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The Bride's Guide Blog

An Editor's Perspective: To Seat or Not to Seat?

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I absolutely love attending weddings. Why else would I be in this business? Some of my favorite wedding moments are seeing the bride for the first time in her dress, watching the first dance and the cutting of the cake.

One part of a wedding that I sometimes find awkward is the moment the guests find out their seating assignments. Am I seated at the work table? Swinging singles table? The table with the crazy old aunt who dresses up her cats? So, I have chosen at my own wedding to skip the assignments altogether and go with an all cocktail-style reception. I asked my caterer, Betty Brooklyn Catering, to share with me some tips on making sure a cocktail-style reception goes smoothly.

Top tips for cocktail-style receptions by Betty Brooklyn Catering:


Cocktail-style receptions are increasingly more popular with couples wishing to eschew the formality of more traditional sit-down weddings. With some thoughtful planning, they can be fun, relaxed, and sophisticated all at once.

Inform your guests in advance

Let your guests know that your event will be served as an extended cocktail party with lots of fun hors d’oeuvres. Some guests are intimidated by non-traditional weddings; charting a clear description of the evening’s festivities within a program or on your wedding website will go a long way in making them comfortable.

Izik Mishan Photography

Create collective moments

Cocktail-style receptions have their own natural flow; friends and family mingle, eat, and dance and the lack of formal structure is a plus for many couples. However, without a traditional wedding timeline, a standard 5-hour reception can seem drawn-out without something that bring your guests together. A recent cocktail-style wedding we catered featured an aerial circus performance mid-way through the night. Another wedding this year will have a handmade mini-golf course!  Think of a fun way to incorporate your interests into your event's activities!

Get crafty at the bar

Consider your bar offerings as an extension of your party’s personality; consider including custom cocktails that reflect who you are as a couple. Surprise guests with hidden bars that are only open for a short time or perhaps offer “stations” with food and wine pairings.

Offer a specialty non-alcoholic cocktail

In deciding what libations to serve your guests, don’t forget that not everyone drinks. Offer a grown-up booze-free beverage, like our Cucumber-Mint Fizz. This and several other of our handmade non-alcoholic beverage options double as exquisite cocktail mixers.

Be savvy about seating

Seating is one of the obvious differences between a floor plan for a cocktail-style reception verses a traditional seated dinner. You’ll want to include a variety of table sizes with plenty of tall cocktail tables to encourage mingling and flow. There should be seating for approximately 65-75 percent of your total guest count. Reserve a couple larger banquet tables for honored and elderly guests as they are the most likely to want a place to sit down. Keep in mind that round tables allow guests to move better than square or rectangular tables do.

Leverage your rentals to emphasize your wedding’s free-flowing vibe

Consider renting furniture lounge seating to give your guests the option of getting comfortable and create a sense of space. Patina Vintage Rentals has lots of gorgeous seating options that make a statement and hold up as a focal design element; we are smitten with their Perry Sofa.

Serve a meal’s worth of food

Supplement bite-sized passed hors d’oeuvres with passed small plates and/or cocktail stations to make sure your guests stay full throughout the evening.

Combine stationery and passed items

We generally offer lighter passed bite-sized hors d’oeuvres and stationary hors d’oeuvre displays (like artisanal cheeses and charcuterie). This is then followed by heavier hors d’oeuvres in the form of small plates or cocktail stations (or a selection of both). Small plates are elegant, scaled-down versions of entrees (think 2-5 bites in size) that require only a fork or spoon to eat and can be passed on trays by servers. Cocktail stations are mini curated buffets that are staffed. Inherently less formal, they are a great option for infusing a theme or a little kitsch into your reception. Couples that come from different cultural backgrounds often opt for stations featuring their native cuisines. Check out our NYC-Inspired Cocktail Wedding menu to see an example of this style in action.

Offer a diverse selection of tastes

Cocktail style weddings are ideal for creative menus with lots of variety.  They're the one place where it’s appropriate to serve a wide variety of flavors and even cuisines side by side.  Enjoy the inherent flexibility.  You can even use some of your menu selections to give an homage to a special wedding guest, a traditional cuisine in your or your fiancé’s background or a favorite travel destination.

Serve a non-traditional dessert

You can serve any type of dessert with a cocktail-style reception, but cocktail parties definitely lend themselves to smaller cookies and bite-sized desserts that can be beautifully displayed or passed around the room. It’s a chance to be a little irreverent and whimsical; we’ve even done a root beer float and ice cream sandwich station at a wedding for a couple with a true soft spot for sweets.

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