The Pros & Cons of a Cocktail vs Seated Wedding

What to choose? Let's Figure Out Your Wedding Vibe

The ULTIMATE decision: Should I go cocktail or seated at my wedding reception? Ohhh, it’s a tough one!

What’s the difference? In a nutshell, a cocktail reception is way more relaxed and your guests will fill up on hors d’oeuvres and small bites throughout the reception. A seated reception is more formal and your guests will eat plated meals or help themselves to a buffet. Both are great options and both have the same outcome - good food fills hungry tummies.

Both, however, give your wedding a totally different feel. The also have different costs associated, different space requirements and a whole heap of other pros and cons.

To make it all a bit clearer, we’ve compiled a list of here for you to compare and hopefully make your decision easier:


The cocktail hour reception has definitely surged in popularity lately, particularly among couples who prefer a more relaxed reception. They can be super elegant and stylish and allow your guests the chance to mingle. None of those dreaded seating plans! It’s a good idea to use a mix of tall and low seating and table options so your guests will be comfortable and it’ll provide the reception are with a more interesting and balanced look.

The Pros:

  • Perfect for a smaller venue or to invite more people than you might to a seated wedding.
  • Cocktail-style receptions allow you and your groom to easily circulate throughout the room and chat with everyone. It also allows for a more social atmosphere where guests can mingle rather than limiting them to interacting primarily with those seated at their table.
  • Since you’re not serving a main entrée and don’t have extensive table settings requirements, you could cut down costs.
  • You can get a little more creative with the food and its presentation. Think food trucks and grazing stations. Just make sure your venue has the space! You want people to be able to access the truck(s) easily, but you don’t want them to take up too much precious space.

The Cons:

  • Some guests may not have ever attended a cocktail wedding reception (we’re talkin’ to you grandma), so anticipate some confusion with a few guests. It’s important to word your invitation clearly so guests know what to expect.
  • Cocktail receptions aren’t always necessarily cheaper than seated. Your guests will likely drink more than at a dinner reception, so your alcohol costs might go up. And depending on the style of furniture and décor, costs may be similar to a sit-down reception.
  • Deciding on furniture can be slightly more complicated as you need to decide on options that can seat 50-70% of your guests. You will also have to factor in extra items like textiles, cushions, rugs, additional seating like lounges to fill out and style the space.
  • Since most people won’t be seated, some guests will have trouble seeing events like speeches and the first dance.


A seated reception is a more traditional way of doing things, where there’s a natural flow to the events that guests would expect. Family and friends can be treated to a three-course (or more) sit-down or buffet dinner and look forward to breaking out on the dancefloor after formalities are out of the way. Despite being a sit-down reception, you can still decide to go as formal or informal as you like. You also get to have lots of fun with the styling of table settings, seating plans and deciding on what style of food you want to serve.

The Pros:

  • A seated reception allows you to treat your guests and say thank you to them for being there to celebrate your special day.
  • Planning the furniture for a sit-down reception is probably less tricky. The number of your guests will dictate your furniture and tableware needs. As will the style of sit-down mean (plated or buffet), the number of courses you serve and the style of table setting (formal or informal).
  • Everyone at the table gets their food at the same time.
  • You can spread out activities (like dances and toasts) between each course to keep guests engaged and maintain a nice energy throughout the meal service.

The Cons:

  • A sit-down meal requires more servers, both due to the plating in the kitchen and to serve the meal to guests. So the staffing portion of your catering bill will be higher.
  • The food options are limited to what you picked during your tasting, so if you have a lot of picky eaters in attendance, there’s a chance they may not eat everything on their plate. Also, couples are in charge of keeping track of and tallying dinner selections, which can become a pain if you need to track down people who have failed to RSVP on time.
  • Planning the seating chart for these types of events can be littered with social minefields, and take quite a bit of time and consideration. You may want to consider place cards to cut down on the odds of drama complicating your night.
  • Serving a sit-down meal with a large number of guests requires an impeccable sense of timing and coordination from staff. So choosing the right caterer and event/venue staff is crucial - you don’t want to worry about food being delivered cold or the meal dragging on for an extended period of time.
  • If space is limited at your venue, the waitstaff foot traffic can make it difficult for guests to get up and move during dinner. Space needs to be carefully considered before you decide on a reception and when planning the setup.

You can see some of our seated reception styles in our online inspirational gallery.

The pros and cons are of course something to consider. But it also comes down to the type and feel of wedding and reception you want to have. At the end of the day, it’s your choice - and it will be beautiful whichever way you decide to go!

If you have any confusion as to what the best option for you would be, or would like to discuss any other wedding styling details with us, please feel free to get in touch and we’ll be happy to guide you in the right direction. Otherwise you can download our Wedding info pack for more information on our services or get in touch with our team.