Planning a wedding reception is expensive, but there’s a method to getting the most for your money.

I’ve DJed, MCed, and coordinated hundreds of weddings, and I can tell you what really matters on your big day. Wedding planning comes across as incredibly complicated by what the internet and the wedding industry leads you to believe you need. In reality, you only need to focus your time, money, and energy on 5 key components:

The Only 5 things that really matter at your wedding reception:

1. Food

This is number one. If the food is bad, delayed, or the catering staff is rude, people will leave and your night will end early.

Even if it doesn’t, people will be in a bad mood, and it will be up to the DJ to save the day. In most cases, buffet is the best option. You might think those fancy plates look nice, but your guests just want to pile it on to their liking. Plus, the movement while they’re walking up to the buffet helps get their blood flowing in between bouts of sitting and lends itself to more opportunities to be social with other guests in line.

2. Drinks

Do I really need to explain this one? Say what you want about libations, it’s one of the things that people look forward to the most at wedding receptions–whether it’s one beer, two classes of wine, or 27 shots of Fireball.

Cash bar is fine, but if you can afford an open bar or free beer and wine for cocktail hour, that’s the best approach. After a drink or two, most people couldn’t care less if it was a cash bar or an open bar.

3. Photographer

These are your memories. You will forget a ton about your wedding, and a photographer helps archive them for you. A good photographer might not be cheap, but it’s 100% worth it.

Photographers are your branding agents for your wedding. They will remind both you and your guests of the wedding over and over again even after it’s all said and done. It’s a gift to your wedding party–you know they’ll be using those pictures of them looking good for their profile pictures.

I can’t emphasize enough how important a good photographer is to your night. They coordinate everything before the DJ takes over, and they dictate the entire timeline. Your hip co-worker who owns a nice digital SLR is not a professional. You will spend thousands on a good photographer, and it’s worth every penny.

4. DJ

I saved this one for last only for fear of appearing biased, but nothing will end your night quicker than a bad DJ. They make your guests feel awkward. They contribute nothing to coordinating the night. Honestly, a bad DJ actually ruins your night as opposed to just not contributing much to it.

But let’s talk about OK and average DJs. They play decent songs. They kind of interact with the crowd. They appear somewhat professional, and they may or may not work with the other vendors.

Are you going for an OK / average wedding? Honestly, some people are. If that’s you, a $795 DJ from one of the big outfits might be the right choice for you.

A good DJ will make the night for both you and your guests. They will do everything and anything that they can do to make sure your night is perfect and will exceed your expectations.

Even more so, a good DJ will save you money across the board. A good lighting set-up, along with uplights, pinspotting, etc. will save you a ton of money in decorating costs. You don’t need much to transform a room with lighting.

wedding reception uplighting

Uplighting can transform your venue and save you a lot of time and money on decorating.


After these top 4 comes the wedding venue and wedding dress. A great venue will get people talking, but I’ve also hosted some amazing weddings in county fair buildings, VFWs, and American Legions. A great venue will take your wedding to the next level, but it’s not absolutely necessary for its success. A beautiful dress will make you feel great, but your guests will think you’re beautiful based on your newlywed glow alone.

Think of the 80/20 principle. What is the 20% of your wedding that will result in 80% of the results? 80% of your time and effort usually ends up being spent on time with a hot glue gun crafting elaborate party favors that only 20% of your guests will truly appreciate.

Most of the time, it’s just Pinterest making you feel guilty for not being the Crafting Goddess of the Century.


You might have noticed that I only included four things in this list of 5 things that matter at your wedding reception. That’s because I’ve been saving the last one…

5. You!

You’re married! Enjoy it, be present, and soak in the feeling. If everything else fails and you’re standing in the pile of ashes that was supposed to be your wedding reception, you’re still married and the night was a complete success.

Joe Osterberg owns and operates Day One DJ out of Hudson, WI. He performs at wedding receptions all over Western Wisconsin, the St. Croix Valley, and the Minneapolis / St. Paul Twin Cities MN Metro.

He has DJed hundreds of weddings and has been a performing musician since he was 14 years old. His high energy and interactive (but not annoying) style has resulted in a flawless track record and is one of the most highly sought-after wedding DJs in the region.

He can be contacted via his websiteFacebook, or on Twitter at @dayonedj.

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