For most events that I photograph, there seems to always be a party within the party. It’s not enough anymore to just feed your guests and have a DJ. Now you have to entertain them as well. As an outside observer to several events a year, here is my take on what works and what doesn’t for event entertainment ideas.
The bottom line for any entertainment idea is that you have to know your audience. The typical wedding reception will focus on food with a side order of dancing. But what if you are hosting a midday wedding and your guests aren’t a dancing crowd? Stick to your guns and skip the DJ in favor of a low-key band or quartet playing music that everyone (or at least 80% of those in attendance) will enjoy. Save the hip hop or trendy tunes for later in the evening when the older crowd has been thinned out leaving the die hards their space on the dance floor.
Event Entertainment Ideas – Photo Booths
Second only to dancing, photo booths are by far one of the most popular forms of entertainment at any event. And with good reason: photo booths are a great way for friends and family to put their own creative spin on the guest book by leaving behind zany photos for the couple to enjoy. As the main photographer for any event, a photo booth does not in any way take away from what I am doing, and indeed adds to the fun spirit of the party. Some of the best photos I have taken at a wedding include pics of the bride and groom sharing a private moment in the photo booth.
You have several options when selecting your photo booth. If you choose an open photo booth, then you may be able to personalize the background with the couple’s initials or a specific greeting. In addition, open photo booths allow for more guests to pack into one photo. Still, most people remember fondly the traditional photo booth of yore and it is half the fun to try and pack as many guests as possible into the booth.
If you have a specific theme to your event, feel free to bring your own props. The props provided by photo booth operators tend to be quite cheap, as these items normally get damaged by drunk guests after every event. Make sure to ask if you can get a discount from the photo booth operator if you provide your own props (same goes for your background). As far as what the photo booth provides for your guests, you usually have the option to have both physical prints plus social media sharing for an additional fee. Go for the additional social media option and make sure you have a sign with your personalized hashtag (#MelanieJalani2014, etc.) prominently displayed so that all of your photos will be easily found online.
One word about photo booth locations: I recommend that you put the photo booth off to the side. A photo booth is a fun activity that will bring even the most shy of guests into the booth. It helps, however, if the booth is off to the side so that no one feels like they are on stage in front of the entire party. This is also a better location if the photo booth is open and needs room to set up lights. Finally, if you are setting up a photo booth by yourself, make sure to tape down any cords so that no guest trips over the equipment.
Event Entertainment Ideas – Fun With Food
Have fun with your food. It seems every event nowadays ends with a candy buffet, but think outside the typical menu for options such as a gelato cart, taco bar, or in the case of Brandon and Kristen’s wedding, a bubble tea station. If you like to eat it, then there is probably a way to make a buffet out of it with a ‘build your own toppings’ component. I’m not sure why we all find making your own food in public to be a fun activity, but there is no denying that participatory food is always popular. If you are going to have a candy bar or any other take home food buffet, make sure you personalize the bags to have the food double as your gift to guests. Also, if this is a birthday party, then customize the candy selection to sweets that were popular when the birthday girl/boy was growing up. Who doesn’t want to be a kid again?
Event Entertainment Ideas – Games
Speaking of reliving your childhood, an area of the room set up with board games is a great way to awaken the inner kid of any guest. As case in point with Brandon and Kristen’s wedding, board games are fun both with sober and inebriated guests. Games get a group together, and encourage guests of all ages to meet one another. I would stick with games that can be played in a short amount of time to make sure every guest has a chance at a given game. Something like Monopoly that takes several rounds might not be best. Also, focus on simple, physical games: Tiddlywinks and Jenga rock.
Get the party started with a master of ceremonies. The ‘shoe game’ and other get-to-know-the-guest-of-honor games are very popular at weddings in Eastern Europe. There are many variations, but in short, the bride and groom sit back-to-back on the dance floor. The emcee asks a series of questions which are answered by the bride or groom raising their respective shoe to respond. If you are going to play this game with a drinking component, make sure you schedule this event early in the evening so answers will be coherent. (Check out photos from Lidia and Josh’s Columbia University wedding which featured games from Eastern Europe here.)
This game is a great way for guests to get to know the couple and the answers can be pretty silly. But getting guests involved – be it the shoe game or a round of trivia – all depends on having a great emcee. You need someone who is quick witted and good at reacting to your guests, as the crowd will be responding directly to the emcee’s energy level. If you are going to use your DJ as your emcee, then take special care to check that the DJ has these skills before you book. All too often someone who is good at spinning records isn’t necessarily the best choice for handling the mic.
Event Entertainment Ideas – What Doesn’t Work
What doesn’t work: anything forced. I’ve been to a few parties where, although the guests of honor were big dancers, the rest of the guest list was just annoyed by the loud music. Again, know your audience. If only a handful of your guests are dancers, then save this for an after party. If your crowd is more geared to smaller group interactions, then set up little lounge areas around the room so that people can get together on their own terms. Or, play musical chairs and have everyone change seats half way through the event so that they can meet someone new.
A final note: the most unique entertainment I have ever seen was a wedding portrait created during the reception. You wouldn’t think that a painter off in the corner would be that interesting, but guests kept checking in with the painter all throughout the night and were mesmerized by the progress of the painting. (Check out more details from Francesca and Rory’s Hoboken wedding which featured the live artist here.)
Accompanying this article are photos from the wedding of Brandon and Kristen. This fun couple tied the knot in Astoria at the Aurora Gallery. It was my first wedding with board games, and I certainly hope it won’t be the last. From the bubble tea bar to board games, Brendan and Kristen’s wedding was a true and complete reflection of everything they love and their love for each other. You can’t get better than that.
Ceremony and reception venue: Aurora Gallery, Astoria
Event planner: Sweet Inspirations Events
Fried chicken, brisket and sides (yum!): Pies n’ Thighs
Salads, pasta, Italian food: Antika Pizzeria
Bubble tea station: The Bao Shoppe
All other desserts (cookies made by Kristen), flower arrangements, and decorations were made by the couple and their friends and family.
If you would like to see more images from my wedding photojournalism portfolio, then please visit my website – KellyWilliamsPhotographer.com