Cocktail vs Sit-Down Wedding Receptions: Costs Involved and Things to Consider
Cocktail vs Sit-Down Wedding Receptions: Costs Involved and Things to Consider


Choosing between a cocktail or sit-down reception can be one of the trickiest decisions when planning your wedding! After all, your wedding style will totally influence the overall flow of your event and impact everything from menu service to furniture selections, styling details and more.

So, what are the real differences between a cocktail and seated wedding reception, and which one is going to be the best fit for your day? Here at HEH, we love both options equally, but it ultimately comes down to your own personal preferences.

To help you make a decision, keep reading as we compare cocktail and seated wedding receptions below, including the costs involved and key things to consider.


Image by Shane Shepherd


Image by Shane Shepherd


Image by Shane Shepherd

Decide On Your Overall Vision

The first thing you’ll want to think about is the overall atmosphere and “vibe” you want to create at your reception. What does your dream wedding look and feel like? What elements are most important to you? How do you want everything to flow from start to finish? These questions should help you naturally gravitate more towards a cocktail or seated reception, so let’s compare the two.

A cocktail wedding is the more relaxed and informal option, with you and your guests having the opportunity to roam around and mingle throughout the entire event. While you can still include traditional elements like speeches, dances and cake cutting, this style of wedding is generally more flexible, laid-back and less structured. If you guys are all about the party and aren’t fussed about tradition, this could be a great option for you.


Image by Bird and Boy Photography


Image by Bird and Boy Photography


Image by Bird and Boy Photography

A sit-down reception is usually seen as the more traditional or formal option, and offers a set structure when it comes to the flow of your evening (which consequently can make the planning side of things a little more straightforward). Seated wedding receptions will create a more intimate “dinner party” style ambience, with a big focus on the dining experience. If you guys are serious foodies and want to follow a traditional route for your reception, this could be a great option for you.

With all of this being said – your furniture, decor, flowers and other styling elements can be used to create a relaxed OR formal vibe for either option, so don’t feel restricted! For example, you can completely dress up your cocktail reception with luxe golds, velvets and marble details for a high-end look, or create a more rustic and relaxed seated reception with lots of earthy timbers, rattans and natural textures.


Image by Amelia Fullarton


Image by Amelia Fullarton


Image by Cloud Catcher Studio


Image by Figtree Pictures


Image by Cloud Catcher Studio

Consider Your Wedding Venue

Another big factor that will influence your decision to host a cocktail or sit-down reception is the layout of your wedding venue. Certain venues are simply better suited for either a cocktail or seated reception due to the size, shape, flooring and other design elements. Find our top tips for choosing the perfect wedding venue here!

Your guest list is also worth considering here, as you can generally accommodate more people in a tighter space by opting for a cocktail set-up. It’s a good idea to draft up your guest list before making a decision on your venue and wedding style, so you can figure out the best fit for your day.

Struggling to visualise either option? Ask your wedding venue to send through photos from both cocktail and sit-down weddings, so you can compare the two.


Image by Cloud Catcher Studio


Image by Cloud Catcher Studio


Image by Cloud Catcher Studio

Think About the Food

Food service is one of the key differences between a cocktail and seated wedding reception – and again, this will come down to your personal preferences.

A seated wedding reception gives you the opportunity to put on a lavish 3-course menu or gourmet share-style platters. This option is a little more straightforward, as you’ll know exactly what each guest is going to receive and can ensure they are well fed.

For a cocktail wedding, menu options can range from roaming canapés to food trucks or pop-up food stations. You’ll want to think carefully about organising an appropriate amount of food so that none of your guests go hungry. We’d recommend having some grazing tables set-up on arrival, and including some more substantial, protein-packed canapé options to keep your guests satiated!


Image by Bird and Boy Photography


Image by Bird and Boy Photography


Image by Bird and Boy Photography

Compare Costs and Equipment

So, what are the costs involved with a cocktail vs sit-down wedding reception?

Many people assume cocktail weddings are cheaper than sit-down weddings, but this isn’t always the case! When it comes to decor hire, we find that furniture costs are actually about the same once everything adds up.

While it might seem like there’s a lot of equipment needed for a sit-down wedding (like dining chairs, dining tables, plates, cutlery, napkins and glassware), a cocktail wedding will still require enough furniture to seat around 70% of your guests (think lounges, bar tables and stools) along with service bars and catering equipment. You might want to map out some rough costs using our furniture hire checklists to compare both options.


Image by Janneke Storm

Furniture hire costs for both options will also vary widely depending on the style you want to achieve. For example, do you want to make a statement with some beautiful high-end pieces, or are you going for a more casual look? Either way, you have complete freedom to be flexible with your furniture options and find a combination of pieces that work best for your styling vision and your budget.

When it comes to food and beverage costs, cocktail weddings can be slightly cheaper – but not always. While a sit-down meal is usually more expensive per head than a cocktail menu, many couples planning a cocktail wedding will often splurge more on the bar and specialty drinks.

And what about flowers and other styling elements? While you don’t need to worry about table arrangements for a cocktail wedding, we find most couples will add some extra decor to their cocktail reception through creative signage, lighting, backdrops and statement bar florals instead. We share our top 5 tips for styling a cocktail wedding reception here!


Image by Brooke Adams


Image by Joey and Jase


Image by Joey and Jase

Whether you choose a cocktail or sit-down wedding reception, we’d love to help you put together the perfect furniture plan for your event! You can get in touch with our team for a copy of our latest hire catalogue, or give us a call on (07) 5523 9564 to chat through your wedding ideas.

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