I don’t think there is a generic answer that will apply to everybody. You need to think of what you are trying to accomplish with your wedding reception. There are ways to handle it and you need to do what works for you and your fiancé, not ANYBODY else.
As a wedding DJ, I see different scenario’s play out every weekend and one of the biggest issues that determines the atmosphere at a wedding reception is the presence or absence of children. A wedding reception with even 4 or 5 unsupervised children can have the feel of birthday party, not a wedding reception. To me, it’s very frustrating when trying to do any of the “ceremonial” events, Toasts, or special dances, or garter removal etc. and have them interrupted by kids running, sometimes quite loudly, with reckless abandon across the dancefloor. Or running up and trying to take a microphone from me, or the person giving a toast. Even the best behaved kids don’t always understand the fact they are interrupting something special happening. When there are multiple children present and they start playing together, it’s even harder for them to realize how loud or disruptive they might be.
Kids get bored quickly and have a lot of energy, sitting calmly waiting for dinner to finish, or having to stifle their fun to listen to a “boring speech” or not sit on Aunt So and So’s (the bride’s) lap when she is sitting in the middle of the dance floor (garter removal or any other fun game the DJ has in store), is a lot to ask of a kid. I am not blaming the child, just stating what happens.
If you decide to not invite kids to your wedding, you need to be very clear with your guests. State clearly that you are not going to be having children there, or if you have a select few that will be attending, make sure you make it clear who is invited. That being said, you can’t be offended if somebody chooses not to come to your wedding. Personally speaking, I know that when my wife and I are invited to things that are “kid free”, we tend not to attend. We aren’t offended by you wanting to have a kid free night, just as we hope you aren’t offended by the fact we might not attend.
A thought so you could have the best of both worlds, hire a “lifeguard”. You don’t want to necessarily have a baby sitting service at your wedding, because most parents aren’t going to want to drop their kids off in a separate room situation with somebody they don’t know. Instead, if you have a trusted, fun teenager, or simply somebody that you have hired with the sole purpose of overseeing the party. Somebody to corral the children when there are times they need to be quiet, somebody to make sure they aren’t dipping their fingers into the cake, somebody to engage them in activities designed to distract and entertain them while the adults are having fun. You can have a couple tablets, or craft activities in a corner, or a kid friendly DVD even, that the “lifeguard” helps direct kids towards and encourages them to participate with. Just let your guests that are bringing children know you will be providing this service, that way they don’t think some stranger is trying to lure their kid away.
More food for thought, pun intended, is to work with your caterer to have kid friendly options available to them. Kids in general want simple, familiar foods. There is no need to spend $70 a plate (or more) for kid to look at your filet mignon in disgust as they push your twice baked mashed potatoes encrusted with lobster bisque and caviar aside. If you know the number of children ahead of time it shouldn’t be an issue to have the caterer make up a few kid’s meals like chicken fingers and fries, pizza or simple burgers. (usually at a lower per/plate cost too) Have them fed first, it will make EVERYBODY’s life easier. Kids eat on a schedule and aren’t as easily adaptable like adults to wait, when they are hungry, they want to eat.
At the end of the day, it’s your day and if you don’t want kids there or you don’t mind having kids there, it’s your choice, just be prepared for it either way. If you do invite kids, take it in stride knowing that there will be issues, but there is also a chance that kids will add that fun element to your wedding that wouldn’t have been there otherwise. Whatever you choose, know that somebody will be upset, but they will probably get over it, if not… life goes on… so make your decision and stick with it and enjoy your reception.