Throwing a cocktail reception is basically a low-key, low-stress, inexpensive alternative to a sit-down dinner reception. It can be an elegant affair or a relaxed and casual one, but either way it's sure to lessen the strain on your wallet. How does it work? Well, it's a shorter affair, cutting costs on servers and the reception site. Less food is served, so that whittles down the price (even though you are putting out more for liquor). There are no tables, linens, or china to rent. Plus, you can do without table and chair decorations. Nonetheless, wedding traditions such as the first dance, the receiving line, cutting of the cake, and the garter and bouquet toss can all be included to make the reception feel more like a wedding.
Creating the mood and style of choice all depends on the decorations, the location, and what you serve. Keep in mind though, that in the end, a cocktail reception is not your traditional wedding reception. There's no sitting, so most of the time you are on your feet, walking around, mingling, talking to guests, and dancing. This makes a cocktail reception the perfect setup for the bride and groom who love to socialize and dance all night.
Where and When
The tendency for cocktail receptions is for them to begin between five and seven in the evening. They usually last slightly less time than a normal sit-down dinner, so figure that your party will last from two to five hours.
When planning a cocktail reception you'll need to consider the location, first and foremost. Do you want to rent a lounge space, a rooftop terrace, a garden, or use your own home? Cocktail receptions can work just about anywhere so consider your favorite restaurant or bar.
The key to finding the right location is knowing how many people you expect to come. With cocktail receptions, you need enough room for people to move around easily, take a load off in some comfortable seating, and tear up the dance floor. Usually each guest needs about four square feet of space to be comfortable. Do the math and you'll get an idea of what size site to search for. Beware of over or underestimating. Too small a space will make your guests feel cramped and hot while something too large will give the idea that half of your guests decided to do something else that night.
Also keep in mind the style of the site. Is it fancy and refined or down to earth casual? Does the site have adequate seating and a big enough dance floor?
What to Serve
* Think finger foods and anything that is easy to eat in a bit or two while still holding on to your drink. Consider purchasing some buffet plates with built-in stemmed-glass holders.
* If fingers in your food gross you out, opt for tiny edibles that can be eaten with toothpicks.
* Shish kebabs are easy to handle as are anything on a stick or skewer.
* Some foods that can be eaten with little cocktail forks are good too. But then you have to rent those.
* Avoid messy sauces that can drip onto people's clothes.
* Select a variety of different things to serve.
* Choose about five or six different dishes to serve for a two hour event and ten to twelve for a four hour event or longer.
* For long events where guests arrive prior to the bride and groom, consider starting with passed hors d'oeuvres and drinks. Then when the couple arrives, there can be a series of stationary appetizer stations to choose from.
* Consider working a theme into the reception decor that can carry over into the menu.
Cheese and crackers or trays of fresh fruits and veggies are standard, as are chips and dips. Other options though have worldly appeal.