some things to consider


Courtesy The Gardens at Bullimah with thoughts from Etc. Event Styling, WedShed and Wedspiration

Please note: We have a handy downloadable/print-friendly PDF version of this blog article HERE.


The beautiful thing about weddings today is that anything goes.

In providing a reception celebration, there is always a decision about what style of reception you wish to have. There are a lot of factors in determining that style and one of the most often asked questions we have is:

 “What style works best?”

The answer is both work!

So, given that’s not very helpful in assisting you in making the decision between styles, let’s look at the reasons why YOU might choose one style over the other.

Generally you hear people say that a cocktail wedding is a more relaxed, informal and social option, with guests having the opportunity to mix and mingle throughout the evening, whilst a sit- down option is  often seen as  a more  formal option,  that offers  structure for the traditional elements when it comes to the actual “flow” of your evening.

The truth is, as far as we can tell – you can have either a relaxed ‘sit-down style’ or a more formal ‘cocktail style!

The first thing to say, then, is that it is not necessarily the reception type that determines whether you have a relaxed or a formal vibe.  There are other elements that do that. Your furniture, décor, food and overall styling can help to create a relaxed OR formal feel for either option, so don’t feel restricted. For example, you can completely dress up a cocktail reception with luxe accents, more formal food options and the inclusion of traditional elements or you can create a low-key vibe for your sit-down reception with earthy timbers, natural textures, informal speeches and family style food rather than a three- course drop.

So, let’s see if we can nut through some of the elements and some of the advantages and disadvantages of one style over another so that you can make an informed choice.

One thing that is certain, is that food is involved. You need to feed your guests!  So, let’s talk about food first.

The Food

The elegant sit-down meal served according to a carefully constructed menu between you and your caterer is a very personal gift to your guests and it is still very popular.

There are also less-formal versions of the sit-down meal which still allow you to provide your beautiful and personalised table settings (one thing our brides love) and provide a less traditional form of sit-down meal.

The ‘family style’ or ‘communal feasting’ has become super popular with big shared platters of food served on tables for friends and family to tuck into together. Having servings of food for 6- 8 repeated down the table is a great way to break the ice and have people who may not otherwise know each other, chatting within minutes. We’re loving it.

Over the past few years there’s also been a boom in cocktail-style weddings, where canapé service, picnics, gourmet BBQs and/or grazing tables feed guests, and mingling is the aim.

Really, when it comes to the food, the only rule is ….there needs to be enough food to go around! Preferably more than enough.  Remember, your guests are drinking (some quite a lot) and plenty of food (and water) is a must.

There seems to be a common belief that cocktail-styled weddings are cheaper than their counterpart, the sit-down wedding. Don’t jump to this conclusion too quickly.

You need to feed you guests pretty much all night long at a cocktail style. Generally, you will start with canapes – good sized and served every 10- 15 minutes (so usually between 5 and 8 canapes depending on the timing of your wedding reception) then follow up with at least two or three small but substantial fillers plus a few dessert choices. For a cocktail wedding it is also common to have a later night snack included. This is particularly appreciated by the gentlemen and those who may have imbibed a little more alcohol than they had intended!

If serving cocktail style canapes, think about portions – if you were to put all the canapés allocated per guest on a plate, would it be enough to make a meal? If you’re doing a cocktail-style wedding, consider serving up some substantial finger food, like slider burgers or mini pies to fill people up.

Etc. Event Styling, Wedspiration and WedShed share their tips and considerations to help you make the choice between cocktail and sit-down celebrations. The following is a combination of their thoughts with what we have noticed.


Don’t forget the ladies and the oldies – provide some seating

If you’re going for a cocktail style wedding, please remember to spare a thought for all the ladies in heels, especially if they have been standing through your ceremony, and your pre-reception.   Standing / walking/dancing feet need a rest occasionally.

If you have elderly guests attending, they will be looking for comfortable seating options to mingle quietly rather than standing and walking the room all evening. And you’ll be thankful you will have somewhere to rest-up too!

The traditional ratio in a cocktail style, is to have enough seats for about a third of your guests, made up of bar stools, regular seats and armchairs or couches scattered around (strategically of course).

Seriously consider a seating plan

If you’re opting for a seated wedding, we’d recommend doing a seating plan. Yes, it’s a painful job but it means that there’s no stress for guests that are trying to find table space together. There is a bit of swing away from seated plans. Couples are sometimes opting for the more ‘organic’ notion of allowing people to sit where they want. We have found that this doesn’t work very well! People like being told where to go and it feels more personal (to us at least) when you arrive and there’s a nice little name place-card waiting for you. Plus, it’s handy for the ladies to be able to leave bags and jackets at their seat.

No chairs to hang jackets, leave bags etc

This is a consideration if opting for cocktail style. If you are having a standing cocktail style, you will need to think about options for your guests to hang their jackets and places to put their bags. No one wants to hang on to a handbag all night!

Think about ways to keep your guests entertained, either way

If it’s a cocktail reception, activities like Giant Jenga or photo booths are always a hit. However, during a sit-down meal, it could be nice to introduce some fun table games for your guests to play.

Things like quizzes about the bride and groom, or ‘chatter boxes’ or advice for the bride and groom are good ice-breakers, particularly for guests that are sitting with new friends.

Be clear on meal service

 Guests are often confused about what a cocktail style wedding means food-wise. It is always a great idea to make note of this on your invites so your guests aren’t left wondering if they should be fasting or loading up their bellies before the event.

Don’t let price be the sole seller

Go with your intuition. If you and your family/friends are used to having a sit-down dinner and mingling that way, then go for the sit down. If you’re more the type that visit beer gardens and prefer to nibble on tapas and canapés, go for cocktail style.

Still can’t decide? One last piece of advice….

If you’re really torn and hoping to gain the best of both worlds, you can!

Here’s how:

Opt for a wedding with drinks and small canapés served after your ceremony, giving your guests the opportunity to mingle, maybe while you’re getting photos taken with your bridal party.

Guests can then be invited to a sit-down main meal which can allow you to schedule in certain speeches, cutting of the cake and dances nicely.

Then have a dessert buffet set -up or have roaming desserts. Guests can be on the dance floor while wait-staff bring around a selection of your favourite bite-sized sweets. 


A few more tips

To have a more relaxed sit-down style:

If you’re doing a sit-down meal have wines ready to go for guests when they sit down to eat. 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 and a more relaxed vibe for people to help themselves.

Think about numbers and the space available on a wet day

Your numbers will come into play here. You can generally fit more guests into a space by hosting a stand-up celebration.

Don’t worry – people are there for you

Whatever style you choose, your guests are there to celebrate with YOU. So just go with whatever fulfils your vision for the day.