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  • Writer's pictureAlicia LaHaie

What in the World is a New Orleans “Reception-Style” Reception?!

New Orleans Courtyard Wedding Reception
New Orleans Reception-Style Reception

If you’re planning a New Orleans wedding, I’m sure you’ve heard your venue or caterer ask you if you’ll have a “Seated-Dinner Reception” or a “Reception-Style Reception”, which sounds redundant like Chicken-fried Chicken. But I assure you, if you’re getting married in New Orleans, you want to offer your guests everything New Orleans has to offer including our culture of celebrations of everything (we throw hurricane parties and celebrate death with a parade, we are our own unique bubble of living to the fullest). For our weddings, many of them have the pomp and circumstance of a large, historic cathedral wedding followed by a raucous party to celebrate. When it comes to weddings, Louisiana offers incredible venues, delicious food and plenty of Louisiana charm.

In New Orleans, we have a sense of balance to everything we do, for example Mardi Gras season, a city-wide party, is followed by Lent, 40 days of reflection, and even a good night out partying is followed by brunch to help recover. So, when you hear Reception-Style Reception, what they are saying is something akin to a big informal gathering of your friends and family dancing and celebrating together for hours.

Most wedding receptions in New Orleans are around 4hrs long. Compared to the more formal receptions of the rest of the country, this may seem short, but those 4hours will be so filled with fun and special moments that you’ll never notice. With a traditional seated dinner reception, it typically consists of a cocktail hour, seating chart for every table and every guest, announced and sometimes choreographed entrances for the bridal party and newlyweds as they enter the reception, the first dance, seated dinner service, formal toasts, family dances, and then the dance floor opens for guests. That’s usually 5 to 6 hours long.

For a New Orleans reception, when the guests arrive, they go into a cocktail hour with a heavy amount of passed hors d'oeuvres and open bar, during this time the couple have been whisked away to the bridal suite at the reception venue to be fed before their night of partying begins. When the cocktail hour/half-hour ends and the reception begins, the couple are announced into the reception and head straight to the dance floor for their first dance. Then the parent dances and as those are finishing, the food stations of the buffet are opened for guests. Since there is a flow to the reception, not all guests eat at once, some are off having conversations and drinks on the side of the dance floor, while some guests have decided to eat later and jump right onto the dance floor to shake their groove-thang.

The one big thing that guests will notice is there is no formal seating chart, nor is there seating for every guest. This is part of the plan when you think of any house-party you’ve attended, guests are never all seated, they flow from conversation to conversation, hitting up the bar, eating a little something, dancing, and just taking in the party as a whole. The reception-style reception is the same way. With only about 70% seating, with the only reserved seats and tables for the immediate families of the couple or bridal party. 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.

New Orleans Cake Pulls in Art Deco Style Black, White, and Red Wedding Cake
Wedding Cake with Cake Pull Ribbons

One of the other special moments of the night are the cakes, yes cakes, plural. We do wedding cakes our own way as well down here. Even a wedding cake is a festive moment for all to join in on. For the sisters, friends, or cousins of the Bride, they are invited to join in for a Cake Pull. A cake pull has nothing to do with a tractor pull, so don’t get nervous. Cake pulls are small charms attached to ribbons tucked under the bottom layer of the wedding cake. The ladies designated by the Bride are asked to gather around the cake and grab a ribbon. When the Bride gives the signal, they all slowly pull out the charms. Each charm has a different “fortune” for each lady predicting relationships, children, wealth or luck.

Milk Chocolate Vintage Rocket Groom's Cake
Vintage Rocket Groom's Cake

Don’t worry, Grooms, we didn’t leave you out of the festivities. Grooms get a Groom’s Cake. Groom’s cakes are served alongside the wedding cake (as a “his and hers”) and often decorated to reflect the groom’s hobby or favorite sports team. There are some that have even done king cake for their Groom’s cake, to just be able to have a slice outside of the Mardi Gras season.

If your friends and family have never been to a New Orleans style wedding, it would be a good idea to preface the style of reception on your wedding website along with giving your guests ideas for things to do while they are here visiting New Orleans.

“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.”

Being that the reception is a much less formal affair, I do recommend to my couples to ask anyone that wants or has been asked to give a speech, to do it at the Rehearsal Dinner the night before. Keep things like the fathers’ toasts for the start of the reception or even during cocktail hour, as fathers enjoy toasting and thanking guests for attending.

Brass Band in New Orleans playing for a Wedding Second Line Parade through the streets of the French Quarter
Second Line Parade thru the French Quarter

And the best part of any New Orleans wedding, whether you do it between the ceremony and reception or to end the reception and lead your guests to an After Party location, is the Second Line! So, what is a Second line? A second line is a parade traditionally arranged for wedding or funerals in NOLA (I told you we celebrate death with a parade, and you thought I was joking). Police lead the parade and ensure the route is cleared of vehicles to make way for the brass band and all of the wedding guests to dance through the streets celebrating the newlyweds! Often, guests are given custom handkerchiefs to wave, Mardi Gras beads to throw to people on the streets of the French quarter and, most importantly, a specialty cocktail or canned drink to sip on during the walking parade. The second line should take 30 minutes but the memories will last a lifetime! A good second line needs energetic guests who are ready to dance and stroll through the streets in celebration!

So, are you ready to get married in New Orleans? As we say in New Orleans, “Laissez Bon Temps Rouler!” translates to “Let the Good Times Roll!”

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