What exactly is a drinks reception?
A drinks reception is the often the start of a party or day of celebrations. Drinks receptions are also popular at weddings, before or after a corporate event or awards ceremony. Drinks or cocktail receptions allow guests to have a small drink and catch up with their friends or work colleagues in a relaxed formal or informal environment.
Drinks receptions often include food such as hors d’oeuvres, canapes or ‘finger food’ to accompany alcoholic and non alcoholic beverages. There is sometimes some entertainment such as a magician, mind reader, caricaturist or other form of mix and mingle entertainment to keep guest laughing and having fun and help smooth over any awkward silences and pauses. Events like these are also often accompanied by some gentle music playing in background too.
Music could be either be played live by a band or string quartet or have some music played through some speakers.
A drinks reception can take place both indoors and outdoors. At weddings, if the weather is fine, hosting a this kind of event in the manicured grounds of a stately home is a popular prelude to the wedding breakfast.
A drinks reception is the perfect opportunity to wedding photographers to take the group and newly wed photographs. At a corporate event, a evening get-together is a perfect way for delegates to unwind after a day of presentations and work.
Whether you are hosting a drinks reception at a wedding, corporate event or another form of celebration it is a sophisticated and elegant way for old friends and family members to reconnect or work colleagues to make new connections and reaffirm old ones.
Here are Duncan’s Top 10 Tips To Help You Host A Perfect Drinks Reception:
1. The Weather
If you are organising a dinks reception in the rolling hills of the South of France, amongst the vineyards in Tuscany or on a beach somewhere, you can skip this point for the most part.
For most people reading this, they will be organising a drinks reception under the temperamental skies of England. This is hardly ever mentioned in posts, tips or guidance for organising a drinks reception but it is perhaps one of the most important considerations to help you plan your event. If you are hosting your event outside, it is even more important to pay attention to the weather.
If you are hosting your event outside it is well worth considering erecting some additional under cover options for your guests in case of inclement weather. It is also woth cosidering providing shaded areas if it is going to be especially warm. If you consider this, you may need to factor in extra costs to your budget to either buy or hire a gazebo or marquee or parasols.
If you have hired a string quartet or band it is worth ensuring that they have some shade or at least a temporary cover over their head in case of inclement weather. That said, if it does start raining too heavily, you will have to consider helping them to migrate indoors with your guests. As a result, consider what your Plan B will be. Even if the weather says it will be beautiful weather or day, still give it some thought. If you are sharing the organisation of your occasion with a wedding or event planner, discuss with them about any Plan B options.
TOP TIP: At the very least, consider having some umbrellas at stand by to stop guests getting wet and ruining their day.
Another consideration for hosting your event outside and is often to the mercy of the weather is mosquitos or midges in particular seasons. Consider mosquito coils, sprays, citronella (very good for keeping mosquitos at bay and friendly to the environment).
TOP TIP: If you are having a long drinks reception or outdoors summer party then also consider that the weather will fluctuate dependent on the day. It is worth having some shawls and blankets at hand for the evening. This will be perfect for tired children to cover them up for a sleep or afternoon snooze. Equally for ladies who are wearing their summer wear that is particularly light, may get cooler in the evening.
Some hosts may decide to have a fire pit if it is an evening event. This really makes a magical experience but have someone who knows how to build the fire and light it. Assign this responsibility to someone in the planning stage to ensure people aren’t just standing around watching grandad trying to rub two pieces of stick together.
If you are hosting your reception outside pay strict attention to where you will be storing your food. It is an idea to have some mesh or glass cake covers to stops any wasps or bugs getting on your sweet treats and cakes. The same consideration should also be given to your other food. If it going to be a warm day consider, keeping your food in the fridge until the last moment. If however, your gathering is going to be some way from where the fridges are, ensure that you plan the logistics of how your will be getting the food out to the guests. Invariably the food at drinks or cocktail receptions are canapes or finger food so these should be easy to transport from the fridge to the guests hands.
If there will be any complaints at your soirée it will be from a man saying his beer is warm.
TOP TIP: Ensure that you have deep ice buckets and remember to order or buy plenty of ice. It’s amazing how quickly ice melts in the sun. It is well worth keeping some spare ice in your freezer.
If you are hosting outside ensure you have shade for all the other drinks too. We’ll look at drinks further down.
2. Drinks at a drinks reception
It’s not really a drinks reception without drinks. So alongside considerations you should make for the weather – it is important to have plenty of appropriate drinks.
The word appropriate is very important here. If you have lots of children accompanying their parents, it’s important to cater for them with some non-alcoholic drinks too.
It is also worth giving some consideration to some non-alcoholic versions of the drinks you are serving to the majority or your guests. Fresh orange and apple juice is always popular.
TOP TIP: Always have a dispenser or water. Top this up regularly and add in some mint, lemon or other fruit to give it a subtle taste and add a real elegance to your drinks reception. This looks so much more sophisticated that a jug of water sat in the sun.
What kind of alcoholic drinks should you serve at a drinks reception?
Champagne or Prosecco is perhaps the most common and popular drink at drinks receptions and in particular at weddings. However, some people don’t like these so always consider a range of alternatives.
Pimms is a popular summer drink to be served on the lawns and terraces of a stately home or manor house. This is sweet and enjoyed by most people. Consider have a metal ice bucket or fridge stocked with a range of beers too.
Some guests may enjoy wine so consider having enough red, white and rose wine available.
It is well worth making some calculations as to how much you expect your guests to drink (and then maybe add a a bit more just to be safe) Consider asking guests to bring their own alcohol too if you are hosting for a length of time. That said, that is not a particularly common request to make so is well worth stocking up yourself.
If you are hiring a venue, speak to the owners, bar manager or event organiser to help understand what the pricing is and volume of alcohol they have in stock.
Consider if you have some spirits and some mixers too. Not may people like neat Gin – so ensure you have plenty of tonic in stock too.
As mentioned before, consider also having some non alcoholic drinks too. This could be juice, squash, lemonade or coca cola.
The last this you want to forget is having enough glasses for your guests. Without glasses for drinks, you can’t really pull off an event like this.
TOP TIP: If you don’t want to buy lots of new glasses for this one off event, considering hiring them. Companies like Waitrose offer a glass hire service and will deliver and collect them for you.
Also consider having a range of glasses too. If you are serving champagne or prosecco then champagne flutes are a must have. No matter how elegant or sophisticated your drinks reception is, if everyone is drinking their champagne out of a wine glass or water tumbler, the quality goes down as well as the perception of the event too.
Finally, remember to have plenty of room to keep your wine, water and drinks chilled. If you don’t, then stock up with plenty of ice and deep buckets to keep wine and beer chilled.
3. Food at your drinks reception
Your guests could be having the most amazing drinks, fun time with some incredible entertainment under a beautiful sun in an amazing location. However, if they are hungry and their tummies are rumbling then this is a big problem and all the other amazing elements to your drink’s reception will simply melt away. If you are hungry, nothing else matters. Once you have a full belly, you are content and can appreciate everything else you have worked so hard in organising.
Thus food at your event is extremely important. This is where you can add some really class and quality to your event. Unless you are extremely passionate about wine, after a few glasses, they are all pretty similar. However if you are serving cheese sandwiches on some plastic plates this is very different to serving some elegant finger food on a beautiful platter.
What kind of food should you serve at a drinks reception?
The choice is yours. You should consider your budget or course, the type of drinks reception it is and the type of guests you have coming.
Another consideration for the kind of food you are offering to accompany the alcoholic or non-alcoholic drinks is whether you going to make the food yourself, buy it in or get an external company to provide it. If you decide to prepare it yourself – you will need to consider both the length of time it will take, sourcing the ingredients and then storing it.
Preparing the canapes yourself can be a very time consuming process and if you are hosting a drinks reception as part of a celebration or special occasion you want to be able to relax and enjoy it too. As a result buying platters to be delivered to your venue is a great idea. It allows you to shop around and some companies even offer tasting opportunities.
The final option is hiring a company to prepare, provide and serve all of the food. With their large kitchens and storage facilities you can be assured you will be treating your guests to the freshest and most delicious nibbles possible.
If you are hosting your soiree at a venue then the catering team at the venue will almost certainly look after all of the food. They can even offer you a tasting event for you to decide on your choices.
TOP TIP: One element often overlooked by hosts putting on a drinks reception is the dietary requirements of their guests. It is important to offer some vegetarian and vegan alternatives and also consider allergies and gluten intolerances. Try and make the food and beverages as inclusive of everyone as possible.
The food itself is down to you, what the venue has to offer and your budget. A popular and relatively easy option I have seen is little cornets of fish and chips. Other hosts offer small pots with a mini fork in it. Other canapes are simply finger food.
4. Drinks reception entertainment
You have your drinks sorted, your food sorted and the guests have arrived. You now need that special sauce to bring the party to life. Something to avoid any awkward silences. Something to break the ice between guests. You may also need something to make your drinks reception to stand out from all of the others some of your guests may have attended.
There are many entertainment options for a wide range of events and gatherings but only a few of them would be suitable for a drinks reception. You need to consider something that is not intrusive, flexible and entertaining for the guests. It is well worth choosing something that will complement the quality of your event too.
Let’s start with the easiest option – the background music. This should be unobtrusive and subtle and contribute to the vibe and feeling of the event not detract from it.
TOP TIP: If you are putting some background music on yourself, consider curating a Spotify playlist or put your own CD playlist on. If you are going to use Spotify, upgrade to the premium version so adverts and news don’t suddenly appear. By curating your own playlist will ensure all the music is family friendly and innkeeping with your theme. If you have a generic playlist on, you run the risk of having obscene music being played, or music with a too upbeat or downbeat tempo which could detract from your party.
Another type of music is a sophisticated and elegant string quartet playing soothing music. This is very relaxing and adds a real elegance and sophistication to the reception. If you are having a much more upbeat get together then you could also consider a jazz singer, live band or other music act.
Musical entertainment aside, having something to break the ice between guests and really get people smiling and laughing is a great addition to a drink reception.
Hiring a professional drinks reception magician like Duncan William is a perfect addition to your drinks reception. A close up, mix and mingle magician, and in particular Duncan, can introduce your guests to one another and really break the ice with some contemporary, engaging and fun magic. He can ensure there are no awkward pauses and silences and bring your guests together. If you a looking for laughs and gasps at your event and wanting it to stand out from others, then hiring a professional drinks reception magician like Duncan is a great idea.
TOP TIP: Get in touch with Duncan and he will be happy to discuss prices, check availability and help you achieve a stress free drinks reception and you being congratulated for organising such a fun event.
If you are looking for another form of entertainment or an alternative form to a magician then you could also consider a caricaturist. A caricaturist will leave your guests with a special memento and are both unobtrusive and much like a magician, can mingle effortlessly with your guests. Dependent on the number of guests they may not be able to draw everyone but for those who don’t have their picture drawn, can relish in the pictures of others.
There are many other forms of entertainment but these performers are more focal points. If you are wanting a show then you could choose from a huge range of weird and wonderful acts.
Another form of entertainment that always goes down well is fireworks. A fireworks display as the night draws in, is often a fitting close to a fun evening soiree. You could either arrange these yourself, or bring in a company to conduct the fireworks display on your behalf.
5. Drinks reception theme or dress code
Most drinks receptions are quite relaxed affairs. However, the host will usually have gone to a lot of effort. Furthermore, a drinks reception is often a celebration or a special occasion. As a result it is well worth communicating what the dress code is to your guests. If someone turns up in a black tie dinner jacket and everyone else is casually dressed, they could feel uncomfortable. Equally if everyone is suited and booted and some of your guests arrive in more causal attire this could make both parties feel a little awkward.
TOP TIP: Always decide on a dress code or dress suggestion and include this in your invites.
If you decide on a more relaxed dress code this gives your guests the opportunity to really relax and let their hair down more. That said, we love to dress up now and again. If you have gone to the effort and expense of organising marquees, external catering, organised the drinks and some fun entertainment then encouraging your guests to compliment this with more formal attire is accepted.
Whilst thinking about the dress code it is also well worth considering the theme of the party too.
TOP TIP: Don’t overlook the table decorations, linen cloths for tables to put their glasses down, decorations and theme of the party. You may need to order these in and if you are having a marquee may need to include enough decorations to go with your theme.
If it’s your event, spend some time to make yourself look amazing too. It may be you are the star of the show or the point of contact for the guests or simply the host. Don’t overlook a bit of TLC for yourself.
6. Capturing the fun – Photography
If you have organised amazing food, drink entertainment and venue then it is well worth capturing some of these magical moments on photos. If you are hiring a magician, it would be great to capture the laughter and looks of astonishment too. If you are rekindling old connections or forging new ones, again hiring a photographer will be able to capture these moments too.
If your drinks reception is part of a larger event such as a conference, wedding, or other celebration then you may already have hired a photographer to capture all the fun and special moments from the day. Whilst photographers are traditionally hired for longer periods of time, it is well worth getting in touch to check their availability for a couple of hours.
If your budget doesn’t allow you to hire a photographer then you could leave some disposable cameras dotted round for people to take photos of the event.
TOP TIP: To encourage people to take photos of your event you could say that they will be entered into a competition at the end of the event and whoever’s is voted as the best photo will win a prize.
As host you could be in charge of taking photos yourself or entrust a couple of your friends with that job.
If you wanted to distance yourself even further from any photography responsibilities you could even hire a photobooth. These are always good fun and if you have the room people can have a giggle and have their photos taken. The only downside with a photobooth is that alongside taking up a sizeable space they don’t always capture the essence of the party or event. A roaming or strolling photographer would be much better placed to capture the emotion, fun, laughter and connections of your reception.
7. Guest considerations
A drinks reception without guests is just you having a few drinks and eating some nibbles by yourself. The guests can make and break your event so due consideration should be given to the number of guests and range of guests you are inviting.
Here are the top 7 considerations your should give to guests at a drinks reception:
Does your house or the venue you have hired offer wheelchair access if you have any disabled guests. Does it have ramps and wheelchair accessible toilets. If they don’t and you have even one disabled guest this may not only affect their experience but the guests they have come with and their close family and friends. If your house or venue don’t have these options, maybe consider switching to a more suitable venue or see if you can install some disabled functionality.
Have you invited adults with children? Are children invited or is this an adult only drinks reception?
If you know that children are coming it is worth considering what you can offer to keep them entertained and welcome so the adults can enjoy themselves without having to worry about them.
TOP TIP: Consider hiring a children’s entertainer, balloon modeller or hiring a bouncy castle or some large games they can play. Find out if there is a little play area for the children.
TOP TIP 2: A great tip to keep the children entertained is to organise an activity table. Onto this you could put some colouring books and crayons, puzzle books, age suitable toys, books and comics. Even things like playdough or Lego may be fun for the children if they are supervised. If you wanted the parents to be able to let their hair down hiring a professional magician like William the Wizard is a perfect solution.
As mentioned earlier, ask ahead of time if any of the guests have any allergies and for the children, if they dislike certain foods. This will avoid crying and upset children and upset bellies if some food has been cross contaminated.
Number of guests
Calculating the number of guests that you both invite and attend is important. There is a difference between the two also.
TOP TIP: Remember that some of your guests may bring children, grandmothers or additional guests so account for them too.
Knowing the number of guests that will be coming in advance will help you calculate:
The size of marquee you require (if you have one)
How many seats, tables and space you will need to host the drinks reception.
The amount of glasses or crockery you will need to buy or hire.
The amount of food to prepare.
Adequate parking facilities for everyone.
TOP TIP: If you have chosen to host your drinks reception at a venue – it is important to find out what their venue capacity is as sometimes they have legal obligations to not go over a certain limit.
This is a just a side-thought, but pay attention to the relationships between your guests. If they don’t know one another, then it is an even better idea to hire an entertainer (like a magician) to help break the ice between your guests. Also, some guests may not get on or have a difficult relationship so think about this in the planning stage when you are writing your guest list and sending out invitations.
When deciding on the date of your drinks reception, party or event consider school holidays, national holidays and bank holidays. If you schedule your event on a similar date to one of these, you may find yourself with a much lower rate of acceptance of your invitation. Some of your friends, family, work colleagues or key people for the event may have already booked a holiday. It is worth checking with some of the key people first.
If you have ever attended a drinks reception and find yourself wearing high heels and then see that the whole of the drinks reception will be held on grass, your heart probably sinks lower than your heel into the soil.
TOP TIP: If you are planning the drinks reception to be outside make sure there is a hard surface for the ladies to stand. If this is not possible, suggest that they should bring some flat shoes on the invitation.
There nothing more awkward than having your heels stuck in the grass with a glass of bubbly in one hand and a canape in the other.
8. Your drinks reception budget
Hosting, organising and planning a drinks reception can get expensive. If you are doing it yourself, prices can spiral if you are not strict on your budget. If you have a specific budget in mind, you have two options.
Adhere to that budget and plan everything (using this guide to help you) ahead of time.
Use an event planner, or venue, or agency and give them your budget from the off.
If you are planning the event yourself – your drinks reception may be just one element of a larger function. It may be the drinks reception for a wedding, conference, awards ceremony, corporate event, or Christmas party. If you are providing beverages for the main meal or wedding breakfast then you can limit the amount of drink and food required in the party. Equally your may choose to hire any entertainment to perform at both the pre-event and the main event and straddle both.
If, however you are having a drinks reception as a standalone event then there are some of the costs you may incur:
Theming or decorations
Your own outfit your are buying or hiring
The hiring or purchase of extra tables, glasses, table cloths and cutlery
Staff hire if you are using external suppliers to serve the drinks and canapes
Venue or Marquee hire
A small cost to be apportioned to the invites
Party favours or small gifts for your guests to take home at the end of the night
An expense for extra shawls or blankets for the cooler evening or for umbrellas if rain is expected
Any awards, cakes or special, unique add-ons to your specific event
9. Length of your drinks reception
The length of your drinks reception dependend on a couple of variables. When deciding on the length it is worth considering whether it is part of a larger event such as a wedding, conference, corporate event, awards ceremony or Christmas party. That said, some people host a drink’s reception as a stand alone event. If it is a standalone event, the reception can go on for as long as you decide.
If you have hired a venue, work with the venue to understand if they have last orders, a time they expect you to finish by or any other time restrictions. Nonetheless, if your drinks reception is part of a larger event then most people allocate on average an hour or two. This allows for people to arrive, get themselves a drink (either served to them by a waiter or waitress) or get their own from behind the bar.
TOP TIP: Ensure that you have someone or something that let’s your guests know that the party is over and they should make their way into the conference or banquet hall to be seated for dinner.
This should be a consideration whether you have a wedding or corporate event. Take it account that people generally move very very slowly into the function room so if you are working to set times, make the announcement in good time.
TOP TIP: If you are hosting a soiree yourself it is well worth adding the finishing time onto the invitation so that people will naturally take themselves off home at the appropriate time.
If you don’t let people know the time your event will finish, they may linger longer than you want them too or your are left in an uncomfortable and awkward position to ask them to leave.
Most drinks last anywhere from 30 minutes to two hours if they are part of a longer event.
10. The most common mistakes planning a drinks reception
One of the most common regrets from people who have organised their own drinks reception is failing to book any entertainment. Hiring some fun entertainment gives you the breathing room to relax knowing your guests are having fun and being looked after. A quality entertainer can also help mask any problems or eventualities that may occur such as a delay in the food, late guests, bad weather etc. A professional magician like Duncan William is highly versatile and flexible and can look after your guests leaving them laughing and gasping all night long.
Another oversight at a an event like this is failing to provide tables for people to put their glasses on. Holding an empty glass is frustrating to say the least.
One of the most important considerations not to overlook is people’s bellies. A lot of them will be pretty hungry as most drinks receptions are held later in the evening. An easy fix, to take their minds off their bellies is to provide some finger food or canapes.
Perhaps the most common mistake hosts make when planning and executing a get together like this is taking on all the tasks themselves. They may have been cooking, cleaning, erecting marquees, dealing with administrative duties and more. By the time they get to the actual event itself they are exhausted. Then on the day, they still have to play host which is exhausting even for the most sociable of hosts.
The final mistake to avoid is providing enough facilities for the guests. If you only have one toilet and don’t want your guests using your other’s it may be worth hiring some porta toilets. These can look and feel a lit nice than porta loos you will see on a building site or at a festival.
Duncan performs at hundreds of events each year with the large majority of them being a drinks reception. With over 15 years experience as a professional magician, Duncan is one of the leading drinks reception magicians in the UK. He also performs internationally at cocktail receptions. If you want to hire some fun, interactive sophisticated entertainment to complement your event then get in touch with Duncan below to see how he can help.
FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS:
What is the best kind of entertainment for a drinks reception?
The type of entertainment you choose for your drinks reception should compliment the event. As a soiree like this is traditionally for guests to stand around, chat, drink and nibble on canapes you want something that is versatile and can mix and mingle with your guests. A close up magician or mind reader is the perfect entertainment choice for a an event like this to get the party started and make your event really memorable.
How long should a drinks reception be at a wedding?
A drinks reception at a wedding is typically one of two hours. At this time the bride and groom have their photos taken and the guests enjoy some alcohol, canapes and entertainment. The length of time is dependent on other factors such as when the wedding ceremony will take place, the number of guests and if you have other time restrictions for the day.
What kind of drinks should you serve at a drinks reception?
Traditionally hosts serve champagne or prosecco at drinks reception. Another popular choice is Pimm’s. If you are thinking about non alcoholic options, orange juice is perhaps the most popular. There is often a decanter of wine filled with mind leaves or assorted fruit too.
For longer events, some host have a bar with a range of alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages for the adults as well as soft drinks for the children.
What kind of events have a drinks reception?
A drinks reception can be a stand alone event or part of a bigger event. Most commonly drinks receptions are held at wedding after the bride and groom have tied the knot. This precedes the wedding breakfast and is an elegant start to the fun part of the day now the formalities are out of the way.
Get togethers like these are also popular at conferences, corporate events, award ceremonies, celebrations, birthdays and Christmas parties.