The Perfect Wedding drinks reception

If you get the drinks reception right, or ideally perfect, then you set up your wedding day to be perfect as well.

People will be engaging in interesting conversation outside of the usual small talk.
They won’t just be saying “ooooh, don’t they look amazing!” and “wow, didn’t they get lucky with the weather”.

New friendships between opposite sides of the family as well as between your friends and your partner’s friends, maybe the seeds will be planted for a new relationship too! 

Maybe that last part is asking a bit much!

A buzz of excitement and an atmosphere will be beginning to form across the whole wedding party.

This means you’ll be able to enjoy your photos and when you return from them you’ll find yourself in a fun, light-hearted and warm wedding party.

Isn’t that exactly how you would want it to be?

But what is the difference between getting it wrong and getting it right?

Well that’s exactly what this guide is for – so let’s show you how to kick start your wedding day!

I’ve performed at all sorts of weddings from ones where I’m literally the most expensive thing there right up to the ones where there’s been so much going on I probably could have slipped out and no-one would notice.

As such I understand all weddings and budgets are different I’ve broken certain areas down into 3 sections – Cheap, Professional and Lavish.

But who am I and why on earth should you listen to me?

Experienced Professional Wedding Entertainer

Hi there, my name is Chris Piercy and I’m a professional close-up magician and mind-reader specialising in Wedding Entertainment.

In this guide I’ll be talking through each of the different parts of the drinks reception that need to be right in order for you to create the perfect one for your Wedding day.

Some of these are so obvious you’ll have done all the work already, some will have gone under your wedding radar entirely. 

What do I know about wedding receptions though?

I’ve been to well over 300 in my career and they’ve been a full range from village hall performances up to 6-figure castle weddings and everything in between.

I’ve seen just about everything you could possibly wish to see in this time.
And more often than not I am booked to perform during the wedding drinks reception.

Given this vast experience of weddings, and seeing what has worked well and what hasn’t worked so well I thought it was pertinent to share this knowledge with you all.

The importance of getting it right.

Your wedding drinks reception is the most important part of the wedding day to get right, controversial statement but I’ll explain why I think that.

You’ve gathered together on average 80-100 to celebrate in you marrying the love of your life.

They’ve sat and watched your beautiful ceremony, maybe shed a tear or two along the way.
Now the ceremony is over they all want to come and give you their warm and heartfelt congratulations.

Here’s the problem though.

You now want your photographer to take stunning and memorable shots of just the two of you at your dream venue.

This means you’re having to leave your guests for anywhere between 30 – 90 minutes.

Wedding Guests and Abandonment feelings

Getting the wedding drinks reception wrong and guests are left engaging in small talk and shuffling around with just the few people they already know.

This can lead to a bit of a lack of atmosphere for when guests go through to the next part of the day.

It can all end up feeling like a lull and a little bit flat.

You will recognise this feeling if you’ve attended a wedding where the couple have got it wrong and you’ve been left standing around awkwardly.

But don’t worry, this guide is going to cover everything you could possibly need to know and probably a bit more! 

Lulworth Castle looking sublime!


1) Wedding Drinks Reception Venue

Let’s start you off with something really easy. 

The venue is one of the first things that you’ll book for your wedding. 

The chances are that if you haven’t booked this already then you’re just about to. 

Your venue is going to go a long way to defining the sort of the drinks reception you’re going to have. 

Is it going to be light-hearted and casual? Fun and full of laughter? or more formal and sophisticated? 

One mistake that I’ve seen several times is couples booking a venue which is their dream venue mentally but the budget just doesn’t fit with it.

If you’ve got a £15,000 budget and you want a £10,000 venue then you’re very unlikely to be able to arrange everything else that the £10,000 venue demands. 

It’ll make everything just seem a little out of place.

You’ll find it’s much better to pull back on the venue slightly and leaving you plenty of money to get everything right and in keeping with the venue.

The wedding venue can very often be a focal point for sourcing a whole array of your wedding suppliers for your day. 

If you haven’t asked the venue for their recommended supplier list then do that today.
You don’t normally HAVE to use these suppliers but they’re recommended for a reason.

Your venue will only recommend suppliers they trust and whose service levels are at the required level.

They will also know that their products and/or services work really well at their venue specifically.

Stunning theming by Love by Design Weddings

2) Theming/Decoration

This is a tricky one to condense down into a few words given the vast array of styles and wedding types available.

The chances are that if you’re having a theme then this is in your agenda way before you were even thinking about your wedding drinks reception. 

Your theme visually sets the tone and style of your wedding to your guests.  

Depending on your venue and where you’re getting married your drinks reception might be the first place they encounter your theme. 

NOTE – Make sure that your decorations include your table plan for the wedding breakfast – Having this available throughout the drinks reception prevents a bottleneck when guests move through to the wedding breakfast! 

You can even try to think of a really fun and engaging way of doing this.

The best I’ve ever seen had the couple creating a Lego “mini-figure” of every one of their guests.
These lego figures were holding a flag saying the person’s name and the table that they were sitting at.
Every single guest from young to old wanted to see how they had been immortalised in Lego!

The Cheapest Option

This will be to do as much of it as you possibly can yourself, this is particularly popular if you’re going for a rustic vibe.

Sourcing the materials for hessian runners, candle-holders and table centre pieces can be done relatively cheaply.

You can write your own timetable for the day on a mirror bought at a charity shop for example, get thinking and get creative.

YES ANOTHER NOTE – if you do choose to write your own timetable or table plan on a board mirror/blackboard then please remember that giving the information is much more important than how fancy it looks.

I’ve seen several really fancy hand-written scripts on table plans it looked amazing…..except none of the guest could actually read it said!

Doing your own wedding styling has the advantages of saving money but it does mean that you’ll be spending a lot of evenings making up bits for your big day. Here’s a tip invite some friends over and bribe them with pizza and alcohol in exchange for their help.

For my friend’s “stag-do” we had pizza, beer, gin around his place watching action films and the Cricket World Cup final, whilst making centrepieces and other bits and pieces for their rustic wedding.
It wasn’t the “manliness” of evenings but I think we’d be lying if we didn’t say we all thoroughly enjoyed ourselves.

If you do spend money on bits for the wedding then there is always a market for selling these sorts of wedding items on to get a bit of money back in.

There are D.I.Y Wedding Boot Sales where you can not only by bits for the wedding but you can also sell your stuff afterwards.

The Professional Option

This is to speak directly to either the venue or a wedding decoration team to discuss ideas and they’ll normally have a portfolio from previous weddings.

From there you’ll either be able to buy/hire items from them and decorate the place yourself. Alternatively pay a company to dress the room/marquee/venue for you. 

The Lavish Option

To really go all out then I’d recommend making use of a professional wedding planner/stylist.

Give them your ideas, show them your wedding scrapbook or Pinterest board.

Typically you’ll be invited to their studio to have a consultation where you can get a real sense of their styling items and actually pick up and get a feel for.

Photos of items are great but seeing and feeling them makes a difference.

As with any consultation it also gets you in a position to get to know the stylist.
I’m a strong believer in getting to know people before you make a booking with them, you could end up spending 20-40 hours communicating with this person so you’d better make sure that you get on first! 

Combining your vision with their skills as a visionary and then let them create your big day exactly as you’d imagine it. 

This will remove all of the stress from the situation allowing you to concentrate on other parts of the day.

3) Drinks Reception Drinks

Drinks at a drinks reception – I know, surely not?  

I’m guessing you’d not forgotten about this and it’s fairly self-explanatory but what’s a wedding without a few drinks, right? 

I’ve got a few options listed here which might make you think twice.

Champagne/Prosecco – Pretty obvious however if I didn’t mention it I’d look rather silly!

Pimms – Either ready made in glasses by the venue for you or at a “make-your-own-pimms” stand at more informal weddings.

There’s nothing quite as British as Pimms on the lawn apparently!

Gin and Tonic with the unmissable rise in Gin’s popularity it’s no wonder a post-ceremony G&T is so popular.

Ice Cold Beer – Bucket + Ice + Water + Bottles of Beer = Winner.
It’s simple and effective.

Bar – There’s no better way to account for all tastes than with a bar.
Some venues will either be able to supply this for you or recommend a mobile bar company.

Bar companies work in different ways so pleasure ensure that you know exactly what you’re signing up for before doing so.

Some bars will charge a fee for their services and then sell drinks to your guests.

Other bars will work for free but they will have a “retainer” set, essentially this is a minimum sepnd, below this amount you’d have to pay the difference.

There are also bars who will turn up for free and your guests simply pay for drinks. 

Feeling generous? Go for the lavish option and pick up the tab for all your guests (Warning – might be thousands!)

A nice idea I’ve seen before is to pick up the bar tab but everyone puts a bit of cash in a pot for each drink they have and all that money goes to the couples favourite charity.

 When it comes to booking in a bar for your wedding I think it’s good to take a step back and see what they’re offering outside of just being a bar.

Does their set-up look really classy or does it look like it’s just cheap fridges being thrown together?

Do you get to choose the drinks? Or is it like a set menu? Or have they got every drink imaginable?

Espresso Martini Bike – Don’t worry your eyes aren’t deceiving you.

You can actually have an espresso martini bicycle bar serving your guests sumptuous espresso martinis to keep your guests livened and lively!

Wedding Cocktails – An increasingly popular trend that’s emerging again something that either than venue or a mobile bar will be able to provide for you.

Be Inclusive!

Don’t forget about the non-drinkers!

There will be teetotallers, designated drivers, pregnant women, children and other people to think of too.

Soft Drinks – Not everyone has come to your big day to get drunk – Fruit juices, fancy cordials and plain old iced water! 

Water Dispensers – Rather than queuing at the bar just for a glass of water have a nice water dispenser, maybe be lemon/cucumber slices in it, and glasses readily available. 

A nice cuppa! – Perhaps just one for those which are later in their years but it’s a nice idea to ask the venue if this is possible to keep everyone happy!

Scrumptious Canapes at The Italian Villa

4) Drinks Reception Food 

The Importance of Drinks Reception Food

People are going to be hungry, very hungry – some even hangry (so hungry they’re getting angry.

The women, who are likely to have taken longer getting ready than the men, may well have had an early breakfast or no breakfast. 

Then when you factor in travelling times and the time of your ceremony they will probably not have had lunch either.

People then won’t be eating anything until 2:30 at the very earliest.

So what am I saying? I’m saying people need food!

The cheapest option

However the cheapest option is to make people wait until their sit down meal.

This isn’t something I’d recommend at all.

Asking people to hang around without eating for 2 hours with the alcohol potentially flowing, risky situation.

I have performed at a couple of weddings where no food has been offered

Typically you’ll end up with people going to the venue’s bar asking for bags of nuts and crisps and with no food to soak up the alcohol people get too drunk too early.

Hardly to experience you want for your wedding or for your wedding guests. 

The not as cheap but not professional option

Organise “snacky” food for yourself, this can be “posh crisps”, mixed nuts, fruit kebabs, chocolate covered strawberries, olives, cheese twists etc etc. 

You will definitely have to check with your venue before bringing any food to the venue as they simply might not allow it. 

Some venues make the majority of their profit from providing the catering themselves.

This is also one more thing that you’ll have to think about how you’re going to get to the venue on the day. 

Also in terms of freshness it’ll have to be bought just before the day itself – is that really what you want to be doing the day before your wedding?

The professional/lavish option

Definitely the simplest option but unsurprisingly not the cheapest and that is canapes from a professional caterer – normally you’ll be paying per head for this.

Organising next level food experiences is a wonderful way to make your wedding day that much more enjoyable for your guests and that much more memorable too.

I’m in the fortunate position with my job where I’m offered and encouraged to have canapes whilst working and when done correctly the food is normally not like anything you’ll have tasted before.

Most wedding caterers (unless you’re having something like a BBQ or Hog Roast) will offer to do canapes as an additional extra.

This means that when you go to your taster evening that you get to try more yummy food yourself.

Your wedding is your chance to give people new experiences and giving them exceptional culinary options is a great way of doing this.

Evertide Music are an amazing drinks reception musical option

5) Music

Whether you have music at your drinks reception will depend on you as a couple as well as the type of wedding you have. 

Drinks reception music typically acts as background or ambient music as opposed to something people that will be getting up and dancing.

Although music in its usual form is to provide entertainment, the music at the drinks reception is designed to create an atmosphere more than anything else.

You are not probably not looking for the type of music that is going to get people up singing and dancing.

The free option

Just don’t have any – save money either because it’s simply not necessary or because you simply don’t want it!

The Cheap Option

This may be free from a money point of view but it will take up some of your time and time can be precious when it comes to wedding planning.

If your venue has a PA system or you happen to have a portable amp then you and your partner can have fun creating a playlist of all your favourite songs on an ipod/MP3 player etc.

This is a really great way to stamp your personalities on your day whilst saving money for other things for the day.

NOTE – If you are booking a DJ/Disco for your evening reception then it would be a good idea to discuss this with them. A good DJ will be able to do this for you as well as the evening disco, additional charges will likely be incurred though.

The Professional/Lavish Options

Acoustic Soloist/Duet/Band – You can book some acoustic music to perform songs throughout the drinks reception.
They’ll normally they are willing to learn a few of your favourite songs too in order to add a bit more personalisation to their performance.

If you are booking a band for your evening music then again this would be a great idea to discuss what other options they have as a band.
Often the singer and guitarist can arrive earlier and act as an acoustic duo for you. 

Classical Musicians – Getting married somewhere grand and luxurious?

Having a classy and sophisticated wedding? 

A string quartet is a beautiful way to create the perfect atmosphere that you are looking for.

Obviously, you don’t have to go for a full string quartet, trios, duos or even solo violinists are all very viable options.

Typically any classical musician(s) that you book can play for the entrance and exit music for wedding ceremony itself, they will then continue performing in the drinks reception as well. 

Pianists/Saxophonists/Flutist etc – Similar to above a musician can play you in and out of the ceremony and through to the drinks reception as well.
They also should be able to provide a musical twist on modern songs by playing them in their own unique way.
For pianists, a more grand venue may have their own piano or the pianist may opt to bring their own keyboard with them.

That’s me performing at a Kingston Maurward Drinks Reception

6) Drinks Reception Entertainment

Drinks reception entertainment is one of the most overlooked parts of the wedding day which I think is incredibly ironic.  

It’s ironic because drinks reception is actually the part of the day during which guests require the most entertainment.

If you’ve ever been to a wedding where you’ve been stood around bored you’ll know exactly what I am talking about.

As a professional magician couples are frequently asking me when the best time for me to perform is and my answer is always the same.

Book me when there’s the least amount of other things going on for guests. 

This is more often than not this is at the drinks reception (although directly after the wedding breakfast is a close second). 

The much needed icebreaker

At the wedding drinks reception you have 6 groups of people that need to be integrated together in order to obtain the perfect atmosphere at the wedding.

Partner 1’s Family, Friends and Work Colleagues and Partner 2’s Family, Friends and Work Colleagues. 

Providing quality entertainment is the perfect ice breaker for these groups, creating cohesion, atmosphere and most important of all TALKING POINTS!

Great wedding entertainment turns the quieter times of a wedding day into memorable ones and keep the day flowing seamlessly from one part to the next.

Without entertainment at this time guests will tend to only talk to people they actually know.

Through no fault of their own people will get bored if you’re asking them to stand around for 2 hours with just some prosecco and canapes.
The typically “British” response to this is to head to the bar. 

The Free Option

Do nothing. 

I’ve warned of the potential hazards of doing this immediately before this section so no entertainment really isn’t an avenue I’d explore.

It’s not just me saying it either, 72% of brides surveyed by Bride magazine said that if they were to do it again they would have spent more time choosing their entertainment and just under 100% said they should have spent more on it. 

If it comes down to a financial thing then honestly look at other areas in which you can save money.

The cheap option

If you’re getting married in the spring/summer and your venue has outside areas then garden games can be bought (or sometimes hired) relatively inexpensively. 

Giant jenga, croquet and draughts are all great examples. 

Depending on your venues rules you can either set up a game of rounders men versus women but this might not fit in with what you want for your day. 

The professional options

Professional entertainment comes in many forms but in my opinion the professional option means having the right type and amount of entertainment.

At one wedding the happy couple had booked a balloon modeller, myself, a caricaturist, a string quartet, an operatic duet and a singer to introduce the couple into the wedding breakfast. 

For a grand total of 60 guests 

As an estimate I think they had spent around £3,000-£4,000 on entertainment and it was literally WAY too much. 

This would have been more suitable to 120-150 guests (or even more maybe!) 

The professional option would have been to probably choose one musical entertainment option and one other option.

Great Wedding Drinks Reception Entertainment Options

Close-Up Magician, Mind-reader, Hypnotist

I can’t say this without being accused of massive bias but having magic performed at your wedding is the best type of entertainment there is. 

A PROFESSIONAL magician will be able to wow absolutely all ages, can be performed at a moment’s notice, requires no set-up time, people are free to choose if they want to participate or not. 

Most of all, if done properly, it will be amongst them most unforgettable things your guests will ever see. 

If you specifically book me then I’m also able to offer specific extras such as mindreading, hypnosis, hosting the day itself and even doing a mind-reading show in front of the whole wedding party.


Fun, cartoony, borderline insulting pictures of your guests hand drawn and coloured within minutes. A really great addition to a drinks reception that leaves your guests with a souvenir to take away from your day.

A caricaturist can normally work either in a strolling manner or can set up somewhere to draw, typically they can do between 10-15 drawings per hour.

Circus Performers

Having a more informal wedding? Stilt-walkers, jugglers, unicyclists and acrobats either mixing and mingling style or putting on short shows for your guests!

Guaranteed fun!

Children’s Entertainers/Balloon Modellers

Having more than just a handful of kids at your wedding?
Then book children’s entertainment. It will keep the kids happy and give their parents a chance to enjoy the wedding more too.

Human Hedges

Yes, you heard me right the first time, Human Hedges.
You’ve either heard of this or you haven’t it is literally humans dressed up as hedges and walking around. Absolutely hilarious opportunity for guest selfies and general frolics!

Celebrity Lookalikes

Hire a lookalike of the bride/groom’s favourite celebrity to mix and mingle with the guests!

The Lavish Options

Got a huge budget and really want to blow your guests away then these options could be for you!

A fun fair

Yes, you can literally book an entire fun fair with rides, dodgems, fairground games and more – the ultimate lavish option for the marquee/outdoo style wedding!

Aerobatic Display

I’ve attended a wedding where, as part of the drinks reception, the was an aerobatic display featuring 9 vintage bi-planes.

Truly unique idea, incredibly impressive, definitely not cheap.

 Stunnned bride at Lulworth Castle – Photo by David Wheeler Photography

7) Drinks Reception Photography

The drinks reception used to be taken up with a vast amount of group photos and that would be it. 

Times change and photography has evolved in a lot of respects.  

Group shots are normally restricted to less than half an hour but the you and your partner will still be going off for a couple shoot.  

Couple shoot + Group Shots = Not much time for you to enjoy your drinks reception properly or even see it.

It’s your wedding so it’s down to your preference but I have three big bits of advice I’d like to share.

Firstly book a photographer that either work exclusively as a two-person team. The next best to this would be someone who can bring a “second shooter” with them.

This means that not only will the jy and excitement of bridal prep be captured but also the banter and frivolity of groom prep too (or both bride preps or both grooms preps).

This also means that you won’t miss a second of the fun of the drinks reception, while one photographer is taking your photos your other can be capturing all of the fun going on.

Second bit of advice on photographers and the drinks reception – restrict your group shots to the absolute minimum.

Two shots of the whole wedding party (one serious and one funny) is probably enough.

I think for the sake of keeping history alive through photos it’s important to have one shot where everyone is in it.
Find a great photographer(s), invest in them and then trust their skill, insight and technical ability to capture the day as you’ve described it to them in your meetings together.

Final piece of advice is to go for a documentary style of photography. 

This means the photographer will not interrupt to take photos they will take them candidly.

This ensures that the proper essence and emotion of the day is captured. There’s nothing quite as unnatural as having a camera shoved in your face and being asked to act natural!

There are two bottom lines when it comes to booking a photographer, and I’m not even sure that’s possible but there you go.

Bottom line number 1.

Your photographer will probably be the wedding supplier that you spend more time with than any other.
Above all, it is absolutely imperative that you, your partner and photographer get one like a house on fire.
They should almost feel like a friend because you should be able to open up to them completely and feel utterly relaxed in their company..

Bottom line number 2.

You’ll get recommended about a billion photographers if you ask for recommendations, especially on Facebook.

Before you know about whether you get on and can find out if you really click you’ve got to like their work.

The photography that your friend likes might make your nose turn up, and vice-versa, what’s really important is that you and your partner like it.

Photo by Sadie Osborne Photography at Kingston Country Courtyard

8) Be a part of the drinks reception!

It is said that the average wedding takes between 200 and 300 hours to plan.
All of that effort for just a single day.

So you’d better make damn sure that you squeeze every last bit of fun and enjoyment out of your special day.

Now this obviously applies to the whole day but it does apply especially to the Drinks reception.

I’m fully aware that you will probably be sneaking off for photographers with your partner as part of the drinks reception.

However there will be AT LEAST an hour where you and your partner are free to enjoy it.

Above absolutely everything else your wedding guests have come to see you and your partner.

GET INVOLVED! Seriously don’t worry about little things and the minor bits that needs to be done, leave whoever has been paid to sort those bits out – if they actually NEED your input then they will find you.

Actually allow yourself to get really involved with things. 

You have invested so much time, possibly spent a lot of money and certainly exerted a huge amount of energy into putting together this incredible and unforgettable day.

Now make sure you aren’t just a passenger in it, dive in and enjoy every second of it.


Chris Piercy lives in Dorchester, Dorset with his two children Sienna and India.
He has a degree in Mathematics, a Diploma in Cognitive Behavioural Hypnotherapy and an exceptional beard.

Chris is a professional wedding magician, mind-reader and hypnotist.

He is the author of what has to be considered ultimate guide reducing wedding planning stress; “Blissful Wedding Planning: Becoming a Stoic Bride”.

He runs “Yes to I do – Your Wedding Planning Podcast” one of world’s top wedding planning podcasts.

For more information on the book visit

If you’d like to find out more about booking him for your wedding head to

And to listen to the podcast head to