bride and groom with cocktails

How Long Should a Cocktail Hour Be?

Dec 21, 2022
By Wedding Spot

Cocktail hours can be a great way to keep wedding guests entertained, but don’t know the basics? How long your cocktail hour should be? How do you even start it? Look no further.

In this guide, we take a closer look at the answer to the question “how long should a cocktail hour be, really?” We discuss the benefits of hosting a cocktail hour on your big day, discover some tips to make sure it’s fun for everyone, and much more. Whether you’re on a tight budget or want to host a long and activity-filled event, this post has plenty of ideas to inspire you.

So how long should a cocktail hour be?

The short answer is right in the name; your cocktail hour should be one hour long. Some couples extend theirs to two hours, sometimes to accommodate travel time between venues or finish their wedding photo shoot. But guests will likely expect a short and sweet 60-minute affair between the ceremony and reception.

The average 60-minute cocktail hour includes:
● Plenty of socializing between guests
● Lots of drinks and appetizers
Lawn games and other relaxed wedding activities are a great extra for couples looking to maximize the festivities

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Some couples prefer to have a 45-minute cocktail hour, because it fits better within their wedding day schedule. Others think shaving those extra 15 minutes off is shocking and undesirable. It really comes down to priority and convenience, and consider whether or not you even want to have a cocktail hour.

First, ask yourselves if a cocktail hour is really a priority for you as a couple. There are pros and cons, but there are plenty of benefits in hosting one, like:

● Extra time for mingling before guests take their assigned seats at the reception
● Opportunities for pre-dinner games or activities (think viewing family photos or writing down marriage advice on slips of paper for your collection)
● Bridge the gap between lunch and dinner with some snacks and refreshments, especially if dinner will be served a little bit later
● Keep guests entertained while the bridal party takes wedding photos nearby

Second, consider whether or not hosting one is convenient for you. As we mentioned before, wedding cocktail hours are a great way to occupy guests as you take wedding photos, but they also add another hour to your total run time.

Some couples may find that they would prefer to take photos before the ceremony instead. Or you may decide that there isn’t enough time between when the ceremony ends and when the caterer is scheduled to serve dinner.

There’s also the cost factor to consider. An extra wedding day event means additional alcohol, beverages, food, space rental time, serving platter and tablescape rentals, and staff labor.

Your caterer or bartending vendors may be able to bundle these into your package. But some may not be available earlier in the day if they’re booked back-to-back. Or they simply may need that time to finish preparing the main meal. Make sure to get some quotes from your venue and caterer before committing to a cocktail hour.

And remember that cocktail hour is more relaxed than dinner. Guests can indulge in their favorite beverages and mingle with one another and all of you. It also takes the focus off of you and your partner momentarily.

A cocktail hour is also a great way to make your wedding day more personal. It can feature personalized cocktails, your favorite snacks, cultural symbols, and music that wouldn’t naturally fit in during any other part of your wedding day.

And if you’re not sure a cocktail hour is in the budget, you can always modify the experience to fit your needs. For example, swapping a signature cocktail with a small yet curated beer and wine selection is more cost effective and perfectly satisfying for guests.


Discover some festive cocktails for your winter wedding cocktail hour!

Check it out

Our best tips for a fun cocktail hour

Play games

There are plenty of indoor and outdoor games available for cocktail parties that adults will enjoy. Jenga, croquet, and cornhole are all popular options.

Lead an activity

Beer and cheese tastings, happy couple trivia, and seasonal activities like hay rides are all welcome additions to a wedding cocktail hour.

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Feature DIY stations

DIY buffets that include a customizable option is a great way to keep guests fed and entertained. Miniature tacos and choose-your-own popsicle/cocktail pairings are always a hit.

Include videos

Set up a projector and play digitized versions of old family movies interspersed with videos taken throughout the course of your relationship.

Or if you’re feeling extra creative, do something original with it! Maybe make a mockumentary style short film of your friends talking about your romance as if they’re characters from The Office talking about Jim and Pam. Think outside the box!

Start the photo booth

Let guests get their photo souvenirs now before it gets too dark. Include props, music, and instant print out options.

The A’s to all of your wedding cocktail hour Q’s

Does a cocktail hour have to be an hour?

No, a cocktail hour does not have to be an hour. Guests are typically given an hour to transition from the ceremony to the reception.

However, it can go up to 90 minutes if additional time is needed to accommodate guests. Travel time between venues, weather events, and space setup all play an important role in determining the length of your wedding cocktail hour.

You can still have a lot of fun with a shorter cocktail hour if it's within your budget. This can be a cheaper but still enjoyable alternative to having a full bar.

Is cocktail hour necessary?

A cocktail hour isn’t necessary, but it can be a lot of fun! Some couples even turn the cocktail hour into a full-on activity like a sommelier-led wine tasting or mini concert with their favorite live band.

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How long should a cocktail hour playlist be?

Your playlist should be roughly ten minutes longer than your scheduled cocktail hour. You can start playing the music before guests arrive. The average length of a modern song is three minutes, so prepare to choose around 20 songs for your playlist.

Is two hours too long for cocktail hour?

While some guests and couple prefer a shorter cocktail hour, two hours is an acceptable amount of time for this wedding day event. We personally do not recommend going beyond that time frame. In fact, 90 minutes may even be better than two hours if that’s possible.  

What time should cocktail hour start?

A cocktail hour should start 30 minutes to an hour after your ceremony ends. Typically this will be between 4 p.m.-6 p.m., or just before dinner time.

After you’ve determined how long your cocktail hour should be, learn more about how long your reception should be too and finish drafting your wedding day timeline!

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Wedding Spot

The Wedding Spot blog is designed to help couples navigate every step of the wedding planning journey. From before the engagement to after you say “I do,” our goal is to give you the tips, ideas, and inspiration to prepare for your big day — and all that comes with it.