How to plan a Cocktail Style Reception

We all love a good cocktail party, so why not make it larger scale and plan one as your wedding reception! When I talk to couples and ask them what they enjoy most about weddings, it’s always cocktail hour and the dance party portion of the night, so why not have that all the way through?

The atmosphere, interaction and vibe that a well executed cocktail style reception creates can be the difference between your wedding blending in or standing out amongst everyone else’s. I put together a few tips and things to consider if you’re trying to decide if this option is right for you:

Cocktail style reception

Feed your guests….a lot

Cocktail style reception

Having a cocktail reception means guests have the opportunity to try multiple appetizers and food stations throughout the evening. If you’re a foodie this might be appealing to you. To ensure everyone is satisfied and gets enough to eat, we suggest food stations. This way guests can help themselves and not have to look for the servers walking around.

Some misconceptions with cocktail style receptions are that they are less expensive. That’s certainly up for debate. Just because you aren’t sitting down for a formal meal doesn’t mean you can skimp on the food.  You still need to feed your guests, sometimes multiple times throughout the evening to ensure they aren’t drinking on an empty stomach and stopping off for fast food on the way home. Our preference is having the stations staggered throughout the night. People can come and go as they please knowing food will be flowing throughout the entire night.

Seating is necessary

Seating is a must at any event, especially ones that last 4-5 hours. For a cocktail style reception we recommend having seating for 50% of your guests.  Everyone will want to sit at some point, and any less, people will be scrambling. Having more than 50% will look like you miscounted and don’t have enough seats. The perfect balance is key to get the look and feel you’re going for. We also suggest mixing it up. Have a lounge area, some cocktail tables with bar height seats and the usual round tables to accommodate everyone’s comfort and mobility. Here are some cute lounge ideas from one of our favourite go to sites for inspiration.

Educate your guests

Cocktail style reception


When planning this style of wedding make sure you let guests know. Manage expectations by clearly  indicating “cocktail reception” on the invitation. This will cue guests that no formal dinner is served and that standing will be involved. It gives people the opportunity to prepare accordingly and get excited about a “different” style of wedding.

Timing is everything

A cocktail style reception still requires flow and a sequence of events; otherwise guests will get bored and possibly leave early. We recommend the reception start later and that you still include traditional elements. Have a few speeches (keep it short and sweet since guests are mostly standing), do the first dance and then start the dance party portion of the night. You can also start the night off with appetizers and champagne (a cocktail hour, during a cocktail party) then move into food stations later on in the evening. End the night on a high note with some good comfort as your late-night snack!


Now that you have a better idea of how to plan a cocktail-style reception, you need to design it! Check out our tips and tricks we share on designing the perfect space. 

I hope these tips and ideas will give you direction when deciding if a cocktail-style reception is right for you. If you feel you still require some guidance, I would love to sit down with you and assist in planning. Another great read for you would be our previous post on how to choose your Winnipeg wedding venue.