7 Tips for an Amazing Wedding Cocktail Hour

A group of people at a wedding cocktail hour holding drinks with cherries in them.

You may only think of cocktail hour as a precursor to the rest of the wedding reception, but it’s actually an important event that sets the tone for the rest of the wedding. Plus, it’s a great way for family and friends to relax before dinner. Guests have the opportunity to mix, mingle, and transition between the ceremony and the party at the reception. Your cocktail hour doesn’t have to be complicated, but you do want it to be special and show some thoughtfulness and creativity. Here are our seven best tips for a killer cocktail hour before your wedding reception.

1. Create Stations to Prevent Long Lines

Instead of creating a long line of thirsty wedding guests at cocktail hour, create several stations so that traffic can filter out and guests can move around the room or space easily. One idea for creating stations is to have a signature cocktail at each, along with choices of wine or beer if they aren’t interested in spirits. At each station you can also place out appetizers that pair with the drinks or ask your caterer to have servers passing them out to hungry guests.

2. Get Crafty With a Create-Your-Own Cocktail Bar

A cocktail bar at a wedding reception.

Sure, you could order a drink from a bartender, but a way to make cocktail hour more personalized and fun is to have a create-your-own cocktail bar. Provide your guests with all the spirits, liquors, and garnishes like cherries, olives, or fresh mint so that they can create a DIY concoction. Another alternative to keep it simple (and less pricey) is to only set out the ingredients needed for mimosas, Bloody Marys, or a martini bar so that you don’t have to purchase as much liquor.

3. Have Seated and Standing Rest Spots

Not all of your guests will want to have a seat and may prefer to work the room and mingle, but some of your guests (particularly the older ones) will want to have a place to sit down and relax as they sip their drinks and nibble on their appetizers. Create a variety of seated and standing areas where guests can lay down their drinks and have plenty of space to gather during your cocktail hour.

4. Have Plenty of Signage, but Don’t Go Overboard on Decor

A wood sign at a wedding reception that says

You want your cocktail hour to have the same vibe as your wedding, but you don’t want to blow your entire decor budget on it—you do have a reception to plan, after all. The best decorations for cocktail hour will be signage for specialty cocktails and hors d’oeuvres (if you plan on having them out buffet style) as well as a few candles on each cocktail table. Keep it simple and out of your guests’ ways. They have plenty of time to marvel at your decorating skills during the reception portion of the evening.

5. You Don’t Have to Offer Every Kind of Wine or Beer

Someone pouring champagne into a wine glass during a wedding cocktail hour.

While it’s understandable that you want to please all of your guests by giving them several choices of wine and beer, the truth is that there’s no way you’ll have everyone’s favorite label. To keep things simple, offer a couple choices of reds, a couple choices of whites, and a few crowd-favorite beers you’re sure will go over well. This way, you won’t have tons of leftover and you’ll keep your budget in check.

6. Don’t Have too Much Food

When you’re hosting an event, there’s a tendency to assume that your guests will come ravenously hungry and stay that way throughout the evening. Although it’s perfectly fine to ensure that your guests are well fed, you don’t want to overfeed them during cocktail hour and ruin their appetite for dinner. Not only do you want your guests to still be hungry during the meal so that they enjoy it, but you don’t want to waste a bunch of food (and therefore money). You might have attended weddings in the past where there was a meat carving station or a pasta station during their cocktail hour, but we suggest to skip this. Your guests will get too full before dinner and this is just an additional expense that’s unnecessary.

7. Go with Finger Foods

An appetizer spread at a wedding cocktail hour with cheese and fruit.

Whatever type of food you decide to serve during cocktail hour, don’t require the use of a fork to eat it. Not all of your guests will want to sit down with a fork and knife as they sip on their drinks. Make it easier on your guests by serving food they can easily pop in their mouths or hold onto on a cocktail napkin while they order up another beer or have a conversation with a friend. Having foods that require utensils just makes everything infinitely more complicated, so just keep it simple!

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