Your wedding must end….

It’s hard to imagine it now, but It’s true. Your reception has to end. At some point, the bar will stop serving, the music will end, the lights will turn back on and your guests will say goodbye.

Most people don’t give much thought to the way their reception will end, but this is a very important part of your overall experience and the experience of your family and guests. As a DJ, I want everyone to leave with a smile and great memories of a wonderful evening. This doesn’t happen by accident, though. Great endings require some advanced planning and discussion with your DJ.

To emphasize this, let me give you a few scenarios that illustrate how not to end your reception.

The “Pass the Hat” ending:

Your DJ is booked until 10:00pm. It is now 9:53 and your guests want to keep dancing, but you and your new spouse are ready to stop (and you don’t want to pay for another hour). Your DJ says that he will be happy to keep playing, but he needs the cash first. No problem, your guests pass the  hat around and force everyone to pitch in. Maybe you will get enough for two more hours! Maybe the DJ will even loan your guests a mic so they can shame everyone into coughing up the cash. You’ve spent considerable time putting together a classy reception and all class goes out the door the minute someone starts begging your guests for cash.

The “Panic and Run Around” ending:

Your DJ and the reception site are booked until 10:00pm. It is now 9:30pm and panic sets in. You don’t want to end the night yet! You spend the next 30 minutes trying to track down the DJ, bartender and the manager of the reception site to ask for more time. Each vendor has to agree and you need to quickly calculate the overtime rates to see if you can afford it. The manager of the reception site cannot authorize overtime without checking with the owner or general manager. You wait anxiously to hear the news as the manager calls the boss on the phone (waking him or her up in the process). It is now 9:57 and, unfortunately, the answer is “no”. You now have three minutes left and you wasted the last 30 minutes of your wedding reception. Your panic turns to anger and disappointment.

The “Is This Over Yet?” ending

You’ve decided to add two hours of overtime to your reception. After about four hours of dancing, your guests are tired and start to leave. This is fine at first, because your closest friends are still there and the music is great, but after a while, even your friends are ready to go home. The night just sort of fizzles and fades into nothing until you finally admit it’s over and tell the DJ he can stop playing music now.

Now, the right way to end your reception:

Now, let’s talk about the perfect ending to your wedding reception. It’s 9:30. You booked your DJ until 10:00, but you know you have permission from the reception site to stay until 11:00. You also know the bar will keep serving for another hour. You have known this for weeks because you asked these questions ahead of time. You know your DJ’s policy on overtime fees and also know that he is willing to play a few extra songs without charging you for an entire hour. Your guests clearly want some more time, but probably not a full hour. You ask your DJ to play a few more songs past 10:00. He says, “no problem!”

The music keeps playing. At 10:05, your DJ checks in with you again. You both agree that it’s time to start winding down. The DJ makes sure the guests know there is still time for a few more songs. This encourages everyone to get on the dance floor and prepares them for the end of the night. During the last song, everyone is dancing. Halfway through the song, the DJ thanks everyone for coming out to celebrate and asks the crowd for one more congratulatory round of applause for the newlyweds. Everyone cheers and then dances out the last minute of the last song. When it ends, everyone claps one more time. The DJ thanks everyone again and announces that there will be an “after-hours” gathering at a local bar for those who want to continue socializing. The DJ then plays some soft, slow music as your guests begin to say goodbye and head out for the night. Smiles abound and everyone is tired and happy. The newlyweds get lots of compliments on their DJ choice.

That’s how you end a reception! Of course, this scenario could have easily ended with an hour of overtime. The point here is that, no matter what, the newlyweds and the DJ had a plan and there were no surprises. Overtime or not, there was a thoughtful end to the evening.

Planning a wedding reception involves so many details, it’s easy to overlook this one. The state of mind of your guests as they leave your reception will significantly shape their memories of it. Remember to discuss your “exit plan” with your DJ well in advance. It’s too easy to get this detail wrong!