Everything You Need for the Perfect Cocktail Hour

Discover what will help you bridge the hour between your ceremony and reception.

The time between your wedding ceremony and wedding reception should excite your loved ones and set the tone for the celebration to come. Find out what the must haves for cocktail hour are!

Photo: Jodee Debes Photography

While the ceremony is of course the most important part of the wedding day, your guests are probably looking forward to the reception the most. After all, that’s where the eating and revelry happens! However, there usually needs to be a bit of buffer time between the ceremony and reception – whether to give the bridal party a chance to take photos, giving everyone the opportunity to travel between each venue, or to allow for setup time if the same space is used for both the ceremony and reception. That’s where the cocktail hour comes in, keeping friends and family occupied until dinner is ready to be served. Ideally, you want this portion of the evening to fly by; always leave them your guests wanting more, after all!

As with any proper soirée, the biggest key to hosting a successful cocktail hour is to have great food (in this case, hors d’oeuvres) and fun drinks. Plentiful appetizers will tide people over until the full meal at the reception, and signature cocktails can be designed to represent you and your spouse while also giving guests something new to sample. But if you want to go above and beyond, you’ll need to bring in custom décor elements, such as chic cocktail napkins, playful drink stirrers, and charming bar signs to make your wedding day stand out. 

Below are examples of five of our favorite cocktail-hour details, all from real weddings! Click the link below each image for further inspiration from these stunning events. 

1. Hors d’Oeuvres

It goes without saying that you'll want to have delicious food available for guests at the cocktail hour. Consider hors d'oeuvres that everyone will love, from elevated takes on classic comfort foods to bite-sized appetizers that accommodate a number of dietary restrictions. Get cocktail hour hors d'oeuvres ideas from the wedding photos below:

perfect cocktail hour appetizers croquette with sauce

Photo by KingenSmith; From Real Wedding: A Sweet Church Ceremony & Reception Featuring Soft Hues in Chicago

cocktail hour appetizers grilled cheese and fries with dipping sauce

Photo by TimeFrozen Photography; From Real Wedding: A Whimsical Shabby Chic Wedding with East Coast Charm in Newport, Rhode Island

2. Signature Drinks

Most couples choose to serve alcohol at their wedding, but even if you're having a dry wedding, it's important to serve great drinks. From mocktails to cocktails, we love when couples offer their loved ones a signature cocktail based on their preferences. Some pairs even choose to have three signature cocktail options: his, hers, and ours.

cocktail hour signature drink moscow mule copper mugs

Photo by Abby Jiu Photography; Planning & Design by Evoke Design & Creative; From Real Wedding: Ballroom Wedding with a Classic Color Scheme & Modern Catering Trends

cocktail hour signature drinks margaritas

Photo by Perez Photography; From Real Wedding: Persian-American Ceremony with a Light-Hued Reception in Dallas

3. Drink Stirrers 

If you have room in your wedding budget, add some personality to your wedding bar with custom drink stirrers. Some couples choose to incorporate their monogram, while others may select a photo of them or an illustration of their beloved pet. Have fun with it and make it your own!

cocktail our personalized drink stirrer flags

Photography by Amy & Stuart Photography; Planning & Design by Mindy Weiss Party Consultants; From Real Wedding: Rustic-Elegant Outdoor Ceremony + Luxe Garden-Inspired Reception

cocktail hour disco ball drink stirrers

Photo by Viera Photographics; Planning & Design by Tessa Lyn Events; From Real Wedding: Modern-Style Seaside Wedding with Geometric Detailing in Malibu, California

cocktail hour wooden stir sticks drink stirrers

Photo by Brian Leahy Photography; Planning & Design by Tessa Lyn Events; From Real Wedding: Oceanfront Interfaith Wedding Ceremony with Classic White Details

4. Cocktail Napkins

Another way to add some personality to your wedding bar – if you have room in your budget – is to incorporate custom cocktail napkins. We've seen pairs select unique designs showcasing an illustration of their pet, special quotes or romantic lyrics important to the couple, or their wedding monogram. Take a look at photos from real weddings, below, to get ideas!

personalized cocktail napkins

Photo by Samuel Lippke Studios; Planning & Design by Linda Howard Events; From Real Wedding: Outdoor Jewish Wedding Ceremony & Glam Reception in Beverly Hills

cocktail hour with movie quotes

Photo by Carter Rose for F8 Studio; From Real Wedding: Classic Southern Wedding with Movie-Inspired Details in Texas

personalized cocktail napkins with pinecone detail

Photo by Sallee Photography; From Real Wedding: Rustic-Chic Lakeside Wedding with Geometric Details in California

5. Signage

Couples are getting more and more creative with the signage at their cocktail hour. You're likely going to have a bar at your wedding, and if so, it's important to also include a menu detailing the selections your guests can choose from. Incorporate signage that complements the rest of your décor, or if it's a separate bar for only the cocktail hour, consider adding fun details that may not be as formal as the wedding reception itself.

cocktail hour sign for signature drinks
Photo by Carasco Photography; From Real Wedding: Church Ceremony with Nigerian Traditions + Chic Ballroom Reception

cocktail hour personalized sign with signature drinks

Photo by Paige Jones; Planning & Design by Bluebell Events; From Real Wedding: Lively Colorful Wedding at Fairmont Miramar Hotel & Bungalows

cocktail hour sign with straws and engagement photo

Photo by Style & Story Creative; From Real Wedding: Catholic Ceremony + Romantic Modern Outdoor Wedding Reception

Still need to pick a signature drink for you and your sweetheart? Find signature cocktail ideas on our site, and to keep everyone entertained and warmed up for dancing, listen to our cocktail hour playlist and get an expert's cocktail hour wedding playlist suggestions.

Opening photo by Jodee Debes Photography; Planning & Design by Tessa Lyn Events; From Real Wedding: Outdoor Ceremony & Reception with Bright Color Palette at an LA Ranch