4 Tips for Planning a Wedding Without a Seated Dinner

cocktail reception


There's nothing wrong with having a wedding without dinner. If you're thinking of going down this nontraditional route for your wedding reception, you're definitely not alone. A wedding without dinner, however, is not necessarily a wedding without food—but removing a traditional, seated dinner leaves you with endless possibilities, from a whimsical candy buffet to tapas stations with delicious foods from all over the world. Not only will this approach save you money, but it can also allow you to get really creative—the sky's the limit.

"Hosting a dessert reception, cocktail party, or wedding brunch is becoming a popular (and cost-effective) alternative to hosting a seated dinner style event," says event planner Christiane Lehman. "The key to creating an enjoyable wedding experience that does not follow the traditional seated dinner format is to put yourself in your guests' shoes."

Meet the Expert

Christiane Lehman is a Philadelphia-based wedding planner and the owner of Truly You Events.

Here, discover expert tips for planning an elegant and fun wedding without dinner.

1. Plan a Timeline That Will Work for Everyone

Whether you choose to have a daytime soirée or an evening dance party, make sure you choose a time that feels appropriate for the kind of event you're having. Plan out your start time thoughtfully.

Dessert Reception

If you're having an evening wedding without dinner, you want to make sure to give your guests time to eat before heading to the wedding. For that reason, consider having a dessert reception. "For a dessert reception, kick off your event around 8 p.m. so that guests have plenty of time to have dinner and primp beforehand," says Lehman.


If you're having a brunch wedding, make sure it's not too early in the morning. "Typically, an event that begins around 11 a.m. or noon, works for everyone's schedule." One of the advantages of having a brunch reception is that people tend to drink less during the daytime, so even if you're serving mimosas, your alcohol tab will be much less than if you're having a nighttime fête.

Cocktail Reception

If dancing is a top priority, Lehman recommends scheduling a cocktail reception during the evening. "It can be a lot more challenging to fill your dance floor during the day since most wedding guests prefer dancing in low lighting over dancing in the daylight," she explains. Keep light snacks and hors d'oeuvres on hand, and plenty of water.

2. Incorporate Traditional Wedding Elements

Just because you're having an alternative style wedding doesn't mean you have to forgo any traditional elements if they're important to you. "If you would like to have a first dance as a married couple, there's no reason to nix this tradition just because you're opting to skip a plated meal," says Lehman. The same goes for speeches, toasts, and the cake cutting.

3. Be Very Clear About the Meal Situation

Let your guests know what to expect upfront. "Never assume that guests can determine an event's format based solely on the event location and timing," says Lehman. "Always use the invitation and your wedding website to let your guests know exactly what to expect. If you're serving sweet treats and cake only, be sure to mention that so they don't show up expecting to have dinner. The more information guests have, the better prepared they will be to enjoy the reception exactly as you have it planned."

4. Don't Forget Seating at Your Reception

If you're planning an event without a plated lunch or dinner, it can be easy to forget that having adequate seating is essential to making sure your guests are comfortable. "My best advice is to have more than enough seating to accommodate everyone," says Lehman. "That way, guests can enjoy the passed drinks, small plates, and noshing stations without feeling like they need to lay claim on a particular table. Having a mix of high-top tables, low cocktail tables, lounges, benches, vignettes, and seating pods will create a comfortable atmosphere where guests can mix, mingle, and easily find a seat so they can enjoy the culinary delights you've so thoughtfully planned." A wedding reception without tables and chairs will just lead to a lot of awkward and uncomfortable standing.

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