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DIY Wedding Reception

Created January 10, 2017

All you need is love, right? So why does it seem like you need SO much money just to get married? Don’t fret. There are ways to have a fabulous and memorable wedding—and put a lot of it together yourself—without blowing your retirement fund. Solution: The dessert reception.

DIY Wedding Reception: Dessert and Champagne

In your parents’ day, five-hours-long, dinner-and-dancing wedding receptions were much less common than they are today. The wedding party and guests would often head to the church basement after the ceremony for a slice of cake, some coffee, and maybe a glass of champagne. The parties were charming and budget-smart. Consider taking a page from their book, saving yourself not only money but also a whole lot of pre-wedding stress, and invite your guests to celebrate with sweets and a toast. 

You’ll be just as married, even if no one eats dinner 

The key to a dessert-only reception is picking the right time of day. If you plan a reception around the dinner hour, people will expect a full meal. Schedule at two in the afternoon, however, and your guests will arrive having just had lunch, so a sweet treat mid-afternoon will be perfect. Or, make it 8 pm and fill the space with candles for a romantic, after-dinner affair. In any case, be clear in the wording of your invitations, “join us after the ceremony for cake and champagne,” or “a cocktail and dessert reception immediately follows". And keep it on the short side; while a dinner-and-dancing reception typically lasts four hours or more, two hours is the right number for dessert. 

Choose your spot 

One of the many benefits of a dessert reception is the venue flexibility. You don’t need traditional table settings—you’ll want buffet tables to hold the sweets and drinks, and a few scattered cocktail tables with chairs for older guests and those who want to sit a while—but don't need to seat everyone. You most likely don’t need a traditional dance floor, either. Locations to consider:

  • Your parents’ living room (or a friend’s, or your own) if they’re willing to let you move out most of the furniture 
  • Your parents’ backyard (or a friend’s, or your own) 
  • A local recreation center that offers rentable community spaces. These are very affordable but often no-frills, so you’ll need to do some decorating (possibly bringing in curtains, lighting, and big flower arrangements to give the space a festive look). 
  • Less conventional spots like the grounds of your local library or museum, or a gazebo in the park. If a spot that catches your eye, ask if special events are allowed. Keep in mind that while you won’t need to gild the lily much at an outdoor location, you will need to have a backup plan in case of rain. 

Plan & Prep 

One of the best things about a sweets-only reception is that it won’t require an army of professional help. You can keep it as simple as cake and bubbly, or go all-out with a full buffet of sweet treats. Either way, you can prepare everything well in advance, and enlist friends to help with last-minute assembly. So if you’re panicking on your wedding day, at least it won’t be because of the food! 

The Cake 

This is the star of the show. (Ok, YOU are the star of the show, but in terms of edibles…) To ensure success and keep your stress level down, you might hire a baker for just your cake. Or really blow everyone away and make it yourself. Just plan carefully and start early—you can begin baking cake layers weeks in advance, and freeze them for assembly later.

Dessert Suggestions 

Alternatively, you can skip the traditional wedding cake and bake towers of cupcakes and decorate them in your wedding colors, or whip up a variety of cookies, pastries or cheesecakes to display on tiered stands. Your guests will be delighted with either of these delicious twists.


Cheese a delightful foil to all your sweet offerings. A classic spread includes a creamy cheese (like Brie or camembert), a hard cheese (like an aged cheddar), and a blue cheese (such as Roquefort). But you can get as creative as you like, featuring only local cheeses or only ones from a favorite region, for instance, or offering a range of cow, sheep, and goat selections. A sweet cheese like a fresh lemon ricotta is also right at home at a dessert party. 

Fresh Fruit 

Offer bowls of fruit salad or spear chunks of pineapple, melon, and strawberries into kebabs. 



Set up coffee and tea on a buffet table, along with hot chocolate if the weather is chilly and you’ll have kids in attendance. A second table can hold soft drinks or lemonade and wine. Alternatively, set out only non-alcoholic offerings for self-serve, and hire a few servers to pass glasses of wine and champagne on trays. This helps to control costs, and ensures that everyone has a glass of bubbly in hand for toasting. Cheers!