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Friday, June 26, 2009

Cocktail Reception

Photo: BBJ Linens

I was inspired to write about cocktail receptions because many couples that I meet are choosing to have a cocktail reception versus a traditional sit down and/or buffet style reception. Reason being, to cut costs. If you don’t have the budget for or an interest in a formal reception with a sit down meal, then why not choose something a little more unique: a cocktail reception.

Cocktail Reception Basics:

First, you need to know how cocktail receptions differ from traditional receptions. For one, they are adults only. If you have guests with children, then you’ll need to keep them somewhere separate and entertained either by other guests or by a hired babysitter (this
is actually a good idea for any reception). Obviously, a cocktail reception should include alcoholic drinks. To keep costs down, you may want to limit the types of drinks that are available. For example, you may want to serve beer, wine, and a few harder drinks but not the more expensive mixed drinks. That choice is yours or you can opt to have a specialty drink representing the theme of your reception.

Another difference is the mingling. At a traditional reception, the guests are given assigned seats and usually only move around to dance or head to the buffet line or bar. At a cocktail reception, however, everyone is standing and moving around freely. You can have a few small tables in the corners or around the floor (depending on the venue), but most people are just getting to know one another and enjoying the music. It's more of a nightclub atmosphere. Another idea is to have your venue set up with lounge furniture for guests to sit and mingle. Because of these differences, you can rent a smaller venue, rent fewer tables and have no servers for meals (optional choice).

Photo: The Meetinghouse Companies

hor d'oeuvres/cake/cupcakes:

Margarita Cupcake (photo: More Cupcakes)

Generally, cocktail receptions won’t include much food either. I
nstead of a buffet or sit down meal, you might have some appetizers on platters moving through the crowd. You can have the traditional wedding cake, but instead of serving it to your guests you can have pieces cut and available for guests to pick up at their leisure. Another idea is to serve your guests cupcakes with the option of the guests putting the cupcake in the box and taking it home with them or having a "themed" cupcake. More cupcakes, located in Chicago, serves unique cupcakes. You can get anything from a traditional white velvet cupcake to a Margarita cupcake (photo above), which I believe would go along nicely with the specialty drink or the theme that you are presenting at the reception.


Obviously, it’s a good idea to let people know about your unique reception. You can begin spreading the word by choosing themed invitations, such as Martini Toasting invitations with your specialty drink being a martini. {Note: You can make your martini to be the color of your color scheme for your reception}.

Make sure to address the invitations to adults only so they know not to bring their children. If babysitting will be available, you can include a separate note to let them know so they won’t make separate arrangements. You should also encourage your family and wedding party to spread the word as well. (

6 Steps to Arrange a Cocktail Wedding Reception:
  1. Research the different reception venues that offer this option. Many reception halls and ballrooms price out cocktail wedding receptions. The price is usually much less than a traditional reception menu.
  2. Send out invitations that indicate that you are having a cocktail reception. You don't want guests assuming that the event is more formal that it actually is.
  3. Pick out the food that you're serving. You can do more than just hors d'oeuvres for a cocktail wedding reception. You may have the option to have carving stations, a wok station or fruit displays.
  4. Choose a band that works with the theme of a cocktail reception. Go for a band or DJ that plays upbeat music. You want entertainment that keeps the party going.
  5. Arrange your seating and floor plan around the bar area. Also, make sure that there are enough bartenders and servers to accommodate your guests.
  6. Keep it relatively short. Since you won't have a sit down dinner, you can avoid the traditional five hour reception.

  • Remember to arrange for the bartenders to serve a few signature drinks throughout the course of the reception.
  • You should hold a cocktail reception at a later time than a traditional wedding reception. You may want to start the party around seven in the evening. (
Most couples spend almost as much time and energy planning their reception as they do on the actual ceremony, plus the reception is by far going to represent the largest chunk of your wedding budget. That means the reception should be something special. As I stated before, consider a cocktail reception if you cannot afford the traditional reception, but for now...

Happy Planning!

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Photo Credits: BBJ Linens, The Meetinghouse Companies, Inc., More Cupcakes

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