How to Have an Unforgettable Cocktail Hour

Your guests just finished enjoying the emotional ceremony of two people in love exchanging vows & getting married. Now that that’s over, you and your guests can finally celebrate together! But while you take photos or take an hour to relax with your partner and get yourself ready for the reception, what are your guests going to do in the meantime?

how to plan a good wedding cocktail hour

Say hello to cocktail hour. Your cocktail hour will transition your guests to a more social atmosphere and get them ready for your vibrant reception. But, we want to make sure that you host an elegant and organized cocktail hour, which means we’re going to give you a couple helpful “do’s” and “don’ts” to get you on the right path -- Cheers!

#1 // Do have a style in mind

Remember, though you want your wedding, in general, to be elegant and classy, you also want it to represent you and your partner. If you and your partner don’t like jazz music, then you shouldn’t hire a jazz band to play during cocktail hour. Keeping things classy is all about how well things are done, so don’t feel as though hiring your favorite 80’s hits, soul or reggae band won’t work! Just make sure you are prepping them with a song wish list, a particular vibe you’re going for, and what you want your guests to take away from the experience.

Read this Next! // A Step-by-Step Guide to Picking a Wedding Theme

#2 // Do have music

Have you ever stood in a silent room full of people? If you have, then you know how uncomfortable and tense the atmosphere can get, almost like a networking function at your job. But this is a wedding, it’s a happy occasion! Though guests aren’t at the reception yet, there’s no reason why you can’t create a relaxed and sensual atmosphere. Most people play easy jazz, classical or acoustic music playing throughout cocktail hour, however, it truly depends on how you envision your wedding. However, typically, you do not want intense and overly lively music, since you’ll have that during the reception.

#3 // Don’t charge guests

Cocktail hour is the opportunity for guests to socialize, have a drink, eat some hors d’oeuvres and relax. Typically, for cocktail hour, you would provide guests with an open bar. Now, we understand, weddings can get very expensive, very quickly. If you’re on a budget and unable to have an open bar, that’s okay. Instead, we suggest that you cut out the hard liquor and only provide complimentary wine, beer and soft drinks. Or better yet, if you are very budget conscious, serve non-alcoholic refreshments only at cocktail hour, so the emphasis stays on socializing and having a light & fun time before dinner. That way, you still maintain an affordable open bar, however, you won’t have to charge guests. This way, you have the best of both worlds.

#4 // Do offer a variety

Your guests just sat through the ceremony and for some weddings, the ceremony can take a while. With that being said, by the time cocktail hour rolls around, your guests are probably a little hungry and thirsty. Make sure that you have a decent selection of drink and hors d'oeuvres options. For example, when it comes to drinks, we recommend one red and white wine, beer and your standard spirits. Have enough of a selection for people to choose from. Now, if you’re wondering how much people will drink, typically at cocktail hour, one person consumes between 2-3 drinks.

#5 // Don’t leave your guests hungry

Cocktail hour isn’t just about the drinks, you need to also make sure your guests aren’t standing around with gurgling stomachs. When it comes to food, you want to make sure you have a healthy mix of hors d’oeuvres. These are bite-sized snacks, so people don’t need to eat with a fork and knife - they’re tasty and easy to eat, what more could you ask for? For many couples, however, they’re unsure of where to start when it comes to choosing the food. We get it, there’s so much to choose from. Think about snacks the guests will love, and even something that represents where you come from (mini crab cakes in Maryland, lobster mac & cheese balls in Maine!) Lastly, make sure that some of the hors d’oeuvres compliment your beverage options - it’s a nice touch that you should ask your caterer for advice with. When choosing hors d’oeuvres, do make sure that they aren’t heavy, you don’t want your guests falling asleep from a full stomach before the reception even starts.

# 6 // Do consider a signature cocktail

It’s your wedding, have fun with it! Have a bartender create a signature cocktail for you that represents you and your partner plus the theme of your wedding. You can also feature “his” and “her” cocktails which are both you and your partner’s favorite cocktails. This adds a little creativity to the mix and shows your personalities.

#7 // Don’t forget those that don’t drink alcohol

Major Key: Not everyone is going to want a cocktail, but that doesn’t mean they should be left out of the fun. For those that aren’t drinking alcohol, make sure you provide a couple non-alcoholic cocktails or beverages that are drink than your typical soda or juice. You’ll want to talk to your mixologist, they’ll be able to come up with a tasty non-alcoholic alternative.

#8 // Do have comfortable seating

Not everyone will be able to stand during the entire cocktail hour. If your grandparents are there, they’ll want to take a break and sit down every now and then. Make sure that you have comfy seating available throughout the cocktail hour venue. How you decide to decorate your venue is entirely up to you, however, you can mix and match the furniture to give it a more eclectic vibe.

#9 // Do have some entertainment

Cocktail hour can get pretty dull if all guests are doing is standing around. In addition, if guests have children, they’ll become restless quickly. During cocktail hour, give your guests something extra to do during that time. If you have an outdoor wedding, you can set up bocce ball, x’s and o’s or even lawn croquet. Other fun options we've seen include setting up a photo booth, a picnic table with crayons & a wedding-themed coloring book (we found the perfect printable one listed below) or have a magician if your wedding has a lot of children. Cocktail hour activities relax guests, keeping them interactive and energetic.

Do this Next! // Download & Print this Free Wedding Coloring Book for Kids

#10 // Don’t forget to decorate!

Though you may be busy taking photos and just having some private time with your partner, don’t forget that your guests are the ones at cocktail hour, and that it is a continuation of your wedding day, not an afterthought. If your venue is outside, take advantage of the space around you. Hang lighting on tree branches or instal flowers around the venue. You can do this simply by putting single flowers in short glass vases meant for cocktail tables. If your space is indoors, make sure that you include mini-centrepieces, napkins and candles, giving it a warm ambience. You don’t have to go wild on cocktail hour decor, but do add some of your personality to it.


Cocktail hour is the time where your guests can relax and transition to the reception. It’s also a valuable block of time for you and your partner, because you’ll be able to take photos or just take a moment to prepare for the reception. However you choose to spend that time is up to you, but, you want to make sure that during cocktail hour your guests are enjoying themselves and the company around them.

Tell me below: What are your plans for cocktail hour?

Natasha Ivanovic is a writer at Broomstick! Other than her love of writing, she loves reading, getting lost in nature and drinking a good cappuccino (it's not as easy to find as it sounds). She recently finished her post-graduate degree in forensic psychology but decided to stick with writing as her imagination always seems to get the best of her. Be like Natasha and apply to be a Broomstick contributing writer here.