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Make Your Wedding Reception a Real Party to Remember

Location and amenities will make or break your reception; choose early and ask plenty of questions

You simply cannot reserve your reception location too early in the wedding planning process. Many popular spots are booked at least one or two years in advance; especially for non-wedding affairs. You may already have a favorite place that you've dreamed about or it may be the first time you've gone in search of a site. Either way, you should be armed with an advance list when you make a first contact.

Of course, you want to have the theme, date, and time set. Next, you should have an approximate idea of the number of people. Now, you can start to rough out a budget. While you can preset an amount, be prepared to make adjustments for the reception.

You may already have a favorite caterer in mind as well as specific ideas about how your reception should look. If that is the case, you may want to visit what are referred to as "off-site" locations. These will make their space available and the rest is up to you. This is a flexible option for someone who has the time and skill to coordinate food, rentals, and entertainment.

On-site facilities include hotels and restaurants. They can provide you with almost everything, but you may be limited in decorating styles.

Party tents are always recommended if you're planning an outdoor wedding and/or reception. Many are elaborate and can be outfitted with heating or air conditioning as well as dance floors and full bar setups.

Fees may vary widely among facilities. If you do find a place that you love, but the food pricing is clearly out of the question, then it's time to scale back. You can either choose a simpler menu and less wait service or begin slashing the guest list.

Be clear on all aspects of the pricing and policies. Ask about extending the allotted time if you choose (and if no others are waiting to use the space). Know what the cancellation and refund policies are. Ask about parking capacities and find out what the site owner's insurance covers. Inquire about the readiness of extra food (a hotel or restaurant would be able to do this), should quantities run low. Factor these possibilities into your budget.

Once you've confirmed a location, be sure to have everything drawn up in writing. You do not want the worry about what was promised, but didn't happen, or the disappointment of something falling through the cracks. At this point, the facility coordinator will ask for a deposit, usually about 50 percent. The other half will be due on the day of the reception. Be sure to have the check signed and ready.

You'll have plenty of other things to worry about before the big day; your wedding reception does not have to be one of them.

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