10 Ways to Keep Guests Entertained Until Your Reception Send-off

By: Alia Hoyt
wedding guests
If you want guests to stick around until the send-off, keep them entertained!
Michael Blann/Thinkstock

It's an unfortunate situation that I've seen happen at too many perfectly good wedding receptions. The hosts shell out a ton of money on music, food and flowers, only to have the guests eat and run well before the party is over. This might not seem like much of a catastrophe until you realize that only a handful of people remain to toss rice at the happy couple.

There's often a lot of lag time between key events at a wedding reception, so guests who tire easily, don't enjoy dancing or don't know many other people there get bored and leave.


Fortunately for party animal brides, it's absolutely possible to keep your reception hopping until the last dance is over. All you need is a little bit of planning expertise and some creative ideas. Extra room in your budget doesn't hurt, either. Keep reading for some helpful pointers on reception entertainment that'll make your event legendary for years to come.

10: Stick to a Schedule

Many guests tempted to cut and run would stick around an extra 10 minutes if they knew that delicious late-night snacks were on the docket. Keep your guests in the know with printed itineraries detailing the time line of reception events. Whether you hand them out at the door or place them on tabletops, these guides will give your friends and family a better idea of what to expect (and what they don't want to miss out on).

For example, my perfect wedding itinerary might read something like this:


  • 7:00 - first dance 7:15 - dinner is served
  • 8:00 - champagne toast
  • 8:15 - break-dancing competition begins
  • 9:00 - giant cake-sized brownie is served
  • 10:30 - send-off featuring professional fireworks show
  • 10:35 - hop a cab to local bar with other guests

Of course, you can customize the itinerary to fit your particular reception needs -- except for the giant brownie. That's non-negotiable.

9: Keep 'em Fed, Keep 'em Happy

There's a reason 24-hour diners do such great business -- they capitalize off the late-night snack needs of partygoers everywhere! Follow their strategic business model by offering your guests food in several phases. Start off the reception with appetizers, or jump right into the buffet or seated dinner. After your guests have worked up an appetite on the dance floor, present them with special late-night snacks. Some brides might choose to complement the sweetness of the wedding cake with miniature milkshakes, cookies and milk, or a DIY ice cream sundae bar. Others might take a turn with saltier fare, like sliders and french fries or a nacho bar. Any of these casual, fun snacks is sure to re-energize your crowd just in time for the "Grease" sing- and dance-a-long.


8: Take Advantage of Amenities

tram ride at San Diego Zoo
The author (back left) and her family enjoy a tram ride at the San Diego Zoo between the ceremony and reception times.
Photo courtesy Alia Hoyt

There's often a significant lag time between the ceremony and reception thanks to the inevitable post-wedding pictures or scheduling requirements by the venue (the church ceremony was at 2:30 p.m., but the reception site doesn't open until 5:00).

In cases like this, some people opt to skip out on the reception altogether and head home to comfy clothes and slippers. Avoid this issue by keeping guests actively engaged in the ceremony or reception site during the downtime. Getting married at a big park? Arrange for 10-minute horse and carriage rides or rickshaw tours. After ceremonies at a museum or botanical garden, have an expert offer brief tours of different wings or one of the various gardens. In fact, I just returned from a reception held at literally one of the wildest party places in the world: the San Diego Zoo. Each guest had a complimentary ticket to visit the zoo during the two-hour gap between the ceremony and reception. Sure, we looked strange trolling around in cocktail dresses and ties, but we probably impressed the giant pandas with our impeccable fashion sense.


7: Make It a Cultural Affair

As someone whose lineage features English, Irish, German and Lebanese ancestry, I can attest to the fact that the world we live in is one big melting pot. Men and women of all cultures and religions are marrying and learning to combine their diverse backgrounds into a unified family.

If you and your hubby are particularly attached to an aspect of your heritage, be sure to celebrate it! Arrange for cuisine, performances and other entertainment that represents your rich cultures. Professional belly dancers at a Middle Eastern affair or salsa dancers at a Latin party are sure to spice up an otherwise ordinary reception with their exotic moves and costumes. Step groups are exciting, rhythmically inspiring and just plain fun to watch at a party celebrating African-American heritage. Add the finishing touch with a selection of old portraits or heirlooms to illustrate your family's rich cultural identity.


6: Host a Talent Show

Tons of people want to be a star for a day … or 15 minutes, at least. That's why karaoke has been so popular for such an unbearably long time. If someone with star potential is planning to attend your nuptials, consider asking him or her to perform at the fete. Perhaps your cousin sounds exactly like Elvis, or your best friend's husband was recently eliminated from one of those reality dancing shows. Whatever the talent, keep it light and fun, rather than corny (avoid 'N Sync choreography at all costs). Who knows? Maybe a Hollywood talent scout will crash your reception and discover the world's next big star.

Whatever you do, be sure that the microphone is muted following the performance. No one wants to hear your second cousin burp the alphabet. Well, maybe I do a little, but there's a time and a place, you know?


5: Go Pro

Most wedding guests stick to the traditional bob, sway and shake when it comes to dancing. Anything else is just way too far out of our comfort zone. Give your guests the gift of confidence by hiring a professional dance teacher to teach the basics of a particular kind of dance.

From a country line dance to an elegant waltz, it's easy to customize the style to your wedding's theme and décor. Once guests have the basics down, cut them loose on the dance floor to enjoy their newfound skill for the evening. One client of Tiffany Gore's, a wedding coordinator in Atlanta, brought in a professional to school the guests in the finer points of Michael Jackson's famous "Thriller" choreography. Not surprisingly, this trip down memory lane was wildly popular with guests of all ages. Quite a step up from the Electric Slide, yes?


4: Pooch Procession

bride and dog
Why not invite the pooch over for some family photos?

Dog-lovers of the world unite! Many couples have an extra special bond with their pooch. If you and your beloved count your pup as part of the family, consider dressing him up and asking a trustworthy friend to bring him by the reception for a formal pooch procession. He can make the rounds among your family and friends, earning "oohs" and "ahhs" while sporting his smart tux or bridal attire. The pooch can even pose for pictures with your dog-loving guests and take his first official family photo with you and your groom.


3: Play Around

Just try to find someone who doesn't enjoy a rousing game of Pac-Man. Go ahead. I'll wait.

Now that we've established that everyone loves the classics, consider inspiring the inner child in your guests with a few strategically placed arcade, board or card games. If you have access to a lawn, you can even set up some easy outdoor games, like a bean bag toss, bocce ball or marbles for the kids. These childhood throwbacks will certainly fill the lag time between courses and other reception-related events. You probably should forego the messy options, like finger painting, lest you end up with tiny red fingerprints all over your pristine bridal gown.


2: Go Photo Loco

wedding photographer
There's a chance your extended family and friends won't ever see those wedding photos.
George Doyle/Thinkstock

Women, in particular, tend to fuss and complain when a camera is pointed our way, but our best grins always come out in time for the flash to pop. Traditionally, most wedding photographers roam the reception snapping candids to commemorate the event. Unfortunately for your guests, they rarely get to see the finished product.

Photography-related activities and favors are a huge trend on the wedding scene right now. Some innovative couples arrange for photos to be snapped of each party as they arrive and use portable photo printers to produce a special souvenir before the final dance. Not only are the guests sure to cherish this memory frozen in time, but you'll also have a photographic log of the many beloved people who attended your nuptials.


Another huge contemporary trend in reception entertainment is rental photo booths. Provide silly props like feather boas, hats or sunglasses, and watch the guests stage an informal battle over the best strip of photos.

1: Appease the Sports Lovers

college mascot at wedding
Bride Ryan Johnson dances with the University of Georgia's Hairy Dawg mascot at her reception.
Photo courtesy Ryan Johnson

Southerners are passionate about several things: sweet tea, fried food and football. In fact, my August wedding date was carefully selected to avoid conflict of football interests. (I've just heard of too many guests choosing a game over a wedding.) If you've decided to hold your wedding during the hallowed late summer/fall months, it's in your best interests to consider making a few sports-related adjustments to the reception. For example, set up a TV or projector with the big game of the night where it can be easily seen by faithful fans. Sound isn't even necessary, since most diehards are happy to stare at the score ticker at the bottom of the screen. Not only will you save friends' dates from a lot of complaining, you'll almost certainly get some pretty good cheers throughout the night to keep the party revved.

I've heard tales that some people are maniacs about sports other than football, although I really can't imagine such madness. If your wedding falls during a major sporting event, like the World Series, March Madness or the World Cup, you can easily foster team spirit by passing out appropriate memorabilia, like foam fingers or pennants. If you're especially enthusiastic, you can even encourage people to bring a change of spirited team clothing to change into for the reception. Team mascots can often be rented out to pump up your crowd for an hour or two. For true fans, it just doesn't count as eternal commitment without a college kid dressed up in a giant foam animal suit!

Lots More Information

Related Articles

  • Gore, Tiffany. Professional wedding coordinator. E-mail interview conducted by Alia Hoyt. Oct. 7, 2010.
  • Matthews, Lauren. "Let Them Entertain You." Brides.com. Dec. 25, 2008. (Oct. 3, 2010). http://www.brides.com/blogs/aisle-say/2008/12/bay-area-california-wedding-vendors.html
  • "Reception 101: Party Protocol." Martha Stewart Weddings.com. Fall 2009. (Oct. 3, 2010). http://www.marthastewartweddings.com/article/reception-101-party-protocol?page=1
  • Reid, Abigail. "For the Little Ones." Brides.com. March 1, 2009. (Oct. 3, 2010).http://www.brides.com/blogs/aisle-say/2009/03/kid-party-entertainment.html
  • "What are Some Alternative Entertainment Ideas for the Reception?" Wedding Channel.com. Sept. 1, 2009. (Oct. 3, 2010). http://weddings.weddingchannel.com/wedding-planning-ideas/wedding-reception-ideas/qa/what-are-alternative-entertainment-ideas-for-the-reception.aspx?MsdVisit=1