We just had our wedding on June 4th, and it went so well. It was harder to plan in the beginning when we decided to break away from the traditional format, but in the long run I think you’ll be grateful that you don’t have to worry about escort cards, seating arrangements, what happens if someone shows up with a guest you didn’t know about, etc.
Our reception was indoors and ended up quite nice although we stuck to a pretty tight budget. We had a caterer with waiters to pass around more substanial hors d’oeuvres and set up tables with simple finger foods (fruit, veggies, hummus and pita) in case anyone was starving and just wanted to fix a plate for themselves or a child to snack on without having to wait for the more substantial passed stuff. We ended up ordering WAYY too much food because I was paranoid about people going hungry, but it coudl’ve been even cheaper than it was. For our cake, we asked our favorite bakery to make the most delicious cake in town (in our opinion!) just in a bigger version, which ended up making for a pretty display and a memorable cake without breaking the bank.
The pros of the format were that everyone got to mingle and all our friends from different states got to meet each other organically (very cool to see your fb light up with all your people friending each other afterward!) and it was easy for us to see all our guests too instead of spending a good portion of the reception eating at a head (or sweethearts) table. We also just sort of called everything as we saw it — there was no ridid schedule. We kicked off the reception a little earlier than we’d planned on since people started getting there early and the caterers were totally flexible and on top of that, but it meant that people started getting full/restless a little earlier than we’d expected, so when the party started to feel like it needed a pick-me-up, we asked the caterer to cut the cake. When it started to level out again, I threw the bouquet. It was a really fun party and came to sort of a natural conclusion, which brings me to the cons to watch out for:
People seem to feel less obligated to hang around for the whole reception if you don’t have a clear itinerary like you do in a more standard wedding reception. This was fine for us because most of our guests were family from out of town (who weren’t going anywhere!) but it did make me freak out for a moment when we were only 30 minutes in and realized that some people had left already. I would rather not hold people hostage who think they have somewhere better to be (more cake for the rest of us!) but i mention it since it was something I hadn’t expected/thought of. And the flip side of the “getting to spend more time with guests” coin is that you spend less time alone with your new husband at the reception than you would by default if you were sitting down for a meal together. That was fine for us since it was super important to us to make the most of our time with the people who went so out of way to celebrate with us, but the downside was that I spent a LOT of time running around looking for my husband and/or mom in key moments because we were always in different corners talking to different people. I’m sure our poor photographer was tearing her hair out, ha ha. I think if we were to do it all over again, I’d keep everything exactly the same except for that. It would have been a little nicer to be able to float around visiting with everyone as a couple…since that’s sort of the point of the party. In an outdoor format that may work better for you (not having separate rooms to get lost in), but I figured it was worth mentioning in case it helps 🙂
I would definitely make sure that some seating is available for older people or people who just are getting tired, which it sounds like you’ve thought of, but I think you’ll be really happy with the format. I would guess that 50% of our guests told us it was the best wedding they had ever been to. Not to our credit, we just provided the alcohol and let people hang over and sample yummy foods. We’re not a big dancing crowd and it was an afternoon reception so a DJ felt like a little much. We just had chill music, food, alcohol, and our happy selves 🙂 I think if you start with the basics, you’ll find that the party works out just fine no matter how much you decide to micromanage it from there or just let it happen like my deadbeat bride self did, ha ha.
Anyhow…good luck with your planning!! I know we’re not supposed to plug our personal blogs and stuff here, but send me a message if you want to see pictures to get a better idea of how ours went 🙂