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Posted by Xplosive Entertainment on 07/01/2015

Cocktail-Styled Receptions vs. Traditional Receptions | Xplosive Entertainment

Cocktail-Styled Receptions vs. Traditional Receptions | Xplosive Entertainment

Cocktail Styled Receptions: The New Trend! But when is it appropriate and when does it fail?

Brides, grooms and families alike are hopping on the bandwagon of planning a “cocktail styled” reception rather than the traditional multi-coursed served meal at their formal affairs. But why? What started this trend? And is employing this non-traditional event timeline and room setup appropriate for your upcoming event?

The motive for releasing this blog comes after working four back to back separate cocktail receptions. Each were fantastic events, but they each also came with their share of challenges to over come as an entertainer The ultimate goal of this article is to help you decide if a cocktail styled reception is right for your upcoming event.

Let’s start with the obvious pros: A cocktail reception saves you money! With this arrangement, an event organizer takes advantage of the hearty appetizer spreads everyone seems to love. That immense spread of hors d’ouerves, food stations, and unique displays, create an endless smorgasbord sure to impressive to say the least. Most often these foods do not cost an arm and a leg (especially when compared to the entrée selections of Chateau Briand, Chilean Sea Bass, etc.). In fact you can save upwards of 30% with a cocktail styled reception regarding your menu pricing. So in your planning, if you want a HUGE spread of appetizers and small plates plus open dancing leading to another impressive Viennese dessert spread a cocktail reception may be for you.

Besides the cost savings, a cocktail style reception typically is more social. Very often with this arrangement, a party host will elect to skip assigning seats. Instead, a room of mixed sized tables is freely setup enticing guests to mingle more so and not “camp out” at a particular table all night.

With both of these strong advantages for planning a cocktail styled reception why would (or should) anyone consider the alternative, a traditional multi-coursed meal setting? The answer that immediately comes to my mind (as an experienced event planning professional) is that tradition works! The old adage “if it ain’t broke, then don’t fix it” applies perfectly in this situation. Don’t get me wrong; I love non-traditional events. I truly believe in thinking out of the box. But when planning a cocktail styled reception, one should think about all the possible cons too.

First, if you intend on doing traditional event formalities, such as a grand entrance, first dance or parent dances, speeches, toasts, montage, etc., your guests will want a place to sit. If they are sitting at their assigned table, they are more likely to keep quiet and pay attention. Rather (and I’ve seen this over and over again) if guests do not have an assigned seat, they will likely continue side conversations and rudely disregard the important formalities as they take place. (This may sound absurd, but believe me. Even with the strongest and most well spoken MC in the helm, commanding a drinking audience without an assigned home base is a monumental task).

Next, ask yourself if you were a guest at an event, how long would you realistically want to dance non-stop? Is a 30-minute dance set, followed by a meal break, or formality presentation ok? Or, would you rather dance for 45-minutes, an hour, or even two plus hours with no break in sight? At the last few cocktail styled receptions that I’ve been involved in, based on the challenges posed by the venue, or the distractions of all the extra entertainment guests had to indulge in, our hosts insisted on performing all event formalities up front (within the first 45-minutes of the celebration). After those important ceremonies concluded, as a DJ, we were left with over three hours of open dancing only breaking slightly for desserts (which we are often told to dance through as well).

So is a never-ending dance set… a bad thing? Well, the answer is no, not always, but also yes, it can be. How does one decide if it will be a good thing or bad thing at their event? I have to challenge you to really sit and think about your event? Will the party be during daytime with the sun shining into vast windows in your ballroom? Are your guests drinkers, dancers, food mongers or conversationalists? Do you have many formalities which take long sessions of time that guests should be sat for or conversely, are you planning a non-traditional party with very few formalities where you simply want to host an energized dance party for a few hours?

I asked a respected wedding planner for her insight on this topic. Melissa Loiacono from Jenny Orsini Events said: “Cocktail receptions are definitely popular right now, given the perceived notion that it’s a more free flowing evening, with more time to dance and socialize. That’s not always the case. I have found that most cocktail receptions actually take AWAY from dance floor activity, because the flow of food is a distraction. In many cases, the room becomes a series of backed up lines for food…essentially looking like a buffet line. Some people are eating, and others are waiting to eat…so the celebratory mood deflates.” I found her perspective very interesting and hope that when envisioning your event during planning phase, you consider this scenario too.

For an upcoming wedding that Xplosive Entertainment is providing the music and talent for, the hosts have it all figured out perfectly. This couple already got married. They tied the knot in the islands with a few lucky friends and family who were able to join. Coming back to NJ and celebrating with all their friends was of utter importance, but they elected to skip the detail and instead host a 4 hour cocktail reception. The selected a venue, the Loft in Montclair, has no outside windows, therefore it will be dark upon guest arrival. They picked a Saturday night (which always lends itself for a more electric feel). They are a young couple and expecting an audience of guests primarily under the age of 45. And, they elected to remove all standard event furniture in option to replace tables and chairs with lounge-like couches, ottomans, high-boys, and love seats. After about 60 minutes of a “cocktail hour” the DJ will be “opening the room” with a few important announcements, a short (3 minute) video recap of the Jamaican wedding, and then offering the bride and groom a change to relive their first dance, now with all friends and family present to enjoy. Half way through this dance, everyone will be invited to join in, and voila, the dance party now begins. There will be no break and no reason to stop until cake is served.

In my previous career as banquet manager, I recall dozens of clients saying that they wanted to “do something different.” Those all insisted on a “never ending appetizer party.” I asked each client the following questions: Do you want assigned seats? Are you ok with limiting some formalities? Do you think your guests will dance for three straight hours? Will the endless loud music from your DJ (in a club like setting) be accepted your guests? If guests responded with objections to those questions, I challenged them to really rethink the cocktail styled reception idea.

Bottom line, both traditional events and modern cocktail styled receptions can be spectacular. You just have to really think the entire day or night through. Evaluate all involved forces; then make your decision. Simply saying that you don’t want the DJ or Band to take breaks and you want an endless dance party isn’t always the right answer. With a team of true professionals in the driver’s seat of your event, a traditional styled party should flow seamlessly after proper planning! Formalities and meal times should not drag on forever either. So in selecting your venue and planning your affair, be sure that you have a firm understanding and realistic timeline designed which will compliment your event vision.


Written by: Michael Langsner, a veteran in the event industry. Presently, Michael is the Vice President of Xplosive Entertainment, an upscale, trendsetting event entertainment service based in Central NJ, focusing primarily on Weddings and Bar/Bat Mitzvahs. Prior to Michael’s commitment to join the Xplosive team in 2012, he rose as a Banquet and Event Director for a trendy and respected waterfront historic venue. Michael is active in many professional organizations and takes pride in keeping ahead of industry trends, yet describes himself as a detail oriented and well thought out event professional.

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