Memorable Reception Surprises for Your Guests

The best part about your wedding reception is all the personality you pack into it. Here's how you can make a lasting impression with reception surprises fo your guests.

By Maggy Lehmicke

Bucket with ice and drinks
Photo by Baileys

As excited as you may be for the wedding itself, the party is where you really get a chance to shine. Photo booths, signature cocktails and choreographed dances have all become standard reception pastimes over the last several years. But if you’re looking to spice up your wedding celebration, keep reading.

According to Matt Landes, the CEO of Cocktail Academy and celebrity party planner Mindy Weiss' preferred bartender, one of the keys to creating a memorable reception experience for your guests is to find ways to make it personal. Whether it be with roaming cocktail carts or engraved tequila bottles, he says, the subtle nod to the couple makes things feel more intimate and curated.

Stay tuned for some of Landes’ top tips on how to spiff up your reception and really surprise your guests.

Try speciality bars.

One of the most engaging ways to surprise your guests is with a creatively themed bar with customizable drinks. Don Julio margarita bars are not only easily personalized, but are also a big hit amongst guests, Landes says.

A martini cart with an assortment of salts, olives, and spirits allows guests to play around with flavor combos. A gin and tonic station can be elevated with a make-your-own tonic moment and a garden of fresh garnish choices. If you really want to mix things up, try offering a Baileys Milkshake bar with endless toppings for a sweet indulgent treat.

Diageo EA Inline 2 Create a roving customized Tanqueray Gin & Tonic Cart. Photo Credit // Tanqueray Gin

Switch up the signature cocktails.

“Do something different or unexpected,” Landes says. Instead of sticking to the classic couples’ selections, consider making the groom’s cocktail a fun tiki-inspired drink and serving a stirred negroni in honor of the bride. Another idea is to scrap the “his and hers” cocktails altogether and instead create a collaborative drink that encompasses both tastes and personalities. “It’s not about them. It’s about who you are now as a couple,” he says. “People really love that story.”

Offer unique tasting experiences.

A popular pick for bespoke-inspired weddings is a whiskey tasting cart, highlighting the differences between Bulleit 10 Yr Bourbon (American), Johnnie Walker Black Label (Blended Scotch Whisky), and Talisker 10 (single malt). “When you educate people, they get more into it,” Landes says. It’s best to offer three variations.

If whiskey isn’t your vibe, tequila also offers a compelling tasting experience, Landes says. Have a bottle of Don Julio 1942 at the bar with informational cards with tasting notes to guide guests. Offer premium sea salt with a few different types of seasoning–such as spicy, floral and bittersweet–so all guests have to do is sprinkle it onto an orange, nibble and sip. “This makes the drinking experience more sensory,” he says. “People really remember that the most.”

INLINE_Don Julio 1942 & Dark Chocolate Tasting Bar Pair Tequila Don Julio 1942 with a sweet, spicy, and orange-zest chocolate to bring out different tasting notes and wow guests with the spirits’ complex palate. Photo Credit // Tequila Don Julio

Create ways to keep guests hydrated.

In addition to making sure you organize transportation or ride share options for your wedding guests, you also want to create ways for them to stay hydrated as they enjoy these reception surprises.

Set up beautiful infused water stations throughout your venue and near each cocktail area or bar. Also consider small snack options for each tasting bar. That way, as people sip different marques of tequila, they have something to snack on between sips.

Don’t shy away from the eccentric.

Champagne dresses. Ice ball cocktails. Bartender fortune tellers. There are so many options you’ve likely never seen or even heard of, Landes says, so don’t be afraid to get creative and turn tradition on its head. One option is having a smoked old fashioned bar where guests can choose between different types of wood for smoking their cocktail.

Another is to serve “cocktail caviar” on a spoon in lieu of a more traditional welcome drink. If you really want to go the extra mile (and have a photo booth on the premises), let your guests print out their faces on edible printer paper and use the photos as cocktail toppers.

Transition experiences into favors.

Who says the fun has to end when the night is over? If you want to extend the party, send your guests home with personalized gifts that are a nod to their experience, such as a engraved bar spoon or DIY bitters for an old fashioned. Plus, nothing says “wish you were here” like favors sent to friends and family that couldn’t make the reception, but tuned in virtually to celebrate your big day.

Another favorite amongst guests is metal straws, Landes says, which can easily be reused long after the wedding day. As gifts to the wedding party, consider something personal (and somewhat indulgent), like an engraved Don Julio 1942 bottle.

Diageo EA Inline 3 Elevate cocktails with printable-photo toppers with guests’ faces or creative designs. Photo Credit // Bulleit Bourbon

These elevated reception surprises will be sure to engage and excite your guests. Don't forget to book transportation from your reception venue for guests so everyone has a safe end to their night. Cheers!