As you have begun planning (or thinking about planning) your wedding in New Orleans, you may have started to hear the phrase “New Orleans style” wedding reception, or “Reception style” reception. If you are planning a destination wedding you may not be familiar with what this means (calling it a “reception style reception” probably doesn’t help with your confusion). I hope this post can you help you understand the differences between a New Orleans style wedding and the weddings you might be used to.
If you are not from the Gulf South, most wedding receptions you have been a part of have probably consisted of a cocktail hour, assigned seating, entrances of the bridal party and the couple, the first dance, seated dinner service, toasts, family dances, and finally, the dance floor will open for everyone to enjoy for the rest of the evening. These receptions are probably 5-6 hours.
In contrast, wedding receptions here in New Orleans are typically 3-4 hours long, which might sound crazy short to you, but trust me when I say that we know how to cram a lot of partying into a short amount of time. The couple usually enter and go right into their first dance near the start of the reception followed immediately by any parent dances. The many food stations usually open soon after the dances or, if your reception is later, they may open right away. And you would do your first dance and after you and your new spouse have had a private moment and a bite to eat.
Seating is open for guests to choose their own seats and tables, and since everyone is not sitting to eat at the same time, you do not need a seat for everyone. I typically recommend seating for about 70% of your guests, and you can reserve tables for family (especially those who might be confused about the free seating) if you wish. You might be tempted to still do assigned seats for everyone with food stations but this does not usually work as well you may hope. People get confused and can be hesitant to get up and help themselves to food or to hit the dance floor freely. The assigned seating gives guests an expectation of a more structured environment than the more dynamic ones we see with our typical set up. This being said, I do think it is helpful to include a fun description about this structure on your wedding website. People like knowing what to expect. Here’s some sample text you could use:
New Orleans receptions are typically not seated dinners, but consist of heavy passed items at the start of the reception, open action stations and buffets, with emphasis on lots of food options, lots of beverages, and a highly dynamic and social atmosphere that allows guests to move freely about the reception space. Seating is left open for guests to choose their own seats and tables. The bride and groom have their first dance near the beginning of their reception, opening the dance floor immediately for the guests' enjoyment, and to take full advantage of the hired entertainment.
With this shorter timeline we usually recommend scheduling any speeches for the rehearsal dinner instead of the wedding reception. If you do invite anyone to speak at the wedding calling it a “toast” instead and giving them a time of 2-3 minutes is a good way to prevent those from taking up too much of the shorter reception time.