Real Advice | Your Cocktail Hour is the First Impression

Your cocktail hour is the first impression of your reception for your guests.  No pressure!  And no worries, because I've got you covered on the key elements to make it a hit and set the tone for your guests!

Cocktail hour is a great opportunity to set the tone you want for the rest of the evening.  If you aren't sure where to start, start with basic senses (sight, taste, etc) and don't forget to draw inspiration from your theme if you have one.  It's a good idea to make sure your guests feel entertained because it's unlikely you and your new spouse will be there for the entirety of the cocktail hour or at all if you are planning a lot of photos.

Here are the top 4 tips to host a memorable start to your wedding reception!

Read to the end to visit our Pinterest inspiration board to get some ideas going for yourself and also to download our handy cocktail hour guide!

1. Tell them.

Providing the right info to your guests is so important and it starts before the big day.  Take the time to include important information like dress attire, location, time and other details on your invitations and website.  If you have a ceremony program, also put information in that.

Signage is really helpful at your reception site when guests arrive.  Include signage if it's a large venue with tricky parking outside and inside the building if it's not obvious.  At your venue, signage about guest book, bar and other activities that you want guests to partake in are helpful too.


2. Wine them.

When you set up your bar, there are many different ways to make it work for you and make sure it serves your guests well.  If you have a big budget, consider a full open bar including liquor if that is a good fit (check your liquor laws!).  If you have a moderate budget, consider beer, wine and a signature drink.  Finally, if you have a minimal budget, just select a few beers and wines. 

No matter your budget, you can make this fun! For your beer and wine, choose some of your favorites that you enjoy as a couple or local breweries that out of town guests could try.  Adding a signature drink in is also a popular way to have fun renaming or creating cocktails that again are about the couple.  Throw in some custom cocktail napkins for a minimal cost.  Also, you may be super excited about the bar but don't forget to provide non-alcoholic beverages too.  Especially during warm months with outdoor venues, a refreshing iced tea and lemonade is a great addition.


3. Dine them.

OK here is my rule that I really stick to my guns on.  If you're doing a bar, feed people!  To back up,  With all of these above options for your bar, you gotta feed these folks.  You don't want to have folks drinking heavily for about 2 hours with no food since their lunchtime.  And a tiny crudite and some cheese does not count.  Wait, I LOVE a monster cheese board and that is perfectly acceptable.  But it has to be a big fancy one, not like the ones your frat boys put together with some store brand colby jack and ritz crackers. 

Again, this is an opportunity to treat your guests to the first impression.  So throw in some protein heavy apps.  It won't break the bank, I promise. Lastly, get creative with this portion of the evening.  Do you have a theme?  Use it.  Lots of out of town guests?  Choose foods that have some local flavor flare.  Food bars are still very popular and people have a lot of fun exploring those, so have a lot of fun choosing a food bar that features your favorite foods.


4. Entertain them.

Here comes the fun part! Give your guests a nice balance of things to do.  I have seen couples error on the side of being a little demanding and bossy of their guests time and asking them to do oodles of fill this out! sign here! snap a pic here! and that's not always a great solution for your cocktail hour but you absolutely should provide them with a couple of things to partake in. 

If you have fair weather, lawn games are very popular and a natural way to get people to know each other.  Make sure you have an activity that can easily be done inside as well, in case of foul weather.  If you plan for this ahead, then if your weather turns inclement the week of your wedding, you don't have to scramble to come up with entirely new activities. 

Another tip for the entertainment portion of this evening is making sure your instructions for guest book is clear.  Folks have some of the cutest ideas for a "guest book" but make sure it's easy to understand and there are plenty of supplies.  You will undoubtedly have an aunt or friend that has offered to help you on your day and this is a great task for them!  Ask them to 'man' the guest book area and help make sure guests don't miss it!  

Have fun with your seating cards - again, oodles of opportunity here but you get major bonus points if these items can double as a favor of some kind.  You'll pat yourselves on the back later for making something do double duty. 

Don't forget some decor.  Include linens on your high top tables and small centerpieces.  Again, first impressions!

Serenade them.  As you probably know live music is always a sure bet and crowd pleaser.  If you aren't planning on a full big band, you can get an affordable acoustic solo artist or duo that won't break the bank.  At minimum, have your DJ play a list of your choosing, but don't leave your guests in an awkward silence!


This is a lot of info but really you can't screw this up if you are being thoughtful and intentional.  Making sure people have things to drink, eat and do is all you really need to accomplish.  It can be as simple or as elaborate as you want to make it.  I always tell my couples that if they aren't sure if it's a good idea, ask themselves if it means something to them and expresses them as the couple they are.  If so, then go for it.  If it's cute but you feel intimidated trying to make it, if it's fancier than what typically resonates with you, don't get pressured into those things.  It won't be a good use of your time and you'll wonder why you spent the time and money on it. 

For some thought starters, visit this Pinterest page we created just for cocktail hours.

I hope this helps you get started.  You get bonus points for getting all the way down here so please download our FREE Cocktail Hour Planner!  It includes this similar info but also real planning tools and checklists!

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Enjoy your day, leave the details to us!

Tiffany