How to Have an Awesome Cocktail Style Reception
I’ve been talking to a few colleagues about this growing trend of brides wanting to do a cocktail style reception, yet having very heavy “buffets” that could be classified as a full meal instead of great hors d’oeuvres known as small plates. We all came to the agreement that some couples unknowingly do their guests a disservice and “if they have feet, they need a seat”
Photo by Harwell Photography
While I know there are differing opinions on this, but let’s consider the following:
• If your food requires heavy dinner plates, it’s not necessarily a cocktail style reception, and a table should be offered to accommodate your guests.
• It is absolutely horrid for guests to arrive at a reception without a seating chart or enough seating. From someone who sees this a lot– they are very confused and at times frustrated. From guests who want to sit together may find a table that lacks enough chairs to accommodate their party to being stuck in an undesirable area that is far away from all the action. Confusion grows deeper as it is not clearly communicated as to exactly whom is entitled to have one of the coveted tables. People get up and lose their seats which can be even more frustrating.
• A lot of brides say, “We don’t need seating for every one because… my friends are young” or “they’ll be too busy dancing!” or “I don’t want it to be too formal”. No one stands the entire time while drinking and dancing at some of the hottest clubs in Hollywood. Why would you expect them to at your wedding, where they are expected to be treated as guests. Expecting guests to stand for four hours is unrealistic.
• It is extremely hard for some guests to juggle a plate of food, drinks, purse and whatever else they are trying to carry and enjoy themselves. If most of the seated tables and cocktail tables are full, you have guests standing in open spaces trying to find a respite. With non-wedding cocktail parties, this can work to an advantage, because not everyone is eating at the same time. People may be mingling, dancing, or participating in some other activity. With a wedding, most of your guests will be doing the same thing at the same time. Be prepared for some guests to leave early.
To be clear, I’m not against cocktail receptions– I think they’re gorgeous, fun and allow for more mingling. Most cocktail receptions, while lacking formal seating, does offer rest/lounge areas for their guests. Brides believe that if their venue is small and they overinvite, they can switch to this style seating, under the premise of “not everyone needs a seat”. A formal seat, no– not necessarily. Somewhere to sit, absolutely. Here’s how to make it fabulous, but still with the vibrant cocktail party type atmosphere you want:
• You should have tables for at least 75% of your guest list. You are not just limited full five and six foot tables. Incorporate a mix of different table sizes like cocktail tables, bistro tables and even a banquet table or two to mix it up. Offer a few with chairs and stools to give those a break if they need it.
• If you don’t offer seating for everyone, then offer a lounge area where people can still relax, regroup and enjoy a cocktail and food. Rent lounge furniture or incorporate furniture from your venue. Make it your own by bringing in your own cushions and centerpieces to complement their furniture.
• Don’t let this become a money issue. Your guests would probably enjoy being comfortable more than a welcome bag or favor. When we ask most of our couples what is most important to them on their wedding day, they say, “good food, good music and for everyone to have a good time”. It can be hard to enjoy the good food from the five star caterer you hired or enjoy the smooth crooning of your 10 piece band if your guests are uncomfortable and frustrated.
• Have a cocktail style reception because you want to. Not because you have to. If your space dictates that only a certain amount of people can fit in your venue, be prepared to make the sacrifice. With cocktail receptions, space and food are major issues. You need enough room for people to flow in and out of the space comfortably, not spilling out and displaced. You may have to sacrifice on the full dinner you wanted or cut your guest list down. If you make the sacrifice, you still have many hearty options available to serve to your guests without them going away hungry.
• Be sure there is something to do to keep people active and happy. Naturally, you have your dance floor and your bar. Some sort of table or seat will keep them busy and give them a place to keep their belongings, but get them to be interactive with games, a photo or video booth, a dessert or popcorn bar or even a tour of your venue. The more people have to do, the less they are standing in one spot.
Photo by Anna Pociask Photography