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How to Entertain Guests at Your Wedding Reception

Wedding entertainment advice

Wedding entertainment advice

Planning your evening wedding reception but worrying how long you can keep guests entertained? Follow these 13 steps to keep guests partying till the wee hours.

How to Entertain Guests at Your Wedding Reception

Everyone loves a good wedding. Friends and family gather from far and wide to witness the happy couple say their “I do" vows. Then it's off to the reception for gourmet dining, ruthless anecdotes about the groom, cake and drink!

But perhaps you're worrying about how to keep your guests entertained after this, and preventing them from slipping off early into the night?

Here are 13 steps for maximising the fun and keeping everyone happy at your wedding reception.

Choosing the right venue

You can hold a wedding party just about anywhere: from a stately country house to a grand restaurant to a marquee in a field – how to choose the right spot?

1. Consider the number of people who are attending

Choose the smallest venue you can get away with. Hiring a ballroom designed for 500 people when you have invited 70 means your guests are spread thinly and this could be an atmosphere killer. Keep your guests close and snug!

2. Consider the time of year

Venues and suppliers may be more affordable in the colder months, but remember to check their heating arrangements, especially if you've booked a marquee. Many of our wedding bands will testify that it can get a bit chilly after sunset in a marquee and the sight of guests shivering in a corner is not uncommon!

3. Don't allow guests to escape early!

To keep as many people on the dancefloor for as long as possible, consider venues that do not offer accommodation on site. This means guests can’t yawn and take the easy “early night” option of returning to their room.

Instead, arrange for accommodation elsewhere and organise minibuses/coaches to taxi people back (cheaper than individual taxis). This way, nearly everybody stays to the end and all leave at once. Understandably, some early departures are unavoidable, particularly for children and grandparents.

4. Keep the party to as few rooms as possible

Avoid using multiple rooms or sectioning off the room for different purposes. Keep the drinks bar, buffet and entertainment in one area. Your guests will crowd round to see your first dance, but when the band's first set kicks off, more reluctant dancers may be more comfortable seeking refuge elsewhere – don't give them the option!

Keeping everything in one room keeps everyone together and is easier to encourage the less inclined to break out their moves on the dance floor.

5. Be aware of your venue's sound restrictions

Unfortunately sound limiters at venues are becoming more commonplace due to council noise restrictions. If you've booked a live band, these can cause serious problems: if the volume passes a certain level, a limiter will cut the power supply to the band's amplifiers and PA, potentially damaging equipment as well as disrupting a set and your guests enjoyment of the night.

Most limiters are set to around 95dB – whilst this shouldn't cause any problems for a jazz or classical line-up (or a DJ who can simply turn down) but it's much more of an issue for rock and pop bands with bass and drums. The volume levels for these instruments are likely to hover around the 110dB mark and can't be easily controlled. See our sound limiter article for ways of getting around this.

How to Entertain Guests at Your Wedding Reception

Booking the entertainment

Assuming there are no noise restrictions in place at your venue (or the band are happy with the limiter's threshold), music is the best way to create a fantastic atmosphere, maximise the fun and create memories to last a lifetime!

6. Book a live band or DJ

Wedding DJs are an attractive option if your budget is more limited, but a live band will give your guests more of a show and focal point for night.

If you can't afford a large band but would still like your guests to dance, you could book a soloist performing to backing tracks (for example a lively singer in the style of the Rat Pack), or a duo. A guitar vocalist, paired with a cajon (percussion instrument), is a great way of getting people dancing at a fraction of the cost of a full band.

7. Choose the right style

It's tempting to go for your favourite style, even if that's not your grandma's cup of tea. But weddings are cross generational events, and wedding bands need broad appeal across the generations and get all your guests on the dance floor simultaneously – by far the most popular choice is a 3-piece or 4-piece wedding band playing rock, pop and soul covers.

A driving rhythm section (drums and bass) will keep the dance-floor packed and a great frontman or frontwoman will provide a focal point and engage your guests.

Perhaps ask guests to submit their favourite songs before the day and ask the DJ or band to try and work as many into their set as possible. Remember to edit out anything too obscure though – you don't want to clear the dancefloor.

8. Beware false economies

Avoid the “my mate’s band” or the average pub-rock band; they won’t have the insurances or fail-safes in place if something goes wrong, nor the experience in performing specialist events. They may also lack the musical versatility needed to cater to the varied ages and tastes of your guests.

Ensure your band has all the relevant certifications (PAT ensuring safety and PLI covering liability).

9. Get the timings right

Most bands will offer either 3 x 40 minute or 2 x 1 hour live sets. Unless you have other plans during the band's break-times (fireworks, games etc.), the latter has more of a flow. A 40 minute set only lasts about 10 songs and can feel quite short.

If you are having an evening buffet, time it for the start of the band’s break. It will keep your guests on the dance-floor up until the band finish their set. They won’t be so keen to dance with a plate of food and it allows plenty of time for them to dine, rest and be ready to return to the floor for when the band start again.

Generally speaking, midnight is the best time to end the night (venue license permitting).

10. Plan your first dance

If you're booking a band, get your first dance request to them in good time, so they have time to learn and rehearse it. If the band are unable or the arrangement isn't suitable for their line-up, they should be happy to play the recording of the song (eg. through a laptop or iPod) instead.

Ensure the DJ or band are ready to go as soon as you've finished your first dance, before guests have a chance to wander back to the bar. That way you can keep them on the dancefloor, where you want them! Most bands and DJs will choose a track with the broadest possible appeal for the first song of the set, for this reason.

11. Get the most out of your wedding band

Would you like a wedding band to play throughout your day? Many wedding bands can provide soloist and acoustic options for your ceremony and drinks reception as well as the main evening performance.

Live music can be a great way of entertaining guests whilst they take their seats for your ceremony, or whilst you're taking your wedding photos. It can also be a fantastic ice-breaker at dinner.

How to Entertain Guests at Your Wedding Reception

Making the final arrangements

12. Ensure a smooth set-up and sound-check

Provide your band or DJ with an on-the-day contact at the venue (eg. a wedding organiser or best man), so don't try and ring you during your ceremony! Tell them where they should meet the assigned contact on arrival, and where you'd like them to set up for their performance.

Make sure they have the right amount of space to set up. A raised stage will help the band engage your guests, but this it isn’t crucial.

If you're having your dinner and evening party in the same room, try and make sure their set up time coincides with the room turnaround, so you can close it off to guests. This way, they won't disturb guests with their sound-check and will be more of a surprise later on.

13. Check what will happen between the band's sets

Most bands will put on canned music during their intervals, or even off their own laptop DJ service, but it's worth double-checking this – you want to ensure a night of seamless entertainment from start to finish.

If you'd like more control over the song choice, most bands would be happy for you to put together your own playlist on an mp3 player and hand this to them before the start of the performance – they can then run it through their PA system at the right moments.

Have an amazing wedding!