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Weddings and Cocktail Hours: Make Them Successful!

Updated on December 11, 2015
The cocktail hour is a traditional part of a wedding reception.
The cocktail hour is a traditional part of a wedding reception.

Why A Cocktail Hour?

Cocktail hours are held before a sit-down dinner, lunch or brunch. They are not held before buffet or station receptions, which would be redundant.

Cocktail hours are designed so that brides and grooms can have their photos taken after the ceremony, allowing guests to mix and mingle at the reception site, munching on hors d'oeuvres while having drinks, while they await the bride's and groom's arrival.

They normally last one hour.

Know the rules to host a successful cocktail hour!
Know the rules to host a successful cocktail hour!

Weddings & Cocktail Hours: Rules for Success!

1. The cocktail hour should only last one hour. Guests standing on their feet, balancing food and drinks, can get tired and bored if the cocktail hour lingers.

2. Have seating for older guests and for those who made need seating (those afflicted with medical conditions, for example).

3. Make sure food is butlered (passed) as well as displayed (on tables). This makes it easy for guests to get their own food--while waiting for other hors d'oeuvres, which are passed and may not be easily accessible. 

4. Catering rule: If alcohol is served, food must be supplied. 

5. Since there is not seating for all, make sure that only "finger foods" are served, meaning that a plate is not required. 

6. To ensure that your guests do not stand in line waiting to get a drink, employ one bartender for every 50 guests. (You may need to hire extra bartenders if your property balks at the idea. Do it; you'll find that it's not that expensive and who wants guests waiting in line to get drinks.)

7. Make sure that the hors d'oeuvres are replenished until the end of the cocktail hour. Put it in your contract.  


Jewish weddings in summer may require a pre-ceremony cocktail hour.
Jewish weddings in summer may require a pre-ceremony cocktail hour.

Odd-Hour Weddings and Cocktail Hours...

Many times, weddings take place at odd hours. For example, Jewish weddings in summer, which must take place after sundown, may not start until 8 p.m. or later. For that reason, you might be better off hosting the cocktail hour before the wedding, at about 7 p.m., for example.

Some weddings may start at 6 p.m. meaning that people will have eaten lunch but not dinner, and by the time the cocktail hour takes place, will be starving! For these types of weddings, make sure that you have a heavy cocktail hour--meaning that more foods are featured than normal.

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