Last week, we talked about how to design a floor plan and guest seating assignments. If you are having a more casual event with a cocktail style reception serving heavy hors d’oeuvres, you may not want to have assigned seating. Seating guests at pre-assigned large tables may seem too rigid for the vibe you want. That is absolutely acceptable and can be a lot of fun. Assigned tables is expected and the norm. When you do something out of the ordinary, it makes people uncomfortable. With assigned seating, there is no pressure for people to make friends if they don’t know anyone at the wedding or event. If you do a cocktail style reception, there are a few things you can do to make your guests more comfortable and some elements to consider while planning your event.
- If you are not having assigned seating at all, no matter the food service format (heavy hors d’oeuvres, stations or buffets), consider doing your speeches during cocktail hour, before the guests are requested to find a seat for dinner. During one of the speeches, someone should explain to your guests the format of the evening. This should help alleviate confusion.
- If you do a cocktail style reception serving heavy hors d’oeuvres that preferably do not require a knife, do not use any large tables. If you must, have as few as possible. At a wedding, perhaps just 2 for both sides of the immediate families. Instead, use a mix of tall and short cocktail tables or sofas with coffee tables. It’s a casual style of seating meant to keep people moving and not plant themselves down too long anywhere. Typically, this also means that there is not a chair for every guest.
- Use your event timeline to your advantage. For example, we coordinated a cocktail style wedding reception this past weekend for a Jewish couple in Washington, DC. There was not a chair for every guests. At the start of the reception, we started with a rigorous dance set starting with the hora, the longest version. About 20 minutes into the dance set, we opened the 3 food stations without any announcement. Those guests who were not already on the dance floor were invited to go up to the stations and start eating. The dance set continued for another 20-30 minutes and many guests continued to dance. By the time the set finished, the first group of guests that hit the stations had finished eat, freeing up seats for the next group.
While I think assigned tables are best when you have a fully plated dinner service, no assigned seating is certainly appropriate for some styles of receptions. Just make sure you try one of our tips above to help out your guests. I hope this help! — Vicky