Do You Really Need a Full Wedding Reception?

If the thought of planning a full-scale wedding reception with a big meal and dancing is just too much for you to bear, perhaps you’d like to simplify, and plan a cocktail reception instead.

Full disclosure: I’m a mobile DJ, and I chose a cocktail reception when I got married more than 25 years ago. That may be blasphemous to the mobile entertainment industry, because most cocktail receptions don’t use a DJ (mine did – for background music). But older couples, and those beginning second marriages, may prefer a more intimate setting without all the pageantry and stress. Here are some of the advantages of a cocktail reception:

No food issues. No need to accommodate guests with special dietary restrictions. No worrying that several people who didn’t bother to RSVP will show up unannounced and expect dinners that weren’t planned or prepared. A cocktail reception can simply have a table full of light or heavy hors d’oeuvres from which to choose. You can designate some gluten-free foods, or make other accommodations. But it’s not a full dinner, so no one will arrive expecting a 7-course meal.

No seating chart. Cocktail receptions are usually standing affairs. People can move from cocktail table to cocktail table and converse with other guests of their choosing, rather than being assigned to a single table full of strangers for an hour and a half. And you don’t have to fret about who to seat next to whom. Typically, it’s good to have enough seats for about half of your guest list, because some of your guests will want to have longer conversations.

No red-eye flights. There’s nothing worse that having to stay after a 6-hour wedding reception to say goodbye to all of your guests, then rush to the airport for a 2am honeymoon flight. Or staying up late and having to wake up on four hours sleep to catch a 7am flight. A cocktail reception is typically shorter than a full reception. It can even be held in the afternoon. So you’ll be well-rested when it’s time to take off on your honeymoon.

No drunks. If you serve only beer and wine with your appetizers, you’ll save a fortune on your bar bill. Plus, since your reception will be relatively short, it’s far less likely that your guests will be “overserved.” So there’s less risk of someone engaging in inappropriate drunken behavior.

Less expense. Hosting a 3-hour afternoon reception that ends at, say, 4:30pm, gives your reception venue time to turn the room around for an evening reception; so you’ll probably get a very favorable price for the room. 

Some ideas. Rent a photo booth. Hire specialty entertainers for short performances — perhaps a string quartet, a Mariachi band, some Blues Brothers impersonators, a bagpiper, an Irish dancing troupe, or Those Funny Little People. You won’t need 6 hours of DJ music for a three-hour reception. Because they perform for only short periods, specialty performers can do three or four parties in a night, and they don’t cost as much. 

Be clear. When you send out your invitations, be sure to note that you’re hosting a cocktail and hors d’oeuvres reception, and that no meal will be served.

If you don’t care to spend the next few months anxiously worrying about flowers, centerpieces, favors, entertainment, timelines and such, and all you need is a few hours to share with the people closest to you, you may find that a cocktail reception is your best option.

© Fourth Estate Audio, 2016 – Jay Congdon is president of Fourth Estate Audio, a professional Chicago DJ and Chicago Wedding DJ company.   

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