A Cocktail Style Reception Wedding

The other day I had an appointment with one of my June bride’s and she was stressed because work has kept her incredibly busy and she doesn't feel organized or have anything truly finalized. She and her fiance did know right from the beginning that they wanted a casual affair, meaning they didn't want their guests to feel constricted to sitting at a table for 1-2 hours for dinner service. After getting a better understanding of what she didn't want I offered up the idea of having a Cocktail Style Reception. This is more informal then a buffet, as even with a buffet you typically provide seating for all of your guests, while as for a cocktail style reception you provide seating for half of your guests using a variety of different sized tables (short cocktail tables, tall high boys and typical 60” rounds). The food selections are also usually items that you could easily eat while standing, which makes the lack of seating okay.  


  • No seating chart! You don’t have to stress over creating a map of where you will place everyone and make sure everyone is compatible. You also don’t have to make those last minute place cards.
  • No table numbers.
  • Relaxed feel that allows your guests to mix and mingle all night.
  • Food is usually out for a longer duration allowing guests to approach at their leisure
  • More food options to satisfy your guests eclectic pallets.
  • Opportunity to make a fun menu display instead of "x" amount for each table setting
  • No time wasted getting everyone seated (sometimes this can take up to 20 minutes depending how many Chatty Cathy’s you have in your crowd).
  • Since you saved money and time on the seating chart and place cards, you can put this towards some other design element.
  • Allows you to create dimension with a variety of table settings and possibly implementing furniture
  • If you have specific chairs in mind, there are less to order

One of my brides struggles was figuring out what to do with her table decorations. Since the tables are not set with place settings, her initial idea to have navy blue napkins to add a pop of color was out (typically for a cocktail style reception utensils and napkins are found at each food station).  Plus with the table being bare of any silverware, glassware, chargers or plates, she wanted to make sure the table didn't feel empty when guests initially enter the reception site. 

The following are some ideas we came up with to incorporate the navy blue with the burlap and ivory she is already using:

  • Mix of solid navy blue and burlap runners.
  • Burlap runners with either navy down the middle or navy on the border on the large 60” rounds. This may require some creativity on your end or an order from Etsy. I personally made my runners for my own wedding that were gold sequin down the middle and burlap on the edges using my grams old sewing machine. 
  • Navy blue overlays over the ivory linen on the short cocktail tables and maybe add a burlap square to the middle.
  • Navy blue or burlap squares on the highboys with ivory floor length linen. 
  • Burlap ties for the high boy tables

Example of how runners and ties can make a statement:

For the flowers, since you are not providing seating for everyone you have less tables, plus since the tables vary in size, the centerpieces do not have to be the larger ones that are appropriate for standard 60” round dinner table. For a 60” round you typically want the centerpiece to take up 12 inches in diameter on the table. So, this could be a single centerpieces with flowers spilling over, a smaller vase of flowers with candles or smaller flower arrangements surrounding it or a mix of 3-5 vases.  For your cocktail tables and highboys you want to keep to 4-6 wide. Remember these tables need to accommodate small plates and  glasses, so leave room. With a cocktail style reception since you are creating an air of fun, be creative with your centerpieces and come up with a few different designs and mix them up to create dimension. Again, since these tables are free of any tableware when guests arrive you have a great canvas to show of your wedding style.

I would highly recommend this setup for large wedding events so you can avoid all the table planning or if you know your crowd is a party bunch that would rather mingle and dance. Granted, this can be hard to swing by your parents that might have been dreaming about this day forever and are not as familiar with this new concept. Older crowds like to have a spot for their handbags and tushes, so I would not recommend the cocktail style reception for them as they will be very confused and complain like the old bats that they are (just kidding).

Check out this link to Love and Lavender for some more fun Wedding Ideas for your unconventional wedding.