Everything about a wedding reception is super. The planning, the budget, the arrangements, the event. The key is to make it super fun, not just a super headache.
Pick a date as far in advance as possible. The longer you have to plan the less likely you are to go insane before the big day. You'll have a better chance of getting the caterer or photographer you want. You'll be better positioned to lock down the right flowers and favors.
Also, keep in mind that costs vary considerably from season to season and day of the week. Most weddings take place between May and September. Booking off-season saves you money on the ceremony, the reception hall, airline tickets and much more.
Saturdays are the most popular day, so picking a day in the middle of the week will also save you money. Most guests will take a day off of work, or at least be able to make a late afternoon or early evening reception.
What sort of reception area you seek depends, of course, on how many guests you plan for and where they're located. Some couples do just fine with a few guests gathered at the house of a friend or relatives. Others will want that hall that accommodates 1,000. Some won't be satisfied with anything less than the best hotel in New York or Las Vegas.
That choice is more than just a matter of money, though. Reception halls do typically charge by the head, especially if catering is part of the deal. But the larger the reception, the longer in advance it's necessary to book. With larger receptions the decorations take longer, the food preparation effort scales up and transportation and parking can become more complicated.
Naturally, you'll need to contact the photographer, too. Most good ones will book as much as a year in advance. Some, two years. So, unless you plan to have your cousin take a few snapshots, you'll need to make arrangements. Allocate the budget early, since many will want a deposit.
Have a backup plan as much as possible. Mistakes do happen and sometimes a venue may slip up on your date. More often, though still rare, a caterer may find themselves backed up and unable to come through for you. Accidents happen and a photographer may be unable to show.
These things are unlikely, but they're sufficiently important that it helps to have some alternatives. You won't generally want to afford to double book another venue. But give some thought to what you would do if the reception hall became unavailable two weeks before the wedding. It's not unknown, for example, for roofs to collapse from heavy snows right before a winter wedding reception is scheduled.
Ditto with the caterer, photographer and other important aspects of the reception. Since weddings do sometimes get called off, some professionals may be available on short notice. Investigate and have some phone numbers at your fingertips.
Good preparation decreases stress. Part of that is having a sound plan that incorporates contingencies. That way your reception will be super, rather than just supper.