Things to make you go ‘I do’.

Cocktail vs. sit-down weddings – some things to consider

We love that weddings right now are personal, creative and traditions are still sentimental but updated and fresh and we are even seeing some new ideas appear.

Gone are the days when guests spent considerable times seated with food service of a chicken-or-fish alternate drop affair. We see so much more of the couples personalities popping in. From feast dining and share platters currently more popular anything else, food trucks and vans adding some flair and stunning cocktail events. We’re loving it.

We are seeing such a rise in cocktail-style weddings, where canapé service, picnics, gourmet BBQs and/or grazing tables feed guests, and mingling is king.

There are no rules (in our book) about feeding your guests, except that there needs to be enough food to go around – in excess, preferably – and it needs to be easy to find. Because no one wants to be that vulture flocking to harass the wait staff the moment they see them (but we’ll do it if we need to). Responsible service of alcohol is something that needs to be considered too, you want your guests to leave happy, full and with great memories of the night (no sick bag in sight please).

We asked Forethought by Samantha to share their tips and considerations to help you make the choice between cocktail and sit-down celebrations. Here are their thoughts.


Can a cocktail wedding be a cheaper option?

Yes! Maybe ….

However this really depends on you. Food can definitely be cheaper for a cocktail wedding unless you get excited and add oysters! It is all about your decisions as we have had cocktail weddings with a divine menu set at $55 per head and several epic and interactive cocktail dining experiences for $110 per head. This is no different for seated dining – it is all about the menu.

Often couples who opt for a cocktail event will add more variety at the bar and this will definitely increase your bar costs. Cocktails really do hike up the bill! You will save on cutlery, linens, glassware (I like to calculate glassware based on bar requirements and then you have the additional glassware on the table – not required for a cocktail event) and also printing of menus and table numbers and table styling. You will also no longer need all of those dining chairs either!! But … if all of these things were included in your venue hire, then you are going to spend more for a cocktail wedding – whereas this is the opposite for a dry hire or private property wedding as in these cases for hire items a cocktail event is cheaper.

What you will need to do for a cocktail wedding is to create more seating nooks and lounging areas to allow guests to rest their feet and for any older guests to have a cuppa and escape the dance floor (no stereotyping here some Nanna’s are the last to leave!). Some great high bars for standing around. Aiming to seat around 70 percent of your guests. As you no longer have beautiful big styled tables you will need to ensure you add some flair around with florals, bar arrangements and cool signage. A photography backdrop is a great opportunity to add some colour and style!

How do I ensure I have enough food?

When deciding on the style of catering couples are often concerned that a cocktail wedding will see their guests hungry. I can assure you if you get this right, the opposite will be the case. The success of a wedding in my experience comes down to choosing an amazing team of course, but the planning and timing is imperative to the overall guest experience.

Ensure you have something light post ceremony, such as a few small canapés roaming around that people can nibble on with their champagne or cocktail on arrival. A grazing table is amazing at this point too. Move on to some more substantial cocktail food as you get closer to dinner time, there are some delicious options out there – consider drip factor here! Around 9.00 – 9.30pm you would kick off with some dessert canapés or fingers of wedding cake. But the real show stopper and saviour of sore heads the next day is the soak! A 10.30-11.00pm gourmet toastie or slider or even party pies will be devoured.


How do I know which one I really want?

Deciding which style suits you better never really stems from budget, it is all about the vibe. For some the idea of formal dining, speeches interwoven around courses and then moving straight to the dance floor is wedding perfection. For example at a seated wedding you ensure flow by setting the tone at each element – pre reception add some gorgeous acoustic tunes, some games sprinkled on the lawn, cocktail tables and little lounge areas with some beautiful canapés being served. Then the guests move to the reception to be seated, bar brings out gorgeous wines to match the meal, music shift to background tunes, and your planning kicks in with strategically placed speeches right through to cutting the cake, first dance and then party time!

For others it is the chance to not be behind a table at all and to be mingling and moving about freely. I definitely support still keeping a wedding flow as you would with seated dining so that guests feel they are attending a well thought out event and they are not missing any of the important bits or a little structure like your speech and cutting of the cake or first dance (if these are your jam of course). Planning your changes in catering around these highlights and the offerings at the bar will keep guests interested and engaged whilst still being able to move about and have fun.

Whatever the vibe is you are going for, when planning you need to consider what it is that is most important to you. If this is getting your peeps on the dance floor as soon as you can, then you need to work backwards from the time you expect that first epic tune to invite them in! For some it is allowing plenty of time for speeches and if this is the case you should hold off to post dinner as no chef likes to serve food that has been keeping warm an hour longer than it should.

Signage is everything

Signage is the underestimated setter of style! Adds some personality and allows guests to feel comfortable with whats next and what is available and even where to go! For seated dining nothing is more welcoming that a gorgeous seating chart and name card, allowing guests to drop their jackets on their chairs and purses on the table (after photos!). For a cocktail event signs are so fun! Particularly for your bar and dance floor or any activities you have for guests as they mingle.

Want a cocktail wedding but cant get the parents across the line?

If you really want the casual feel of a cocktail wedding but have family that crave a bit of tradition and some hearty share platters … try this:

  • Bring your ceremony time back to allow an extra 30 minutes at least of mingling at your pre reception and even opt for roaming entree as opposed to seated.
  • Have only one course seated – a gorgeous opulent shared feast works well for this and reduces the amount of time people are sitting down.
  • For the sweet treat, have dessert canapés or a dessert table. Having your dance floor outside is a good way to bring guests back out and into the mingling atmosphere you are keen for, desserts can be out there waiting for them. If you do this, announce your cake cutting and first dance and that you need all guests to come and join you outside for these formalities .. job done! 😉


Last tips.

It is great to let guests know your wedding style so they can dress and prepare accordingly. This comes back to the location and the weather too! Have a gals back and let your ladies know what shoes they should wear, should they bring a jacket! A lot of cocktail weddings tend to be outside (I love this so much!) and this is amazing, however in some locations this can mean by 10.30pm the temperature is going to drop. All good if you are on the dance-floor not so much if you are mingling and chatting.

Drinks! Either way you go please ensure you have enough bar staff to keep your guests hydrated in all the fun ways of course. Setting up water stations away from the bar is a great way to assist with long lines. As for bar service if you are opting for table service allocate  staff as they do in a restaurant, have them servicing certain tables so that you know your guests will be well looked after. Don’t be fooled into thinking you will need less bar staff for a cocktail wedding – this is not the case with a bar open the whole time you will need extra staff particularly if you are offering cocktails. Remember the staff need breaks too and they wont have the same type of speeches lull at a cocktail wedding as they usually keep on coming up to the bar regardless as opposed to seated dining when that would be too obvious!


– Forethought by Samantha


WedShed’s last words:

Have food points scattered around your reception for guests arrival

To avoid people even thinking about where they’re going to get food (and let’s face it – it will be the first thing on most gent’s minds after the ceremony), set up multiple food stations for guests – just a charcuterie or cheese plate here and there. That way, the hungry can start pecking and everyone can relax.

Have wines ready to go for guests when they sit down to eat

If you’re doing a sit-down meal, one option is to have buckets of wine ready to be cracked and poured by guests. Yes, drinks service by catering staff is awesome and we recommend it, but it will take some time for them to get around to everyone so make it easy for people to help themselves.

Don’t worry – people are there for you and not for the food anyway

Whatever food service option or combo you choose, your guests will get their fill. So just go with whatever fulfils your vision for the day.

You can (and should) find Forethought by Samantha on their website.  The gorgeous wedding pictured above is at stunning Mount Ophir Estate and photographed beautifully by Corinna and Dylan.

Find more advice, guidance and wedding questions debunked here

4th November, 2015

Leave a comment


  1. In my experience, guests really like the informal nature of a well-run cocktail event.
    The usual format of 3 course meal and speeches is slowly being overtaken by cocktail events.

    One of the downsides of a sit-down wedding is that guests are stuck where they are and don’t have the opportunity to circulate until the music and dancing starts, and then it’s often difficult to circulate.

    Sit down weddings, with their formality are easier to manage than cocktail events.

    When I say “manage” I mean controlling the flow of the event, getting the speeches organised and so on, so that the show is run in a smooth manner.

    If you are having a cocktail event, plan how you will manage the speeches, the bridal dance, the cutting of the cake and so on.

    Do this well before the event otherwise you may end up in chaos.

    If you are having a cocktail event, consider the needs of the older guests and give them places to set up shop, the way that they do, away from the noise levels. Older people generally complain that they can’t hear conversations in high ambient noise levels.

    A cocktail event, enables you to plan a shorter, but more energised event – an event that sends your guests home buzzing.

    They say that “last impressions last” and too many wedding receptions just peter out, and guests wish they could have gone home sooner.

    That’s a poor last impression for your wedding day. It’s a big ask to have your marriage ceremony at 3pm and expect your guests to be still on their toes at midnight – 9 hours later.

    You can start your cocktail event with your bridal dance, get the dancing started early, get your guests moving around.

    As long as you pay attention to the good advice given in WedShed’s article, a cocktail event is well worth considering.

    Martin Moroney is a marriage celebrant and MC who specialises in weddings with a big “Wow factor”.

  2. That is so beautiful!!! It took my breath away. Thanks

  3. We are planning a cocktail wedding reception for our wedding in November 22 and would appreciate any suggestions on how to set this up in our family home for approximately 40 guests.
    A wide variety of food suggestions would be greatly appreciated.
    Karen and Tony

    Tony Schinella
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