Cocktails at Six

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Take a Seat

With the food 180 degrees from ordinary, the seating should be, too. Provide traditional table-and-chair seating for the older crowd, but mix it with high bistro tables that guests can stand around. Add conversation pits with cushiony couches and chairs. Provide seating for at least half-to-two-thirds of the guests.

The Tasting Menu

The most extravagant cocktail receptions serve up an entire tasting menu. A full dinner—hors d'oeuvres to dessert—is tray-passed course by course in small portions, each matched with a wine. The dinner unfolds like a seated meal, usually in four to six courses. Begin with three or four hors d'oeuvres like sea scallops with tomato-ginger compote, or baby lamb chops, followed by demitasse cups of soup and/or salad. Next, pass pasta and/or fish, meat, a starch (something elegant, like truffled taro-root puree), and then wedding cake, desserts, or petits fours and chocolates. Courses are spaced 20 to 30 minutes apart. Pour Champagne with hors d'oeuvres; Sauvignon Blanc or Chardonnay with soup, salad, and fish; Pinot Noir or Cabernet with pasta and meat; Muscat, port, or Sauternes with dessert.

Pros and Cons

Need to convince Mom and Dad that a cocktail party is the way to go? Consider these pros and cons before making your final pitch:

Pros: It's a new approach for weddings and says you're a trendsetter; it can still feature beloved traditions; it has a fabulous party feel; guests can mingle more easily; you'll avoid seating-plan nightmares; the food can be both creative and fun.

Cons: Its unconventionality and limited seating may unsettle some guests; it may be harder to get guests' attention for reception rituals; the caterer and staff must be well-versed in this style for it to work.

Gotta Have This

Martini sliders: Bartenders hollow out two or three chutes in ice carvings. Vodka and vermouth are poured down the chutes; when the liquids reach the glasses waiting at the bottom, you have a perfectly chilled martini.

Tray-passed cookies and jiggers of milk. The server dresses like a cigarette girl from the '40s, offering warm chocolate-chip, oatmeal, and peanut-butter cookies to dunk.

Retro sweets station: Give them a gourmet makeover. Think tiny Twinkies with crème fraîche or bittersweet chocolate pudding.

Chocolate fountains: Tricked out with homemade flavored marshmallows, exotic fruits, and tiny ice-cream cones, chocolate fountains are news all over again.

Let Them Eat Cake

Just as you would at a seated reception, position the wedding cake where most guests will see it. A spot near the dance floor always works, but make sure the cake won't get bumped when Uncle Harry starts a conga line. Have the table placed front and center for the cake-cutting ceremony. Tray-pass the slices (along with glasses of bubbly), and set out some extra pieces for guests to collect after they dance.

Exotic Eats
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