Wedding Cocktail Hour

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Looking for ideas for your Wedding Cocktail Hour?

A wedding cocktail hour takes place between the ceremony and the reception. Whether you have a cocktail hour or not is completely up to you, but there are many advantages.

image reads "wedding cocktail hours" and shows a wedding reception venue set up.

A cocktail hour provides your guests with time to mingle and get to know each other while the bride and groom do their photo-shoot.

Your cocktail hour will allow attendees to relax a little, as the ceremony can often be a little stressful and emotional!

This also gives your venue staff time to prepare the reception room for dinner. 

It’s key to keep your guests entertained during this time, so your event flows well. 

Here are our top tips for hosting a cocktail hour at your wedding:

Wedding Cocktail Hour Ideas

Serve Food

Alcohol on an empty stomach is never a good idea! Serving canapés and nibbles will keep your guests satisfied while adding a real sense of occasion to your cocktail hour.

If your wedding is less formal, food trucks are a good option to supply your guests with quick, great-tasting snacks.

Pick foods that are bite-sized and easy to eat standing up. Don’t forget the smaller details like plates, cutlery and napkins. 

Stick to an Hour

As the name suggests, cocktail hours are usually just an hour-long! Try and stick to this if possible, as otherwise, your guests may become hungry or restless.

Or a couple may have too many glasses of champagne! 

Have a Live Painter

Live painting is a unique and interactive way to entertain your guests during your wedding cocktail hour.

Hire a professional artist to set up an easel and canvas, and let them create a painting of your wedding as it happens in real-time.

This can be a beautiful and memorable way to capture the energy and atmosphere of your celebration, and guests will enjoy watching the artist work and comparing the finished painting with their memories of the event.

The painting can be displayed at your reception or taken home as a keepsake. Be sure to choose an artist who specializes in live painting and can work quickly to create a finished piece by the end of your cocktail hour.

Hire a Bartender

Some venues will provide bar staff as part of your package. If this isn’t included, you may wish to hire your own bartender.

A profession cocktail maker provides entertainment as well as amazing tasting drinks!

Offer a Signature Cocktail

If you or the groom has a favorite cocktail, make it your signature drink for your cocktail hour.

This adds a touch of your personality to the event. It also makes life much easier for your bar staff, as the drinks can be pre-prepared.

Having a signature cocktail can cut down your bar bill, as it is cheaper to make more of the same drink rather than lots of different cocktails.

Outdoor Space

For summer weddings, it makes sense to include some outdoor space for your cocktail hour, so your guests can enjoy the sunshine.

If the weather can be unpredictable in your location, make sure you plan for sudden changes.

Have an indoor space available if your venue allows it. Alternatively, umbrellas or a marquee can protect your guests from a sudden downpour!

Offer Virgin Cocktails

Ensure you cater to your attendees who are tee-total, pregnant or underage by offering non-alcoholic options.

Virgin cocktails are a fantastic way to offer non-alcoholic drinks which still look and taste a little fancy! You may also wish to offer juice or coffee. 

Ensure the Bar is Fully Stocked and Staffed

This is a prime point of discussion with your venue. If the bar runs out or service is sluggish, this may dampen the mood of the event.

A good rule-of-thumb is to have at least one bartender per 30-40 guests. If you are concerned about blowing your budget, you could create a self-serve station.

Provide an ice bucket with bottles of beer and soda. Make sure you don’t forget to include plenty of bottle openers!

Create a Cocktail Hour Playlist

Don’t forget to consider the music for your cocktail hour.

If you are the bride or groom, you won’t be attending the cocktail hour, but it is still important to pick the right background music to create your desired ambience.

This is your pre-reception, and the music will set the tone for the whole evening. Go for something happy and upbeat, without being overbearing.

If your budget allows, a live band will get everyone in the mood to party!

Check out the wedding songs list to make sure you have all the music you need.

Display a Seating Chart

Let your guests know where they will be seated for a smooth transition between cocktail hour and reception.

Seating charts don’t need to be boring!

Pick something which goes with your theme and colors.

A beautiful seating chart can make a lovely centerpiece for your guests to take photos in front of. Amazon and Etsy both have lots of choices.

Add Games

You may wish to prepare some games to keep your guests entertained during your cocktail hour.

This is a particularly good idea if you have children at your wedding. Games are also a nice way to break the ice and let guests get to know each other better.

If you have outdoor space, there are lots of options here. Croquet, bowling and carnival-style games work well. For a fuss-free, indoor option, place board games or decks of cards on your tables. 

Photo Booth

Given you won’t be attending the cocktail hour, it’s a great idea to make sure plenty of photos are taken!

If you have room in your budget, hiring a photo booth will encourage your guests to take photos whilst keep them entertained!

Add some wedding-themed props for extra fun. Amazon has lots of low-cost options, including this set


The cocktail hour venue is usually separate from the rest of the event. Don’t forget to decorate this additional space. Etsy has a lovely range of cocktail signs.

Have a Water Station

It’s important that your guests stay hydrated throughout the day, particularly if they are drinking alcohol or if you are having a summer wedding!

A water station doesn’t have to be dull. You can improve the taste and appearance simply by adding fruit. Get a cute ‘hydration station’ sign from Etsy. 


If your venue allows, offer a seating option.

A wedding is a long day, and your guests, particularly if you have elderly relatives, will be grateful for a chance to rest before they hit the dance floor!

Have a Live Band

Hiring a live musician or band to play during the cocktail hour can be a fantastic way to add a fun and lively atmosphere to your wedding.

Live music has a way of bringing people together, creating a warm and welcoming vibe that sets the tone for the rest of the evening.

They can play a mix of upbeat and mellow songs, and take requests from guests, ensuring everyone has a great time.

Create An Outdoor Lounge

Create a relaxed and inviting atmosphere during your wedding cocktail hour by setting up a cozy outdoor lounge area with comfortable seating and blankets.

This can be especially effective if your wedding is held outdoors, allowing guests to soak in the beautiful surroundings while lounging in comfort.

Consider using a mix of seating options, like couches, armchairs, and poufs, to create a relaxed and bohemian vibe.

Add a few throw pillows and blankets to make the space even more comfortable, and incorporate natural elements like plants and flowers to bring the outdoors inside.

Personalize Your Barware

Ordering personalized barware like customized wine glasses or cocktail napkins can add a personal touch to your wedding cocktail hour, making it even more memorable for your guests. Personalized barware not only adds a fun and unique touch to your wedding, but also serves as a special memento for your guests to take home and cherish for years to come.

Hire A Caricaturist

A caricature artist can be a fun and interactive addition. Guests can sit for a few minutes while the artist draws a personalized caricature of them, which they can take home as a keepsake.

Guests will enjoy watching the artist work and comparing their caricatures with each other. Plus, the caricatures can serve as a unique and memorable reminder of your special day.

Be sure to hire an experienced and skilled artist to ensure the best results, and consider providing a designated area for the artist to work in, with plenty of seating and good lighting.

More Fun Cocktail Hour Ideas

  • Mobile Bar Cart
  • Food Trucks
  • Lawn Games
  • Live Music
  • Signature Cocktails
  • Personalized Barware
  • Wine and Cheese Pairing
  • Photo Booth
  • Sangria Station
  • Gourmet Popcorn Bar
  • Dessert Station
  • Mix and Mingle Games
  • DIY Cocktail Bar
  • Cigar Lounge
  • Caricature Artist
  • Champagne Tower
  • Silent Disco
  • DIY Flower Arrangement Station
  • S’mores Bar
  • Artisanal Cheese Station
  • Gelato Cart
  • Jazz Trio
  • Polaroid Guestbook
  • Taco Bar
  • Candy Bar
  • Live Painting
  • Craft Beer Flight Tasting
  • Champagne Flute Decorating Station
  • Outdoor Lounge Seating
  • Aromatherapy Bar

The wedding cocktail hour is an opportunity to set the tone for the rest of your wedding celebration. Incorporating fun and creative ideas can help make it a memorable experience for you and your guests.

Consider your wedding theme and personal style when choosing ideas to incorporate, and don’t be afraid to think outside the box.

With a little creativity, your wedding cocktail hour can be a celebration that truly reflects your love story and sets the stage for an unforgettable wedding day.

Sara, a seasoned expert in wedding planning and date ideas, brings a wealth of experience to our couples blog. With a background in the television industry and hands-on involvement in a dozen weddings, including working as a wedding assistant on "My Fair Wedding with David Tutera," Sara has an innate understanding of the magic that makes weddings truly special. Growing up with four sisters has given her unique insights into the dating world, making her a go-to source for practical and heartfelt dating advice. Her knowledge and enthusiasm make her the perfect guide for couples seeking to infuse their relationships with creativity and love.

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