Cocktail hours at weddings are WAY more popular than they were when we got married back in 2015. It’s rare for us to photograph (or attend) a wedding without a cocktail hour. It leaves a lot of brides thinking, “should I have a cocktail hour at my wedding?”
Before we get into the “how” to plan your cocktail hour, let’s talk about why we think you should have one.
This is the main reason and it’s pretty obvious. You probably don’t want your guests standing in the reception area just watching the venue get set up for the reception. Not only does it get them out of the way, but also keeps them entertained and gives them a place and time to mingle with other guests and family.
Look, we’ve ALL been to a wedding that DIDN’T have a cocktail hour. It can be ROUGH. Everyone sitting at the tables with little food (if any) and nothing but music to entertain them.
Of course, there is nothing wrong with taking this route, but if you’ve ever been a guest, it can feel like an eternity between the ceremony and dinner.
As photographers, this point is huge for us. We want to capture every moment of your day and deliver images that you’re going to fall in love with every time you see them.
Our favorite moments during the day or the “Just Married” portraits after the ceremony. That gives the couple time to breathe and we get to capture all the love.
When couples decide to have a cocktail hour after their ceremony, it takes the pressure off. At our wedding, we felt rushed to get through our portraits so we could get to the reception as soon as possible. We knew the guests were waiting.
A huge part of the process is ensuring that our couples are comfortable and enjoying their time.
The weather on your wedding day will play a MASSIVE role in planning your cocktail hour. Most wedding venues have to “flip” the venue from ceremony to reception. Usually, this means all the guests either shift to another part of the venue or go outside.
When figuring out how long your cocktail hour will be and WHERE it will be, don’t forget about Mother Nature. If you’re getting married in the fall/winter, be sure to account for having heaters, blankets, campfires, etc. during cocktail hour.
Obviously you have to think about rain. Will the venue be able to accommodate guests inside while they set up the reception? Do they have a large enough covered area for your cocktail hour outside?
We know that it can be difficult for some people NOT to consider how every single guest is going to like or hate each part of the wedding. Sure, you want to make sure your guests are happy and have a great time, but remember that it’s YOUR wedding. If that means they have to wait longer for dinner because you’re taking portraits or even just taking time to breathe and relax after the ceremony
There is almost NOTHING more important for your cocktail hour than the food. When guests get hungry, they get tired of waiting. There is no perfect number for your pre-dinner food, but wedding experts suggest three appetizers per guest, but also don’t worry about making sure everyone has their fill. Don’t forget, the real dinner is about to happen.
This is such a fun experience for your guests and we recommend that anyone having drinks at your cocktail hour create a signature drink. It doesn’t have to be anything fancy or complex, but anything that adds something extra to your cocktail hour bar.
If you have an interactive piece at your wedding (a photo booth, a guest book, a bible to highlight, or any other items for guests to sign) be sure to display it during the cocktail hour.
Our personal favorite is the photo-booth WITH the guest book at the cocktail hour. The guests can get their pics taken in the photo-booth and then print a copy for themselves and leave one for the bride and groom. Not only does it keep them entertained, but it’s a nice gift years down the road.
Depending on the crowd and age of your guests, having a few games available is a great way to keep your guests engaged and having fun, even when you’re not there. Simple games like cornhole or giant Jenga. These simple games will make your cocktail hour fly by! Plus, they make for great pictures!