Photo by Elizabeth Lauren Photography

The cocktail hour might seem like a small detail, but it’s actually an important part of tying together the main events of your wedding day. It is all about allowing guests to mix, mingle, and relax. 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, a little thoughtfulness, and these tips to create an experience you and your guests will love.

Photo by Matthew Land Studio

1. Create interactive food and drink stations.

One way to engage your guests and get the mingling going is to have interactive food and drink stations. This could include anything from a cheese and wine pairing to a side-by-side whiskey tasting to a create-your-own cocktail bar. 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 children at your wedding, make sure to include an interactive element for them, as well, such as adding fruit to sparkling water or creating a mix-and-match snack mix. We recommend you limit yourself to 1-3 stations so that your guests don’t feel overloaded with options and your space doesn’t get too congested.

Photo by Amy Fanton Photography

2. Get crafty with your cocktails.

We are all about signature cocktails, and we think every couple should create at least one for their wedding. It’s an easy and fun way to add even more of your personality and, if you get really creative, it could be a great conversation starter for your guests. Because there are so many yummy cocktail options out there, narrow down your research to your favorite liquor(s) and build from there. You could put a special twist on a classic cocktail, such as adding an unexpected fruit or spice to a margarita, or you could invent something new using ingredients you love. The important thing is that your cocktail(s) reflects your personalities, and look and taste great. You nail those 3 things, and your guests will be genuinely impressed!

Photo by Henry + Mac Photo Co.

3. Incorporate regional and seasonal flavors.

If you’re getting married in a region that is famous for their cuisine, skip the standard hors d’oeuvres and treat your guests to some local favorites instead. If, for example, your wedding is in New Orleans, add some cajun flair with mini bowls of gumbo, bite-sized portions of muffuletta, or oysters in the shell. Or, if you’re tying the knot in Germany, delight your guests with fresh baked pretzels and a variety of homemade mustards or beer cheese dip. Maybe you’re headed to the sandy beaches of Hawaii? We’re thinking sushi, sushi, and more sushi. The options are endless! If your location isn’t exactly a foodie haven, you can still make your cocktail hour food memorable by incorporating seasonal flavors, such as pumpkin and cinnamon in the fall or citrus and berries in the spring. By choosing regional and/or seasonal flavors, you’ll be guaranteed higher quality food and give your guests a tasty experience they won’t soon forget.

Photo by The Brauns

4. Provide savory and sweet options.

Who says you need to wait until the end of the reception for dessert? Most people have come to expect only savory appetizers at a cocktail hour, so we love the idea of mixing it up by adding a sweet option! If you’re having a full-out dessert bar at your reception, you could simply provide platters of fresh fruits or jams and jellies to spread on crackers. If you’re having a traditional wedding cake, though, you could definitely serve bite-sized desserts during the cocktail hour. Some fun examples include mini pies, donut holes, or macarons in your wedding colors. We’ve also seen couples hire ice cream trucks to arrive at the venue just as the ceremony ends, which is pure genius, especially for hot summer weddings! If you keep the options simple, you’ll give your guests just enough sweetness to balance out all the savory bites but won’t overshadow the main desserts at the reception. We’d say that’s a win-win!

Photo by Eden Strader Photography

5. Incorporate your theme or vibe into the presentation.

We’ve mentioned it before, but it’s worth saying again: your cocktail hour is 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 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. When planning your floral arrangements, add a few extra for your bar and cocktail tables. You could even create custom garlands to drape over the bar or install overhead. If you’re creating beautiful calligraphy signs for the ceremony and reception, make a smaller version with the bar menu, as well. And you don’t have to stop with florals or signs. 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 cocktail hour decor and, trust us, it will make a huge impact to the feel of your wedding day.

Photo by Mandee Johnson Photography

6. Design lounge areas for guests to relax.

Lounge areas are one of our favorite wedding trends, and we hope they never go away! Creating a lounge area is a unique way to define a more casual space at your venue and allows you to infuse your personal style, whether mid-century modern or bohemian. Plus, it gives your guests a place to gather, relax, and hopefully meet some new people. You can make a lounge area as simple or as elaborate as you want. You just need comfy seating, a few end tables so guests can set down their drinks or plates, and a pretty rug to tie it all together. From there, you can add throw pillows, blankets, photos, and candles. And don’t be afraid to mix and match seating options, such as couches, chairs, floor pillows, and poofs. We recommend finding a rental company near you to help bring your vision to life.

Photo by Jen Menard Photography

7. Plan games, activities, or entertainment.

Getting to know people over pretty cocktails is great, but there’s nothing that breaks ice faster than a little friendly competition! Croquet, corn hole, washers, horseshoes, giant Jenga, tic-tac-toe…the list goes on and on. Yard games are fun for everyone, and are especially useful for keeping children entertained while the adults mingle. If your space can’t accommodate yard games — or they don’t quite fit your vibe — you could plan a non-competitive activity or provide fun entertainment instead. We’ve seen couples hire caricature artists, tattoo artists (or have temporary tattoo stations), belly dancers, and typewriter poetry writers. We’ve even seen weddings with synchronized swimmers! The idea of providing games and/or entertainment at the cocktail hour is a relatively new trend, so your guests are sure to be blown away by whatever you choose.

Photo by Mandee Johnson Photography

8. Set the mood with music.

This one might seem like a no-brainer, but it’s so important that we had to include it. Music can make or break a vibe, so take some extra time to choose the music for your cocktail hour. Think about how you want to make your guests feel. Do you want the energy to be light-hearted or do you want to set a swankier mood? That should dictate the music you choose. If you’ve hired a live band, it should be easy for them to create a mood that matches what they’ll be playing at the reception. But, if you’ve hired a DJ, we recommend doing some research and letting them know what style you want. If you want to go the extra mile, you could even make the music a surprise by hiring a mariachi band or brass band just for the cocktail hour. The music really is the cherry on top of a killer cocktail hour, so make it count!

Now that you’ve got your cocktail hour under control, let’s talk reception with these helpful planning guides:

6 Finishing Touches to Create a Unique Reception Tablescape

How to Style Your Outdoor Wedding Reception Dinner

5 Pro Tips for Creating Your Wedding Reception Seating Chart

40 Reception Table Numbers We Absolutely Adore

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