Time for dinner — the main event! I previously wrote about ceremony and cocktail hour hospitality, so check it out. You should consider sprucing up the entrance to the reception tent as this will be your guests’ first impression. Some tent set-ups require guests to use a small set of steps to enter, so you can consider decorating the bannisters. If guests are directed into the tent via one specific opening, you can place foliage on the poles, hang some festive bunting or use ribbon or balloons in a festive way.
When the guests begin entering the tent for dinner, the band or DJ should be playing. You should set the tone here – with something energetic if you want an upbeat, party atmosphere, or something more mellow if you want a refined, sophisticated ambiance. If you and your partner are really into 80s power ballads and your guests know it – do that.
Once guests find their assigned tables or seats (and I do recommend that you at least assign tables – because guests dislike having to scramble to find a place to sit), surprise them with something fun like an amuse bouche. This could be food or a drink or both – people love miniature food! Select something that is special to you and your now-spouse. You can also put your party favor at the dinner place setting, and ensure that everyone gets one.
It has become customary to provide guests with a menu card or sign, so they know what to expect from the caterer. This card is often placed on top of the charger plate, but if its a particularly windy day, making a pocket in the napkin fold will help keep it in place.
The sun will likely set during dinner and affect the lighting, but please note that the temperature may drop as well. This may require you to think about renting heaters, or installing sidewalls on your tent to keep the cold out and the warmth in. You could also set out assorted pashminas or shawls, or plan to have the caterer open up the coffee and tea station on the early side.
If you are inviting children to the reception, dinner is a good time to give them a small activity bag. It doesn’t have to be fancy — kids like anything that is new, even if it is from a Dollar Store. This bag will help keep them entertained at the table during blessings, toasts, and the somewhat longer dinnertime than they are probably accustomed to.
Once dinner is over, it’s nice to offer guests an alternative place to hang out. Existing lawn or pool furniture can be moved to set up a nice lounge area, giving guests a view of the action without having to be in the tent or at their dinner table. This type of furniture can also be rented from your tent or catering vendor. If you can set up this lounge outside of the tent, this is an optimal place to set out ashtrays, as smoking is never permitted inside a tent. You could also set out some cigars and matches, as those are almost always a hit with the guests.