6 Wedding Reception Styles…Explained

wedding reception style
Photo by Elizabeth Burgi

Trying to figure out exactly what type of wedding reception style you want? Maybe you’re looking for something less traditional and the idea of a cocktail-style wedding reception is perfect for you. Or maybe you wouldn’t dream of doing anything else besides a formal, plated dinner. Or maybe you want to go a little retro and opt for a champagne and cake reception instead? No matter what you’re style here’s what you need to know about all the different type of wedding reception options you have.


If you are a fan of mimosas and quiche, a brunch reception might be just your style. A brunch reception in the late morning or early afternoon can be just as lively and all-out as an evening reception, but the change of food options and limited alcoholic beverages is an easy way to cut costs.

Pros: Because the food is simpler, and venues sometimes cut deals for morning events, this type of reception is often much cheaper; costs can also be cut because guests usually drink less in the morning than they would during an evening reception

Cons: A shortened or absent cocktail hour can mean less time for post-wedding photos; a morning wedding means less time for getting ready

SEE MORE: 10 Delicious Ideas for a Brunch Wedding

Champagne and Cake

Perfect for backyards and gardens, this throwback-style reception, which was once a popular way to celebrate weddings in the ‘40s and ‘50s, is a cost-cutting but elegant option if both money and schedules are tight. Typically planned for the late morning or early afternoon, a champagne and cake reception allows you to mix and mingle with guests without the stress of planning a giant party.

Pros: It is the cheapest kind of reception; for the introverts, it is generally the shortest type of reception

Cons: The brevity of the reception can be a downside for extroverts; guests tend to leave early more often than during a more extravagant event


This laid-back yet elegant style of reception is perfect for couples looking to entertain their guests with something outside the box. Often filled with lawn games, photo booths and crazy fun dance parties, cocktail receptions give guests a chance to mix and mingle without tables and seating charts getting in the way. Before planning a cocktail reception, it is essential to consider your guest demographic (older guests generally need more seating). After deciding to go with this kind of reception, it is wise to inform guests in the invitation that the reception will be cocktail style.

Pros: Without a venue full of tables, you can invite more guests; for a younger crowd, more movement and less sitting during a reception can create a fun atmosphere.

Cons: Despite limiting food options, costs may not actually be cut because of the increased alcohol and often increased guest count; it can be tricky to find a time during the day to feed your bridal party…and yourself!


If you want to provide a full lunch or dinner for your guests without all the fuss of seating charts and asking them to pre-select their meals, a buffet style reception may be for you. Matching the laid-back style of a self-served meal, the food choices are often equally as easy-going. Enter the BBQ and mac and cheese!

Pros: Because of all the movement and mingling, this style of reception is often more relaxed; guests can eat and drink more of what they like, and when your guests are happy, your dance floor is full

Cons: It can take a lot of time for guests to go through the buffet line; because guests can go back for more, you may need to spend more on food than you would if they were being served

Food Stations

Like a buffet, this kind of reception means guests can choose their own food, but unlike the buffet style, guests aren’t required to wait in a single line. They can bounce freely between multiple food stations, reducing wait times. This kind of reception also creates a lively vibe, as gets are constantly in motion moving to and from stations, mingling with other guests along the way.

Pros: All the pros of a buffet without the downside of a long wait in line

Cons: Extra space is required for multiple stations, reducing area for dancing or an additional table; similar to a buffet, you might spend more on food than if guests were served

SEE MORE: These 10 Wedding Food Bar Ideas Look AMAZING

Formal Dinner

The most ceremonial and traditional of the types, a full formal dinner, complete with servers and pre-selected meals (including family-style), is a perfect choice for the bride who wants to go all out and minimize confusion. A formal dinner reception is generally the most structured and the longest of all the reception styles.

Pros: The structure of a formal sit-down dinner reception reduces confusion and lost time; because guests pre-select their meals, your caterer can bring exactly the amount of food you need, reducing waste

Cons: Because the food for a formal dinner is often the most elaborate, this can be the most expensive reception type; if you feel that formal events are a little too stuffy and subdued, you might feel more comfortable with a buffet or cocktail-style reception.

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