How to Choose the Best Wedding Reception Site for Your Personality

formal beach wedding reception
Image Gallery: Beautiful Beaches The two of you are total beach bums. Why would you have anything but a seaside celebration? See more pictures of beaches.

You like to express yourself, right? It's not like you listen exclusively to elevator music or your wardrobe consists entirely of muted gray pantsuits and boring brown blouses. So why, on one of the most important days in your life, would you accept anything less than a perfectly personalized wedding reception? In a world of custom-fitted wedding gowns, brides too often forget that the reception site should also be custom-suited, too. Regardless of your style, budget or the size of your guest list, you can choose a site that's functional and expresses your personality. Answering these questions is a great place to start in your search for your perfectly unique reception site.

What's your theme?

You can't start looking for a reception site until you've decided on a wedding theme. Discuss themes with your fiancé, and pick one that works for both of you. From here, think about how to best express it through décor, the menu and a color scheme. Will the theme require a formal or casual space -- one that's indoors or outdoors? Should it be a modern space, or a historic one?


What's your style?

Are you looking for a single location to hold both the ceremony and reception, or do you want two distinct spaces? This isn't a minor choice -- it can dictate the mood of the entire day. After all, unless your guests bring a change of clothes, it's going to seem pretty stuffy if your beach-themed wedding is downstairs in the windowless church reception hall. On the other hand, if you're pining for pigeon suits and gala gowns, a single, formal space might be right for you.

With a twist?

Many public beaches, parks and other recreational areas prohibit alcohol, so if you're planning a brews and bonfire reception at a lake, you need to check local ordinances to get clearance and pick up any necessary permits.

Where can you make it happen?

According to Athens, Georgia-area wedding planner Natalie Bradley, owner of Natalie Bradley Events, you shouldn't try to change a reception site to meet your needs. Instead, "Look for a site that suits your style from the beginning -- not a venue that will cost you thousands to make it what you want. If you try and make a space something it's not, it will cost you a fortune and will still not have the look you desire!" If you've always dreamed of having a grand reception inside an elaborate ballroom, but you've decided on a garden wedding theme, change venues. No matter how many plants you bring into the ballroom, it's still going to be a ballroom! Rent out a garden instead; it'll be less expensive and can be easily customized to your theme.

How can you personalize the site?

Even after you've settled on the perfect theme and location, you can still find ways to showcase your personality. If you're going with a beach theme, and the two of you share a passion for shark diving, use pictures of various shark species as table markers (great white group over here, hammerhead table over there). Little touches like this make great conversation starters for your guests -- and they'll probably be one of the most memorable elements of your reception.

What's the trade-off?

Every bride has a budget, and you need to consider how much you'd like to splurge on an impressive location. If your friends and family know you as a total foodie, hire the best caterer in town to serve dinner and a signature cocktail in your parents' backyard. Horse enthusiast? You could rent out the equestrian center event room for a pretty penny, or you could reserve a modest clubhouse and decorate with total derby flair. Pricing out all your expenditures before putting a deposit on a reception site will help you determine your options. Chin up: The situation might not be so dire. It might be a trade-off between the venue of your dreams and 400 personalized linen napkins you wanted for the cocktail hour. Now, which is how you really want to express yourself?


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  • Bradley, Natalie. Owner, Natalie Bradley Events. Personal interview conducted by Chris Obenschain. April 15, 2010.