Planning Your Wedding Cocktail Hour

Kylie and Tyle toasting champagne Shinola Hotel weddings

The Guide to Your Wedding Cocktail Hour

It’s early in the evening and all your loved ones are together in a stylish and romantic atmosphere, complete with your favorite drinks, food, and music. There’s really nothing better. Your guests will spend that hour visiting with each other nibbling on hors d’oeuvres and sipping on drinks.

Many couples do not attend their cocktail hour as they are often with their professional wedding photographer taking photos with their bridal party or want to make their first appearance during their grand entrance. Here’s what you need to pull off a fabulous wedding cocktail hour ideas at your wedding.

1. Wedding Cocktail Hour Decor & Ambience 

You’ve spent months planning your wedding and choosing your reception décor, so don’t forget about cocktail hour, especially if it’s in a separate space. Many venues will offer you a terrace, lobby, or separate room for your wedding cocktail hour. Check out these tips:

  • Give people room to mingle easily, so don’t crowd the room with chairs or tables. Low tables with chairs along the exterior and high tables in the middle create an inviting atmosphere.
  • Provide enough seating so your older guests have a comfy place to rest and anyone who’s wearing high heels can take a break.
  • Small centerpieces and extra votive candles can be a great way to finish off the room. For example, if your cocktail hour is outside, but your reception will be inside a ballroom, don’t be afraid to vary the décor.
  • Consider adding uplighting to create a cocktail hour ambiance.

candles table centerpiece

2. Bar Service

Let’s be real, the focal point of wedding cocktail hour is the bar service. Follow these tips.

  • Offer guests a drink as they enter the cocktail reception. This will help to minimize bar crowding.
  • Servers can offer wine, champagne or your signature cocktail.
  • Avoid placing a drink station near the entrance or guests may feel crowded as they enter the area.
  • To avoid service delays, it is best to have one bartender per 100 attendees.
  • In general, guests will have two drinks during the hour.

It is not necessary to offer a full bar during cocktail hour. Craft beers, white wine, red wine, and non-alcoholic offerings are sufficient and budget-friendly.

Amanda and Michael's Detroit whiskey factory wedding

4. Appetizer Menu

Your wedding cocktail hour is not meant to be a mini dinner. If you can select foods that allow you to avoid requiring forks and knives for your guests, you’ve nailed the menu. That is unless you have ample seating and tables for guests to sit.

  • A few servers passing hors d’oeuvres and a small area where guests can serve themselves is a convenient option for your guests.
  • Stationery displays (also known as food bars, food stations, or grazing tables) are another fun option for cocktail hour. These give guests the option to customize their appetizers or fill small cocktail-style plates with the exact mix of bites they want.
  • Popular displays include raw bars and cheese and charcuterie boards

wedding cocktail hour appetizer table

Choosing Your Wedding Cocktail Hour Music

Set The Mood With Music

The cocktail hour is a great time to play some of your favorite songs. While it’s common to play light jazz or standards, this doesn’t mean you have to play cheesy elevator music, but matching your music to the mood is a good idea. There is no rule that you must follow – anything goes at cocktail hour. Your professional wedding DJ will be able to read the room and properly set the mood.

PRO TIP: Since you’re not at the dance party yet, keep the volume turned down and the vibe mellow so people can chat with ease.

Hits With A Twist

Love modern music but still want your wedding day cocktail hour to have a classic feel? These are all of your favorite radio jams, but we promise you’ve never heard them this way! Consider these tunes ‘hits with a twist’!

Upbeat Classics

Who says cocktail hour music has to be boring? I am willing to bet your guests will know nearly every song on this playlist! These tracks will get everyone singing, raising their glass and getting pumped for your reception.

Downtempo EDM

You’re probably thinking HUH? EDM for cocktail hour music? Not all electronic music is created equal! This style of EDM won’t turn your cocktail hour into a night club but create a chill, lounge, ambient feel for your guests. Give it a listen!

Jazz / Swing

How can you go wrong with the voices of Herbie Hancock, Ella Fitzgerald, Dizzy Gilespie and Tommy Dorsey serenading your guests during cocktail hour? From classic Jazz to swing tunes – The Mike Staff Productions DJs created this playlist to keep everyone on their feet!

Hip Hop Instrumentals

If you live & breath for hip hop music – how cool would it be to have nothing but the smooth beats as the soundtrack to your cocktail hour? Talk about unique! Hip Hop Instrumental has been a huge hit with Mike Staff Productions DJs.

At Mike Staff Productions, we’ve built our whole business around reclaiming the fun in your wedding planning. Ready to start?


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