Alternative Wedding Receptions - Cocktail Party – Texas Weddings
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Alternative Wedding Receptions – Cocktail Party

This month we’re talking about alternative types of wedding receptions, and a wedding cocktail party reception is next on our list. Think late-night-after-party-rooftop party, where the drinks are flowing, the music is on point and you and your guests dance the night away. Thinking of a pre-dinner cocktail affair? We’ve got tips on that too. Keep reading to hear how to pull off a successful wedding reception, cocktail party style.

Timing it Right

Essentially, we’re talking about two different types of cocktail wedding receptions that require different considerations when finalizing your timeline.

A pre-dinner reception works well if you’re wanting a relaxed, and inevitably shorter, wedding reception. If a standard wedding reception doesn’t seem like your thing, or you’re wanting to celebrate but not break the bank, this might be a good option for you. You can host an elegant afternoon event that is enjoyable for your guests and gives you more time to interact with them.

You’ll want to consider your guests’ experience in the timing of your event. For example, if you take the traditional hour for photos after your ceremony, you won’t have long to actually attend your own reception. If your first dance is a wedding tradition you want to keep, consider beginning with that as you enter the reception area. Your guests will be happy to look on and take photos, but adding additional dances and they may begin to lose interest.

In regards to the ceremony, a pre-dinner event works best with shorter ceremonies. You’ll want to keep the ceremony portion around half an hour before moving onto the reception. Depending on your final timeline, the reception itself will likely be around two hours, with an additional half an hour prior to the bride and groom entrance.

An after-party means lots of cocktails and dancing, and if you give enough food, your party will likely run till midnight or 1am. This is a great option for couples whose guests love to light up the night, and can easily stay fueled throughout the event.

Be sure to consider the start time of your reception as it relates to your ceremony. Your guests will need time to eat dinner and get ready for the wedding, so beginning prior to 7PM is not likely feasible.

Alternatively, you could opt for a smaller ceremony in the late afternoon. Gather a few of your nearest and dearest earlier in the day, take a dinner break and reconvene at the after party for a memorable wedding.

Tiffany Hofeldt Photography

Solutions for Seating

A cocktail wedding reception needs plenty of room to mix and mingle. But don’t forget seating all together.

For a pre-dinner light cocktail reception, you’ll want to incorporate seating for about 20% of your guests. Grouping clusters of two to four chairs around a low bistro table will be a godsend to older guests. Considering a pre-dinner cocktail reception will be naturally shorter as guests will head to dinner after, most guests will be moving around the space and interacting before their feet tire.

If you’re planning on a post-dinner cocktail reception, you’ll want to increase the seating. Create a martini lounge vibe with lounge furniture grouped in different areas. Your guests will appreciate the comfort as they collapse on the couch after tearing up the dance floor. You’ll want to still add those tables of four for visual variety and to ensure enough seating. Imagine your favorite club with a large center dance floor surrounded by couches and tables, and you’ll get the idea.

Make the Music Count

Music sets the mood and signals to your guests the formality of the event.

If you’re opting for a pre-dinner wedding cocktail reception, avoid hard-hitting and loud music. This is a great option for a spanish guitarist for an outdoor garden party, or a string quartet in the corner of a museum. Your guests won’t quite be ready to do the wobble at this hour, so if you do prefer a DJ, keep the music low key.

For a late night cocktail party, the right DJ is one of the most important elements. With this event, you’re skipping the formality of dinner and going straight to the good stuff. You’ll want a DJ that knows how to work the room and get the guests grooving early on to keep the energy in the room on the upswing.

Food for Thought

Though you’re not providing dinner, your menu selections are just as important with a cocktail reception, with an even larger variety of options.

For a pre-dinner reception, you can keep the selections light. Passed appetizers give your event elegance and variety. Be sure your passed appetizers can be consumed in a bite or two. You don’t want your guests attempting to juggle larger items and feel tempted to seek out a table to sit at.

You can always make dinner reservations for you and your bridal party for a more intimate setting. If you decide to eat with your family or just as a couple after, plan a thank you luncheon for your wedding party on a separate occasion. Even with a simple wedding, bridesmaids often do the same amount of work prior to make your engagement season a success.

A post-dinner cocktail party means you’ll want to keep your guests well fed.

While you’re taking your photos, start your guests off with passed appetizers. Your guests will be ready for a cocktail, so you’ll want to pass drinks along with those appetizers.

Also, this is the perfect opportunity to mix in some cool food stations. Oyster bars paired with tequila, street tacos alongside margaritas, or a sushi bar alongside sake offerings will look great in photos in addition to tasting good.

Timing your food stations is important. Depending on your final timeline and additional food choices, you may not want to open the stations right away. If you do open up the stations later, say after you arrive at the reception, be sure the DJ announces the opening to your guests.

Late night snacks are always appreciated by wedding guests, especially after a night of drinks. Work with your caterer to come up with filling and fun options like nacho bars, chicken and waffles or sliders.

Additionally, since your wedding will be unconventional, your dessert options can be as well. Work with your bakery to switch things up by offering cupcakes, cookies or mini pies. If you want the traditional cake cutting photo, ask your bakery for a small cake just for the two of you.


Sample Timeline – Pre-Dinner Cocktail Party

3PM Ceremony

4PM Cocktail Reception begins

4:30PM Toasts

5:30PM Cake Cutting

6PM Event Concludes

Sample Timeline – Post-Dinner Cocktail Party

8PM Ceremony

9PM Reception

9:30PM Couple arrives, dancing begins

10:30PM Toasts

11PM Cake Cutting

12PM Event Concludes