The ultimate guide to hosting an amazing cocktail hour

Cocktail hour. Its often a guest's favourite moment—a brief lull, drinks begin to flow, standing and chatting, tasty snacks—and is often completely missed by the bride and groom, who are off having photos done. Cocktail hour is basically intended to ease your guests from the ceremony into the reception, to keep them busy while you are busy, and to make sure no one gets hangry.

That's a tall order for one singular portion of your event. There's a lot that can go wrong: poorly timed food, perhaps the bar isn't ready yet, maybe your DJ is late. One series of unfortunate events and guests are either hungry, drinking warm beer, or standing in silence. Yikes.

But if you know what to look for, planning a sweet cocktail hour is absolutely doable. Then, by the time your photos are over, you'll swan into a room of smiling faces. Isn't that the dream? 

Here is our ultimate guide to planning your cocktail hour, based on our very own experiences.

Vancouver wedding tipsPhoto from Pine Tide.

Roll out the food immediately

As soon as your guests are in the reception space, the catering staff should be circulating. We don't want people to spend a minute confused about where the food is, wondering if they're in the wrong place, or feeling hungry and frustrated after a hectic morning of finding parking and barely making the ceremony start time. The food should come out in waves, bringing out different tasty treats to keep people interested in eating. This will serve them well when the alcohol really starts flowing. Which should be...

Bar cocktail hour Vancouver wedding

Photo from the Southern California Bride.

Ditto with the bar

... Right away. Especially on hot days, the first thing people will ask for is a glass of cold beer, a signature cocktail, or a chilled glass of wine (even though they should reach for water or food first!). It is a day full of celebration, and people will want to kickstart their social lubrication early in the day. Make sure the bar staff are prepared and ready for the influx of guests: kegs should be tapped and cold, wine bottles should be organized and on hand, all dishes should be clean, limes should be sliced. Nobody wants to wait in a long line at a wedding.

Photo from CalligraphyKE.

Better make that an open bar, while we're at it

If its in your budget, a surefire way to make your cocktail hour a success is arranging an open bar. Keep it to two or three options—wine, beer, and your signature cocktail—to keep costs down. Your bar staff are responsible for safely serving (as in, not overserving), so the open bar shouldn't lead to anyone becoming too inebriated. But it will get the party started, and really put the 'cocktail' in 'cocktail hour.'

Photo by Joel Serrato.

Keep the music complementary to the mood

It's not time to jam out on the dance floor yet (or maybe it is, props to you for starting early)! Your DJ should keep the music at a place which keeps people engaged and in a good mood, but isn't so loud that they can't converse with one another (complimenting the ceremony, of course). Don't break out the classics that are sure to get people square-dancing just yet either—save those for when the open bar has really started to take effect.

Anna Gomes cocktail hour seating Vancouver

Photo by Anna Gomes.

Provide comfortable places to relax

Sitting in ceremony chairs is uncomfortable more often than not, and while cocktail hour is often considered a time to stand, mill about, and mingle, you will win some serious bonus points for providing a cozy and aesthetic spot to sit for a few minutes. This will be a necessary spot for grandparents or any people with disabilities, especially if your cocktail hour space has yet to be changed over into its dinner configuration, and chairs are scarce. Heck, it will be a great place for you when you finally make your entrance: kick off your heels! Have a cocktail! It's going to be a long, wonderful evening.

Photo from Brides.

Entertain with games or other activities

While we love the open bar, and we love snacks, people might really benefit from having something else to do. For backyard weddings, this is easy: set up a big connect four set, or a cornhole set, or bocce, to get people interacting and having a fun time. If you're indoors, set up a photobooth—folks will be addicted to it all evening.

We also love leaving out interactive stations for guests. Set up tables and supplies for advice and congratulations. A few prompts: what's your favourite date night? Best advice for newly married couples? Best advice for couples married for a long time? People love to give input and opinions. You will certainly get some laughs, and maybe even some sage advice in the process. These also make great souvenirs from your big day: keep a few notes and frame them!

With food, drinks, a place to sit, and a fun activity, your guests will feel comfortable. Comfort is key at weddings—they're often places wrought with high, awkward energies and stressors. Minimizing these by keeping everyone fed and watered, as they say, is a surefire way to have the best possible wedding day.

xo D&C

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