Cocktail Party vs Sit-down Dinner

Lilian Haidar Photography

By Jennifer Cox

Should we host a simple cocktail party or an inevitably more complicated sit-down dinner?

I battled with this decision when planning my own wedding.  They each have their pros and cons, and I love the feeling that each type of event creates. A cocktail party is more relaxed, the food is less costly (which means more wiggle room to splurge on certain items), and the laid-back atmosphere really reflects who we are as a couple. And yet a sit-down dinner is more formal and traditional, something we also considered ourselves to be.

So, which is best?

Cocktail party receptions are much easier to coordinate – there’s less food, meaning less logistical nightmares such as rentals (dinnerware, flatware, serving dishes); there’s often more menu choices (so there’s something for everyone to eat, including vegetarians and guests with allergies); and they’re very intimate. These types of parties are more appropriate for smaller weddings.

A sit-down dinner may take more time to plan, however there’s something to be said about the formality and elegance of hosting a three-, five-, or seven-course meal for your closest family and friends. It’s definitely the more traditional route and creates a classic setting for a reception. But don’t forget: a more formal meal calls for things like seating charts, escort cards, table numbers, complete place settings, and in general a lot more organizing.

It’s really about what works best for your party. We had a lot of out-of-towners that we were hoping would come into Montreal to be at the wedding, so in the end we decided we wanted to have a full meal for them. But I definitely think the next time I get married (to the same man, of course, maybe for our vow renewal down the road) I would love an elegant, intimate cocktail party. I even have my centerpieces picked out (but don’t tell my husband – he’ll have visions of the bridezilla I’d become last year!)


The Plantation House

Project Wedding

My Dream Wedding Venue

Bridal Guide

First Photo: Lilian Haidar Photography; Second Photo: Inspirador; Third Photo: The Plantation House; Fourth Photo: Project Wedding; Fifth Photo: My Dream Wedding Venue; Sixth Photo: Bridal Guide

Jennifer Cox is a Montreal based freelance journalist who loves everything from weddings to foodie news, photography & candy!

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4 Comments  |  Filed Under: Wedding Reception

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  1. Posted by Paula@DWItaly on August 31st, 2010 at 10:22am

    I've fallen completely in love with the lanterns in the first photo, and the whole set up too...
  2. Posted by Jenn on August 31st, 2010 at 10:29am

    i looove paper lanterns! :) thanks for reading Paula!
  3. Posted by Sarah on September 27th, 2012 at 10:36am

    Thank you! I have needed a well thought out pro/con in support of a cocktail party reception! I'm having an intimate beach wedding with the reception at my uncles' ocean view condo. Multiple people keep trying to get me to have a formal sit down, but it's just not "us". Thank you for making me feel less crazy!
  4. Posted by Christina on September 27th, 2012 at 2:39pm

    You are welcome Sarah! Go with what feels right.
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