Wedding & Civil Partnership Tips

Planning Advice and suggestions

Venue Hire

This is planned to be the happiest day of your life, so it is rather important to get it right. London Canal Museum has hosted many wedding and civil partnership receptions and we draw on the experience that this has given us to offer some advice that will help you plan your event.

The Reception Phase

Almost all receptions start with a a champagne reception, during which everyone will be standing and drinking your champagne. Of course it does not have to be genuine champagne, many people use cheaper alternatives and it is unlikely that your choice of celebration beverage is going to make a huge difference to everyone's enjoyment of the day.

What might make a big difference is the amount of alcohol that the guests consume during this phase. A lot of alcohol, on an empty stomach, may lead to the sort of behaviour you might prefer not to have as part of your special day. When people have had too much to drink they may be clumsey, aggressive, indiscreet, etc. and more likely to get into an argument. So if this reception phase lasts too long, and the alcohol flows too freely, you should consider the possible results.

Some people choose to have the speeches during this part of the event. Bear in mind that the guests will have to listen to the speeches standing up, so this is only a good idea if the seaches are short. See below for more on speeches!

The Wedding breakfast

The meal is called a breakfast because in pre-reformation times the wedding ceremony included a Mass, before which food could not be taken, according to the traditions of the time. So the meal after the ceremony was the first of the day, hence a break of the day's fast.

Your caterer will hopefully have worked hard to prepare a delicious meal for you. You will have agreed with the caterer what time the guests will eat it. If you want the food to be at its best, be sure to be on time for the meal. If you are late for the meal, don't be surprised if:

Serious lateness is also unfair on your caterer. If you want the caterer to be motivated to do his or her utmost to ensure the success of your evening, disrupting the catering operation is not the best way to achieve this.

The speeches

Oh, the speeches. The speeches are the source of more problems at wedding and civil partnership receptions than anything else and the main reason is that they last far longer than planned. The people making the speeches are usually amateurs at speaking in public and one of the things that amateurs most often get wrong is timing. Traditionally the speeches are given after the meal but some couples like to have them before the meal and if they do, over-running speeches can delay the meal, with the consequences mentioned under "wedding breakfast". There are also a few hard facts to be faced about speeches:

It is hard to control family members, best men etc. who may be inclined to "go on a bit" (or a lot) and bore the guests. There are a few things you can do. Firstly ask the speakers to stick to an agreed amount of time and put a clock in front of them when they are speaking so that they can see, at a glance, how long they have been speaking. Don't rely on watches, they are not as effective as a clock that is in constant view. This is especially important when there are several speeches to be enjoyed or endured. Secondly, ask them to reherse, in private, in advance. The dry run will help them realise how long the speach is going to take as well as giving them more confidence.

The other thing that often goes wrong with speeches is that the guests can't hear them properly. Whether you need public address equipment or not depends on whether the speakers are capable of projecting their voices to the audience and this is another area where amateurs often fail. If there are a lot of guests (at London Canal Museum, more than 75 as a rule of thumb) it may be wise to pay a little extra for hire of public address equipment. However, no public address system will solve the problem if:

It is likely to help if the speakers are properly briefed beforehand about using a microphone to address an audience. At LCM you can ask the duty manager to do this if you gather the speakers at some convenient moment, or you can do it yourself, before the event. If you are not using a PA system then of course mumbling can mean nobody knows what the speaker is talking about. If the speaker has a very quiet voice, is known to mumble, or has a throat infection, PA is likely to be helpful however small the audience.

A lapel microphone is an alternative to a hand-held microphone and LCM has one available. However, if there are several speakers, this is not the best system to use because passing it from one person to another will take time, people will position it too far from their mouths, drop it, and generally disrupt the plan.

If you have booked evening entertainment then a delay caused by over-running speeches may mean:

Choosing a wedding caterer

It is very rare in our experience for things to go seriously wrong as regards the catering. However, you can plan for success by following a few guidelines. The caterer is the most important person at the event. The caterer has the opportunity to contribute a great deal to the success of the evening, or to ruin it.

Firstly, choose a caterer with experience of catering for events in external premises. Do not use a restaurant, unless the restaurant also has an external event catering business and a track record. The skills and experience required to manage a restaurant are different from the skills and experience needed to manage the logistics of catering for 100 guests in a venue that the caterer does not manage.

Secondly, do check that the caterer has a good record. You may berhaps be able to get references, see thank-you letters, or be assured by the venue that previous clients of that caterer have been happy.

By all means shop around for a good deal, but do not try to economise by having fewer staff than the caterer feels are needed. This can be a recipe for things running late, with the same consequences as a delay caused by long speeches!

You can ask for a tasting and many caterers will offer one. But it is not the taste of the food that is likely to be a cause of problems, it is the logistics and organisation of the service that is critical.

Find out whether the caterer will hire catering equipment (many, if not most, will do this) or whether they actually own 100 dinner plates, a portable oven, and all the other things that are needed. There is nothing wrong with obtaining equipment etc. on hire but if this is the case you may need to arrange storage facilities for it with the venue from Friday to Monday. At London Canal Museum we offer this as an optional extra service, for which there is a charge.

Does your caterer have the resources for effective temperature control? This is mainly an issue in the summer. If the caterer proposes to bring your special shellfish salad 100 miles in a van that has no refrigeration, you had better invite one or two doctors to the event as they may be needed to treat food poisoning. There are a variety of ways in which the caterer might deal effectively with temperature control but you should make sure that he or she has a grasp of this issue.

Some familiarity with the venue is desirable. If this will be the first time that the caterer has worked at LCM, or any venue, then he or she ought to pay a visit in advance.

Meal Formats

In the past, wedding breakfasts were always eaten seated at long tables covered by white cloths. You can still do that, of course, but round tables are now far more popular. Sometimes the happy couple and principal family members sit at a long top table whist the guests sit at round tables.

There are three main formats:

  1. Seated with waiter service. Food is brought to tables by waiting staff.
  2. Seated buffet. Guests collect food from a buffet table, but are seated at tables to eat it.
  3. Unseated buffet. Guests eat standing up.

A waiter-service meal allows your caterer to control portion sizes, which may keep the food costs within limits, but it tends to involve more staff, so that may increase your costs. It also has the advantage that less floor space is needed, since a buffet table is not required. You can have a "sit where you like" policy or you can have a table plan. If you have a table plan you can either leave guests to sit where they like at the table or you can tell them exactly where to sit.

A seated buffet is the most common format at London Canal Museum. It provides the same opportunities for table planning as a waiter-service meal, and gives the guests greater choice as regards food. You can have several different dishes on offer. Guests may be hungry or greedy so you may need to pay for more food in this format. It would be disastrous if the last person to get to the buffet found that there was nothing left! However, fewer staff are needed.

An unseated event is much more informal but limits your choice of food very much. This issue is a simple one. Humans generally only have two hands. One is used to hold the plate. The other holds a glass of wine, so there is not one available to pick up the food. You can overcome that by using plastic clips that hold a wine glass on the side of the plate, but that still only leaves one hand for eating. You must therefore offer guests a fork or finger buffet; in other words a selection of food that can be eaten with fingers or a fork and that does not need to be cut with a knife or otherwise eaten with a knife and fork. This format may be more tiring for the guests. Sometimes people have chairs but no tables, but this does not overcome the shortage of hands!

If you decide to have some tables and chairs but not enough to seat all the guests at the same time, you will need to consider how you are going to decide who gets to sit down and who does not. Will you reserve the tables for older guests? If so they may feel segregated. Will you leave it to chance, the seating of the quickest? Or will you try and organise two or more sittings? (which will take a long time). This has been done successfully but you need to be fully aware of the issues that it raises.

Evening Guests

Catering is usually the most expensive part of a wedding or civil partnership reception. For this reason, some couples invite some guests to a meal, and others as so-called evening guests. These are guests who are invited to come later in the event, after the meal has been eaten, to join the party. Often they are colleagues from work, friends and acquaintances who are not close to the couple but welcome all the same. It is a good solution to the cost and numbers dilemma that faces anyone on a budget. However, do try to make them welcome! Here are a few tips:


It is common at weddings and civil partnerships for elderly family members to be amongst the guests, and of course your family and friends may include some disabled people. An accessible venue is therefore desirable. Even if you do not know any mobility-impaired people, the situation can change. If a family member or other guest had an accident prior to the happy day, they might have to attend with legs in plaster or even in a wheelchair. This scenario has actually happened at LCM and the hostess was glad to have chosen an accessible venue, for reasons that were not thought about when the venue was booked.


Often many of the guests need a hotel as they are travelling long-distance. You will often be able to obtain a better price from the hotel if you make a group booking on behalf of a number of guests. There are a lot of hotels near LCM that cater largely for business guests during the week and at weekends they may have spare capacity. So try and negotiate a deal on behalf of your guests.

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