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Hors d’oeuvres are often guests’ favorite part of the evening, so why not extend the “cocktail hour” to a full reception? Since cocktail receptions are more relaxed, you won’t need to worry about a seating chart.
Cocktail receptions work best following a late-afternoon ceremony and should start around 4 p.m. Any later and your guests will expect—and you should provide&mdahs;a full meal. The reception shouldn’t last too long—about three hours.

“Hors d’oeuvres served during a cocktail reception are usually a bit more elaborate and filling,” says Jenn Poletti, of Perfect Planners, in Philadelphia. “Bacon-wrapped scallops, mini crab cakes, and phyllo purses are all great options.” Plan for at least ten hors d’oeuvres per person. Though a selection of hors d’oeuvres costs less than a sit-down dinner, the tab from the open bar may add up quickly. “To save on drink costs, the couple could offer only beer, wine, champagne, and a few specialty drinks,” says Jenn. (Visit our gallery for signature drink ideas.)

Instead of assigned seating, Jenn recommends having tables and chairs throughout the reception space so your guests may sit where they please. “The idea is for them to move around, mingle, eat, drink, and enjoy!” she says. Use banquettes and benches to create several intimate, lounge-like areas. You should provide enough seating to comfortably accommodate half of your guests.

While you don’t need to hire a DJ or a live band to perform while your guests are noshing, you may want a string trio or a specialty singer—like a Frank Sinatra impersonator. Another fun idea: You can rent a photo booth or ask your photographer to set up a portrait station for your guests to frequent throughout the evening.

Because cocktail receptions take place close to dinner hour, make it clear that a full meal will not be served. Use straightforward language like: “Please join us for cocktails and hors d’oeuvres following the ceremony.”

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