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Formal, casual or somewhere in-between? How to set the right tone for your event

Hosting a successful event is about creating a unique, memorable experience that’s reflective of your style and vision. While some events call for a black tie dress code, chandeliers and red carpets, others just need an open bar, some good music and the right company (even if they’re dressed in shorts). Here are some of our top tips on how to choose and set the right tone for your next event:


Know who and what your event is for

Choosing whether to have a formal, semi-formal, smart-casual and just plain casual event starts with considering who or what the event is for. If it’s for a person or a couple, start by thinking of three words that describe them and their personalities.

Then, think about three words to describe the event you have in mind (if you need some ideas, visit our Inspiration page). If there’s a big discrepancy between those two sets of adjectives, something is amiss.

For example, if a couple are outgoing, creative and adventurous, having a very formal black tie wedding where guests are expected to stay seated for a large portion of the event may not make for their ‘best day ever’. Too often people get so swept up in planning the event, they forget it should be a true reflection of their personalities and style.

Same goes for corporate events – to hit the right mark, the experience needs to match the approach and ethos of the company or brand being represented.


So you’ve decided want to go formal

The difference between a formal event and any other comes down to dress code, venue, décor and food. To truly pull off a premium, formal event, you want to make sure every touchpoint carries through the same theme and style – from the invitations right through to the parking.


Dress code

This sets the expectations upfront. If you want a formal event, there are a few options for dress codes:

White Tie: As formal as it gets. Requires evening gowns and white gloves for the women, tail coats and, of course, a white tie, for the men. Although it is 2018, so it’s of course still open to some interpretation. But the keyword here is ‘fancy’. The Met Ball Gala is an example of a modern White Tie event.

Black Tie: ‘Black Tie’ requires black bow ties, tuxedos and floor-length evening gowns. This dress code is popular for charity events, galas and some weddings.

Semi-formal: Generally requires a darker coloured suit and tie, long or short cocktail dresses.


Venue and décor

If you’re envisaging a formal event, you need to think of venues where it would be fitting to have your guests swanning around in their finest.

Think grand, big spaces, ornate décor and luxury ambiance. Plan to allow for enough space for tables and chairs for formal seating. And remember, the right venue can always be created with the right custom marquee set up and choice décor accessories.

(You’ll want to put away the DIY inspiration and craft glue and call in the experts for this type of event.)



This can make or break any event, so every detail is key. A plated, multi-course meal is the most formal and having table service is recommended to complete the experience. Another option to maintain a formal feel, without having plated service, is floating waitstaff offering hors d’oeuvres. When selecting the menu, think about how to serve the food in such a way that it’s still easy to eat while dressed to the nines.


If you’re thinking of something more casual

Hosting a casual or informal event doesn’t have to mean Hawaiian shirts, slops and beer pong. There’s a sliding scale of options to choose from that retain some ‘polish’ or allow your guests to let their hair down.

Dress code

The options here are endless and lend themselves to a lot of creativity.

Cocktail: The perfect dress code for the ‘little black dress’ or dress pants and a blouse. Dark suits (with or without a tie) or even dark jeans and a jacket would work.

Garden attire: Think summer dresses and light colours. Sandals, flats, wedges are the order of the day – no one wants their heels to be sinking into the grass.

Smart casual: Calls for the more dressed up version of everyday looks. A clear way to indicate that shorts and t-shirts are not quite the look you want.

Casual: This tells your guests to come as they are – no expectations or requirements.

Festive: If you’re going for a theme and want your guests to dress up for the fun with it, this is the way to go.


Venue and décor

When hosting a more informal event, you have a lot of choice when it comes to venues and experimenting with new spaces. With no real formalities, you can focus on a venue set up designed for your guests to have a good time – whether that involves cocktails bars, games or other activities is completely up to you.

Going informal also gives you more freedom with décor – you can include elegant and stylish touches, or go the rustic, playful route. There are no rules.



At informal events, plated meals can be tricky and feel out of place. Rather opt for cocktail-style food, platters, floating waitstaff or a buffet.

Depending on your location, you might want to explore more out-of-the-box options such as food trucks or different types of food stations to offer your guests an interesting range of flavours.


Call in the experts

Overwhelmed by event planning details? At MPR Events we love handling all the details you don’t want to have to worry about. We have over 40 years’ experience providing everything you need when planning events, conferences, weddings and small functions. Get a quick quote for equipment hire for your next event here.