Sagaponack House Party

photo Joshua Zuckerman Photography

Once upon a time,  “Saturday Night Wedding” meant one thing: seated dinner, choice of beef or fish.  Times have changed, and weddings are taking on a variety of different formats.  A wave that we’ve been riding over the past few years is a preference for a more casual, unstructured party – what we call a Lounge Party.  Rather than tables of ten, rooms are designed around clusters of informal seating, often lounge furniture mixed with smaller cocktail tables and airport tables (tall cocktail tables).  Dinner – instead of the typical progression of plated appetizer, salad, entree, dessert – is served either in the style of a heavy cocktail party, a “station” event comprised of several small buffet set ups, or a combination of both.

I’m a huge fan of these types of events, but there are some real pitfalls to avoid.  Weddings are long – typically five hours or more – and the goal is to keep guests both comfortable and interested.  Here are some tips entertaining some happy lounge lizards.

Scheduling: Because a Lounge Party is by nature less structured than a more formal wedding, it’s important to create a progressive flow to your day.  There’s nothing more boring that a five-hour cocktail party!  Keep the structure of a cocktail hour, dinner hour and dessert hour so your guests are constantly getting to experience new food and drink. Don’t assume that you’ll just “fit in” moments for toasts, first dances, dance sets and cake cutting; create a timeline and schedule them at varied intervals throughout the wedding.

Seating: The goal of a Lounge Wedding is to keep mingling, fun and dancing to a maximum.  While you want to make sure that guests have places to plop down, rest, eat and chat you don’t want to encourage anyone to permanently plant themselves for the duration.  Keeping the balance of seating is the key.  I suggest seats for no more than a third to half of your guests at any given time.  Be sure to mix upholstered furniture and tables, which will encourage guests to move around.  Utilizing smaller tables will deter large groups from setting up camp for the night.  Ottomans are a great option, as there’s always room to squeeze one more friend.  It’s fine to set up a couple of reserved tables for grandparents or other adult VIP’s who might need the security of a permanent seat.

Jaclyn Mick Wedding

photo Parris Whittingham

Food: While it’s tempting to think of a Lounge Wedding  as a long cocktail party, it’s not.  People will need to be fed in a substantive way if the party is longer than two to three hours.  It’s nice to start with a cocktail hour offering lighter fare in the form of passed hors d’oeuvre.  Once you move into dinner, think small plates – either actual passed small plates of mini meals (for instance, one grilled lamb chop with tabouleh and cucumber raita) and/or a variety of food  stations.  Stations differ from a buffet in that they are small, offer smaller plates of food and feature a specific fare (for instance, a taco station or fish grill).  Again, the key is to keep guests moving around and tasting little bits of many things.  Work with your caterer to create a fun but cohesive variety of food flowing throughout the night.

Music: Lounge Parties are often a simulation of a club environment, so a DJ is  the perfect choice to get this kind of party going. However, just because the dance floor is open all night doesn’t mean that guests  want to shout over the beat as they’re enjoying their dinner or chatting with friends.  Like all the other elements we’ve discussed, the key with music at a Lounge Wedding is to allow a progression of energy to build throughout the event.

Decor: Designing a Lounge Wedding is an exercise in Macro Design.  Rather than selecting center pieces for tables of ten, the focus here is on the overall room – vignettes of furniture, textiles and pillows for punches of color and texture,  trees and props to bring intimacy and comfort to the space.  Lighting plays a huge role in creating ambience and a fun dance atmosphere.  Candlelight and reflective elements (mirrors, metal, water) can create a sense of style and personal touch.  One note:  creating a to-scale floor plan of the room or tent is essential to ensure that there’s enough room for stations, bars, furniture, tables, dancing and guests to mill around.  Don’t try to wing it on the day!

A Lounge Wedding is the perfect approach to a relaxed summer wedding, particularly in a setting like the Hamptons.  Enjoy the day, but make sure to do your homework before!

Jaclyn Mick Wedding Celebration

photos Joshua Zuckerman Photography, Parris Whittingham, Mallory Samson, Mallory Samson