15 Unique Wedding Reception Ideas That Don't Involve Dancing

There are so many more options than just a DJ!

Updated 06/01/19

Photo by Cinzia Bruschini

We all love a killer playlist, but entertainment at your reception doesn’t have to stop at the edge of the dance floor. Celebrations are more interactive than ever, with couples surprising and delighting their guests will all sorts of wedding reception activities and entertainment to get (and keep) the party going. From beloved lawn games to professional performers—and even printing your face on a cocktail—here are 15 unique wedding reception ideas that are sure to delight your guests, both on and off the dance floor.

Challenge guests to a game

This first wedding reception idea takes advantage of the great outdoors. "Set up croquet or other lawn games," suggests Amy Nichols, owner of Amy Nichols Special Events. Options include monogrammed corn hole, giant Jenga, and bocce ball. Set the game time to the background of bluegrass music or soft jazz, and let guests get a little competitive, drink in hand.

Have fun in a photo booth—or two

"Photo booths are always a big hit with guests," explains Chandra Keel of Chandra Keel Events. She recommends offering not one, but two photo booth options in which guests can memorialize the event. "Each booth should have its own backdrop and props," she says. "Guests can choose which style they like best or try both.”

Ask an artist to paint the room

live painting

Photo by Emmy Lowe

Commission your very own wedding art with this very creative wedding reception idea. Hire a painter to capture of the scene of your wedding. “Guests like watching the scene unfold on the canvas throughout the evening,” says planner Tzo Ai Ang of Ang Weddings and Events. Place the artist in an area where they have a good view of the room, but where guests can also standby and observe. One tip: “Give the artist early access, so they can paint the background before guests arrive for dinner,” Ang suggests.

Print your face on a cocktail

Put a new spin on your photobooth and your bar by combining the two. The Grand Bevy’s SipMi Live is a technology that allows you to print photos on edible paper to top your cocktails. You can sync this to your photo booth so that couples can sip their latest pose—after an Instagram, of course. Another option is to have the photo on the cocktail set at each place setting as the guest arrives to dinner. “It’s an intimate and fantastically fun touch to your wedding,” says Josh Rosenthal of The Grand Bevy. “To pull it off, ask your guests to send a picture ahead of the event. Just don’t tell them why or you’ll spoil the surprise.” Be sure to publicize your hashtag nearby—you’ll definitely want to see the posts!

Go clubbing at your reception

dancing

Photo by Christian Oth for Christian Oth Studio

Spice up the dance floor with more than laser lights. The newest trend is to shoot off CO2 cold air cannons, just like you’d find at nightlife spots in Miami and Las Vegas, says DJ Nate Nelson of LeForce Entertainment. “Nothing surprises the guest more than a cold blast of air to cool off the dance floor,” Nelson adds. “It really brings the energy up on the dance floor.” It’s also not challenging to pull off. You just need the supplies. The air can shoot from cannons installed on the ceiling, placed on the floor, or even handheld with a backpack. It’s a party no one will forget.

Set up a portrait studio

A photo booth with hilarious props is amusing, but why not give your guests a serious photo shoot? Set up a portrait studio, where guests can have a well-lit, posed shot in front of a glamorous backdrop. The resulting pictures will be ready to grace the pages of a magazine. The trick? The photos are taken by a pro photographer rather than a machine. “It creates an experience where the guest and the couple both get to capture timeless classics,” says photographer Gurminder Banga of Banga Studios, who has set up portrait lounges at events around the world. He suggests designing a scene that matches the style of your wedding, including using similar colors and decor, and positioning guests at different heights to create a dynamic shot. Oh, and you “must have a wind machine because that takes it to a whole new #beyoncestatus level,” he says.

Guide guests through a wine or spirits tasting

Photo by Kate Headley

Make your bar into interactive entertainment by hosting a live tasting of your favorite wines or spirits. It’s easy. Come up with a theme, such as a tasting of beers from local breweries or a whiskey flight of your favorite American and Scotch spirits. It’s also a great way to show off drinks that are special to your relationship, like a lineup of Chilean wines to commemorate your first big trip together to South America or Champagnes to honor your engagement in Paris. Then, have a bartender or sommelier guide groups of guests through the tasting during the reception.

Dance at a silent disco DJ battle

Okay, so this wedding reception idea technically involves dancing, but your typical line dance this is not! Put a twist on a standard dance party by hosting a silent disco. Guests don headphones set to a specific channel to hear what the DJ is spinning. Everyone can rock out without the worry of a noise complaint! It also allows guests who want to converse to keep voices to a reasonable level. They won’t have to yell over the speakers. To make it extra inventive, turn the silent disco into a DJ battle. Have two or three DJs playing different styles of music on different channels. Guests can flip a switch on the headphones to bounce from throwback jams to today’s dance music hits.

Hire aerialists, mermaids and interactive performers

Synchronized swimmers

Photo by Larissa Cleveland

From aerialists pouring Prosecco to mermaids swimming in pools, performers create a “wow” factor at your wedding. Think about what makes the most sense at your event. Will professional dancers in disco-ball-inspired outfits help move guests to the dance floor? Do you want an entrance to remember with moving statues? “I love it when guests enter a room after cocktail hour and see something that creates immediate excitement,” says Joe Bunn of the Bunn DJ Company. He has worked with companies like Elevate to suspend performers in the middle of the ballroom and greet guests with a dress made of Champagne flutes that are filled with bubbles. His tip? “Hire a company that specializes in costumes, rigging, and performers.” You won’t have to worry about any of the logistics. Sit back and enjoy the show.

Participate in a cultural dance

Although another wedding reception idea that takes place on the dance floor, specialty dances can be an amazing way to showcase your culture, such the Hora, Kalamatiano, or Garba. Organize the timing with your band or DJ to have it go off without a hitch. To upgrade the idea, hire professional dancers. From Polish folk dancers to Bollywood performers, these pros can lead traditional dances for you and your guests.

Offer a build-your-own cocktail bar

Have your guests participate in the mixology of their drinks with a build-your-own cocktail bar. The bartender will mix up the base beverage, such as a gin and tonic, then guests can add their own garnishes from an herb and botanical station. Or, host a martini bar where guests can customize their cocktail by choosing between gin or vodka, shaken or stirred, and olives or a lemon twist.

Jump in a ball pit

Bring out your inner child—or startup founder—and build a giant ball pit in the middle of your reception. It’s nerdy, but also a hoot, says planner Amy Shey Jacobs of Chandelier Events, and creates a colorful, nostalgic moment. “A couple wanted to add some whimsy to what we called their ‘geek chic’ wedding, so I built a ball pit,” she explains. “It was perfection!” Guests cannot not smile with this type of entertainment!

Pose for a 360 Glam Cam

Make like an Oscar winner on the E! Red Carpet. Have your guests pose for a 360 video just like the celebs attending the biggest award shows. This works especially well if the dress code is formal or black tie. Why not feel like Hollywood royalty for a night?

Karaoke with Live Band

Bride singing at wedding reception

Photo by Clark Brewer Photography

Karaoke at a wedding might not be your first thought but hear us out: Host live band karaoke. “Take what you love about karaoke and throw out what you hate,” says Jeremy Davis of Equinox Orchestra, who offers this as a service to their couples. That means there’s no cheesy machine or sake bombs. The band works with the couple ahead of time to come up with a set list based on their guests’ favorite songs. When karaoke kicks off, usually in the last hour of the reception, guests can jump on stage and sing along with the help of lyrics on an iPad. “Our ringleaders are there to help those that are good at singing or awful at singing make it through the tunes with the band,” he adds.

Build a teddy bear

Looking for a way to entertain the kiddos and the adults? Creative Director Percy Sales of Percy Sales Events suggests setting up a stuffed animal station similar to the Build-a-Bear Workshops you see in the mall. Companies like Stuffed Bear Party and Noah’s Ark Animal Workshop come onsite with all the materials to help guests design their own stuffed animals. It’s surprising how much the adult guests will get into this idea, too. As Sales says, “Who doesn’t love a teddy bear to remember a special occasion?”

Offer the Coolest of Desserts

Here’s your Top Chef moment: Delight your guests by instantly freezing ice cream in front of them. Planner Sonal Shah of Sonal J. Shah Event Consultants loves including this, known as nitrogen ice cream, as an alternative to a dessert station. How it works: Ice cream is flash frozen with liquid nitrogen, which looks like magic to someone watching the liquid turn to a creamy mass that looks and feels like Haagen Dazs. Companies like 321Chillz will come onsite with all the equipment to serve inventive flavors like Chocolate Cherry Pinot Noir and RumChata and Fireball. Bon appetit!

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