Diminutive dishes artfully presented give your party a trendy-restaurant hipness.
With a menu made up of many hors d'oeuvres rather than just three or four courses, variety is important; your selections can come from a few styles of cuisines. Be sure to offer hot and cold options, plus vegetarian picks, just as you would for a traditional reception.
Surprise with stations.
Passed hors d'oeuvres are always appropriate, but interactive stations or themed displays are a fun, unexpected offering—and because guests help themselves, the party can flow smoothly. Some of our favorites: a ceviche bar, sushi display or made-to-order pizza station. Some caterers are also serving small bowls of risotto or individual-sized cheese plates from tiered stands.
Vary the vessels.
A contemporary party style calls for serving pieces that aren't the standard silver trays. Try soup in glass votives, casseroles in mini pans, salad on Asian soup spoons or assorted vegetables and dips in sleek porcelain dishes. For optimum chatting and minimal mess, foods that can be eaten in just a few bites work best.
Incorporate chic, cocktail-themed elements to take your reception in a refreshingly unique direction.
Start a paper trail.
Give guests a preview of your party style by sending invites printed on cocktail napkins, along with recipes for some of the drinks to be featured. If you don't term the party a "Cocktail Wedding Reception," be sure to indicate "heavy hors d'oeuvres" so guests know that a traditional meal will not be served.
Capture the spirit.
To spotlight creative cocktails, print the names of the special drinks you're serving on pretty tags, attach them to stirrers and insert them. If you're offering a special martini or margarita bar, give it decorative signage. Add a punchy pattern. Your new, married monogram or wedding logo can adorn coasters or napkins, or even mint boxes set along the bar, to tie together the look of the party.
Open seating, exciting lighting and music that matches the mood are some elements that can transform your party site into a hot spot.
Rethink the room.
Part of the fun of a cocktail reception is having the freedom to wander and meet others. Instead of assigning everyone specific spots at large tables, offer a smattering of small ones, about 8-10 per 100 guests, for self-seating. (Be sure to reserve a table and seats for elder family members and guests.) As a luxe touch, arrange rented sofas or lounge chairs in secluded areas for partygoers to steal away. You can also create special spaces by adding pillows to existing loveseats or benches.
Put a spotlight on style.
Dimmer, "clubby" lighting is crucial to this kind of celebration—it's one of the best ways to impart a laid-back vibe. If your site offers lights that change color, choose brighter hues (fuchsia, electric blue) for the beginning of the party and request that the shades progressively turn softer toward the end.
Focus on fine tuning.
To establish a nightclub atmosphere, you can save the funds you would have used to hire a live band and instead book a DJ—or, even simpler: Run playlists on your iPod. If you're set on bringing in actual performers, look to jazz, bluegrass, reggae or other bands with a musical style that fits the clubby environs.
1. Make it a match
Accentuate fruity drinks by pairing them with hors d'oeuvres that play off of the flavors (think gourmet grilled cheese and berry chutney with strawberry margaritas).
2. Opt for an activity
Dancing is doable at cocktail receptions but not a necessity. Another way to bring guests together: Offer ice-breakers, such as fortune teller readings or photo-booth snapshots with props.
3. Serve tiny treats
Continue the cocktail-hour vibe by having mini desserts (one-bite tarts, cotton candy) passed like hors d'oeuvres.
4. Pour on the charm
Give drink-inspired favors: martini shakers or chocolates infused with flavored liqueur.
5. Top it off tastefully
Add beauty to beverages with elegant garnishes, such as fresh herbs or leaves, sugared flower petals or sticks of colorful rock candy.