Even if you're a skilled cocktail party hostess, tackling the wedding cocktail hour is no walk in the park. For starters, there are quite a few vendors to book and guest counts to consider. Then comes the intricacies of figuring out your floor plan, deciding which cocktails and appetizers to serve, and determining what kind of feel you want the event to have. On top of all of that, you won't even be there for most of it, if any of it, so even if you're a great hostess, you won't be hostessing this event the way you would any other cocktail party. Like we said, no walk in the park and many logistical details to consider. But, there's good news: With a little pre-planning and a nice arsenal of pro tips to pull out when you're in a crunch, throwing the perfect cocktail hour is actually quite simple.
Read on and employ these essential points below and rest assured that you'll have an easy-breezy cocktail hour that your guests will enjoy.
Make Sure There's Plenty of Space
The cocktail hour is a chance for wedding guests to mingle and catch up with old friends and family members, enjoy some tasty food and drinks, and just chill before the party kicks into full gear. Many times, this is also when the reception area is still being readied, so guests are often confined to an area. With that said, a cramped space can dampen the mood faster than you can say, "I do." So, one of the very first and most important tips for throwing a successful cocktail hour is to book a space with plenty of room. Many event planners recommend five square feet of space per person with enough room for a few high-tops and chairs—and maybe even some lounge furniture.
Provide Comfortable Seating and Standing Options
You need to provide seating and tables at your cocktail hour. This allows guests who aren't able to stand for long periods of time have somewhere to relax and gives those that want to sit down with their drink for a chat an opportunity to do so. To really make your cocktail hour shine, provide tables of varying height (mainly high tops and maybe just two regular height tables with chairs) and comfortable lounge furniture. Guests will love it, and it'll give this portion of your day a welcoming, relaxing feel.
Choose the Right Music
Although most people will be busy talking and catching up with old friends and family during the cocktail reception, providing a bit of mood music is really an integral part of hosting a really fabulous cocktail hour. You don't want to play the top 40 dance hits necessarily (save that for the reception) but having either live or pre-recordeded music playing softly in the background can help create the mood you're going for, whatever that may be.
Over-Stock the Bar and Hire Plenty of Bartenders
The cocktail hour is about enjoying drinks, so your guests should be able to get their drinks quickly and without a hassle. If you don't hire enough bartenders and don't stock the bar well enough, the party will fall flat pretty quickly. Just imagine waiting in a long bar line for the entire hour and you'll understand what we mean when we say that bad bar planning almost always equals unhappy guests. To avoid this rookie mistake, be sure to hire two bartenders for every 75 guests and stock the bar with plenty of liquors and supplies. It never hurts to have extras, and running out is pretty embarrassing.
If you're serving bottled beer, we recommend placing them in a big tub with ice and having plenty of beer keys around for guests to grab them themselves. There is no reason to wait in line for a bartender to pop open a bottle of beer. If you're serving beer from kegs, leave it to the bartenders.
Offer Signature Cocktails and Non-Alcoholic Beverages
Although having lots of on-demand liquors on hand at the bar is important, it's also key to serve signature drinks and non-alcoholic beverages at the bar. We love signature cocktails for a number of reasons: they can be ready beforehand so guests simply need to grab one, cutting down the time in line; they help cut down on overall costs (and help you reduce the overall stock you need to purchase for the cocktail hour); and they provide a personal touch. Mocktails and other non-alcoholic options make it easy for non-drinkers to feel comfortable and enjoy the festivities along with everyone else.
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Avoid Long Lines
As we mentioned earlier, long waits and lines can easily turn what would be a fabulous cocktail hour into a bust in no time at all. Hiring plenty of bartenders is a great way to cut down on having this problem, but there are also a few other methods you can employ to guarantee that this doesn't happen at your big day:
1. Hire servers to pass some of the appetizers around the room. This way guests can enjoy a nosh without waiting forever at the food table.
2. Spread out the bars and food stations. If they're all packed in one place, it can get a little hectic and make the space seem smaller.
3. Have servers hand each guest your signature drink as they arrive at the cocktail party so everyone has a drink in hand as soon as they step into the room. This really helps cut down on how many head to the bar right away.
Consider the Food
No, the cocktail hour isn't the reception, so you shouldn't be expected to provide a full meal to each and every guest during this time. You do, however, want to provide three or four delicious appetizers to keep your guests happy until dinner is served. It's super important to make sure that all the food you serve is bite sized; this helps avoid spills and keeps the conversation going smoothly. Provide small plates, cocktail napkins, (but no utensils—remember, finger food only!) and plenty of servers going around collecting discarded drinks, napkins, etc., or provide a number of inconspicuously placed garbage bins. For in-depth advice about how much and what to serve, we suggest talking to your caterer for expert advice about what to do to make your cocktail hour a hit in this department.
Also, on top of offering plenty of food, be sure to provide options for those who have special dietary needs, such as those with allergies and those who are vegan or vegetarian. Just like with the non-drinker scenario above, be inconsiderate of the needs of friends and family who fall into these categories.
Include Other Sources of Entertainment
Don't let the name "cocktail hour" confuse you—this part of your wedding day can also include fun activities, games, and entertainment along with cocktails and appetizers. In fact, we wholeheartedly suggest it! It gives guests something to do and helps those who are more uncomfortable in social situations or don't know anyone have fun, too. If your cocktail hour is outside, include lawn games, such as horseshoes and corn hole. If you're having a cocktail hour indoors, you can have a photo booth or a caricature artist on hand to create hilarious portraits. Don't be afraid to get creative in order to find something that fits your style and budget.
Incorporate Personalized Details
Personalize, personalize, personalize—three things to keep in mind when you're planning everything for your cocktail hour. Whether it's monogrammed napkins, personalized koozies, or straws with DIY flags, there are tons of ways that you can really incorporate your personalities into the cocktail hour. Just because it's the time between the two main events—the ceremony and reception—on your wedding day doesn't mean that it should be generic. Plus, this is a great way to give your guests a little peek at what's coming at the reception.
Make It An Hour (Max)
The cocktail hour gets its name for a reason: it's an hour of enjoying cocktails and mingling before the reception. There is absolutely no need to let this mini pre-party flow over 60 minutes. While you may be busy using this time for wedding portraits and newlywed photos, your guests will start to feel restless as soon as you exceed an hour.