When I first started planning our wedding, I was looking at the standard wedding venues: the resorts, country clubs, etc. They did not really fit our style and were all quite pricey with the food and alcohol packages built in. We also wanted a destination wedding which added even more added costs. As a couple, we began to brainstorm how get the best of both worlds: a destination wedding in our favorite place, Coronado Island, but a more budget friendly reception done our way at home in Arizona. Cue, the cocktail wedding reception which mixes heavy passed hors d\’oeuvres with food stations, allowing guests to eat when they want. If you\’re on the fence about choosing a cocktail-style wedding reception as opposed to a plated dinner or buffet, read on. Turns out it was one of the best decisions we made during our wedding-planning process—and it could be an ideal option for couples who are planning more casual receptions after postponing their weddings during the COVID pandemic. 

More relaxed atmosphere

After having a destination ceremony with a more intimate group, we knew we wanted the reception in our home state to be a more laid back, fun party where our wedding guests could enjoy themselves. We wanted them there to celebrate our big day with good food, open bar, and dancing. (All the best parts of course!) Our wedding planner, Lara Jacobs of Laki Events and Design, created a great atmosphere styling a variety of rentals, including a mix of high top cocktail tables, round tables, and cool lounge areas. We didn’t have a seating chart, so people felt free to mix and mingle as they would at a traditional cocktail hour all night.

Budget-friendly food options

I’m a self proclaimed picky eater, so weddings can be a little anxiety inducing for me even when you get to choose between options beforehand. My husband and I went to our caterer and expressed interest in a less traditional reception menu of hors d\’oeuvres, instead of a full meal with a first course, entree, and the like. I sent him pictures of cool buffet set ups of more finger foods or mini appetizers: sliders, tacos, chicken strips, mini tomato soup and grilled cheese combos, etc. These were a huge hit with our guests because they’re comfort foods that everyone likes and they were some of our favorites, too. We had the buffet open for most of the night and people felt like they could keep going back for more. It kept our cost for food lower because we did not pay per plate as we would for a sit-down dinner, but it was more unique than a standard buffet.

More flexibility

We shared on the invite that our guests were invited to a reception that stated we wanted them to join us for cocktails, hors d’oeuvres, and dancing. Since most people haven’t been to a cocktail-style reception, we got to make our own rules. We created a timeline with Lara and our vendors that fit our needs. We took pictures with our wedding party and each other before the party got started then mingled with our guests for a little bit before making our grand entrance leading into our first dance and parent dances, all the while our guests could enjoy the cocktail party food and get drinks without feeling like they were starving. We took the traditional elements and arranged them in a way that felt right to us. People didn’t feel obligated to stay the whole night if they were ready to go home, but to be honest most did. We had the photo booth open all night, we did our wedding cake cutting, garter/bouquet tosses, and hit the dance floor all night.

The cocktail-style wedding reception is a great concept for those looking to save a little money and surprise their guests. We had a great response from it and it turned out to be just the fun wedding-day party we dreamed of!


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