Cocktail-style Wedding Reception - Lead
Credit: Choco Studio

A typical wedding reception usually includes a multi-course sit-down dinner before guests hit the dance floor for the rest of the night. And everyone who has ever planned one knows that there is one major and very common problem with that setup. At some point while drafting the seating chart, you realize that you have at least several guests who don't really "belong" to any of the tables that are filled with friends and relatives who are familiar and comfortable with one another.

Anna Kendrick's movie Table 19 deals exactly with that situation, and while the movie itself is hilarious, the situation in reality can be quite awkward if you're one of those guests. So what do you do? Do you draft all the floating singles and couples to their own table or sprinkle them throughout? How about neither?

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If you are throwing a modern wedding, why not opt out of the traditional sit-down dinner and go for a cocktail-style reception instead? They are fun, social, and a great way to let your guests mingle with whoever they want to (as opposed to only with the person sitting on their left or right).

The first thing you may want to do is set expectations ahead of the event so everyone is aware of the type of event you're hosting.

"It's important to let your guests know what to expect—wording on the invitation suite, wedding website low-down or even a weekend itinerary upon check-in. This will ensure communication is clear and set the tone for the event," suggests Jill Perez of Kate & Company.

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Credit: Nadia D

Next, plan the layout and flow of the cocktail and food service.

"Avoid long lines by passing drinks and food as well as setting up various stations strategically spaced to utilize space wisely," she says. "A mix of tall tables and low tables should be present. Consider elderly guests who may prefer to be seated to ensure a hospitable experience."

Speaking of food, this is where you can get creative. Since you will most likely be passing hors d'oeuvres and small bites, you can work with your caterer to create a menu that includes a variety of dishes. Don't forget about your vegetarian and vegan guests and make sure you include options for them as well.

A cocktail-style reception is also a great opportunity for your photographer to capture more natural and non-posey moments, according to Mike Peyzner, photographer and co-founder of ChocoStudio. But he warns that the challenge is to make sure your guests feel like there is structure to the event.

"A good way of handling this dilemma is to have at least some of your main reception events clearly displayed on a schedule. This will help set a natural pace to your wedding and keep some of your more curious guests from wondering what to expect," he suggests.

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Credit: 24 Carrots

Finally, if you're skipping the whole cake cutting moment, then opt for a dessert table so that guests can treat themselves to whatever they fancy, or have butlers pass around different kinds of sweet treats to keep the flow of the event more casual.