Location, location, location. It’s the longstanding mantra of real estate agents, feng shui consultants – and smart brides and grooms. The way your Chicago wedding reception works – or doesn’t work – depends not just on the venue you choose, but on how you set things up in the reception room.
Where does the dance floor go? How high is your head table? These are the kinds of questions you’ll settle with your hotel or country club – with input, we hope, from your planner, designer and DJ/MC. Your reception venue has to look amazing. But it also has to work well with a lot of people in it. And the wrong setup can put a promising party on the path to dudsville.
Here are 4 things NOT to do when you settle on a floor plan.
1. Don’t split your crowd.
Looking for big action on the dance floor? The worst thing you can do is give your guests a reason to be somewhere else. Receptions with the bar and dance floor in two rooms have a built-in problem – folks leave the floor to get a drink, then never bother to come back. Even worse is putting a photo booth in the lobby or overflow area instead of your main ballroom – if guests line up to use the booth, suddenly the dance floor feels lonely.
Workarounds: Make sure your photo booth is in the same room as your dance party. If the bar has to be somewhere else, work with a DJ who knows your space and can manage the flow of your crowd. Some DJs can even set up multiple sound system, so the folks in the bar can still hear your dance music. You want one big party – not two little ones.
2. Don’t do direct sunlight.
Planning an outdoor ceremony or cocktail hour? Beautiful. But think about where the sun will be at “go” time. This affects your musicians, since instruments like the cello literally can’t set up in direct sunlight without going out of tune or sustaining damage. And it also affects your guests, many of whom will be wearing dark suits and jackets. Provide plenty of shade for a summer wedding – or don’t be surprised to see folks high-tailing it for that air-conditioned lobby.
Workarounds: Chicago can get sweltering in the summer. Just like with rain, having an indoor backup location is a good idea if you think it might be especially hot on your wedding day and there’s not a lot of shade. And if you’re booking strings, remember: Trios belong under trees.
3. Don’t separate the DJ from the dance floor.
Some wedding venues put your dance floor at the center of the room, with guest tables on all 4 sides – and a DJ table in a corner or against a wall. This gives everyone a great view of your first dance, but your DJ will have to play extra loud to maintain a good dance volume on the dance floor from so far away. That’s not such good news for the guests seated between the DJ speakers and the dance floor. They’re going to get an earful all night long.
Workaround: Smart DJs will put their speakers as close as possible to the dance floor – even if they themselves are further away. At best, though, this means some long cables taped down to your ballroom floor. Sometimes it requires moving the DJ speakers around halfway through dinner, and in other cases it’s not possible at all. Better to avoid this problem if you can, and put the music and the dancers where they ought to be – together.
4. Don’t hide the toasters.
Is your bridal party sitting with you at a head table? Make sure it’s somewhere everyone can see. That’s not just because you want to be the center of attention (don’t you?) – it’s also where your toasts will happen. If your guests can’t see the person giving a speech when it’s time to raise a glass, they’re not going to pay attention very long.
Workaround: At Backthird, we train our DJ/MCs to bring those giving toasts to a central location where they can be seen by all guests – whether that’s the head table, your sweetheart table or another spot like the center of your dance floor. Don’t be surprised if you get asked to move as well – your guests (and your photographer!) want to see your reaction to the toasts almost as much as they want to see the toasts themselves.
Don’t sweat the small stuff.
There are a LOT of details that go into making your reception work - but remember your job, ultimately, is to be the guest of honor. If you're hiring vendors smart enough to sweat the small stuff for you, then you're going to be okay.