Cocktail or dinner music? If your wedding reception is like most, of course you’ll have both. But maybe you’re programming music with your DJ, and you’re wondering what styles work best in each part of the night. Or perhaps you’re hiring live musicians for cocktails and dinner, and aren’t sure what kind of musicians to get. And suppose your budget only allowed for live music during cocktails or dinner, but not both – which would you choose?

Like so much at your wedding, the answer depends on your own tastes and values. Cocktail and dinner times are both chances to play music that you love, but can’t dance to. Here are the key differences between the two.

Cocktail Music vs Dinner MusicCocktail Hour

Your guests will chat and drink. Most will stand, not sit.

Your room will be noisy, especially if your venue holds cocktails in a more compact space (say, a lobby or atrium instead of the ballroom).

Distractions are few. Your guests will pay attention to the music or each other.

The focus: Because your cocktail environment is typically a noisy one without a lot of other events or distractions, live music will become a focal point. Some guests will focus very intently on it – others may ignore it altogether and focus on each other.

The style: Anything goes! Musically, cocktail hour is your biggest opportunity to go off the beaten path. Choose live musicians you know will fascinate your guests, or ask for DJ music that represents your style but wouldn’t work for dancing. Just keep the energy up.

The budget: It may only last an hour – but your cocktail time can set guest expectations for the rest of the night. Hiring musicians for this time makes an elegant first impression without breaking the bank.




Your guests will eat, chat and listen to speeches. Most will be seated.

Your room will be less noisy, with guests spread out widely and focused on eating as well as talking.

Distractions are greater – guests will notice your music, but the entrée takes center stage here. The number of toasts and speeches may mean that music needs to pause intermittently as well.

The focus: There are speeches to hear and food to eat, so dinner music is not a focal point – it’s an environment. It impacts more of your guests, but not as deeply. Like fish in water, they won’t focus on the music – unless it’s bad or missing.

The style: Most styles of music work for dinner, but don’t choose anything too intrusive. Songs that are overly funny, overly edgy, or that make people want to get up and move are probably a better match for finger food than for a gourmet meal.

The budget: Your dinner will last longer than your cocktail hour, so live music costs a bit more here. On the other hand, if you already have live music for cocktails – extending it into dinner is a relatively inexpensive addition.

Making it Easy

If you’re still not sure what plan is right for you, the best approach is often to talk it through in person with an expert. If you’re getting married in Chicago, take 15 minutes on the phone to talk with an Account Manager. We’ll build a plan based on what you love.