Cocktail Receptions Buying Guide

If you're short on cash or your wedding venue is a bit small, a stylish cocktail reception may be a great alternative to a full, sit-down meal.  But because this option isn't quite as traditional, it's important to plan all aspects in depth so that your guests are happily and you leave with wonderful memories of your special day.  For starters, make sure your invitations indicate that there will be a "cocktail reception to follow..." or a night of "champagne, dancing and desserts... ."  This way, your guests know what's coming and you don't have to worry about hungry Aunt Harriet asking where her fillet Mignon is.

When and Where

If your small venue isn't the reason you've decided to have the cocktail reception in the first place, then you have some fun prospects to choose from when it comes to the location. Make sure it takes place near or in the same area as the wedding ceremony. This way, your guests won't have too far to go and there's more of a chance they will show up on time and enjoy the full party. Picking a space that is conducive to the movement of guests is a practical idea, as most cocktail receptions have fewer tables than guests, thereby encouraging mingling.  Also, room to take pictures and enjoy the reception is important. An outdoor patio under the stars, the rooftop of a city skyscraper, poolside, an art gallery, or a trendy studio loft are just some of many options that cater to the needs of the reception while still being super stylish.

A proper cocktail should take place between 5 pm and 7 pm in order to ensure that it's not too early to eat, yet at the same time, guests will have some time to eat a little something before coming if they like. 

What To Have

Since there are no full-blown meals served at a cocktail reception, there is really no need for the fancy large tables with expensive centrepieces , nor the linens to dress them, the professional place cards or complex China  place settings.  Cocktail receptions are about saving cash while staying classy, remember?  So help encourage mingling wedding guests by having about half the number of tables and chairs as there are guests.  They can be small and reminiscent of the posh bar scene by being tall and sleek.  Couches are also a nice touch; they add to the overall atmosphere while allowing a place for your older guests to sit and rest awhile.  As for the younger guests, having a DJ or live band and dance floor isn't completely out of the question if the venue has enough space for it. Otherwise, consider some nice background music such as a guitar or piano player or a jazzy cd  to provide some soft tunes.

What to Serve

As for the food and alcohol, it's good to have some roving waiters wandering among the guests to offer tasty treats.  But having food stations and bars is a great way to ensure that the guests will keep moving--they've got to get to the grub!  Just make sure they're arranged in a way that doesn't encourage hungry/thirsty lines to start forming.

You might also be able to infuse some creative touches here, adding ice sculptures or chocolate fondue fountains  at the food stations to please the eye and the stomach.  And for a really fresh twist on the traditional cocktail reception, try adding a "live" cooking element, where grillers make kebabs  or Hibachi foods to order.


Topping the list of concerns for your cocktail reception are the cocktails, of course!  To keep with the theme of cheaper is better, you may want to limit the alcohol choice to beer, wine, champagne  for toasting and a few signature drinks of your choosing.  If you're looking to spice up the drink menu, however, try picking a signature drink and centre the theme around it.  Consider a few of the drinks below:

Bay Breeze 




Gin and Tonic 


Before deciding what exactly to serve, get your priorities in order.  You want to make sure that the food is substantial enough for your guests' appetites and that your foods match the time of day of the reception.  If you do opt to have it closer to midday, then you may want to have lighter hors d'oeuvres; the traditional evening reception dictates something a bit heavier.

Your foods should:

  • Mostly be finger foods that are easy to grab (or stab with a toothpick) and eat.
  • Be able to fit nicely on small buffet plates.
  • Be easily eaten while having a drink in hand.
  • Be part of a cohesive theme along with the cocktails.
  • Not be drizzled in messy sauces that are going to get on guests' fancy formal attire.


While having a standalone cocktail reception may be all that your wallet can handle, if you happen to have some cash leftover after budgeting, why not pass out some favours to your guests?


Who doesn't like to take some candy home at the end of a great celebration? Check out your options below for edible wedding favours.

Jordan Almonds : Not only do these come in a range of colours to fit your wedding theme, but you can present them in a variety of ways.  For example, you can wrap them in satchels or cute little boxes.

Chocolate:  Include some of these in your favours in the shape of hearts ,champagne bottles , or even lollipops . Be creative and match up your design with the wedding's theme.

Sugar Balls : These tiny candies come in an assortment of colours and are coated to look like pearls.  Put some in a favour box or champagne glass for a pretty effect.



Give your guests something that they can re-use to always remember the special day.

Candles : Just about anyone can use an extra candle in his or her home. Pick a nice, neutral scent and pleasing colour, then wrap the candles in mesh and tie them with a pretty ribbon.

Glassware : Consider a charming champagne glass  or a cool beer stein  inscribed with your wedding date.

Bottle Stopper : These can have interesting or different designs on the top that will commemorate your special day. And they can come in handy for just about anyone.


Cocktail hour is a great time for wedding members to sign a guest book  or poster with a personal message. Provide some fun pens in assorted colours so that everyone can write a fun entry. Disposable cameras  or photo booths are another nice way to remember your wedding guests and have an array of pictures from everyone. Also, if you have someone who's willing to carry around a video camera , why not have your guests send you some congratulatory wishes? It could be fun to watch after the ceremony is over!

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