Couple Trades Traditional Wedding Reception for 12 Intimate Mini-Gatherings

It's being touted as a "deconstructed reception."

Updated 04/08/19

Photo by Sally Pinera

One of the biggest complains from couples about their wedding is that the day just flies by. Between running around during your reception, tending to your guests, greeting family and posing for pictures, couples always report back not getting to actually enjoy the party they spent several months (or years) planning. So Stephen Mack and Brian Schaefer decided to combat this problem with a "deconstructed reception"

Instead of one night filled with more guests than you can give a proper thank you to, they had one ceremony followed by 12 mini receptions over six months after their nuptials. “After a ceremony last September in the Hudson Valley of New York for our immediate families (grand total: 11 guests), we’re holding a dozen mini-receptions for extended family and small groups of friends through May,” Schaefer penned in a recent essay for the New York Times. “The idea was that we would get to sit at each reception table for an entire evening, and every guest in turn would be seated at the grooms’ table.

No quick hugs and a breathless ‘thanks for coming’ on repeat; rather, we’d get a whole, unrushed meal with our favorite people to celebrate our union.”

Not only was this plan meant to make the celebration more meaningful, cost-effective and low-stress for the couple, but also more enjoyable for their guests.

“Part of what made Stephen uneasy about a big reception in the first place was the feeling of asking so much of our friends and family—the time, the travel, the cost,” Schaefer explained. “And one of the reasons the deconstructed model works for us is that it allowed us to reframe the celebration as a gift to them instead, to thank them for the years of love and laughs.”

To do that, Schaefer and Mack created an Eventbrite for each of their celebrations. They held eight in New York where they live, two in Los Angeles, one in San Francisco, and one in Tel Aviv, that they rolled into a honeymoon. The dinners in New York had a 10 guest maximum and the out-of-town dinners had a max of 20.

The intimate settings provided the perfect opportunity for the newlyweds to share their wedding day with their guests since they weren’t at the actual reception—one of the only cons Schaefer points out.

Much like the beginning of a traditional reception, the deconstructed receptions all began with some mingling and champagne—usually in the private room of a restaurant. After guests took their seats, Mack and Schaefer welcomed them and introduced everyone. They then walked their guests through their ceremony (even reading an excerpt from it) with the help of photos from the day placed at each setting. For their own version of a guest book they asked their guests to add their blessings to a book that they brought to each dinner.

The result of it all was distinct celebrations, that didn't blur together, and that created unique and long-lasting memories for the couple and their guests. Not only does a deconstructed reception make for a more meaningful celebration, but a more affordable one too. The average wedding cost in New York City is reportedly $76,944; the couple says they spent about a third less than that on their low-key affairs "at some of the best restaurants in town."

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