Close this search box.

How to have the ultimate cocktail hour

The Ultimate Cocktail Hour

By Kat Mendenhall

Cocktail hour is perfect opportunity to WOW your guests, show them a good time and get the party started off right!

When you think of your big day, chances are you think about the feeling you want to create for your family and friends. Fun, personal, intimate, etc. This will also be the feeling you are left with when you think back on your wedding day. I hear couples say time and time again, “I want it to be so much fun!” But how do you start the planning?

After you say “I DO” and seal it with a kiss, the celebration is kicked off by your cocktail hour. After your ceremony, but before you are introduced into your reception, lies an hour where your guests are left waiting while you get photos taken, touch up your makeup and change into your comfortable shoes.

Your cocktail hour is so important because it sets the tone for the rest of the evening and that feeling you’re striving for. WOW your guests while welcoming them to your celebration! Think if it as a full-blown cocktail party squeezed into an hour, a quick and fun entrance to the rest of your fun-filled evening. With some planning, creativity and these fabulous ideas, you can pull off the ultimate cocktail hour.


Classy Cocktails: Having a cash bar is considered a major faux pas when you’re hosting an event. To be budget friendly, you can stick to beer and wine, with a special twist. Offer local brews or invite guests to make their own cocktails with a champagne bar! Chilled champagnes and fruit juice (like orange juice or pomegranate) with frozen fruit like raspberries and strawberries. Very classy, affordable and fun! For non-alcoholic receptions, try an Italian soda bar or an iced tea bar!

Planners Tip: Make sure you have a bar setup for each 100 guests, so if you have 300 guests, you need three bars, with two bartenders and a bar back (assistant) at each bar.


Create the right vibe: Color; lighting and flow are essential elements for a party. During the planning, make sure to have plenty of open space for good traffic flow. If the weather is looking nice and your venue offers outdoor spaces, set everything up alfresco! Cocktail tables, both high and low, are a good place for your guests to put their drinks. Offer some seating for the older guests (perhaps a lounge setup, complete with comfy chairs and couches).

Planners Tip: Have servers with drinks or appetizers floating; it helps minimize a mad dash to the bar.


Music: You may have a killer band to bring down the house for the reception, but the cocktail hour needs something more than your iPod. We love jazz trios, acoustic guitar or a steel drum to set the mood. Remember when choosing your cocktail hour music to select something that will be interesting, but easy to talk over so your guests will continue to mingle.

Planners Tip: North Carolina is full of college students and local musicians; go local!


Food: By cocktail hour, your guests are ready to start munching. Choose appetizers that are delicious, but won’t fill them up (ie: no pasta stations). We love serving food that is easy to eat standing up with a drink in your hand. Why not serve up artesian blocks of cheese with cute labels? Cheese is delicious with Italian meats, dried fruits, nuts, spiced jellies, grapes and toasted baguettes.

Planners Tip: For something totally unexpected at your outdoor reception, hire a Food Truck to serve up delicious appetizers! Going ‘Mini’ is great for cocktail hour because they’re fun and really easy to eat. Anything can be made into a mini version. Think sliders, tacos or oyster shooters….get creative!


Entertainment: You’re guests need something to DO. This is your opportunity to really set your wedding apart and make it something your guests will never forget.

Lawn games: If you’re getting married outside, we love lawn games! Croquet, horseshoes and corn hole are fun and easy.

Say Cheese! You can let your guests play with props and hop in a photo booth for a good time. This is not only a blast, but it gives them something to take home!

Artistic Fun: Other ideas are performers (magicians, jugglers, belly dancers) or to hire a caricature artist to draw for your guests.

Planners Tip: We love the idea of hiring professional dealers and setting up a casino cocktail hour. Give each of your guests a voucher for $5,000 chips to play blackjack, poker, craps and Roulette. They are not betting with real money, so it is just fun and a great way to entertain them for an hour!


Personalize: Weather it is a photo guest book, framed photos, monogrammed napkins or cute drink stirrers…it’s a nice detail to add personal touches throughout your cocktail hour.

Planners Tip: We love the idea of placing question cards for your guests to fill out with cute questions like “What’s your advice for staying happy?” or “What’s a good tradition we should start?”

Cocktail hour is perfect opportunity to show your guests a good time and get the party started off right! With thoughtful touches and your guests’ enjoyment on your mind, it’s a chance to think outside the box and pull off an astounding cocktail hour that your guests will be talking about for a long time to come. The only thing better will be the rest of your reception!


Photo by Yasmin Leonard Photography


Download your Free Guide


Following this handy list of to-do’s for the year leading up to your wedding day is sure to keep you on task, on track, and on budget!