Wedding Ideas

Cocktail-Style Receptions

Posted on June 01, 2021 by Denise Potter


Let’s face it—the cocktail hour is usually the best part of a wedding reception. With the seemingly endless food stations, open bar, and a loose and fun atmosphere, it’s hard to find something not to love about the hour leading up to a formal wedding reception. If you’ve ever envisioned your wedding as one big cocktail hour, you just may be in luck! These days, more and more NJ wedding venues offer cocktail-style wedding receptions as an alternative to a formal reception.

Unlike formal receptions, cocktail-style receptions emphasize a wide variety of food (everything from passed hors d’oeuvres, “build-your-own” buffet-style stations, small plates, desserts and more) and are typically sans assigned seating. As a result, the lack of formal structure opens up the space to more dancing, mingling and autonomous celebration for the entirety of the event.

These events can also be as sophisticated or laid-back as you want. Some popular NJ venues like The Molly Pitcher Inn offer premium cocktail-style reception packages, including indoor and outdoor lounge areas for guests to explore. “There’s a lot of activity,” says Judith Ivan, Director of Catering at The Molly Pitcher Inn. “The cocktail-style is perfect for brides that don’t want the traditional sit-down reception and just want to enjoy the party.”

All things considered, it should come as no surprise that this wedding trend is gaining serious momentum in the Garden State. But before you sign the dotted line on a cocktail-style soirée, make sure you know all the pros and cons:

Pro: It’s perfect for foodies.

April Khan and Ryan Demarco, of Manchester, simply want their guests to have the best time dancing, eating and drinking exactly when they want to, so they easily fell for the charm of The Moorestown House, a mansion built in the 1920s, for their big day. “We get the entire place for the day, so we have the added benefit of putting all the food stations in different rooms throughout the property,” says April. Guests can walk around freely and enjoy their food—tacos, fajitas, bacon-wrapped scallops, Stromboli, gourmet coffee, homemade s’mores and more—all night long.

Con: It’s less formal—but not always less expensive.

While some wedding venues offer cocktail-style receptions at lower price-points, many come in at roughly the same price per-plate as formal receptions, especially for open-bar or premium packages. While you don’t necessarily have to break-the-bank for a cocktail-style party, price should not be your bottom line for this decision, since this type of event can range from $25 to $300 per person, depending on the type of venue you are interested in.

New Jersey Bride—lobster appetizer

Pro: There are more locations available than you think.

Mikaela Cahill and Peter Casey, of Belmar, rented out the 9th Ave Pier in Belmar for their nuptials—a location that’s not normally available for weddings. In the meantime, Stacy Plotz Maza and Glenn Finkel, of Englewood, are planning their big day at Lulu’s, a trendy city-chic lounge atop W Hoboken, where guests will nosh on sushi, sliders, stir fry, Mediterranean kebabs and more. When it comes to venue-shopping for a cocktail-style reception, don’t be afraid to look outside the box!

Con: It’s not for everyone.

While a formal dinner reception allows for built-in break time for speeches, special dances, and cake cutting, cocktail-style doesn’t necessarily have to yield to these moments. And if you are ultimately against the overall look and feel of buffet-style dining, a cocktail reception may not be for you. Since it’s a relatively new trend, some of your more traditional-minded guests might not expect this kind of event flow; but don’t let this deter you if you’re set on cocktail-style. Ask your DJ to periodically announce that food and drinks will be circulating all night long (a tip we took from Mikaela Cahill and Peter Casey)—and if you have children or elderly guests attending, check with your venue to ensure that there will be enough seating to accommodate them.

New Jersey Bride—Crab cake remoulade appetizer

If you’re interested in a cocktail-style wedding reception, there are lots of unique NJ venues worth touring! Check out our list below and click on the name for more information!


  1. Avenue, Long Branch
  2. Barn at Perona Farms, Andover
  3. The Bethwood, Totowa
  4. Biagio’s Ristorante, Paramus
  5. Crossed Keys Estate, Andover
  6. Crystal Ballroom, Freehold
  7. Crystal Plaza, Livingston
  8. The Grand Summit Hotel, Summit
  9. il Tulipano, Cedar Grove
  10. Mayfair Farms, West Orange
  11. Molly Pitcher Inn, Red Bank
  12. Nanina’s In The Park, Belleville
  13. The Park Savoy Estate, Florham Park
  14. Perona Farms, Andover
  15. Sterling Ballroom, Eatontown
  16. Stone House at Stirling Ridge, Warren
  17. Venetian, Garfield
  18. Waterside Restaurant, North Bergen
  19. Windsor Ballroom, East Windsor
  20. The Landmark Loew’s Jersey Theater, Jersey City
  21. Adventure Aquarium, Camden
  22. Prudential Center, Newark
  23. The Tides Estate, North Haledon
  24. The Manor, West Orange
  25. Highlawn Pavilion, West Orange
  26. The Barnyard and Carriage House, Totowa
  27. Windows on the Water, Millstone
  28. The Palace at Somerset Park, Somerset
  29. The Elan, Lodi
  30. Kolo Klub, Hoboken
  31. The Falls, Little Falls
  32. The Ashford Estate, Allentown
  33. Westmount Country Club, Woodland Park
  34. The Wilshire Caterers, West Orang
  35. Spring Lake Manor, Spring Lake
  36. The Gramercy at Lakeside Manor, Hazlet
  37. The Terrace, Paramus
  38. Pleasantdale Chateau, West Orange
  39. Macaluso’s, Hawthorne
  40. Bottagra, Hawthorne

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