Cocktail or seated? Tips for planning your event

Tips for planning your event

When planning an important event such as a wedding, engagement or birthday party, there are a lot of decisions to make. One of the fundamental options you need to decide on is, “Should my event be seated, or cocktail?” Whether the majority of your event is going to be up or down is a decision that has a massive ripple effect. So, what are the pros and cons of each?



Cocktail: Cocktail-style events are making a real resurgence. Traditionally seated dinner events, such as weddings, are no longer confined to set menus only. And worrying about there not being enough food if it’s a standing style event is a myth – as long as you’re realistic about how much you need to order.

A really popular option for cocktail events are grazing stations. They can be themed to a particular cuisine, or your event. Plus, it’s an interactive experience, and guests get to choose how much, or little, they eat. And if you’re having an event with a sizeable outdoor space, another option is hiring a food truck or three for the day.

The ultimate benefit of choosing a cocktail-style menu, however, lies in the potential savings. Cocktail-style menus are traditionally cheaper. The quality is still there, but canapes are quicker to produce, use slightly less ingredients, and typically require less equipment and labour, so the price naturally drops.


Seated: Some may not perceive a cocktail event being as formal as a seated affair. If your aim is opulence, seated is probably the best way to go, with personalised place settings and elaborate centrepieces. Sit-down events, with careful planning, can also allow for a more relaxed atmosphere. They also typically have a longer duration than cocktail events.

As opposed to a cocktail event with a multitude of different items coming out of the kitchen at different times, a plated menu can come off a production line and be delivered in unison. It can be easier to keep track of and cater to dietary requirements. There’s also that guaranteed degree of even distribution. That is, you can safely assume that everyone has been fed a sizeable portion.

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Cocktail: Cocktail events are quite flexible when it comes to what sort of entertainment can fit in the space without restricting movement. If there’s a DJ, everywhere not occupied by furniture can be a dancefloor.

With people on their feet and moving about, you can set up entertainment stations. Photo booths are a good option, as are fun lawn games if you have an outdoor space. Bocce, giant Jenga and ring toss are fun and easy to set up ways to keep guests, little or big, entertained.


Seated: The main challenge with having entertainment at a seated event is arranging the space. With careful planning, however, you can set up the room to flow smoothly. Seated events can be the more suitable option for events that require speeches or a presentation. Seated guests are more likely to pay attention as they’ll have sight of the speaker, or screen. One of the issues with cocktail events and presentations is that the guests are scattered, and thus are less likely to pay attention because they can’t see.

For family events especially, seated events are necessary to cater for the older members of the family. Nanna may want to get on the dancefloor, but chances are she’s going to want to sit down after 20 minutes.

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The space

Cocktail: When setting up, it’s important to keep in mind the location of things like grazing, or self-service stations, high bar tables, the accessibility of the bar, and lounging areas.

You want guests to be able to move around the space without missing out on food or drinks. Roving waiters plus self-service stations ensure that all guests have adequate access to snacks. The same goes for the bar. Make sure the bar is staffed adequately to serve multiple people at once. Nothing annoys a guest more than waiting 20 minutes for a drink.

Spaces most suited to cocktail events include: rooftop bars, outdoor spaces, galleries and warehouses – typically spaces where you would have to fork out for table and chair hire.


Seated: The more people you need to seat, the narrower your choices of where to host your event are going to be. If your budget allows for it, one hot trend is hiring a unique space, such as a barn, or hangar. These are a good option if you want to have total control over how your event looks. All it takes are some decorations, table and chair hire and a catering company.

You need to pick a venue that utilises the space well. People will want to visit other tables, so you don’t want your guests to have to shimmy along and disturb other guests as they pass. You also want to opt for a venue that allows for an adequate dance floor or outdoor space. The majority of the event may be seated, but that doesn’t mean guests won’t want to get up for a boogie or pop out for some fresh air.

Spaces most suited to a seated event include: hotel function spaces and ballrooms, function centres, unique blank spaces, and restaurants.


There are obviously a lot of factors to consider when choosing and planning for either a cocktail or seated style event. The best place to start is consider what’s important to you, what can you afford, and then work backwards from there.






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