If weddings are a blank canvas sitting on an easel, then families are the splashes of colour that help bring them to life.
At least that’s the view of Georgiana Karam, executive director of Brisbane reception venue Heritage Park Entertainment Centre.
“There’s something very special about weddings,” says Georgiana. “I love how they bring two new families together, but also gives familiar faces the chance to catch up.”
It’s exactly the spirit that has fashioned new wedding traditions, such as encouraging people to pick a seat, not a side, for the ceremony.
And it’s also one of the reasons she encourages couples to fully embrace a family atmosphere in planning a reception.
Here are some of Georgina’s top tips on how to do this.
Cater for children
You can pretty much guarantee things won’t go exactly accordingly to plan, but a wedding is all the sweeter for the inclusion of children. Think giggling flowergirls under a table or cousins engaged in an oh-so-cute dance-off.
At the very least, it makes for wonderful photos.
“I love it when couples invite children to a wedding; they’re always so excited to be part of the fun,” says Georgiana, who has a keen radar for little wants and needs.
That said, if you are going to take the plunge and have them, it’s important to think it through, as you can’t just expect them to happily hang out with grown-ups all day.
“What you sometimes find with weddings is people don’t want to invite children, for the sheer reason they will be running around, making a noise and making a mess,” says Georgiana.
But that’s often because they’re bored or ever-excited. So one clever idea is to identify a space that’s removed from the action and claim it as kid central, where they can be themselves without getting in the way.
Just take Heritage Park’s colourful indoor playground facility, which has supervision available on a hire basis. “It’s a perfect way for kids to amuse themselves, but it’s also great for parents,” Georgiana says. “They don’t have to pay for babysitting, they can keep an eye on their children and a few touches such as story books mean they can relax and focus on their enjoyment.”
Other ideas include giving children a job to do, say taking the guest book around for people to sign, and also making sure you have a separate menu to cater to their simpler tastebuds.
Be entertaining with your entertainment
ABBA’s Dancing Queen seems like a must-play at any wedding. And there’s a bunch of other songs that get a regular outing. Think Celebration by Kool & The Gang and the Grease Megamix. But it’s no accident they feature so heavily; these songs retain their popularity because they cross the generations.
“Dancing is such a great part of a celebration and it’s nice when everyone has a turn on the dance floor,” says Georgiana, whose fit-out of Heritage Park incorporated a state-of-the art sound system, big LED screens, a digital mirror ball, smoke machine and a DJ booth and box.
The best way to achieve this blend is to mix and match your playlist, moving seamlessly from a kitsch ’80s gem to a Frank Sinatra classic that draws your grandparents to the dance floor. That’s not to say the current Top 40 or Triple J Hottest 100 shouldn’t get a run, just that the more you mix it up with hits from across the decades, the more of your guests you’ll encourage to take a break from their seats.
Plan your menu thoughtfully
Food is one of the big-ticket items that can make or break a menu. And these days, it’s all about creativity and flexibility, about finding a balance between more traditional tastes and something a little more adventurous.
“I always think a great wedding menu is one where everyone – no matter their age or tastes – goes home with a full and satisfied stomach,” says Georgiana. But she acknowledges it can be a tricky balance to get right, which is why it’s worth spending the time to do it properly. Options include buffets, grazing menus or shared platters on tables, and the choice often comes down to the diversity of your guests and the diversity or their tastes.
It’s one of the reasons Georgiana encourages couples to have a meeting with her five-star chef Anthony Moore, who draws on cultural influences from around the world to produce everything from harissa-braised lamb shanks and atlantic salmon to Chicken Saltimbocca and Chinese barbecue pork fillet with crisp wontons.
“We’re very flexible when it comes to catering,” she says. “Anthony can work to any budget and any request, from set menus to tasting menus and beyond. He’ll literally create you a menu from scratch.”
Create a family friendly ambiance
Ask couples about the most challenging part of planning the wedding, and chances are they’ll nominate the seating plan. “Who goes where is one of the hardest questions to answer,” says Georgina, who can comfortably sit 80 people across a full complement of furniture, from chairs and chair covers to tables and table linen, and also caters for up to 150 people at a canapé reception. There are a few considerations that can help make the planning easier.
For starters, sit like with like. That means keeping families together – even the singles – to allow for familiarity and ease of conversation. Other good moves are to seat younger guests nearer to the DJ and dance floor, older guests away from the noise but still close enough to hear the speeches, and families in open areas such as Heritage Park’s outdoor pergola, where they can mingle and keep an eye on their kids.
A spot near the food should also be viewed as a premium location, as should tables with a clear view of the bride and groom.
“At the end of the day a wedding is all about family, and we love to encourage that sense of celebration,” says Georgina. “As we always say – bring your family along and we’ll make them part of ours.”