Picture this—you and your new spouse, surrounded by friends and family, clinking glasses filled with artisanal cocktails. In the background, a live jazz band sets the mood and waiters weave through the crowd with tempting canapes. You don’t get much swisher than a cocktail wedding reception, which is why it is a growing trend. They’re all the rage for couples looking to skip the traditional sit-down dinner and add a dash of fun to their big day. But how can you make sure your cocktail reception goes off with a swing?

Ideally, this kind of celebration should combine the elegance of a wedding with the relaxed atmosphere of a chic cocktail party. And as it’s not a formal meal (you’ll be serving canapes and finger foods), it can be cheaper too. Cocktail wedding receptions are all about creating an atmosphere where guests can mingle, nibble on hors d’oeuvres, and sip on handcrafted cocktails. They’re also a versatile choice, meaning you can throw an intimate soiree for a smaller wedding, or have a grand reception of hundreds of guests, all mingling and clinking glasses beneath sparkling chandeliers. When the weather is fine, you also have the option of throwing your cocktail mixer in a beautiful garden.

Ideas for Cocktail Wedding Receptions


Pick your poison

A cocktail party is also a chance to treat your guests to an unforgettable feast for the senses with bright colors, delicious tastes, fizzing sounds, enticing aromas, and interesting textures (think popping candy cocktails). You could go for a classic cocktail party vibe and serve manhattans, margaritas, and mojitos, or create a weird and wonderful contemporary menu with ingredients like tamarind, bee pollen, and liquid nitrogen. You could also think about fitting your cocktails to your wedding theme. For instance, if you’re going for a royal affair then you might like to indulge in luxurious liqueurs like Chambord or Grand Marnier, while for a fantasy wedding, you’ll want bubbling, frothing, and steaming, luridly colored cocktails that look like magic brews. Or would about a 1920s prohibition party with feather boas and gin rickeys?

And don’t forget to pay attention to cocktail trends. For instance, spicy cocktails, 90s nostalgia, botanical ingredients, spiked slushies, and low or no alcohol brews are all fashionable right now. And to add a bit of extra pizazz to your drinks, try out ingredients like buzz buttons (acmella oleracea), which create a tingling mouth sensation. 

Happy couples could also ask their mixologist to invent a bespoke cocktail named after them. Your signature wedding concoction could even tell the story of your love. Both caffeine addicts? Then an espresso-style cocktail would be perfect. Love Harry Potter? You’ll want an alcoholic version of butterbeer. First vacation together was in Paris? Then adding a French spirit like absinthe would be a cute touch. Let your imagination run wild!

Don’t forget to line those stomachs

Okay, so what about the food? You can create an entire culinary experience with your cocktail party reception, serving up everything from sliders, to street food, to beautifully crafted gourmet delicacies. Why not opt for a range of colorful food stations with an around-the-world theme, for instance, a Japan station serving sushi, mouthwatering tapas at the Spanish station, and yummy spuntino at the Italian station?

Or you could match your nibbles to your wedding theme. For instance, if you’re throwing a vintage-style 1950s wedding reception, then you’ll want retro hors d’oeuvre to match. Think oysters Rockefeller, devilled eggs, stuffed celery, pigs in blankets, and cocktail smokies. You can have a whole lot of fun choosing canapes that fit with your wedding theme, spiriting guests away to totally different places and eras. And don’t forget that all-important dessert station, where guests can sample a range of sweet treats in miniature portions. Popular wedding desserts trends include decadent macaron towers, daisy cupcakes, and vegan options like avocado chocolate mousse. 

Shake (or stir) up tradition

With a cocktail wedding reception, you can break away from tradition and get creative with your celebration. From personalized cocktail menus to themed canapes, your choices are pretty much endless. Plus cocktail soirees lend themselves really well to a more fun, interactive reception. So if you want to include a live painting session or a photo booth for your guests, you’ll have the space and flexibility to make it happen. You could also include entertainment in the form of singing waiters, or even circus performers who wander through the event juggling and performing acrobatics.

Ready For Your Big Day?

As far as wedding reception trends go, it’s clear that cocktail parties are here to stay for quite a while. They work for weddings of all sizes and you can create a variety of vibes, from an ultra sophisticated, Gatsby-esque affairs to boho, festival-like get-togethers. They blend sophistication with a relaxed atmosphere, offering couples the chance to celebrate in a way that reflects their personalities. So why not consider mixing things up a little at your wedding by hiring swish baristas to shake up frothy and flaming cocktails for your guests?


At Il Tulipano in Cedar Grove, we offer an unforgettable New Jersey wedding venue that is perfect for both formal receptions and cocktail parties. Our iconic space has just had a makeover and has been praised by New Jersey Bride, The Knot, and Wedding Wire. The Il Tulipano team will treat you like family, so get in touch with us today and let’s plan your dream wedding.