Wedding Reception Forum

Cocktail hour reception vs sit down dinner reception

My fiance and I like the idea of a cocktail and heavy hor d'oeuvres reception, vs a sit down for 2 reasons. 1 we don't want it to be your typical traditional wedding and 2, because we are attempting to make it affordable (although I realize depending on who we use for the catering, it may be just as much as a sit down).

Anyway, it's a summer wedding, late August....what would be an acceptable time for the ceremony with this to follow? Should it be a just after lunch time ceremony or just after typical dinner ceremony?

Any and all input would be awesome! And if you have more money saving tips, even better!! :)

Re: Cocktail hour reception vs sit down dinner reception

  • In my experience, the cheapest way to serve people during a meal time is to do buffet-style full meal. It is cheaper than doing hor d'oeuvres.
    If you want to just do a non-meal time reception, like 2:00, you could get away with less substantial hor d'oeuvres and get away with it.
  • I think cocktail style receptions are amazing.  But if you plan to do it during meal time, you have to have enough food to constitute a meal, which can get pricey.  Sit down meals can sometimes even be cheaper, and buffets seem to always be the cheapest option.  Price things out before making a decision.

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  • In Response to <a href="http://forums.theknot.com/Sites/theknot/Pages/Main.aspx/wedding-boards_reception-ideas_cocktail-hour-reception-vs-sit-down-dinner-reception?plckFindPostKey=Cat:Wedding BoardsForum:5Discussion:ed879f9a-9821-4004-b5ed-105b0bfb2b1fPost:297eb9f4-6c5e-46c3-858f-ac3a5f961dc3">Cocktail hour reception vs sit down dinner reception</a>:
    [QUOTE]My fiance and I like the idea of a cocktail and heavy hor d'oeuvres reception, vs a sit down for 2 reasons. 1 we don't want it to be your typical traditional wedding and 2, because we are attempting to make it affordable (although I realize depending on who we use for the catering, it may be just as much as a sit down). Anyway, it's a summer wedding, late August....what would be an acceptable time for the ceremony with this to follow? Should it be a just after lunch time ceremony or just after typical dinner ceremony? Any and all input would be awesome! And if you have more money saving tips, even better!! :)
    Posted by keller2013[/QUOTE]


    If you want to just have snack foods and not enough appetizery style foods to make a full meal, have the ceremony at 2pm, and the reception would be over by 5 or 5:30.  that timeline would most likely mean less of a "party" atmosphere.  So, if that's what you are going for, you can consider having the ceremony at 8pm, and the reception lasting from 8:30ish - midnight or something like that.
    mrsboston0917
  • Basically it has to be before dinner or after.  Usually people that want cocktail receptions want nighttime weddings so the 8:00 ceremony, 8:30 reception is what people usually do for nighttime.  Make sure you provide enough food, especially if alcohol will be served. 

    If you do the daytime wedding, realize that people will want to leave in time to go have dinner.
  • I love cocktail style receptions; they're really common in New Orleans in lieu of a sit-down dinner (in fact, I don't think I've ever been to a sit-down wedding and I've been to my fair share). 

    Typically they're at least as expensive as a full meal if you do them at meal time.   

    I agree with PPs about non-meal times if you want lighter food options.  

    I find that for cocktail receptions the best ones are a combination of passed hors d'oeuvres and stations (either "action" stations where a chef makes pasta to order/carves meat/etc. or simply stationary items like a large fruit/cheese/veggie tables, chafing dishes with pasta, etc.) so people have some things they can easily get without having to track down a waiter before his tray of food gets eaten by other guests.   It can get annoying trying to track down butlered appetizers no matter what time of day. 
    mrsboston0917
  • Jen4948Jen4948 Houston member
    Tenth Anniversary 10000 Comments 500 Love Its 25 Answers
    A cocktail/heavy hors d'oeuvres reception works best in afternoon/early evening or after 8pm.  If you're going to start the reception between 12pm and 2pm, I'd serve lunch; if you start it between 6pm and 8pm, I'd serve dinner. 
    mrsboston0917
  • Based on recent posts, I think most people expect dinner to be served at weddings starting as early as 4pm, unless the invitation specifically says otherwise (for example, "please join us for cake and punch immediately following the ceremony").   If not a seated dinner, then I think people expect to be served enough food to constitute dinner.

    OP, you are 100% correct that a cocktail-hour reception would work best at a non-meal time.  If it's a meal time and you are trying to serve enough appetizers to constitute a meal, it can get REALLY expensive.    A buffet-style dinner or "action stations" can provide enough food while still keeping the "cocktail hour" atmosphere. 

    One other thing to consider is seating.  If you are serving anything that requires a knife and fork (like carved meat), then you really need to have places for people to sit down and eat.  Even eating things with your fingers or a fork gets tricky if you are trying to hold a drink at the same time.   Once you have tables and chairs for everyone, the "cocktail party" atmosphere is usually gone.  You should carefully consider your seating options in relation to what kind of food is being served.
    DSC_9275
  • We are going with the buffet style for food. It's cheaper and if you have the food dressed up nicely, garnished, pretty platters etc, it'll look expensive lol! We are serving heavy appetizers and cake and cupcakes for dessert. I think it should suffice, right?
  • I have always liked the idea of a less formal, cocktail style reception. If you are doing it to save money, then this is possible if you have the wedding out of normal "eating" hours. Say a morning wedding, afternoon (after lunch) or have a sunset wedding (if the sun will be setting around 8 or 9pm). The last option in my opinion would be wonderful.

    You must advise the guests that it will not be a full meal so that they can eat something before if they want. Just include in the invitations that snacks will be served afterwards. That is enough warning. 

    I also personally loved the idea of a dessert wedding. So dessert buffet of bite sized desserts and sweets (and cheeses with fruits for those who don't have a sweet tooth) with champagne served. This is an economical option and much of the desserts can even be made by you or your family in the week before the wedding. 


    For more advice, tips and ideas on planning your beach wedding visit: http://www.beachwedding-guide.com
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