A Complete Guide to the Perfect Wedding Cocktail Hour

After the formalities of your wedding ceremony comes the cocktail portion of your wedding reception and festivities. The wedding cocktail hour provides your guests with some time where they can mingle with one-another in a casual space before the more formal, sit-down dinner portion of your wedding reception. This also marks a time when your guests make some new friends, congratulate family members of the bride and the groom, and may or may not be the first time the wedding guests will get to greet the newlyweds, depending on whether the wedding party has already or needs to finish up those necessary pictures and intimate wedding videography shots.

The cocktail hour might seem like a small detail, but it’s an important part of tying together the main events of your wedding day. Not only will it tide your guests over until the reception dinner, but it helps everyone — including you! — transition from ceremony mode to party mode. Your cocktail hour doesn’t need to be complicated. All it takes is a little creativity and a little thoughtfulness! That’s why we’re bringing you this complete guide – filled with our favorite tips – to the perfect wedding cocktail hour.

A Complete Guide to Your Wedding Cocktail Hour


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Start with a Focus on the Food (& Drinks!)

One way to engage your guests and get the mingling going is to have diverse, interactive food and drink stations. This could include anything from a cheese and wine pairing to a create your own pasta station with all the fix-ins. Interactive stations get guests out of their seats and give them something fun and delicious to try while they wait for the bridal party to arrive.

If there will be kiddos at your wedding, be sure to include something for them as well, such as adding fruit to sparkling water or creating a mix-and-match snack mix.

We recommend limiting your wedding cocktail hour food selections to 1-3 stations so that your guests don’t feel overloaded with options and your space doesn’t get too congested.

Give Your Guests Seating Options

You'll want to give people the space to move around the cocktail hour room easily, so don't crowd the area with chairs. Instead, provide enough seating so your older guests have a comfy place to rest and anyone who's wearing high heels can take a break.

For example, a combination of low chairs, coffee tables, and higher tables with bar stools will give your cocktail hour a different feel than your sit-down reception dinner.

Add Some Mood Music

Since you will likely have a DJ, Emcee, and/or full band present during your sit-down dinner reception, we suggest providing some lower-key entertainment during your wedding cocktail hour. Keeping the vibe mellow will also better allow your guests to mingle and chat with ease.

This doesn't mean you have to play cheesy elevator music, though. I always enjoy seeing a cocktail hour where the mood is set with a jazz trio, quartet, or acoustic guitarist!! The mood music also makes for amazing wedding video shots, too *hint, hint.*



Incorporate Your Wedding Theme

We’ve mentioned it before, but it’s worth repeating: your wedding cocktail hour serves as the bridge between your ceremony and reception, so you want to carry that cohesive look into the decor. Yes, your guests will likely be more interested in what’s supplied at the bar and food stations than what’s on it, but you’re creating an overall vibe here!

Your cocktail hour decor should be an extension of your reception decor. If, for example, you’re creating a vintage-inspired vibe, use antique serving trays and vintage glassware to display your eats and drinks. There are so many ways to infuse your style into the wedding cocktail hour decor and, trust us, it will make a huge impact to the overall feel of your wedding day!

Give Them Some Games

Give your guests something extra to do during the wedding cocktail hour, even if that just means breaking out the guest book a little early to give them plenty of time to sign it.

If your wedding is outdoors, set up lawn games like bocce ball, lawn croquet, or cornhole. These types of games are also a great idea if you'll be having lots of kids at the reception. You could also rent a photo booth and provide fun props for guests to pose with.

Incorporate Some Sweet Shots

Surprise your wedding guests by having your videographer create a montage of you and your spouse’s childhoods to play during the cocktail hour – incorporating clips and moments with family members, friends, and other guests who are present at the wedding.

Dedicate a photographer to your cocktail hour event to take digital photos, print them out, and voila, you have a keepsake from the wedding that can be placed into a folder inscribed with your names and wedding date!

Pro Tip: Get Photos Done Early

I often see couples who miss their wedding’s cocktail hour entirely because they are busy taking photos. While this is perfectly acceptable, it’s not at all necessary. You deserve to enjoy every bit of your wedding day just as much (if not more!) than everyone else! I suggest incorporating a first look photo and video shoot into your wedding day that takes place before the wedding ceremony. That way, you can get a ton of your important wedding pics and clips taken before the cocktail hour even takes place. Then, you’ll have more time to just enjoy being in every magical moment that is your wedding day!

Remember – your wedding will be one of the most memorable days of your life. Your wedding reception will help create special memories for your guests that will always be associated with you and your wedding. Your wedding cocktail hour will, in turn, help set the stage for dinner, all the toasts, and a great DJ or live band that will help you in partying the night hours away!

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Kelly LaFleurComment