How To Execute The Perfect Cocktail Wedding

by | Wedding Planning Wisdom, Wisdom



Cocktail receptions are often met with concerns, especially by the more ‘old at heart’ attendees, but we have also fallen victim to the occasion which has left us wanting for food (late night Maccas runs), in desperate need of a seat (these dancing feet need a rest!) and wanting some firm sense of overriding ‘order’. Well, we believe that all of the above are possible with the right balance on your timings and clever staging – something that us wedding planners thrive on!

Couples are often under the misguided impression that having a cocktail reception means everything is more relaxed and that it will just unfold on the day in a seamless and perfect manner – well hold onto your wedding hats, it’s not! If anything, we find that the more “casual” of an occasion you aim to execute, the more behind-the-scenes detailed planning is required.

Image: Kim Cartmell Photography

As wedding planners, we often find it best to have any formalities of the day take place earlier in the timeline, rather than later in the night – this allows for speechmakers to immerse themselves in the party with your other guests rather, than be kept anxiously waiting all night ‘keeping it together’.

A standard timeline of events would be something like the following…

5.30pm: Reception commences, guest arrival, cocktails to be served

6.00pm: Bridal party to arrive

6.15pm: Master of Ceremonies welcome words, bridal party introduction, speeches. You may also wish to cut the cake (if there is one, another trend that may be on your do or don’t list – a whole other feature) at this time, but it is often nice to save another special moment for later in the proceedings so as to have a buffer before opening the dance floor or any other highlights you might like to add throughout the night. This might take place around…

8.30pm: Bridal Dance, dance floor opens

Image: Jeremy Blode Photography

With food service, this will take place (caterer depending) at staggered times throughout the reception duration. Larger hand-held cocktail food served after welcome words/speeches as a lead into main course – get everyone nice and full as soon as possible – is the perfect way to kick things off! We also highly recommend placing a drink in the hands of guests as they arrive – get the crowd relaxed and create the mood that they’ve arrived at a true party! Offering a signature cocktail as an extra for the first hour of the reception is another way to set the tone from the beginning – and if it’s an option, why not add on a cheeky Espresso Martini or scotch bar later in the night alongside a late night snack … you’ll be surprised if anyone says no!

While cocktail receptions are less formal, it is paramount to ensure enough seating at your venue to accommodate your guest list. We like to provide a variety of seating (benches, bar stools, lounge suites etc) when setting a space, and believe that allowing seats for at least 70% of your attendees is a necessity – people like to have a ‘spot ’– and we’re still surprised how many guests prefer to find a space and label it as theirs (placing their jacket, handbag and other personals down immediately on arrival and therefore for the entire event duration).

Image: Elsa Campbell Photography

A cocktail setting need not be any less formal than a sit-down affair. Attire will assist with this and is another big factor towards adding even further formality at a wedding. Often couples who are inclined to a cocktail celebration are happy to keep the dress as cocktail style, but you could certainly bring black tie into your stylings and make for a suave night of decadence. With appropriate stylings you can conjure the theatre of a glamorous 1930s style soirée with chandeliers, candlelight, abundant florals and striking furniture setting the scene for a jaw dropping stage to celebrate your marriage.

The cocktail versus sit-down debate will always come down to a couple’s personal preference but in our humble opinion, as long as guests are well fed, spoilt with an array of beverages and able to dance the night away, either option will be a raging success!

Ms Floral Says: This is incredible advice for anyone planning a cocktail wedding and wondering about the structure of the event!

About will&jac: will&jac wedding planners are Catherine and Clare. Two in-the-field wedding experts with a wealth of over 40 years in industry knowledge to guide couples through the process of planning their big day. With a focus on personalised and detailed planning, will&jac pride themselves in exceeding all client expectations, providing peace of mind towards your pending celebrations.

While continuing to actively support couples, especially with the added curveballs associated with COVID celebrations, will&jac are excited to announce the release of the first in their series of wedding planner workshops! An opportunity for budding planners to learn first-hand ‘how to plan’ a wedding. Stay up-to-date with their official release dates for their 2021 series via their website


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