When you’re holding an event, choosing between seated dining or a standing, cocktail-style party can be one of the most difficult decisions. Which setting would make your guests feel most comfortable? Is one way usually more successful than the other? - Let’s find out.

Holding a sit-down event

As a general rule, sit-down events are designed so that guests have allocated seats, with full table settings in place before the event commences. For the most part, guests are served a set menu.

It’s a functional and efficient way to run a very large event. When you’re conducting formalities, such as speeches or award presentations, you can control when everyone’s seated for smooth running of the schedule. 

Sit-down events can be expensive though, in terms of hiring tableware and decorations. Another drawback is that guests may find it uncomfortable if they end up sitting on tables with people they don’t know.

Staging a cocktail party

A cocktail-style event doesn’t necessarily mean there’s no seating available. In fact, to hold a successful one, it’s important to provide some form of seating to ensure guests are comfortable.

Food can be served by roving waitstaff at varying intervals, rather than having a set time for dining. It can also be set up on long buffet tables so guests can serve themselves, or caterers can serve guests from a central point.

In the absence of formal table settings, cocktail events instantly create a fun atmosphere that’s conducive to mingling.

It does take a bit more effort to organise mingling guests for formalities though. You can remedy the situation with announcements from an MC or by providing guests with an event schedule via the invitations.

So which to choose?

The best option really depends on the event. For example, a corporate awards night with a set schedule might be more easily managed with a sit-down meal. A product launch is likely to be better suited to an event where media and clients can mingle and chat.

On the other hand, a wedding could go either way – a formal sit-down event for a large number of guests or a sophisticated cocktail party where guests are served finger food.

Combining the two

If you’re still struggling to decide what’s best, why not elements from both styles? There really aren’t any firm or fast rules anymore - no matter what a professional function planner might tell you - so make up your own.

One idea is to provide the correct number of fully set tables and chairs and allow guests to sit where they like. For catering, have a serving station, like a hot dog cart, where guests collect their own food to take back to the tables. Arrange for your formalities to start once the service stops, to ensure you have everyone’s attention.

In terms of which version is the most successful, when you mix and match the attributes of both, to suit the desires of your guests and the purpose of your event, you really can’t go wrong!