Weddings / August 15, 2016

Wedding Cocktail Hour Basics

Cocktail hour at a reception serves several purposes. It gives the couple and their friends and families time for some post-ceremony photos. A cocktail hour gives the guests a chance to meet and mingle with other wedding guests as well as share a snack and a drink before the big reception meal.


A cocktail hour sets the theme for the rest of the night – it’s a relaxed moment, which allows the newly married couple highlight their creativity and fun side. Cocktail hours take place anywhere – but most people hold it at or near the reception site.

 Although cocktail hours can serve whatever food you love, traditionally, you’ll want to have both hot and cold appetizers as well as different options for guests. Usually three hot and three cold will do the trick. You can 2 passed meat dishes, one or two seafood choices, and a few cheese hors d’oeuvres —  don’t forget vegetarian options.


 Each guest will most likely eat 5-6 pieces per hour. If you’re hosting 80 people for an hour, you’ll want to make sure you have roughly 500 pieces of appetizer. Limit back up by limiting food stations – either have 2-3 set spots for guests to pick up snacks or have servers circulating through the party with passed hors d’oeuvres. Keep it finger-friendly – avoid picks and tails and shells – food that needs to be discarded.


 Snacks are wonderful, but most people will be eager to get a drink. Some guidelines for serving drinks during the cocktail hour:

  • Generally, you can assume each guest will consume about 2 drinks per hour.
  • You don’t need to spend your money on top-shelf liquor unless it’s a splurge for a special guest or parent – mid-level booze can save you hundreds of dollars on your ceremony.
  • If you’re hosting an open bar as well as wine and beer, consider hosting one main bar for all drinks and two smaller bars with only wine, beer and non-alcoholic drinks to keep the lines short and the mood celebratory.
  • Serving a signature cocktail? Aim to have drinks with no more than 4 elements – you can get fancy with juices and syrups.
  • Serving wine? Keep it simple! It’s not a tasting, so one white and one red can go a long way.
  • Beer is a great, budget-friendly drink. Save your bartenders time by offering local microbeer in the bottle.
  • Don’t forget a great non-alcoholic drink. Guests who don’t imbibe shouldn’t be limited to just water and soda.


A great party layout can make or break your event. Create an open layout – leaving the ceremony to move directly into a long drink line can ruin the great mood everyone’s in from the ceremony.

 Another way to ease bottlenecking is to make sure you have at least one bartender for every 75 guests.  To make the party vibe more open and relaxed, make sure the space has been cleared of possible speedbumps. A great way to do that is to have servers stationed at the entrance of the cocktail area — as soon as guests enter the room, guests can get their drink and move through.  

 For entertainment, consider including games like bocce, corn hole or croquet for guests to entertain themselves. Live music is always a welcome touch – but a pre-made playlist can add just the right personal touch.


 During cocktail hour, guests are more focused on relaxing and meeting each other – so you can save on décor. Tables to set drinks down are a must – plan for some low and some high tables to mix up the space

 And don’t forget to list the cocktail hour on the wedding invitation. It’s a good idea to let guests know that cocktail hour will follow the ceremony. If the location’s different, make sure you let the guests know that as well. They’ll want to celebrate with the happy couple and share the love of the special day.


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