Alternative Reception Ideas If a Traditional Dinner Isn't For You

Not down with a sit-down dinner? Here are some fun alternatives for you!

Try a free-flowing cocktail reception. "I love thinking outside of the box when it comes to the wedding day dining experience! So many of my clients are rethinking the traditional 'seated dinner' and are opting instead for a free-form cocktail-style reception that featured 45-60 minutes of lighter apps and stations followed by 45-60 minutes of heavier passed apps and tapa-style stations. This encourages guests to move around the space, to mingle and catch up with one another and to try a much larger variety of foods than would otherwise be offered through a three-course meal. Remember, though — make certain that you have plenty of seating options for guests! Add a variety of lounges, soft seating, high top tables and low top tables with chairs to ensure that guests still have a comfortable dining experience." —Mandy Connor, Owner, Hummingbird Events & Design

wedding champagne tower
Photo: St Chelle via Art and Soul Events

Serve brunch. "Everyone loves a good brunch, so why not start the celebrations early with a morning ceremony and delicious brunch foods and cocktails to celebrate? I mean, who doesn't love a mimosa to start their day?! You can then carry the celebrations into the evening with a casual after party or dance party with lite bites or snacks. A full day of celebrating!" —Jamie Bohlin, Cape Cod Celebrations

wedding reception
Photo: Mikhail Glabets via Hummingbird Events

Use food trucks instead of traditional catering. "Food trucks are a unique and fun alternative for a formal seated dinner. It allows guests to interact more, and they're able to select the food choices they want as well. Keep the same trucks, but change up the menu for late night snacks to keep everyone fed throughout dancing." —Casey Stamouli, Owner and Lead Planner, Casey & Co. Events

Ditch the formal seating. "Consider a more casual affair that includes grazing tables and casual seating. While your guests are being social and enjoying the fun, they can continue to do so while they graze on food throughout the evening without the formality of assigned seating. Lounge furniture and cocktail tables can be placed around the room to emphasize the more intimate and casual setting." —Lisette Gatliff, Lisette Gatliff Photography

outdoor wedding reception
Photo: Rebecca Yale Photography via Hummingbird Events Design


Include “experience” vendors. "I suggest adding a few different guest experience vendors to entertain your guests and give them an opportunity to move around and experience different things. Magicians, tarot readers, musicians, photo booths, live action food stations, and a fun dance party will create opportunities for guest movement and keep things lively and interesting." —Jessica Carillo, Owner, Planner and Designer, Art & Soul Events

tarot card reading at wedding
Photo: St Chelle via Art and Soul Events 

wedding bounce house
Photo: Andrea Zajonc Photography via Bridal Bliss + Rock Paper Coin

Try a family-style service. "My clients are foodies and love to design their celebrations around the dishes their guests will experience throughout the evening. We rely heavily on local catering companies to highlight the bounty the PNW has to offer in cuisine, and their chefs' plating never disappoints. Family-style service is trending heavily right now. I love to see clients leaning into a warm and intimate vibe with their guests through this style." —Ashley Lachney, Owner, Alston Mayger Events

Find unique ways to incorporate your personality. "We coordinated a wedding where the couple was excited about an arm-wrestling competition. I'll be honest, I wasn't sure how it would go over, but guests young and old got so into it that it actually made for a super fun activity! Definitely not for everyone, but it turned out to be a really unique and interactive way to incorporate the couple's personalities." —Nora Sheils, Founder, Bridal Bliss + Co-Founder, Rock Paper Coin

arm wrestling competition at wedding

arm wrestling competition at wedding

arm wrestling competition at wedding
Photo: The Ashers Photography via Bridal Bliss / Rock Paper Coin

Remember to set clear expectations for guests. "If you don't feel like the 'traditional' ceremony, cocktail hour, reception dinner timeline is your vibe, there are still tons of ways to celebrate with guests in a big, meaningful way. We've had couples do early afternoon brunch receptions, or small wedding ceremonies followed by just a private cocktail hour at a restaurant, or even inviting guests to a music venue late at night for dancing and drinks! The best way to keep everyone happy is about timing and clear communication. If you schedule your reception for 6pm, guests will likely assume a formal dinner/meal to be served. Therefore, it's best to keep alternative receptions to an early evening or mid-morning/early afternoon time frame, giving guests an opportunity to get food elsewhere. Be sure to clearly list what guests can expect on the invitation and wedding website to avoid confusion." —Kari Dirksen, CEO and Lead Planner, Feathered Arrow Events

bride and groom
Photo: Robbie Ziegler Photography via Feathered Arrow Events