When it comes to celebrating their wedding, many couples are forgoing tradition to reflect their unique personalities.
“There’s really nothing that’s the common way to do things anymore,” said Nicole Dempewolf, catering coordinator at Hotel Julien Dubuque. “Don’t be afraid to be creative. Do what creates a fun day and fun environment for you, and you and your guests are sure to have a good night.”
Not sure how to make your reception your own? Check out eight ways local couples are taking a more unique, casual approach to the evening:
1. Entertaining from start to finish
Dubuque is becoming a wedding destination, according to local wedding experts. And with many out-of-town guests, couples are helping their friends and family make a weekend out of the event.
Couples are offering welcome bags, which might include a list of things to do (maybe the bride and groom’s favorite place to grab an appetizer, eat breakfast and visit), tickets to a local attraction or even a local souvenir.
“I had one couple last year that offered a trolley tour between the ceremony and the cocktail hour. It was so cool because they were all from out of town and the trolley tour gave them the history of Dubuque, and they really enjoyed that,” said Shannon Siegert, owner of Red Heels Wedding & Event Design in Dubuque.
2. Individualizing the cocktail hour
With more couples taking mini road trips for their wedding photos after the ceremony, cocktail hours are lasting a little longer. They’re also highlighting foods and drinks the bride and groom love.
“Rather than hosting an open bar, you might host a his-and-hers cocktail during the cocktail hour,” Dempewolf said. “You can have fun with it.”
She’s also seen more brides and grooms join their guests during the cocktail hour, taking the opportunity to visit with their loved ones sooner rather than waiting for a grand entrance.
3. Decorating less
Siegert predicts more couples will continue moving toward the minimalist trend, looking for reception venues that don’t need to be heavily decorated. Instead, they might make more of a presentation out of their food, having fun with creative displays.
“The couples want something very, very simple. They just want to enjoy their wedding, and they want their guests to enjoy the wedding,” Siegert said. “They’re getting away from the overdone décor and overdone wedding venue.”
4. Choosing creative venues
That’s leading to more creative wedding reception venues. Many couples are opting for locations with exposed brick, open ductwork and hardwood floors, playing into a more simplified approach, Siegert said.
The Millwork Ballroom & Event Center in Dubuque started hosting wedding ceremonies and receptions in 2018. Many couples are immediately taken by the nontraditional space, which features an open-floor concept that couples can get creative with, said sales and marketing director Brittani Vanderweerd.
The National Mississippi River Museum & Aquarium in Dubuque also is getting more use by couples looking for a unique venue.
“Our atmosphere helps the bride and groom not have to spend a lot of money on decorations, because we have fishes and alligators and animals all around them,” said Teri Witt, sales and banquet manager at the river museum.
5. Opting for later receptions
Some couples are even getting away from “traditional” wedding times and opting for a celebration later in the day that works better with their schedule.
“One of the bigger things I’ve noticed is a later reception and dinnertime,” Dempewolf said. “More dinners are being served around 7 instead of 5:30 or 6 at night.”
6. Going with informal seating
At the Millwork Ballroom & Event Center, many couples are moving away from formal seating, Vanderweerd said. That includes the wedding parties, which are being seated family style so they can face each other.
“When you do a king’s table, everyone is able to talk to one another,” Vanderweerd said. “It really brings the wedding party closer.”
7. Serving casual fare
The meal itself also is becoming less formal, with couples choosing their favorite foods instead of typical wedding fare.
“I had one couple that met at Chipotle, and that’s what they served,” Siegert said. “It was set up as a buffet, and it was so different. All the guests knew the reason behind it, and they loved it.”
Others are serving heavy hors d’oeuvres, such as stuffed mushrooms, crab cakes, meatballs or sliders, Vanderweerd said. Along with that, many couples are featuring build-your-own mashed potato or mac and cheese bars.
8. Offering single-serving sweets
Anything goes for dessert, too. While many couples still cut a wedding cake, it’s often smaller and not the main dessert attraction. Couples are instead serving their favorite desserts—from cupcakes or cookies to cheesecakes or pies.
“I think people want more options,” Siegert said. “There are so many different things you can have when you do the assorted desserts, and then you have something there for anybody’s taste buds.”
Emily Kittle is a former Telegraph Herald reporter and freelance writer from Madison, Wis.