They say 'necessity is the beautiful mother of invention,' and with current COVID-19 restrictions preventing dancing at weddings, couples all across Australia are adapting and getting creative. Finding alternative and unique ways to ensure guests can still unwind, socialise and have an unforgettable time means couples are breaking with tradition and re-imagining what their ideal wedding reception can look like. Couples are adopting a more personalised approach and the dance free wedding reception festivities are becoming more fun than ever!
I'm wondering what 'real couples' are saying about their non-dancing wedding alternatives and experiences?
Prioritising connection, and creating an enjoyable atmosphere in which to do so, guests and couples are intent on not missing out on the opportunity to celebrate together, as one of our recently married couples Sally and Anthony share:
'We chose to continue with our wedding during Covid as we were determined to get married. We couldn't confidently reschedule it in the future as the current events show us, we don't know what the future holds. We discussed what our minimum requirement to go ahead was (stage 3 restrictions being in place) and which guests were the most important and thankfully, the majority were QLD based.Despite the restrictions in place we found the day to be everything we hoped it would be. All of our guests have mentioned the exceptional service the Gabbinbar team provided on the day, the professionalism, friendliness and prompt supply and delivery of the food and drink. The food is also mentioned regularly and being of a particularly high standard and plentiful. We are forever grateful.'
How do we seize the opportunity to delight our loved ones with unexpected reception entertainment?
To help you get inspired, we've put together a list of our top 10 favourite alternatives to dancing at your wedding (and how to find the perfect person to facilitate them).
Live music at your reception will provide paired back entertainment for your guests to enjoy as they socialise throughout the night. Either as the primary form of entertainment or used to create background ambience, choose a music artist or band that will suit your theme or help you achieve the tone you wish to set for the evening.
Whether it be a laid-back acoustic set, soulful jazz-crooning, duelling pianos or a string quartet there is a band available for all tastes. Don’t forget to ensure your band has tailor-made your wedding night setlist to meet your expectations and enhance your evening both visually and aurally.
Good to keep in mind:
If your primary focus is to allow guests to converse then make sure the music isn't competing for their attention and adding excessive volume to the room.
Insider Tip: Be sure to do your research thoroughly and ask your artist to provide you with previous footage of their performances. As your guests will not be dancing, place more importance on not only how they sound but also their presentation, energy and the vibe they bring to the night.
This is especially important:
If you are planning an elegant cocktail reception, for instance, the band's attire will need to look entirely different than if they were performing at a boho-inspired wedding.
When mentioning the word 'Karaoke' you usually get a bit of a mixed response - but a great wedding-tailored approach to karaoke is to include friends or family that have a flair or panache for performing, song-writing or singing in the evening's performances.
Contact guests before the wedding and see if they would be open to singing or playing a song of your request. Choose something that has a significant sentimental connection or is a favourite for both of you. Or you could even write and perform a song, like this couple.
For a more adventurous take leave the slate open for them to compose something before the big day that they would like to perform as an appropriate personalised tribute. This way, you'll avoid any awkward moments or spontaneous unwanted renditions of 'Wonderwall', but instead be provided with a customised performance that will be memorable and meaningful.
Insider Tip: Make sure you thoroughly communicate with your band the particulars of these other performances and get their approval ahead of time that this is something they are open to doing. Determine whether they will be needed to provide the back-up music or simply hand over the guitar for, e.g., if its a solo acoustic performance. An accomplished artist will be eager to work with you to achieve your desired outcome for the evening.
Masterclass by your vendors
They are the best in the business (that's why you've chosen them), they've already been able to capture your vision successfully, and you've got a great working relationship. Why not try to incorporate your vendor's skills and talents into your reception experience? Consider having your vendor host a 'mini masterclass' during the evening.
Draw on their creative inspiration and expertise to craft a unique experience for your guests and use this as an inventive alternative to wedding favours. Choose to follow this format with multiple vendors and have guests attend the 'station of their choice' or select one to be a focal point of the evening.
At the end of the evening, allow guests to have your wedding flowers repurposed in front of their eyes into little take home posies or bouquets by your florist at a wrapping station- or even have this as a DIY option. Armed with ribbons and beautiful paper, for an informative experience, have your florist give tips and pointers for how to assemble posies and what combinations of colours/flowers and textures work best together.
While you can't go wrong with a photo booth or selfie station (we'll get to that later) consider having your photographer, for a portion of the night, set aside some time to take professional portraits and photos of your guests. Create a portrait booth to compliment your theme incorporating key colours, tones, textures and other styling notes. Not only will it allow guests the rare opportunity to have couple or family portraits taken together, but it also provides a perfect 'thank-you for attending' present to send to guests once you've had your photos developed.
Insider Tip: Make sure you thoroughly communicate your intentions with your photographer and work together to create a timeline that suits you both. The photographer will need to account for the lighting and how they set your booth up as well as making sure it doesn't compromise capturing the other special moments that are happening.
Swap out the traditional guest book and chat with your videographer about having a 'video book' and providing a station allowing guests to record heartfelt video messages and well-wishes for you. Professionally edited, this video compilation will give your guests a meaningful way to share their well-wishes with you directly and provide the opportunity to share a moment that they otherwise may not have been able to.
Have your stationer design and print bespoke cards and matching envelopes for your guests to fill out for you to open and read together at a future date. Hand each table a set of cards after desert and have guests fill them out together - it will be a great conversation starter.
Depending on your preferences, you can customise 'advice cards' asking your guests to share their pearls of wisdom, have them give inventive 'date night' ideas or fill out a 'prediction card.' With questions like ' Where do you see us in 5 years time?', 'what should our children's names be?' and 'where do you think we will next travel to?' be prepared for some interesting, heartwarming and probably some amusing responses as well! You could even ask guests to answer a quiz about you as a couple and your exploits. Get creative with questions like have we ever visited Dublin's main attractions together, who uses the last of the milk and what time do we go to bed each night!!?
Make sure to let guests know you'll be taking the time to read them all on your honeymoon or on your first anniversary.
Insider Tip: As a cute idea have guests seal them with previously prepared custom wax seals like these ones from Fiona Ariva so you won't feel tempted to take any early sneak peeks!!
Photo Booth 'snap' the night away
Photo booths or photo stations are a seasoned favourite at weddings, and for a good reason. Providing endless entertainment for guests between socialising, they are a great way to inject some added fun and frivolity into your wedding. With a myriad of options available from DIY station setups to multiple hired booths all with varying themes, you are only limited by your imagination, and ultimately how much you choose to invest.
Guests love the opportunity to strike a pose and photo booths are an effortless way of providing a memorable record of the more informal moments of your wedding, not to mention they provide an excellent souvenir for guests to take home.
I'm wondering, what are some of the best ways to include a photo booth in my festivities?
Classic Photo Booth
With setup at your chosen location all looked after for you, a classic photo booth is an excellent option. Simple to use, while lots of fun, it will require little planning and preparation on your part but will deliver hours of amusement for your guests.
Can't decide on one theme for your photo booth? Try multiple selfie stations:
Try having various 'selfie stations' set up around your venue instead and encourage guests by the end of the night to get snapped at each location. To keep it interesting, have differing backdrops or frames at each area. Whether you choose oversized polaroid frames, chalkboards or faux floral walls remember to setup a hashtag on Instagram so you and other guests will have a record of all the photos taken from the evening.
Shake it, shake, shake it, shake it like a polaroid picture!!
Instead of having your guests shake it on the dancefloor give each guest a polaroid camera as your wedding favours and have them capture candid moments of themselves and other guests throughout the evening. You can choose to let guests keep the pictures as a memento, have them stick them in a guest book accompanied by their well-wishes, or alternatively, setup a DIY photo wall where guests can peg or clip their photos for everyone to enjoy.
The great thing about this option is that the cameras are easily moveable and can float around your reception with the guests, and go wherever you please! So if your Grandmother doesn't want to wander over to a photo booth throughout the night, the camera can simply come to her!!
Insider Tip: Just remember due to the current restrictions props will have to be single-use, so make sure to have plenty on hand if you plan on using these.
Let the good times roll
Keep the high-rollers (or wannabe high-rollers) amongst your guests happy with a casino themed experience after the formalities of your reception have concluded. Companies that specialise in providing this unique experience offer the choice of blackjack, craps table, roulette, poker or any of the other famous 'Vegas style' options.
Supplying everything from mini to full-sized tables, dealers and croupiers, cards and chips, items are conveniently delivered and set up at your venue. Combined with a whisky or scotch tasting option, this is a sure way to keep the groom and the gents at your wedding thoroughly occupied.
Shoe Game, Mad-Libs, Newlywed Trivia and 'I-Spy' (wedding style)
Each of these games are a staple favourite at receptions, and for all the right reasons. Funny, interactive, and bride and groom-centric these activities are a great way to end the evening and celebrate the two of you as a couple in a playful manner.
Not only will your guests be in stitches of laughter, but they'll also enjoy learning new things about both you, and your other half, who they may not yet be fully acquainted with. Here are some traditional reception games with innovative twists
Traditionally the shoe game is played with the newlyweds taking a seat in front of their guests, sitting back to back. Each has one of their shoes, and one of their partners. The MC for the evening (keep reading down further for our expert tips on choosing the right person for this critical role) acts as a host, and the couple has to answer questions simultaneously by raising the shoe that corresponds with their answer.
Here are a few sample questions to get you started:
- Who says I love you more?
- Who is the better cook?
- Who is the most romantic?
- Who got the best grades in school?
- Who is the better swimmer?
- Who is the funniest?
For an imaginative twist
Mix the game up by having the MC ask the questions and the guests answer as well as the bride and groom. Have cut-outs made with the groom's face on one side and then brides on the other and pass them out to the tables.
When the MC asks the question, everyone in the room holds up their answer. By making it inclusive, playing this hilarious and interactive game will have everyone laughing and will let a few truths slip about how the bride and groom....and everyone else's views them.
Simply put mad-libs is a collaborative story that you add multiple words to. When prompted, and without revealing the context of the required word, guests ask one another to insert a specific type of word where there is a blank, and then the story is read aloud. It is a fun way to get everyone talking and by the time the MC has read a few of the best ones out - laughing!!!!
You can get your stationer to customise and co-ordinate cards to be given out to each table or choose from free-to-download ones available for weddings.
Insider Tip: Have your MC read through the cards once collected and choose a few to share. Just make sure you keep the rest for later reading for some laugh-out-loud moments on your honeymoon.
Newlywed Trivial Pursuit
If you're not a fan of traditional trivial pursuit or don't want to have your night taken up by asking questions about the fall of Rome or when Hoover Dam was built, swap it out for 'newlywed trivial pursuit'. Again, have your MC facilitate this activity and have them read out the answers, once the guests have finished completing the cards you've placed on the tables. Incorporate multiple-choice, true/false questions,fill-in-the-blank, or even 'where or when was this taken?' photos of the bride and groom. Informative, hilarious, exciting or bizarre adapt the questions to suit the 'feel' of your reception and to set the tone for the rest of your evening. For inspiration look through this complete list of Printable Wedding games including Message in a bottle, Who am I and Never have I Ever all of which provide great entertainment for couples and guests alike.
Insider Tip: Have the guest with the most correct answers take home the table centrepiece or a gift.
I-Spy wedding style
This can be a great game if you want to encourage your guests to explore the entire Gabbinbar Homestead estate, including our spectacular Night Garden. Nowadays with everyone sporting an i-phone (or similar), this game can be a great way to collect extra photos from your day and have your guests amuse themselves by getting creative with their pictures and ticking the items off their list.
Provide cards on each table for your guests and give them a list of 'moments' you are wanting them to 'seek, find and snap' during the reception. The guests can either choose to work together or individually to complete the list. Remember to give clear and straightforward instructions as to how to share the photos online.
Insider Tip: You can either choose a broad stroke approach and have everyone at your reception have the same cards or tailor-make a set of unique questions for each table to help you capture entirely different moments throughout the night.
Live entertainment doesn't need to just be limited to a band or musical ensemble, use this opportunity to enlist a talented artist from another field and surprise your guests with a performer or performance that will provide your wedding with a point of difference to the norm.
So I'm wondering what options are available to me?
Comedians, adult magicians,illusionists or hypnotists, caricature artists and roving entertainers are all great options. If you are hosting an outside reception or your venue has a spacious outdoor area you can even consider wowing your guests with a fire and circus show!!! If you choose to hire a comedian or magician, just be sure to communicate the general 'feel' you want the performance to have.
If you have children attending your reception dinner, you will need to inform the comedian to ensure their material is age-appropriate. Websites like Crowd Pleaser and Enhance Entertainment are a great place to begin your search and connect with an artist that will suit your needs and budget.
Just remember, guests will still want to enjoy each other's company so make sure the performer doesn't dominate the entire evening. Allocate a timeslot so they can tailor their performance to work with your night.
Just let guests relax and tempt their appetite
It may sound simple, but allowing your guests the time and opportunity to simply chat, and catch-up with friends and family can be a surprisingly refreshing alternative. Without having to compete with loud music or a DJ your guests can fully enjoy each other's company and linger in conversation.
With weddings being one of the few opportunities in life when you get to assemble you and your partners nearest and dearest together under the one roof, enjoy allowing yourself more time to talk to your guests, who will be eager to pass on their well-wishes in person.
How can I change up the atmosphere during the evening?
Consider having different 'lounging stations' setup throughout your venue that guests can retire to or move to when they wish. Save feeling like they are restricted to their 'allocated table'.
Consider offering additional menu items at this stage of the night, this would be a great time to serve a delicacy that is unique to you as a couple or holds specific significance (like your favourite Turkish Delight that you both fell in love with when visiting Istanbul).
An exclusive nighttime experience yet to be matched, the 'Gabbinbar Night Garden' boasts over 100,000 fairy lights, warm festoon strings, outdoor chandeliers and vintage pendants, just to name a few. The 150-year-old gardens, towering trees and expansive lawns are beautifully lit and provide the perfect backdrop for your guests to leisurely enjoy the rest of their evening.
As we move into the gentle warmth of spring and summer evenings, guests can enjoy; going for a stroll through the different areas of the gardens and slowly taking it all in, admiring the view from the cane lounges on the front verandah, sitting under the tennis pavilion sipping a glass of wine or nestling in next to the gas column heaters set up on the garden-party lawn. While Gabbinbar Homestead certainly is beautiful by day, it is spectacular by night.
I want to make my non dancing wedding activities exciting, meaningful and inventive:
Ideally you would love your guests to walk away from your wedding and reception feeling like they have just enjoyed a day and evening that was 'uniquely you’. Try looking for ways to make your wedding reception highly personalised with an experience that's handpicked to showcase your hobbies and interests and is also a great dance floor alternative.
Do you love spooky stories or horror? Consider hiring an entertainer that can craft a story unique to your day and your venue and have them tell fire-side stories that will keep your guests on the edge of their seats.
Have guests write advice or anecdotes for you as a couple and have them placed inside a newlywed pinata and either open on the night or save for your 1st anniversary.
Light up the night with fireworks, sparklers or laser show
Fireworks are always a crowd-pleaser, as are sparklers (just be sure to check with your venue first on fire restrictions). Otherwise, consider an outdoor laser show for a tech-inspired alternative.
Logistics and preparation for your Master of Ceremonies
Many people use a trusted friend or relative to MC their wedding reception… and for some couples, it works out pretty well. However, there is a lot more to MCing than just grabbing a microphone and telling people what to do! When looking to incorporate any of the above suggestions into your reception, it will be imperative that you have a confident, well-prepared MC who is 'across all the details' and can make your evening flow seamlessly.
With over thirteen years of experience helping people celebrate marriage, as a trusted celebrant and engaging MC, Jake Smith from Married By Jake has curated a list of qualities for you to look for when choosing your MC. Providing professional tips and key pointers for helping guide your evening and navigate the new COVID-19 restrictions here are his suggestions:
A good MC will:
- Arrive well prepared
- Make adjustments to the run sheet both before and (if necessary) on the day to suit the couple's wishes
- Minimise disruptions to the couple so they can focus on enjoying their time.
- Help all guests feel like they're in good hands, that the event flows seamlessly and that everyone has a great time
- Ensure all transitions are well-thought-out, deliberate and flow smoothly to maintain the momentum
- Minimise on-mic interruptions and only use the mic when appropriate and necessary.
- Welcome guests and move around the room throughout the evening
- Assist any speech-makers so that they can be at their best (and help them manage any speech-stress!)
- Understand and work with all service providers so that they can serve the couple to the very best of their ability
- When using the mic, address guests with confidence and warmth, utilise levity, maximise authenticity and avoid awkwardness
- Not have very much free time to socialise or relax
If choosing a guest to MC for you, I'd suggest looking for the following qualities:
- Organisational and event-planning skills
- Clear and confident communication (both face to face and over a microphone)
- At least a little self-control (especially with the liquid courage!)
- A good general understanding of (and empathy for) the roles of your wedding photographer, videographer, any entertainers and (especially!!) your caterers
One of the biggest things to consider during COVID restrictions is that everything is fluid. Regulations can be unpredictable, and the impact they will have on your reception will vary AND can be entirely out of your control! This puts a much greater emphasis on the trust couples need to have in their MC. Quite simply, more of the big decisions need to be made later in the process, like how will the food be served, where will the food be served, will there be dancing, can people mingle... the list goes on.
This makes three things of paramount importance...
a) that your MC has a good understanding of what's most important to you b) that they have the experience to be flexible right up until (and on!) the day to maximise the possibility of the day meeting and exceeding your expectations. c) That they have a great rapport with all the suppliers to make the night (appear to!) go seamlessly.
The important thing to remember is that your wedding day can (and will) be a very special day even in the face of current restrictions. Whilst you may need to make some modifications, if you get creative and put your innovative thinking-caps on, you may find that your wedding ends up being more memorable than it might have been by just running with the age-old ‘typical’ way of doing things.
After all, we all get to a stage where we have been to many weddings and sure they are fun, but a wedding with games on tables, trivia, karaoke or fire breathers - NOW that’s a wedding I want to be invited to!