The Guide to Wedding Cocktail Hour

wedding cocktail hour ideas

After the vows have been said and the rings have been exchanged, it is now time to celebrate your everlasting love! The best way to ease into the celebration is a wedding cocktail hour. The wedding cocktail hour helps transition from your special ceremony to a larger soiree. You’ll want to make sure that you do it the right way so your guests can enjoy themselves prior to kicking up the celebration. 

The wedding cocktail hour is an easy way to give your guests some time to chill before dancing the night away. Here are some wedding cocktail hour ideas to help get you started! 

What is Cocktail Hour?

What is cocktail hour at a wedding? The wedding cocktail hour is essentially a brief period of time right before the wedding ceremony and the celebratory dinner. It starts off the reception portion of the wedding. There are many wedding cocktail hour ideas, and there isn’t one exact way to have a cocktail hour. You can really get creative with this and make it to your liking! The wedding cocktail hour is the time to get your guests into party mode. 

Wedding Cocktail Hour Ideas: Necessities of a good cocktail hour

First, if you have the option to hold your cocktail hour in an outdoor space, take it. The venue for the cocktail hour at your wedding should be light and comfortable, avoiding any stuffy rooms or confined areas. When guests leave the ceremony, they might need a chance to stretch their legs or get some fresh air, so a wider outdoor space is perfect for a cocktail hour. 

Any patios, rooftops, poolside, or balconies are perfect places to hold a wedding cocktail hour and will immediately set the party tone. A wedding cocktail hour idea is to keep this space available throughout the evening so that your guests can go outside and enjoy fresh air later on.

Next, let’s talk seating. The beauty of cocktail hour is that it is more about mingling with guests and keeping it relaxed and casual. It isn’t necessary to have your guests sit down. In fact, it is probably better if you only have a few high-top tables throughout the space. 

You can include a couple of low-seat tables as well for your older guests who might need a spot to sit for a longer time. You don’t want to have your whole party sitting during this time. Some other ideas can be adding lounge furniture instead of tables to make it more picture worthy.

Décor doesn’t have to be anything crazy for cocktails. There are a couple of different wedding cocktail hour ideas for décor that can help the aesthetics of your evening. Consider working with your caterer to create some whimsical ways to display your appetizers or drinks. You can also add some more personal touches around the space as little conversation starters for your guests while they mingle. 

We don’t necessarily recommend big decorations as they are best used in more high-traffic areas like the bar or food stations, especially if you are on a tighter budget. More personalized touches will also be more meaningful for you.

When thinking about music for your cocktail hour wedding, try not to overpower the mingling and chatting that makes the cocktail hour. A DJ or band will probably overpower any conversation so opt for some pretty background music like a strolling violinist or even an acoustic act. 

You can also find many playlists online for the perfect classy wedding cocktail hour music. The music for your cocktail hour doesn’t have to be anything super special, as guests will be more focused on the conversation.

One last common and helpful tip is to avoid setting up an area for discards. While it is a huge pet peeve to leave crumpled napkins, empty glasses, and toothpicks all over the tables, when you have an assigned place for the trash, it will only create an eye sore. Have the caterers or servers designate staff to help sweep the trash throughout the cocktail hour. Then, they can discard the trash away from the guests view.

Cocktail hour etiquette 

After all the wedding cocktail hour ideas, it can be confusing to figure out how to properly host a cocktail hour during your wedding. Luckily, there are a couple of tips and common etiquette practices that can help you execute a proper cocktail hour.

First, how long should a cocktail hour be at a wedding exactly? Usually, cocktail hours last around an hour. However, they can be prolonged up to around 90 minutes if the extra time is needed to finish prepping the reception space for the rest of the evening. If the cocktail hour is planned to go a little longer than an hour, consider adding some kind of activity or wedding cocktail entertainment ideas to keep your guests occupied. 

It can be pretty tedious to maintain conversation for over an hour with nothing else to do in one room. There are a few wedding cocktail hour games that would be super fun to play and can tie into the reception or ceremony that just took place.

When should the cocktail hour take place? Ideally, the cocktail hour should take place after your ceremony and before the reception. You can definitely host the cocktail hour prior to the ceremony, but this can pose a couple of challenges. It can be difficult to wrangle guests into their chairs for the ceremony after cocktail hour, which can prolong the wedding. 

If you are planning to host your cocktail hour prior to your ceremony, we recommend keeping it shorter and encouraging staff to let guests know when the bar is closed and to find their seats.

Is it okay for guests to skip cocktail hour? Usually, guests should be encouraged to attend cocktail hour as it is part of the party and it is typically paid for in advance. Encourage your guests to attend the cocktail hour with signs next to the ceremony that point them to the cocktail hour space. Another way to help guests attend is by keeping the cocktail hour relatively short as mentioned. 

Wedding cocktail hour food

Food and drinks at your reception dinner usually need to lean toward pleasing the crowd, but your cocktail hour food choices can be a little bit more unique and daring. The cocktail hour food and drink can appeal more toward your individual tastes. 

You can really experiment with the choices and choose items that have special meanings to your family culture, are memorable bites from past vacations abroad, or your favorite comfort food. Then from there, you can build the rest of the menu.

In terms of the amount of food to cater, you’ll want around five or six different types of hors d’oeuvres. You’ll estimate around two bites per guest as this is right before the reception and dinner. Any leftover food can even be sent to your hotel room so you can enjoy it after your wedding as a late night snack. 

Food stations can also be used in addition to the passed hors d’oeuvres so guests can serve themselves and not have to wait for the food to be passed to them. There is also no need to continue replenishing the food as the entire cocktail hour is about an hour.

There are many wedding cocktail hour ideas when it comes to food. Whether it’s a cold appetizer for your wedding cocktail hour or a more fancy spread, pick the food and drinks that you enjoy so you can celebrate your amazing night as well. You should also think about keeping the food choices to something that is easy to handle as guests will be walking around. 

You don’t want food that is heavy and that you have to sit down to eat. Food choices like oysters, bread, charcuterie boards, kebabs, or pizza bites are all easy to eat quickly while standing. You could also choose other more fun foods like donuts or hotdogs. Again, feel free to choose foods that are comforting or special to you! 

An incredible cocktail hour 

Your wedding should be special and beautiful. A wedding cocktail hour is the perfect opportunity to transition between your ceremony and the big reception. It lets your guests get into the party mood in a classy and seamless way. The wedding cocktail hour ideas are endless, and you can truly transform your cocktail hour into something one of a kind.

When it comes to planning your wedding cocktail hour, keep it simple and don’t overcomplicate. There are a couple of easy tips and guidelines to follow to ensure the event runs smoothly, like keeping the event to around an hour or serving food that is easy to handle and tasty, but everything else is up to you!

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