutes to get everyone seated as half the guests run to the loo and half crowd the table plan.

What’s the most important element of the catering?

Canapés are always hotly anticipated, so they should be plentiful, but not too heavy. You want your guests to have room to savour and enjoy the amazing (and pretty costly!) food at the wedding breakfast.

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What about photo line-ups?

Be present! Don’t let the photographs dominate and take you away from your guests. Really think about how many posed photos you want versus natural shots of the day unfolding and be organised, with a detailed brief for the photographer. Remember to point out key family members so they don’t get missed out.

How do I make it special?

Think about all about the little touches that will make the day especially memoable. At my wedding, we served ‘The Rosie Fizz’ (after my wife) and our food had a subtle American theme to hark back to when my wife and I lived in New York.

Where should I spend and where should I save?

Decide what’s most important to you and focus your attention (and budget) there, whether it’s the food, the music, the entertainment or the decoration.

Hanging decorative string lights for outdoor party

Anything I shouldn’t bother with?

I go around parties turning off lights (with permission!) and you see people swarm to the dancefloor in minutes. Lighting (or not lighting) is key. In theory, lots of fairy lights and lit-up initials sound great, but everyone’s self-conscious, so, if you want people to go wild, it needs to be dark.

It’s often a long day, so how do you suggest keeping people going?

Serve sugary drinks at the end of dinner, such as a pudding wine instead of a heavy red wine, and espresso martinis later on really help to re-energise people.

Any final tips?

Don’t over-complicate things. Narrow your choices down when it comes to the menu, decorations and entertainment. Keep it simple, otherwise you’ll be overwhelmed and will likely over-spend.

Hamish is the founder of award-winning wedding app Bridebook – – and owner of Hedsor House, Buckinghamshire –

For more tips, Country Life’s wedding special is out this week