Cocktail Style Wedding Reception: How To. Chic and fun. Dining experience without breaking the bank. Chill and relaxed vibe. Enjoy appetizers the whole night. How to plan an easy laid back wedding reception.
Here are the top tips for you to plan a successful cocktail style wedding that will help you rock your wedding day!
- Cocktail Vibe
- Entertainment / Activities
- Emcee / DJ
A cocktail style wedding reception with only appetizers offers a delightful and sociable dining experience, where guests can indulge in a diverse array of delectable bites throughout the celebration.
This reception style is perfect for couples who want to create a relaxed and intimate atmosphere, encouraging guests to mingle and savor a variety of flavors, making every moment a fun culinary adventure.
The reception space is adorned with chic lounge areas, cocktail tables, and food stations, encouraging guests to wander and explore the culinary offerings at their own pace.
This layout fosters a warm and social atmosphere, as guests interact and enjoy the festivities in an informal and chill setting.
The absence of a formal sit-down dinner provides ample time for dancing, heartfelt toasts, and other entertainment, allowing guests to immerse themselves in the celebration without feeling rushed or restricted.
Let’s go over cocktail style wedding reception ideas in detail!
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Cocktail Style Wedding Reception: How To
1. The Cocktail Vibe
It’s a more laid-back, intimate- “take it easy” type of vibe. You can still make it absolutely formal or casual; this is still all up to you.
Cocktail style weddings (especially if you prefer a weekday (Friday) night wedding!) tend to be shorter in length, which is how you will most likely pocket some savings.
PRO TIP: Consider adding to your invitation that you have a cocktail reception and advise them of the preferred dress code.
Also, don’t forget to note on your invitation (printed or digital) the start time and end time. As mentioned, it is better to have your cocktail style wedding reception within a 5-6 hour window – so guests won’t be hungry towards the end of the night.
Design your cocktail style wedding AS IF it is a sit-down wedding. Incorporate your theme and creatively set up areas for your guests to enjoy the experience. Of course, you can always speak to a venue coordinator to help you develop great designs and creative options.
2. The Space (cocktail style wedding reception)
Or, if you are yet to find a venue, get a feel of how you would like the reception flow. Then, we would usually suggest starting a very rough draft of the floor plan based on the space you will be working with. This way, you can plan and design accordingly.
If you add lounge furniture, it will most likely take more space than a regular table, same as delivering them (does your venue have a loading dock or access?); this matters as you will also have to consider the delivery and set-up and pick-up fees involved.
If you plan to have a dancefloor, you would want to determine how much space you have – because you also don’t want to make the space look empty.
PRO-TIP: You can also use the “dance floor” area as the ceremony space so that all your guests can comfortably join the ceremony – since the seating will be already around the “area.”
3. The Set-Up
Of course, cocktail/high-top tables are essential. But since the whole wedding will be cocktail-style, providing your guests with options and great comfort is key!
Give them a chance to walk around and choose where to sit and where to hang out.
Mix cocktail/high-top tables with bar stools with cushions, and comfortable lounge seating with tables.
We would usually suggest adding a few regular tables if you expect some elderly guests, or even use it as a “grandparents” and “kids” table.
Don’t forget to add accent decor for your seating areas. Decor and flowers do not have to be elaborate (there are lots of easy and affordable centerpiece ideas!), but having them is great to set the wedding’s vibe.
4. The Seating (super important to remember when figuring out your cocktail style wedding reception)
Add an extra 10-20% of the seating area for your cocktail-style wedding reception.
Remember, guests will be grouping themselves, which you have no control over since there will be no assigned seating.
Having extra space/s or area/s where they can hang will help with crowd control.
If you’d like to have specific seating areas for immediate family and your wedding party, you can label an “area” so that they can be reserved for specific guests.
5. The Bar
Consider setting up 2-3 bars (opt for a minimalist bar or even a DIY sangria bar!). Since there is no assigned seating, some guests might hang around the bar half the time.
If you opt to have a custom signature cocktail, ensure that it is quick and easy to make. Choosing to do a minimalist bar (wine, beer, and a few liquor/custom cocktails only) will shorten prep time and, as a result, avoid line-ups.
Another thing you can consider is having beer/wine pack buckets around the lounge area. This way, they can reach for their drink easier, without standing or lining up.
6. The Food
Ideally, we would suggest treating your cocktail style wedding as if it is a sit-down wedding, only this time you’re standing up and eating bite-size meals repeatedly.
Set the mood with light and bite-size easy-to-eat appetizers: bread bites, mini salad cups, mini soup cups, Caprese skewers, and the like.
Then go into the mains: pulled pork sliders, mini burgers, falafel balls, chicken and waffles, meatball skewers, mini pizza, mashed potato balls, sushi/poke bites, and the like.
Choosing heavy hitters will make your guests feel full. Although it sounds like a good idea to pack the pulled pork sandwich with a lot of pork, remember that your guests are wearing wedding clothing and anything too saucy will possibly drip on their outfit and potentially make a mess.
Having smaller plates or larger napkins served together with the sandwiches can help with mess “mitigation.”
If you are looking to save a lot more money, you can pre-order bulk mini sandwiches from your local grocery store or caterer. They usually come in plastic containers and obviously, we are not serving them using that because it’s still a wedding.
Tiered serving platters and wooden plates/boards are always a great way to present these appetizers.
Have your family, coordinator, or trusted friends set them up in an elegant way through these serving platters and NO ONE WILL KNOW that they were from the grocery store – unless, of course, you tell them.
PRO TIP: Presentation and serving are how you can elevate even the most common comfort food. The serving, presentation, and overall ambiance you set/design will decide the wedding’s vibe.
PRO TIP #2: When doing stations, consider setting up a few of them around to avoid line-ups and big crowds.
You can even DIY this part for desserts and buy assorted desserts like brownie bites, cake bites, gourmet cookies, doughnuts, mini cupcakes, and the like. You can serve them as passed, or you can also set them up as stations.
Wedding cake alternatives are also a great idea!
Consider having an ice cream cart at your wedding for extra fun!
If you are a DIY at heart, you can try elevated sandwich cocktail stations.
Remember these top 3 things to consider when selecting your food:
- Choose food selections that are not messy or at least not so much! Meaning no drips, no liquid, and not a lot of wiping needed!
- If you are making it bigger bites than usual, ensure that you place them on a dinner paper napkin as the cocktail ones are pretty small and are usually thin.
- Have lots of tables around so that they can put down their “leftovers” or garbage.
7. The Staff
Ensuring that you have extra bussers to manage a cocktail style wedding reception is essential.
A passed appetizer has such a quick turnaround. This means guests will be leaving empty plates and glasses on tables quite often.
The last thing you want to see at your cocktail style wedding is a pile of dishes on a table – that no one has picked up yet!
Hire extra bussers/staff to pick up the dishes and ensure that the beer/wine pack buckets are filled up all the time.
There are staffing companies where you can hire help, servers, bartenders, bussers, etc., directly from them and not worry about other things needed to be executed on the day of the event.
Ask your venue if they can provide staff they can hire within a specific number of hours to help you execute your wedding.
8. The Timeline
The great thing about cocktail style weddings is that you can have food, drinks, and dancing simultaneously.
So you can cut to a 5-6 hour reception, instead of a full night.
Also, mentioning that it is a cocktail style wedding will set better expectations. i.e., they might want to have a light meal before going to your wedding, or they might “pre-drink” somewhere before heading to your wedding.
Providing your guests with what they will be expecting will help them plan their day better and be more involved and present when they get to your wedding.
It will also be great to serve “very light” appetizers before the end of the night. Setting up a mini pastries station – with croissants and danishes will help curb your guests’ hunger. You can purchase them in bulk either from Costo or Walmart.
Or you can also send them home with “goody” bags with treats or “to-go” appetizers.
Have your wedding or venue coordinator set-this up or hand them up closer to the end of the reception.
9. The Entertainment / Activities
DJ and/or live entertainment is definitely essential at a cocktail style wedding reception. Expect a cocktail style wedding to be a little bit more “chat heavy” than a sit-down wedding.
A sit-down wedding will be a little more controlled, where there will be a little less talking while people are eating, or at least it will not be as loud.
A cocktail style wedding can be different since there is no set “meal time.” It will mostly be mingling, dancing, laughing, and all the simultaneous fun going on most of the time.
Setting a “time” for when a “specific” food will be served or placed on the stations will help guests not “miss out” on the food.
Also, let them know when it’s time to do the dancing – especially if you have a designated dancefloor.
Remember, lots of guests are *scattered* and might not be aware of activities and what’s going on. Keep them in the loop by making announcements.
As mentioned earlier, even if cocktail style weddings have a more laid-back vibe, they still provide guidelines for everyone to see, like when the appetizers/food will be served and what types/options are available.
Photobooth is always a hit for your guests to let loose and have extra fun!
10. The Signage (important for a cocktail style wedding reception)
Another tip for your cocktail style wedding reception is if you have a performer coming for 1 hour, add that into your signage and show the performance time.
If there will be a slideshow playing at a specific time, add that to your signage as well. Basically, add details to your timeline (print large signs!), so your guests won’t miss anything.
Or essentially, adding a quick and easy breakdown of activities and timeline on your signs will help your guests know what’s up.
If you have designated an area for other activities like a photobooth, cigar bar, or any other activity, ensure to add it to your signage so that people know what’s around; remember this is a cocktail vibe, so people will be most likely walking around or standing, so it will be hard to see what’s going on past people standing.
It will help the food have “ingredient cards” included in the serving tray or placed on the stations. This way, certain guests with dietary restrictions, will know better what’s in the food; it is usually easier than always asking the server.
11. The Emcee / DJ
You might want to consider having an emcee that feels the vibe of the wedding. Especially for a cocktail style wedding reception.
For example, in the beginning, there might be some people that are not acquainted and might not be comfortable mingling. BUT, if you have an emcee or a wedding DJ that can feel the vibe of the room, they can make announcements or tricks or even random games that will help everyone get comfortable and get a fun vibe going.
Your emcee/DJ can also help with announcing activities so that your guests are aware and won’t miss out on anything!
12. The Send-off
Doing a fun “send-off” will not only make an exit and the “end” of the wedding a little easier but also will create a more connected vibe from your guests. It’s an actual “coming together” of all your valued guests to send you off into married life.
Also, this is a great way to let your guests know they must leave. Especially if you only have your venue for a specific number of hours.
There you are! Cocktail Style Wedding Reception: How To!