Chinese weddings are traditionally multi-day events that consist of the legal marriage, procession, tea ceremony, and banquet. Once the legal ceremony is through, families and friends assemble for a feast and the real festivities begin! With this guide, you will find tips and tricks for budgeting, finding a venue, securing your entertainment, and nabbing a great outfit to throw the ultimate Chinese wedding banquet.
Why Continue the Chinese Wedding Banquet Tradition?
Source: Wedding Notebook
The wedding banquet is a celebration of the bride and groom’s union and journey forth as a married couple. Often the ceremony will include blessings of happiness, prosperity, and abundance for the couple from friends and family. The Chinese wedding banquet, as it is known today, is a fairly modern tradition. During the Tang dynasty, multiple banquets were hosted separately over several days. Now, it is a single hours-long, multi-course feast, with each course symbolizing something for the couple, with a number of games and entertainment.
You’ll want to allow yourself enough time to plan the banquet of your dreams. Wedding banquets often take up to a year to plan, so you’ll want to keep track of each step of the process. Here is a sample timeline with tips on what it takes to throw an extraordinary evening of celebration.
Ten months to a year before: Set a budget
It’s important to begin mapping out your budget as soon as you begin planning your wedding banquet. That way, you will have a plan to avoid going over your budget. Below are some tips for budget planning for the big day:
- Figure out who’s contributing: You’ll need to have an idea of the primary financiers of your wedding banquet. Will it only be up to you and your fiancé or are your parents and other family members willing to pitch in? Once you know your primary source of funding, you will need to find out how much each party is willing to spend and on what. Some family members will only pitch in for the venue or the dress, while others might be more flexible with their spending.
- Do your research and analyze the numbers: You and your finance will have to ask yourselves a number of questions before you begin making big purchases. How much can you and your fiancé comfortably afford? How can you both save money between now and the banquet? With answers to these questions in mind, you can begin researching the average costs of venues, dresses, catering, and entertainment and find options that are within your range.
- Estimate your guest count: A wedding banquet’s cost is largely based on the guest count. The number of guests often determines pricing for food and alcohol, invitations, seat numbers, and party favors. This is the time to begin deciding who’s invited (and who’s not) and compiling a guest list so that you have an accurate head-count.
- Choose the must-haves: There are a few non-negotiables when it comes to throwing a wedding banquet. Think of the things you absolutely need to make it happen. Usually it’s the banquet hall, food, and outfit at the base level. Make sure to account for these items first, and think about the smaller details later if there’s room in your budget.
- Don’t go into massive debt: If you can’t afford it, you probably don’t need it! There are always less expensive alternatives at the end of the day. Make sure to use credit cards responsibly and try to pull from savings instead.
Seven months to nine months before: Book your Venue
What’s the best place to host a banquet? A banquet hall or an upscale Chinese restaurant is ideal. They are usually indoors, but can be outdoors depending on your preference. Booking your banquet hall is arguably the most important part of the planning process. It is the physical location that will house your guests and your banquet — this is where the celebration will happen, so you don’t want to snooze on finding the perfect place. There are myriad Chinese banquet halls out there, or if you would prefer, even more options for conventional reception halls. Here are a few things to keep in mind when booking your banquet hall.
- Book far in advance: You don’t want to wait until the last minute to reserve the most important part of your banquet. Booking in advance allows time to prepare the venue for any special requests or arrangements. Late bookings may mean fewer accommodations are possible. Ideally, you will want to book as soon as you establish your ideal budget.
- The best places to host a banquet: There are a variety of Chinese banquet halls out there, but even from one city to the next, they usually have similar basic offerings. Chinese banquet halls will usually provide guest seating, decor, and dining options. They are typically customizable, with adjustable lighting, space accommodations, and even entertainment options, including an in-house emcee, and photo packages. They are also often less expensive than conventional wedding reception venues, and have packages that range anywhere from $300 - $1,500 in the mid-range. Price variances depend on party size, menu selection, and the addition of add-on services.
If you would prefer a more conventional reception venue, it is important to note that not all spaces provide all-inclusive packages, and it may be up to you to book a caterer separately. They may also be more expensive, going up to $10K or more. This may depend on the city, so definitely think ahead if you’re looking at reception venues.
At this stage, you should begin researching potential venues in your area. A quick google-search or query on Yelp or Weddingwire will give you the best options in your area. These sites will direct you to more information about booking, services, and price. From there you can determine the best place for your budget!
Five to six months before: Plan your wardrobe reveal(s)
The dress is often the most exciting part for brides — the right one will be sure to dazzle friends and family on the big day. During Chinese wedding banquets, it is customary for the bride to enter and re-enter the reception, changing gowns and accessories with each entrance.
Modern brides have two to four dress changes as part of their wedding celebration. If you have the flexibility, you may want to consider several outfit reveals for your Chinese wedding banquet. You will want to plan your outfit changes far in advance to allow time to find the best Chinese wedding dresses to suit your taste, budget, and overall needs. Make sure to also schedule enough time to have multiple fittings and alterations.
If a more traditional option for your Chinese wedding banquet speaks to you, try a wedding qipao or cheongsam! Check out the collection of beautiful high-quality cheongsams we offer at East Meets Dress. We have a number of color, material, fit, pricing, and sizing options to suit your taste, needs, and budget. You will also find a number of tips on the elements of a Qipao, how to accessorize your cheongsam, and common questions about Chinese wedding dresses. If you are looking for more of a modern Chinese dress, you could opt for a dress or jumpsuit that is red, a lucky color in Chinese culture.
Three to five months before
Finalize the menu
The banquet is a few months out now. You have your banquet hall, you found the perfect Chinese wedding dress — what’s left? The food! There is no banquet without it, after all. Chinese banquet menus typically consist of eight courses and one dessert. Each course has special significance, and eight is considered the luckiest number in Chinese culture. Eight also means a lot of dishes to plan!
You will want to schedule a wedding banquet tasting with your venue or caterer at least three to six months before your wedding. Don’t wait until the last minute, as meal options may become limited or unavailable. If you want a more traditional Chinese banquet, below is a list of typical Chinese wedding foods served for each course and its traditional significance:
First course: ‘Dragon Phoenix Plates’ or cold appetizers are typically served in the first course. In this course, the dragon symbolizes strength, creativity, and masculinity. The phoenix symbolizes luck, beauty, and femininity. Thus, this course represents the union between the two. Dishes will include jellyfish, abalone, sliced pork and beef, seaweed, and bean curd.
Second course: The second course is traditionally the soup course, made with rare and expensive delicacies. This course symbolizes wealth and prosperity. Soups often served include Shark Fin Soup with crab meat or Eight Treasures soup. Because the act of shark finning is illegal and shark fins are difficult to come by, many banquet halls offer a number of alternative soup options, including fish maw soup with chicken and crab.
Third course: This course is for fish and seafood — a must for a Chinese wedding banquet! Fish symbolizes fertility and abundance for the new couple. This is significant because in Chinese tradition, a marriage is not entirely fulfilled until the couple bears children. The fish must be served with its head and tail intact to symbolize wholeness.
Fourth Course: Course number four calls for a whole roast suckling pig on the menu. Suckling pigs are symbols of virtue and purity.
Fifth Course: For round five, guests are usually offered large succulent prawns. Prawn in Chinese (虾) is pronounced ‘HA,’ an onomatopoeia for the sound of laughter. Therefore, this course symbolizes happiness and levity with friends and family.
Sixth Course: Let’s hope by now guests haven’t stuffed themselves too much because the sixth course means it is time for a whole bird or poultry. Chicken, Duck, Quail, or Pigeon is traditionally served whole to symbolize peace and unity.
Seventh & Eight Courses: Staple dishes come to the spotlight with the seventh and eighth courses. Noodles and Rice are served, and they respectively symbolize long life and abundance.
Dessert Course: The final course is left to leave a bit of sweetness behind. Red Bean and Lotus Seed Soup is usually served here. Red is the color of luck and happiness, while beans and seeds represent fertility and growth. They say that the soup is sweet so that the relationship never sours.
Read more about the most popular foods served at Chinese wedding banquets here.
Think of the small details
Also around this time, you will want to consider the small details that will bring the elements of your wedding banquet together. First, you will want to finalize your guest list and send out invitations. Chinese-inspired invitations, red envelopes, and Chinese characters are a great way to add personal touches to your invites.
The wedding banquet decor can make or break the entire atmosphere of the event. Begin thinking about how you would like your venue to look, color schemes for decor, and potential decorative pieces early to give yourself enough time to gather everything and seek out the special touches.
Source: Wedding Notebook
Some great decorative pieces to include at a Chinese Wedding Banquet to consider include:
- Double happiness totems or backdrops
- Red Lanterns
- Table runners or table cloths
- Lily, orchid and peony flower arrangements
- Custom chopsticks and other Chinese wedding guest party favors
- Ornate tea sets
- Napkins and table settings
- Personalized fans
East Meets Dress offers a number of decorations and party favors to add extra special touches to your wedding banquet. Be sure to give them a look! We also have an ultimate checklist of Chinese wedding decorations to consider for decking out your wedding banquet.
Mind the entertainment
Source: Steven Michael Photo
Your banquet will last for at least two hours, so you’ll need to keep your guests entertained. Nearly all Chinese wedding banquets will feature a “master of ceremonies” or emcee to announce the bride and groom, provide transitions between speeches and games, and overall keep the evening flowing smoothly.
As mentioned, many Chinese-owned banquet halls provide emcee services for wedding banquets. But, you can avoid additional fees or or add a personal touch to your wedding by recruiting a family member to emcee the event — whether it be a hilarious uncle or charismatic cousin, you might want to ask them in advance so that they can plan a program for the night. Whatever you decide, make sure the emcee speaks your family’s languages comfortably — whether that’s a mix of English, Mandarin, Cantonese, or anything else.
Chinese wedding banquets also feature a number of fun games and activities that include the newlyweds and the guests. Here are a few popular ones in Chinese tradition:
- Chinese Lion Dance: Perhaps the most important activity of the night is witnessing a traditional Chinese lion dance. These beautiful symbolic dances date back to Tang dynasty, and are typically performed during Lunar New Year, religious events, and weddings. For weddings, they function to bless the couple with a long and happy marriage and ward off evil spirits. The dance lasts 15-20 minutes and is becoming an increasingly popular addition to modern Chinese banquets, so book your dancers early!
- The Shoe Game: By far the most popular Chinese wedding game, the bride and groom sit back to back, facing away from each other in a pair of chairs. Each has one of their shoes and one of their partner’s shoes. The emcee asks the couple silly questions, including”who is the better driver?” or “who is the better cook?”and each will raise the shoe of the one they believe best fits the answer.
- Guess Who?: The groom is blindfolded and a number of wedding guests and the bride line up. He must touch the hand of each guest and decide which one is his bride.
Here are some other ideas to keep your guests entertained throughout the banquet:
- Bring the baijiu: Make sure to set aside time in the evening for the toasts. Traditionally, at the midpoint of the banquet, the bride and groom will walk to each table to drink and toast the guests. The most popular alcohol of choice for toasts is typically baijiu.
- Preserve the memories: Consider renting a photobooth and creating a cute patterned backdrop to snap photos with friends and family. Add thoughtful props for memories that will last beyond the banquet!
- Curate your playlist: You’ll want some music to liven the event, so start curating a playlist of your favorite dance hits on Spotify to play. If you would prefer, you can also hire a DJ.
One to two months before: Plan your seating chart
For large Chinese dinner parties, including wedding banquets, seating arrangements are often planned ahead and very intentional. Traditionally, tables at Chinese wedding banquets are large and circular, and people are arranged in order of importance.
Tables should be evenly and openly, following the Chinese concept of “feng shui” so that the room feels balanced and guests feel comfortable. Typically the bride, groom, parents, grandparents, best man, and maid of honor are seated at the same table. For the rest of the guests, try to seat individuals of similar ages, professions, and interests together, and keep family parties together.
The day of the banquet
Source: The Wedding Scoop
You’ve done it! You stuck to your budget, booked the best Chinese banquet hall in town, snagged a beautiful cheongsam, placed the customized chopsticks, and have a menu made for royalty. Now, you can relax, celebrate, and enjoy time with your fiancé, or perhaps by now, your new spouse. This is the time to be with friends and family, commemorate your relationship, and honor your heritage. Chinese wedding banquets are joyous occasions that have the potential to combine traditions old and new and even signal the union of cultures. This is your (and your spouse’s) time, so collect the red envelopes and happy feasting!
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