The days when wedding guests shuffled from the cocktail hour to the reception, took their seats and waited for the delivery of their meal are nearing their end. The national online and print magazine for planning weddings, The Knot, as well as local wedding venues, are seeing more nontraditional or unexpected elements incorporated into wedding receptions with the intent to keep guests engaged throughout the event.


“The whole idea of receptions has changed,” Mary Lallande, owner of wedding and events venue The Loft on Pine in Downtown Long Beach, told the Business Journal. “At weddings nowadays, there is so much motion and movement as opposed to just sitting there, waiting for things to happen. There are more surprises that way.”


At the Hyatt Regency Long Beach, also located downtown, Director of Events Mary Carley and Senior Catering Manager Siobhan Rathband have seen a trend of ushering guests from one location to another with live entertainment. “Lately we have had drummers drumming guests into the dinner reception portion of the event,” Carley said. “For example, after the cocktail reception, doors to an event space would open and the drummers would be drumming them in and doing a performance,” she explained. “It is very impactful.”


Unique performers and entertainers are a growing trend at weddings, according to Lauren Kay, senior style editor for The Knot. “Maybe you will have a lovely string quartet for your ceremony, and then during cocktail hour you might have a gospel choir or some unexpected moment like a marching band,” she said.


Couples are bringing in performers as a way of not only entertaining, but also personalizing their wedding day. “I was at a wedding not too long ago where someone had a magician walking around and doing little magic tricks during cocktail hour, which was kind of fun and unexpected,” Kay recalled. “And it was in part because the groom was obsessed with magic.”


Another way guests are being engaged at wedding receptions is with activities and games. Lallande said in the past year or so she has seen quite a few couples incorporate arcade games, like vintage Pac-Man. “Young people love these fun interactive games,” she said.


Many couples are turning to food presentation as a way to engage and entertain their guests. Stations with chefs creating food before guests’ eyes, or bartenders mixing up specialized cocktails, are becoming quite trendy, according to Kay. “We have seen people doing interactive food displays,” she said, citing wine tasting as an example. “There is this idea of a performance bartender, somebody who is doing an awesome job of mixing a really cool cocktail but also doing it in a very fun festive way – tossing shakers in the air or adding a flame to a drink, or something that . . . provides a moment of entertainment,” she said.


One wedding planner The Knot has worked with hangs bowls of salad from a display, which guests pick up on their way to their seats at the reception. Kay said this type of interactive food display “is something you walk away talking about.”


Another trending interactive food display at weddings is a donut wall, according to Kay and Lallande. “We have had brides build donut walls, where there are giant pegboard walls with donuts all over them, and you go and pick up your donut,” Lallande explained. Make-your-own ice cream sundae food stations are also becoming a popular way to surprise and entertain guests, according to Rathband.


To keep movement and energy going throughout the reception, some couples are choosing to put a cocktail hour-like twist on the whole affair. “A lot of our receptions have gone to a full cocktail reception, where it is no longer that seated plated dinner,” Lallande said, “They will either go to food stations, which gives them the flexibility to be really creative with food and have, say, a street taco station or an exhibition pasta station . . . or just having a complete cocktail party all night where it is small bites and fun cocktails and people are dancing and moving around.”


Some couples are opting for unexpected seating arrangements that are more conducive to conversation. “More people are getting away from a stiff, formal round table,” Lallande said. “Most of our brides are doing long tables. They are more conversational, because you can talk to almost everybody at the table. You only have three feet between you as opposed to five or six feet.”


For couples going for a cocktail-hour feel at their reception, informal seating arrangements with low and high cocktail tables are becoming more common, according to Lallande. Also trending are furniture vignettes – arrangements of stylized cushioned furniture spread throughout the reception venue. “There are some great furniture rental places where you can rent vintage furniture,” Lallande said. “People are doing sofas and down chairs with cozy blankets thrown over them – just making everything feel more cozy, like home.”


At the Hyatt Regency, Carley and Rathband have also observed long, rectangular tables gaining popularity over round tables. “We have seen a lot of the king table-type set ups, where we would have four of them around a diamond-shaped dance floor to be different and unique,” Carly said. Rathband added that some couples are opting to arrange tables in an X-shape for an interesting visual element.


Another way to surprise guests is with personalized décor elements, which are also becoming more and more common. For example, one particularly unique décor piece Carley saw at a recent Hyatt wedding was an artistic faux tree, where guests could hang handwritten well wishes for the bride and groom.


“One thing we’re seeing a lot with centerpieces lately is people are using lamps,” Rathband said. “They will do lampshades that run the length of a long table and have votives and flowers hanging from it.” Even floral centerpieces, considered more traditional, are getting a new twist, Carley said. Some couples are opting for tall, see-through Lucite pedestals for their floral arrangements, which give the appearance that their centerpieces are floating, Rathband noted.


“A lot of brides have moved away from flowers,” Lallande said. “We’re seeing a lot of greenery, a lot of ferns and eucalyptus garlands,” she explained. When flowers are used, they tend to be wild or freeform, rather than classic roses, she added.


Hanging-flower installations and backdrops are becoming more popular, according to Kay. Carley said a unique twist on the bride and groom’s sweetheart table is placing custom-built, specialized backdrops behind them that feature something personal to the couple, like an image of the place they met. Mirrored tabletops and dance floors with the bride and grooms initials are another way couples are adding personalized touches to their receptions, Rathband said.


Décor made via 3D printing is a new, unexpected element making its way into weddings, according to Kay. For last year’s The Knot Dream Wedding, in which the company selects a couple and foots the bill for the wedding, the bride and groom incorporated 3D printed elements throughout their big day, from a cake topper that looked exactly like them, to cufflinks and bracelets given to their groomsmen and bridesmaids, Kay recalled.


“Couples are no longer looking for something standard,” Kay said of modern wedding receptions. “And they are looking to incorporate things they love.”