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Wedding Planning

Planning Your Reception at Melville Hall

Planning a wedding should be one of the happiest most exciting times of your life. To insure that it is, proper preparations and efficient organization is vital to the success of this affair. If you are planning a formal wedding and elegant reception or a simple ceremony and a buffet reception, the following guidelines will apply. By concentrating on the following major areas you will make certain that your special day will result in beautiful memories.

The First Steps to Take

You and your partner should start by drawing up a plan for the wedding, including the type of reception (simple or formal), number of approximate guests (perhaps two lists, an A and B list) and most important a budget for the amount you intend to spend. Contact the clergyman to determine available time and dates as well as possible premarital counseling requirements. The Chaplains' office at the Mariners' Chapel, USMMA can be reached at (516)773-5305.

The Reception

Melville Hall's catering facility is booked usually a year in advance. The most popular months are May through October. This means that you should try to finalize your arrangements early. Have at least two dates planned in the event the first is not available. You should coordinate both the Chapel and Melville Hall and establish a date and time for the ceremony and reception following. You must be firm on the minimum number of guests you will be inviting. This count can be confirmed two weeks prior to the reception. It is important also to determine the type of reception you will have. There are many options available.

What You Should Know About the Contract

When you have decided to contract Melville Hall (after you receive the formal acknowledgement and the date is confirmed) an agreement will be prepared. You should make an appointment and bring all interested parties with you. The use of Melville Hall has a surcharge requirement at the signing of this contract. Check with the Manager for the amount due and bring a check with you made out to Melville Hall. The surcharge is non-refundable.

Read and understand the terms of this agreement. Note the labor charge for the beverage service, parking fees, coat check fees, and the cost of all beverages. The food contract (menu) which is a separate contract prepared at least 3 months before the reception will require a deposit which will be deducted from the final statement at the completion of the scheduled event. This deposit for the food contract is not refundable. As this is the only payment that you will be required when both these contracts are signed, full payment is required on or before the day of the wedding or event. It is important to understand your responsibility in the event of a cancellation.

The Contract Checklist

Important areas to be determined in advance are: food - will a complete meal be served: (Hors d'oeuvres, appetizer, soup, pasta, salad, intermezzo, main course, potato, vegetable(s), wedding cake, desserts, cordials, etc.) Also the beverage service, cocktail reception need to have times established, etc. Be clear about the brands of liquor, wine, beer and cordials. Will there be a cordial bar or special dessert table. Will champagne be used for the toast only or will it be available during the reception. Will there be an open bar at the cocktail hour and the reception? How many bartenders will there be as well as servers. Do you require parking assistance or any special considerations?

The Traditional Division of Expenses

Traditionally, the expenses of the bride's family include invitations, all reception expenses including liquor, flowers for the ceremony and reception, bridesmaids flowers, photographs, chapel or church rental fees, organist and soloist fees. Music for the ceremony and reception, transportation of the bridal party to the ceremony and reception and services of a bridal consultant (if needed).

The groom's family expenses include the rehearsal dinner, hotel accommodations for his attendants, ties, gloves and boutonnieres for the grooms attendants, the marriage license, the clergyperson's fee or donation, transportation for himself and the best man to the ceremony for the immediate members of both families and the bachelor dinner (if he wishes to give one).

These are merely the traditional guidelines. Today, many young couples pay for much of the expense of the reception and ceremony themselves and very often both families decide together who will pay for which items. It is quite acceptable for the bride's parents to accept the offer of the groom's family in sharing a portion of the reception expenses. It is important to review all of the above and decide on a plan before.


If you request "French" service, it is recommended that you have one server for every ten guests for which you will pay substantially more. The more standard service is one waiter for every twenty-five guests. Other possible inclusions in the contract are parking assistance, coat-check services, outside cocktail reception, and baby-sitting services.


Most bands are hired for four hours. Options include music during the cocktail hour and continuous music (as opposed to non-continuous). Bands usually play 20 minutes on and rest 10 minutes. DJ's of course traditionally play for the entire 4 hours but the option of the cocktail hour should be addressed.

Check on the reputation of the group you are considering engaging. Music is a very important part of your wedding. Determine if you will have the same individual musicians at your wedding that you heard elsewhere. Decide how many musicians will play. Also how many DJ's will be present. What kind of music they will play and who will act as Master of Ceremonies. Some couples opt for a DJ for reasons of personal taste and lower cost. Be sure to specify dress requirements for both the DJ and band members. Determine from their requirements if there is a need for special setups. The DJ's usually come prepared, however, sometimes they ask for table and cloths. Check your contract with them. Usually they request to be fed. It is a good idea to feed them.


In addition to the bridal bouquet, bouquets for the bridesmaids, flowers for the immediate family, female guests, boutonnières for the groom's ushers and special male guests. Flowers must be ordered for the church/chapel as well. Some churches and temples have specific requirements for flowers which may be placed, therefore it is best to check before ordering. The centerpiece arrangements are of the utmost importance in creating the style which reflects your taste. You can consider using your bouquet and the bridesmaids on the head table and the cake display table. Consider supplying cake flowers for the wedding cake and greens and/or flowers for the cocktail tables and buffet tables. It is recommended that you provide a centerpiece for the front lobby card table. Also consider a floral arrangement for both the ladies bathrooms. Candles make the room. Check with your florist for suggestions for table candles. They must be safe of course.

Photographs and Video

Your wedding is not complete without pictures for posterity. You must decide in advance the type of photos you want as well as video and communicate that to the photographer. Your photography contract should specify the number of pictures you will receive in color or black and white, the size of the wedding album(s) and "package plan" specifics. It should also include delivery dates of proofs and final pictures and the cost of any additional pictures not covered in the contract. Have your photographer be aware of any restriction which the chapel, church , temple or Melville Hall may have for photographs. If you are considering video taping, discuss in advance any requirement that the caterer may have regarding liability, insurance, lighting (no external wires permitted during the taping of this event). If you choose a photography studio recommended by other satisfied customers be sure that you also contract for the same individual photographer.

Invitation and Announcements

Your wedding invitation will set the tone for your wedding. The most formal is the engraved with third person wording. Many couples prefer the more personal wording on a printed invitation. The choice is yours but it is well to remember the simplest invitation is in the best taste.

The Wedding Ceremony

Contemporary couples, most of whom are older, wiser and more mature than their siblings of several decades ago, still choose to have a traditional wedding, that is they send invitations, wear special clothes, choose a beautiful site like Melville Hall at the US Merchant Marine Academy, flowers, music, cut the cake, toast their future and go on a honeymoon. But, they are reinventing traditions and infusing each part of their weddings with touches that are personal, individual and reflect something about their lives. Something old, something new. Once upon a time it was taboo for the groom to see his bride prior to the wedding ceremony. Today, that has changed. An emerging trend is for the groom to meet with his bride, in wedding attire before the ceremony.

Updated: Tuesday, February 5, 2013
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