Cocktail Party Celebrations

Planning a cocktail party to take the place of a traditional reception is the perfect choice for couples looking for something a little different for the after-wedding ceremony festivities. Wedding venues around the Great Lakes Bay Region know how to specially tailor cocktail receptions for the bride and groom.

From tasty small bites to martini bars, check out these trends for your upcoming wedding reception

Planning a cocktail party to take the place of a traditional reception is the perfect choice for couples looking for something a little different for the after-wedding ceremony festivities. Wedding venues around the Great Lakes Bay Region know how to specially tailor cocktail receptions for the bride and groom.

Most planners say high-top tables and food stations are the way to go, allowing guests to move freely about the room. Planners suggest options such as miniature hors d’oeuvres in a martini glass, specialty drinks, and make-your-own dessert bars.

Don’t forget the ambiance. Starting with a backdrop of white tablecloths and chair covers, there are many choices for adding accessories to have pops of color around the room. Hot options for colors this year are browns, oranges, or purples, with lots of burlap and wood accents.


Just your style

A large square table with food divided into groups from sweets to salads to a fruit display to heavier items such as chicken skewers or miniature croissants will have guests’ mouths watering the minute they walk into a reception at The Grand Banquet and Conference Center in Essexville.

Owner Bob Roe says his staff is willing and able to provide whatever the couple desires. “We do different types of cheese, and we do a lot of fresh fruit displays,” he says. “We also do different types of desserts, such as small cream puffs or brownies.”

In addition to the main foods, couples are choosing specialty items, especially in the sweets area, by adding s’mores bars and cupcake tables. Or, Roe says, the bride and groom can also set up food stations. “We can do it a variety of different ways,” he explains. Specialty drinks are highly requested as well.

The Grand Banquet and Conference Center, 660 W Hampton Rd, Essexville, 989-893-9303,

Make it unique, make it intimate, and make it cozy.

~ Tricia Coonan, The DoubleTree by Hilton Hotel Bay City-Riverfront

An intimate event

“Make it unique, make it intimate, and make it cozy,” says Tricia Coonan, wedding sales manager for The DoubleTree by Hilton Hotel Bay City-Riverfront, noting cocktail receptions are great ideas for a second or third wedding with a limited number of guests.

To make it intimate, Coonan offers up the VIP suites, the Wenonah suites, or the hotel’s private patio, complete with oversized soft seating, ottomans, and oversized pillows, in addition to high-top tables sprinkled here and there. Guests feast on butler-passed hors d’oeuvres, a variety of wines and microbrew beers, and specialty drinks.

Coonan also suggests adding a few stations that have selections such as chef-carved meats and different pastas.

Or, she says, consider having a Sunday reception with an omelet station and brunch-style drink choices that include mimosas, bloody marys, or peach Bellinis.

To keep the conversation flowing, Coonan suggests having a trio of musicians, a lone guitarist, or a harpist playing music softly in the background.

The DoubleTree by Hilton Hotel Bay City-Riverfront, 1 Wenonah Park Pl, Bay City, 989-891-6000,

DTree copy copy

Customize and coordinate

While long tables of hors d’oeuvres are an option, Casey Veihl, general banquet manager at Bridgeport’s Candlelite Banquet Center, says food stations are becoming more popular. Stations are more flexible, allowing guests to easily meet and greet around the room, as well as eat as they choose instead of going through a long line, he explains.

“We can leave the options up longer through a two-hour window,” Veihl says. “We add to the food stations throughout the evening with smaller portions at a time. If someone shows up late, they can still eat.”

It’s up to the bride and groom to mix and match the specialized hors d’oeuvres of hot and cold favorites with options that include everything from chicken paté to fruit fondue. A dessert table can be added as well.

As for color, Veihl says traditional fall wedding colors with oranges and browns, as well as burlap, are the go-to trends for this year.

Candlelite Banquet Center, 6817 Dixie Hwy, Bridgeport, 989-777-2190,

It puts a fun twist on the traditional buffet, and it makes a reception really memorable.

~ Ernie Sbrefny, Saginaw Township’s Horizons Conference Center

Food station fun

Mashed potatoes in a martini glass? Why not, says Ernie Sbrefny, wedding coordinator and wedding department sales manager for Saginaw Township’s Horizons Conference Center.

In fact, that’s just one of the ideas Sbrefny has for what he calls strolling buffets, with guests traveling from station to station and sampling delightful choices such as cherries jubilee made on the spot, a bag of popcorn, or a sweet treat from the candy bar. “We basically take a buffet and split it around the room,” he says. “It puts a fun twist on the traditional buffet, and it makes a reception really memorable.”

But to make sure no guest goes home hungry, Sbrefny also suggests adding a carving station to the mix, or an Italian station filled with several pastas. The bride and groom can also personalize drinks with a martini bar or create a specialty drink to match the colors or theme of the wedding.

Horizons Conference Center, 6200 State St, Saginaw Township, 989-799-4122,

Horizons copy

Elegant ambiance and fancy treats

Although Zehnder’s of Frankenmuth is famous for its chicken dinners, that’s not the only wedding celebration option offered.

When Wendy Casavan, sales manager at Zehnder’s, pictures a cocktail wedding reception, she sees high-top tables with angel lights or a simple white silk centerpiece that sits low to the table. But, she adds, that’s not to say the couple can’t spice it up with colorful napkins.

The bride and groom also choose between three hot and three cold hors d’oeuvres. Possibilities include charcuterie boards, a raspberry and almond baked brie wheel, and caprese skewers. The “Fun Options” menu offers choices to add a pizza bar, ice cream sundae bar, and soft pretzels, too.

Including a guitarist or a harpist can also add to the elegance of the evening.

Zehnder’s, 730 S Main St, Frankenmuth, 1-800-863-7999, ext 418,

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Mix and mingle

“When we have a cocktail reception, it allows us to have a larger number of guests since there are not as many large tables set up, and the guests enjoy easily walking around and mingling,” says Chelsie Berthume, sales manager and event coordinator at Centennial Hall in Mount Pleasant.

The food is set up close to the bar in the main reception room with appetizers such as mini pizzas, mini quiches, and spinach dip with pita tips. Desserts include cream puffs, tiramisu, and cheesecake. The bride and groom can also choose spiked punch bowls and Champagne to add to the celebration.

Adorning tables with accents in burlap has been especially popular, such as a table runner across white linen, and the addition of candles, mirrored centerpieces, and tall flowers combine to create a soft, inviting look for any cocktail reception.

Centennial Hall, 306 W Michigan St, Mt Pleasant, 989-772-3663,

Coffee, popcorn, and s’mores

The staff members at Midland’s Great Hall are experienced at putting on a cocktail wedding reception. Guests enjoy the time in a setting general manager Mike Dunn describes as fruit market-like, set up to run the length of the lobby.

“We do displays of vegetables and cheeses,” he explains. “There are a couple of hot items and two or three cold, set on mirrors and trays.”

Guests and the bridal party can also dish up mini hors d’oeuvres in martini glasses, check out a coffee station, and put together fun combinations at a popcorn station. After munchies, there are plenty of choices for delectable sweets, including a candy bar, cookies, a chocolate fountain with fresh fruit, and make-your-own s’mores.

“We put sternos on little rock beds, like mini outdoor fire pits,” Dunn says. “Guests roast big marshmallows, and we have all the trimmings to make a gourmet s’more.”

Late night snacks in the form of pizza can be on the menu for guests as well.

Great Hall Banquet and Convention Center, 5121 Bay City Rd, Midland, 989-496-2158,


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