Beach Wedding Planning: Reception Basics

How to celebrate your wedding on the beach

Beach weddings often have an aura of magic, one that's as relaxed and effortless as the natural surroundings. But it takes more than Mother Nature to put it together. How do you make it feel private and intimate? What kind of decor works best? We'll help you through these considerations and more with our top 5 tips for a reception on the beach.

1. Pick your venue
If you want to have your reception on the beach, you'll need to do some research. Depending on your state, you may need a permit, and each town will have its own regulations about tents, noise ordinances, alcohol, and open containers. Be sure to check weather reports for your particular location, what times of day the tides come in, and when the sun sets. In some places, it might be better to book your wedding at an indoor venue with beach access. This type of site can provide you with catering that's been prepped indoors, and rentals suitable for your surroundings to ease the planning process. If nothing else, hire an event coordinator. He will have the inside track on permit laws and will be able to coordinate all of the logistics, allowing you to relax and enjoy the day.

2. Pitch a tent
While it's not always necessary, you're taking a gamble on the weather if you don't set up a tent for your beach reception. "Not only is a tent the safest way to go, but it's great for lighting and adding drama," says Laura Lewis, coordinator for Parasol Events in Honolulu, Hawaii. Tents are also the best way to define your particular area of the beach. If you're worried about closing off the reception to the natural surroundings, get a clear top tent, which can bring nature inside. That way, even if it rains a bit, you'll have an outdoor, organic feeling while still being protected.

3. Have fun with décor
Just because your wedding is on the beach doesn't mean you must do the typical beach-themed decor. "Move away from the idea of East Coast beaches, the Nantucket motif with seashells and whitewash," says Lewis, who encourages her brides to think tropically. You can base your decor around tropical flowers or fruits, especially pineapples, which are a symbol of welcome in Hawaii. Bamboo is one element that can help capture a natural theme, as are weaves with palm fronds. Ryan Larson, founder of Savoir Flair Wedding Design in Los Angeles, recommends sea glass and old glass bottles that look sea-worn as an alternative to seashells -- you can play up the motif by creating "messages in a bottle" as your escort cards.

4. Take care of guests
At any reception, food temperature is important: If a certain dish is supposed to be hot, make sure it is, even if it's being served outside. And don't forget restrooms. Public beaches often have public restrooms, which might not be as clean or welcoming to your guests as you'd like. In some cases, you may need to rent portable toilets (don't worry, we're not talking Port-a-johns) that you can spruce up with flowers and toiletry baskets. (It's recommended that you rent 1 toilet per 50 guests.) Also, it will likely be chilly after nightfall, so consider having blankets in your wedding colors around so guests can snuggle up. You might even consider building a bonfire down the beach and asking the waitstaff to roast gourmet s'mores for guests.

5. Have a Plan B
We've said it before, but it bears repeating. A backup plan is crucial when planning an outdoor wedding, particularly a beach wedding. Always make sure you and your guests will have shelter if need be, and consider putting down a deposit on an indoor venue for peace of mind. A wedding coordinator can help you plan for alternative logistics.

-- Meredith Gray

Special thanks to Laura Lewis, coordinator for Parasol Events in Honolulu, HI, and Damascus, MD; and Ryan Larson, founder of Savoir Flair Wedding Design in Los Angeles, CA.

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