Laissez les WTF Rouler

Just turning on the TV these days will give you a glimpse into life in the Big Easy. We hosted Super Bowl XLVII this year, the History Channel can keep you up to date on the latest ways to shoot alligators, ducks, and the like, and I’m really getting into this season of American Horror Story: Coven set in New Orleans! True Blood doesn’t count. That shiz is just cray.

While a lot of this is pretty exaggerated, we are still a pretty unique city. Louisiana doesn’t have counties, we have parishes. And we don’t bury people underground. And let’s not get started on our eclectic vocabulary. We sure do love to party for any reason at all, complete with good food and drink. Suffice to say, that New Orleans is a special, diverse place, and it is near and dear to my heart. I love our traditions and what makes us special, and I want to be able to showcase that in our wedding.


A New Orleans Second Line / Photo via The Knot by Art de Vie

With that said, I have a big problem with the way New Orleans does weddings. And you’re saying, “But didn’t you just say that New Orleans loves to party and eat and drink? Doesn’t that add up to a spectacular wedding?” Yep, I know. They’re still pretty awesome parties, but apparently the way we do these is different than the rest of the world!

Let me start out by saying that I am not a wedding veteran. I’ve only attended a handful of weddings, thus my experience is limited. However, I did contact plenty of venues and read up on their packages, and I spoke with coordinators too. Until I started reading wedding websites—and watching Four Weddings—I had no concept of sit-down dinners at weddings. I mean, I knew what they were but I thought it was only for the movies and super fancy, million-dollar affairs. Imagine my surprise that everywhere else in the country and beyond, these are the standard. And to be honest, I felt cheated and I got a little pissed off.

For the typical New Orleans cocktail-style reception, here’s what you’ve got:

  • Three-hour reception. Venues will offer an additional hour for additional $$, but most recommend not to. Apparently people get bored and no one hangs around for the extra hour, so you have a very sad end to the reception with just a few lonely drunks left to cheer you at your exit.
  • Stations/buffet/passed apps. Sometimes the food is left out for the entire reception, sometimes it’s cut shorter. It’s all out and ready to eat right when guests get to the reception.
  • No cocktail hour. I had no idea cocktail hours were a thing. The entire wedding is a cocktail hour, essentially. This also makes post-ceremony pictures harder. Guests will go straight to the reception, so the couple are missing out on the actual reception, not a cocktail hour.
  • No speeches. It’s usually music from start to finish—starting with the special dances—with some breaks for cake cutting and tosses. I’ve heard of people doing speeches at the rehearsal dinner.
  • Open bar. Based on the packages I saw, the standard was to have a completely hosted bar, and I’ve never been to a wedding with a cash bar.
  • No assigned seating and not enough seating for everyone. Most venues only put out chairs for about half of the guests. A very popular venue (and the most expensive that I looked at) would only do chairs for one third. Along with that, there are no escort cards, table numbers, or seating assignments. There are usually a few large tables reserved for family. This is the one that really gets me, so I’m going to need to step out of the bullet point and step up onto my…

This was so cute I had to use it. / Found at Life with My Special K’s

As soon as I found out about these magical places where food is brought to you at a table and calligraphy cards tell you where to sit, I tucked the idea away for the future and knew that I would want to try it when my time came.

And then I’m engaged and blaze ahead getting quotes from reception venues. Some have an option for a sit-down dinner, but it drastically increased the price and severely limited the amount of people a venue could hold. Which totally makes sense—I’m actually not that tied to the idea of a sit-down dinner, but I did like the idea of having enough chairs for everyone. And I was willing to pay the extra to get what I wanted, since obviously I was asking for more.

But when I inquired about this option to the venue representatives who were asking me to fork over the equivalent of several mortgage payments on their deposit, the response was something like “That’s not how you want to do it. It’s not the New Orleans way.” (So, I paraphrase, but that’s because this happened with several vendors, not just one.)

So I expressed my confusion with this, and the argument of the NOLA wedding industry and my family members was that you want a fun reception, right? You don’t want your guests sitting down! This setup keeps people moving around, mingling, and not being anti-social losers on the most super special day of your life. Obviously not everyone wants to eat at the exact same time, so everyone will always be able to find a seat for the 2.5 seconds they will be eating and then get on up and contribute to this party atmosphere that I must want because I’m having a rave wedding.


A shot of a part of a NOLA wedding reception: small, casual tables and mingling / Photo via Eau Claire Photographics

So this definitely gives the younger people the short end of the stick—tables are taken by older guests and we’re forced to wobble around in high heels and balance plates of food if we want to get a bite to eat before all that drinking.

No one seemed to understand that it might be nice to have a table to go back to if you want to sit down while you don’t like the song that’s playing. Or when you want to actually eat a bit of cake or just talk to someone you haven’t seen in a while. Now, I am no expert in party-layout psychology, but I don’t think that giving someone a seat means that they will be glued to it all night. But what do I know?


Just because there are chairs doesn’t mean people will be bored, like this little cutie? / Photo via Maine Wedding Guide by Kate Crabtree Photography

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that cocktail-style weddings suck—that list above has lots of pros as well as cons. And I’m not complaining that I had a terrible time at any of the ones I attended; on the contrary, we’ve had a great time at every wedding, and I get that this style is what is understood and expected in our area.

But is it right for us and our wedding?

I discussed this a lot with Sphinx and my friends, particularly BM Perk. She was baffled by this, too, not realizing that it was a given to have this kind of wedding in New Orleans. We’re thinking this is an “older” mentality that doesn’t translate as well to younger generations, which is more informed of how things are outside of our Crescent City bubble. Wedding knowledge and practices aside, I had a guy friend mention how he was annoyed about the lack of seating at a wedding he attended earlier this year. If it’s enough to stand out for a guy to mention it, then he must have really had a problem with it!

Fortunately, the Board of Trade is more flexible with allowing different styles of seating and serving, instead of being locked down. I think my ideal setup would be a mixture of the two styles. I’d like to serve food at stations, but have enough seating for everyone. This is what they did at BM J’s wedding last year, and I think it worked out very well. I’d also like to use table assignments, but I’m not sure if that’s pushing it too far (or should I just be happy that I don’t have to do a seating chart?).

Once we finalize the guest list, research the cost of rentals, and talk about layouts, then it will be decision time.

Did you buck any cultural norms in your wedding? Any advice for me on what to do? At least we have open bars, right?


Miss Pyramid

New Orleans, LA
Wedding Date:

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  1. Member
    seabeeny 203 posts, Helper bee @ 8:59 am

    Interesting! I’ve never been to a cocktail reception (almost all of the weddings I’ve been to have been in the northeast or mid-Atlantic) but I agree with you, I’d like a seat. And I am CERTAINLY not the type to stay glued to it during the whole reception. I’ll be dancing! But I just want to sit when I can. ;) Sounds like you’ve got a great way to combine this!

  2. Member
    luluvohn 1153 posts, Bumble bee @ 10:19 am

    I’m a fairly shy bee and unless I know the vast majority of the other guests (high school bestie or other close friend) I’m likely to only get up and dance for the classics like Shout or The Electric Slide. I don’t think I’d like feeling like I was stealing someone else’s chair if I sat down for 90% of the evening. A girl I know did have a cocktail reception recently, in DC. It looked beautiful in photos but I just kept thinking “but where do you sit if you don’t like the song?”

  3. Member
    RoseTyler 69 posts, Worker bee @ 10:59 am

    I’m on the East Coast, and most weddings I’ve been to have had assigned seats and served meals. Not a fan. I’ve gotten stuck at a table with people I don’t know, who weren’t very chatty… You think you can get up and mingle, but if a meal is being served, there’s an awful lot of time you are stuck at your table.

    Having enough seats sounds like a GREAT idea, but I think assigned seats will tend to make people stick to those seats. I had a cocktail-style reception and loved it. I got to talk to everyone, and everyone mingled a lot. Either way, have fun!

  4. Member
    Miss Filly 616 posts, Busy bee @ 2:41 pm

    It’s so interesting how things are so different in different parts of the country. I’ve never been to a cocktail style reception, but it sounds pretty cool. That said, I’ve been brought up with the “have a seat for every butt” rule, so I think you’re doing a great job at combining the best of both concepts.

    Re: your last question – open bar is EVERYTHING.

  5. Member
    MaryRachel 307 posts, Helper bee @ 5:49 pm

    I haven’t been to a reception without enough seats, but at my friends wedding they removed six tables (mine included) to make a dance floor. I felt like I couldn’t go anywhere (and wasn’t entirely sure where to leave my purse while dancing). Not a fan–definitely have a seat for everyone! I don’t stay glued to it, but I like having it available.

    And while I understand letting people sit wherever, I think its more likely to be awkward (I went to a wedding where I knew 30+ people, but no one saved me a seat so I ended up with strangers) than force people to sit with people they dislike. Plus there are so many pretty seating cards out there!

  6. Member
    Mrs. Gondola 951 posts, Busy bee @ 6:29 pm

    Very interesting post! Who knew NOLA was so different? As a somewhat shy and introverted person I would be grateful to have a place to sit and watch people dance rather than be forced to mingle or stand. But I do understand the importance of creating a party mood. I hope things work out where you get exactly what you want!

  7. Member
    Miss_Mimosa 189 posts, Blushing bee @ 6:35 pm

    Very interesting. I didn’t know any of that about a NOLA wedding. I can’t imagine a wedding without a cocktail hour or assigned seats, or enough seats for that matter. It is always so fun to see what different parts of the US do as far as traditions go (I guess that’s why everyone loves weddingbee)

  8. Member
    Miss Pyramid 801 posts, Busy bee @ 6:25 am

    @seabeeny: Right? I think it’s nice to be able to rest your feet a bit! But I guess it works since the total time at the reception is much less than if you had a sit down dinner.

    @MaryRachel: oh, that sounds like it would have been a pain if everyone else still had their seats. And I hear you on doing a seating chart, I just think people would be REALLY confused or not like it.
    @Mrs. Gondola: NOLA is so different…sometimes I think that we’re not, but travelling somewhere else will make me realize it very quickly!

    @Miss Filly: Yes, it is interesting, so I like learning about these things on
    @RoseTyler: I guess the saying “grass is always greener on the other side” applies here! That’s cool that you went with the cocktail style even though it’s not the norm and I’m glad it turned out so well!

    @luluvohn: yep, I like to dance but I don’t have to be out on the dance floor the whole night. We’ll also have seating out in our courtyard, so hopefully that will be a good place for people to mingle and chat while not on the dance floor!

    @Miss_Mimosa: I don’t think a lot of people do realize it, since even destination weddings down here do sit down meals. But I agree, yay for weddingbee and sharing traditions! :)

  9. Member
    daniellekira 532 posts, Busy bee @ 8:23 am

    I never realized how different NO was with weddings. I like your idea of the blended wedding style.

  10. Member
    Mrs. Palm Tree 1069 posts, Bumble bee @ 10:51 pm

    I totally didn’t realize that weddings were so different in New Orleans (and I’ve watched a LOT of Four Weddings)! I’m angry for you that so many venues/representatives were adamantly against working with you to have it YOUR (and Sphinx’s) way. Who gives a F if it’s the NOLA way?! Oy. And three hours?! That seems like nothing! Consider my mind blown. I’m so glad you found a more flexible venue that is willing to work with you. I hope you write a post after your wedding comparing and contrasting your day to the “standard”!

  11. Member
    Mrs. Waterfall 1299 posts, Bumble bee @ 8:54 am

    I didn’t realize how different weddings are in NOLA. Wow, three hours is seems so short to me! That sucks that you’ll be missing part of your reception! Will you be doing a first look then?

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