Pandemic Takeaways for Entertaining Guests at Your Reception

The temporary dancing prohibition led Central Ohio couples to consider alternative entertainment options. Many are still worth considering even with dancing back on the table (or floor).

Rylan Lee
Emma McGirr and Benjamin Tucker played the Shoe Game and worked with their DJ to host a round of trivia for their guests at their Jan. 2, 2021, wedding at The Estate at New Albany.

This story first appeared in the fall/winter 2021 issue of Columbus Weddings, which was published in June 2020. 

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, 2020 was the year that took something—if not many things—from everyone. In the case of weddings, from November 2020 to February 2021, it stole the headlining act of any reception: dancing. 

“We [were not] able to have people up and moving around; guests had to remain seated the entire time,” reflects Berlyn Martin, owner and lead planner of Berlyn Events. “A large majority of the events were postponed or canceled due to the regulation, because it’s difficult to completely realign your expectations of what a wedding is.” 

The couples who didn’t shy away from a 2020 wedding were forced to reinvent their reception with alternative entertainment ideas for guests. Performances, seated trivia, live art—the possibilities were infinite. But although dancing has returned seemingly for good, we need not merely go back to the way things were before. In fact, for many, receptions are being reinvented. 

“We did things like trivia … [and] the Shoe Game,” Martin says of the dance-free weddings she helped plan. “They were engaging, and it was just a lot of fun for everyone.” 

These seated games can be a great option for couples looking for a fun but low-cost add-on to their reception. For trivia, couples can either tap into a Wednesday-night tavern vibe with general trivia or make it a game of who knows the happy couple better. 

Along similar lines, the Shoe Game is also a tried-and-true reception favorite. To play, the couple sits back-to-back, takes off their shoes and swaps one (so that each person has one of their own shoes and one of their partner’s). Then the emcee—a DJ, someone from the bridal party or any of the guests—poses questions to the couple, such as, “Who’s the better driver?” Both partners then raise the shoe of the person they think fits the bill. The results—and reactions—are often amusing. 

“Things like that really kept people engaged and allowed them to be a part of the moment,” Martin says. 

Being a part of the moment can also be an activity in its own right. Live event painting, where an artist renders a moment from the day onto canvas in real time, can be a memory-maker in the moment and for decades to come.

Studio Von

For artist Keith Hasenbalg—of Best of Columbus Weddings winner Studio Von—the live portion of the painting averages about five hours, providing plenty of entertainment for guests to watch the blank canvas bloom. But in truth, the piece won’t be finished for many weeks. 

“[After the wedding,] I take it back to the studio to do the fine details. The little things … they’re really making everything,” he says. “I want to make the whole thing a believable story.” 

Hasenbalg traditionally does three size options—ranging from 11-by-14 to 30-by-24 inches—but also offers more budget-friendly options like smaller canvases or paintings made only from picture references, rather than live scenes. “I’ve tried to make it so that everybody is able to have an actual piece of art,” he explains. 

Along similar lines, for entertainment that can double as a guest favor, consider caricature drawings or open-air photo booths. 

Caricaturist John Bailey, who’s been in the business for around 25 years, says clients will write him notes years later, reflecting on the joy his drawings brought them. “One day I opened my email and there’s an email from someone,” he recalls. “[It said,] ‘Every day I sit in my office and I look at this caricature you drew of me and my family, and it fills me with happiness.’ ” 

Caricaturists like Bailey traditionally book by the hour, sketching throughout the dinner or post-dinner portion of a reception. Guests can sit at a safe distance, individually or in pairs or household pods, while they’re captured in a caricature artist’s signature, silly style. 

As for the modern-day portrait artist—aka photo booths—the instant Insta material is a surefire draw. Most photo booths, like the ones you can rent from The Foto Bar or Selfie Spot 614 (another Best of Columbus Weddings winner), offer instant physical or digital photos for guests, as well as a gallery of all of the event’s photos delivered after the fact. Some also offer GIF or Boomerang creation, too—perfect for posting to social media. And while most companies offer options for decoration add-ons, the photo station itself offers an enticing combination of high-quality lighting and effects in a sleek and space-efficient form. 

For the safest bet, opt for an open-air booth for now—though the more traditional closed booths have remained popular for years before the pandemic and are sure to make a strong return as vaccination rates rise and safety concerns fall. 

More interesting reception ideas include live performances—there’s the traditional band, but also consider a more formal musical arrangement or even stand-up comedy—or lawn games like cornhole for outdoor, warm-weather weddings. For the couple who wants to create an experience as unique as they are, other options abound: a board game corner for the competitive couple, a magic act to commemorate a first date or perhaps a photo bingo board or scavenger hunt to encourage guests to capture the night’s many memories. 

But whether it’s a raucous trivia session or a fridge-ready photo strip, reimagining what a reception can look like will surely give your guests memories they can cherish long after the DJ shuts down the dance floor.