Paul and I had a very casual wedding reception, held in my family home (which could easily handle over a hundred guests). Personally, I enjoyed a more casual event. However, our daughter had a sit down reception in a restaurant. Everyone does or has a reception based on what they want. Below are some tidbits from 19th century wedding etiquette books.
At the wedding reception the parents of the bride stand a little beyond the newly wedded couple and receive the guests as they pass beyond the bridal group. The parents of the groom, if present, are near them and are, of course, recipients of similar attentions on the part of the guests. Sometimes the bridal company are stationed in one room and the elder couples in another, this division being a wise one when a large number of guests are invited and there is liability of overcrowding the space about the bride, who is, of course, the centre of attraction.
The refreshments at a wedding reception may be as simple or as elaborate as desired. They are usually served from the buffet, and guests may go at any time during the reception to the refreshment room, where they are helped by the attendants, the ushers exercising surveillance over this part of the entertainment to the extent of seeing that ladies unattended by gentlemen are invited to go in. Tea and coffee or other hot drinks are not considered essential, but bouillon in cups is usually provided in winter, wine being offered or withheld according to the scruples of the entertainers. Salads, birds, ices, jellies, fruits, cakes, etc., contribute to the beauty and add to the satisfying qualities of the feast, slices of wedding-cake being put in small, dainty boxes and placed where each guest may take one ere departing.
Our terse American way of designating the style of service which does not include the regular seating of all the guests at table is to call it a "stand-up" affair, and this is by far the most general method of serving; but several small tables are usually spread, and at these the bridal party and special or elderly guests are seated by the ushers, whose duty it is to see that they are properly served.
Source: Good Manners ©1889
Brides and bridesmaids should wear their wedding dresses at the wedding-reception.
Dress Of Guests At Wedding-reception.
The guests at an evening reception should appear in full evening-dress. No one should attend in black or wear mourning. Those in mourning should lay aside black for gray or lavender.
For a morning reception the dress should be the richest street costume, with white gloves. If the blinds are closed and the gas lighted at the morning reception, then evening-dress is worn by the guests.
Source: Manners and Culture Dress ©1891
Accompanying it is the wedding-reception card issued by the parents of the bride, which is in the usual form of ceremonious invitations, with the exception that "at the wedding-reception of their daughter" takes the place of the ordinary phrase relating to dinner-party or soiree. It also gives the hours during which the reception is held.
In the same envelope with the invitation and reception-card may be a card announcing the reception-days of the bride and bridegroom; their form
may be simply as follows:
Reception, Wednesdays in March. 1756 Arch Street.
Usually accompanying these are smaller cards bearing the names of the bride and bridegroom.
Upon the wedding invitations may be the letters R. S. V. P. (repondcz s'il vous plait), signifying that an answer is requested. In this case a prompt answer, accepting or declining the invitation, should be returned.
Still another card—a card of admission to the church—is now found necessary.
At the wedding-reception, held at the bride's parents, the guests offer their congratulations. On going forward to congratulate the happy couple they should address the bride first if they have had any previous acquaintance with her, then the bridegroom, then the bridesmaids, and after them the parents and family of the bride and groom. If they are acquainted with the bridegroom and not with the bride, let them address him first, when he will introduce them to his bride. They should congratulate the bridegroom and give their good wishes to the bride.
If there is a breakfast, dinner or supper, the bride does not change her dress until afterward.
The refreshment-table is made brilliantwith flowers. The wedding or bride's cake is an important adjunct of the feast. If there is no regular breakfast given, cake and wine are passed among the guests.
Dress At A Wedding.
One should not wear mourning at a wedding. Even when black is habitually worn, it should give place, for the time being, to gray or some neutral tint.
If parties are given to the newly-married couple, the bridesmaids and groomsmen are also invited, and all may, if they choose, wear their weddingdresses.
Wedding-calls. Wedding-calls should be returned within two or three weeks by all who have received weddingcards.
Wedding-presents. It is customary for the bride to make her bridesmaids a present on the morning of the marriage. It is imperative that they shall make her a bridal-gift.
Source: The Ladies' and Gentlemen's Etiquette ©1877
At wedding receptions, friends who congratulate the newly married couple should address the bride first, if they have any previous acquaintance with her, then the bridegroom, then the bridemaids, and after that the parents and family of the bride and groom. They should give their good wishes to the bride and congratulate the bridegroom. If they are acquainted with the bridegroom and not with the bride, let them address him first and he will introduce them to his bride.
Source: Our Deportment Or, the Manners, Conduct and Dress of the Most Refined ©1882