Should I Have a Cocktail Hour? Wedding Wednesday Tips

Today’s Wedding Wednesday Tip is all about cocktail hour.  We get asked about this a lot, so today we’re going to give you some things to think about as you consider incorporating a social hour during your wedding day.

Before we jump in, we just want to acknowledge that planning your wedding day can be so exciting, but also extremely stressful because of all of the different choices you need to make and things to take into consideration. You’re hosting all your friends and family and want them to be happy, but you also want it to be the kind of day you want!  

Balancing those two dynamics is often the first struggle couples face when making choices for their wedding day.  Ultimately, cocktail hours are about your guests and flow of your day.  If you want your guests to have a good experience and walk away with fond memories, it is best to make sure they are well taken care of.  They will thank you later, and you’ll rest easy knowing they had a fun time too! And one of the things this means is ensuring that you are keeping them comfortable, and fed.  Which brings us to our main topic, is a cocktail hour necessary? Today we’re going to tackle this question!  



Some items to consider when making a decision about your cocktail hour:

Are you having a first look?

If you are NOT having a first look, it is typically nice to have a cocktail hour so that your guests are occupied and not waiting around while we finish up with couples portraits and a few extra photos.  We’ve had couples ask how long of a cocktail hour they need if they do not do a first look and are doing photos post-ceremony during this time, and we typically recommend at least an hour.  Add more time if you’d like to mingle with your guests.

Will you be taking photos/going on a party bus between the ceremony and reception?

If you don’t plan on going to the reception shortly after the ceremony, and there is a time gap between your departure from the ceremony and entrance at the reception, a cocktail hour is a nice cushion for guests so that they don’t need to “kill time” between. It also allows some extra cushion time for guests who may get lost, need their kids to take a nap, or need to make a quick stop.

Is your ceremony and reception at the same venue?

If your ceremony and reception are further than 30 minutes apart, a cocktail hour is a nice way to greet guests to your reception, though it does not need to be long.  You don’t want to push back dinner service too late – most people don’t like to wait to be fed 😉 But if the ceremony and reception are at the same venue, a cocktail hour is nice to help transition the two since there isn’t a long commute between the two.


How soon will dinner be served from the time guests arrive to the venue location?

If dinner is served shortly after the reception begins, a cocktail hour is not necessary. It can create lines, and bottleneck the doorways.


What is in the catering contract?

Your venue will most likely have a contract stating what type of food is allowed, and if outside catering is allowed, or is not allowed. In addition to this, if you are able to bring your own food at all. Most venues allow you to bring items like Chex Mix, popcorn, candy, mints, and desserts. Others provide these, and are happy to serve these items in addition to bar service dinner.  We highly recommend having at least some kind of snack or appetizer during cocktail hour for your guests.

outdoor cocktail hour

This couple chose to have their cocktail hour outside, and then thank their guests with a celebratory toast.


When are you serving dessert?

If dessert is available when guests arrive, this can always be a part of your “cocktail hour.”


What type of bar are you having?

Open bar, partially hosted bar, or cash bar? If you only plan to host drinks until a certain amount runs out, take this into consideration as you may run out of drinks before the night ends if you have a cocktail hour. Most venues will customize this for you, and you could have an open bar during cocktail hour, with a cash bar for the remainder of the event. This is up to you and your coordinator!


Do you have a space “flip”?

A flip refers to when your ceremony space needs to be transformed into your reception space.  This may require moving chairs, tables, floral arrangements, and many other things. We’ve had quite a few single venue weddings with flips, and this is a good time for your guests to enjoy cocktail hour in a separate space at your venue or outdoors.  If you have a ceremony/reception flip, we highly recommend working with a wedding planner or event team to orchestrate your flip. They are pros at doing it efficiently – it can be pretty amazing to see the transformation when it’s complete, and your guests are stunned when they re-enter!


Do you want a cocktail hour?

Some people love cocktail hour, and some do not.  It’s okay if this isn’t a formality you want to include in your day because you’re not a fan.  Likewise, for those that enjoy socializing and the casual mingling atmosphere of a social hour, definitely do it!  This is your day and you really can do whatever you want!


In summary, we will give the pros and cons of each. The pros of a cocktail hour: it keeps your family and friends happy, fed, and taken care of during transition periods, allows you more time for photos, and your guests have an opportunity to socialize with friends and family.

The cons: Alcohol costs money and it’s often a large ticket item.  Keep in mind, you do not necessarily need to foot the bill for alcohol (choose to have a cash bar) or you can be non traditional and serve drinks like lemonade and iced tea, alongside some delicious snacks.  Another con is that wedding cocktail hours are one more thing to plan and coordinate (ie…more to think about!), and finally, while not necessarily a con, it does mean that your dinner starts later.  However, with careful planning, you can ensure that everything is timed appropriately and you have the evening you have dreamed of!


Here is the great thing: it is your wedding day. So there is no “right” or “wrong” answer!


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Should our wedding have a cocktail hour



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