people reaching for champagne during wedding cocktail hour

21 Wedding Cocktail Hour Ideas Your Guests Will Love

Sep 14, 2021
By Wedding Spot

When done correctly, a cocktail hour helps pass the time between the ceremony and reception, giving guests a moment to relax and enjoy some drinks and light bites before the celebrations pick back up. The problem is, it’s not always done correctly. That’s where these wedding cocktail hour ideas come in.

To help make the transition between the ceremony and reception a fun and stress-free one, we rounded up some of our favorite cocktail hour ideas from wedding planners and event coordinators throughout the industry. From the implementation of sketch artists and lawn games to ice pops and meat smoking stations, keep reading to discover ways to make your cocktail hour an unforgettable one.

Explore 21 of our favorite wedding cocktail hour ideas

Cocktail hour drink ideas

1. Pour some seltzer. Sure, you can serve trendy favorites like White Claw and Truly. But we recommend taking it a step further with a “homemade” version created by your bartender. Seltzer, vodka, simple syrup, some fresh fruit, and a nice garnish to top it all off — what’s not to love?

2. Serve boozy ice pops. Part popsicle, part cocktail, FrutaPOP and products like it are innovative cocktail hour options that are sure to get your guests talking — especially if you’re having a summer celebration!

3. Homemade tea, anyone? Whiskey and freshly-brewed tea make for a comforting cocktail hour treat when served warm in the winter. But it can also be iced to keep everyone cool during hotter months. No matter how you present it, we recommend choosing something like Art of Tea’s black floral and berry mix, Happy Tea, as the base of the drink.

4. Remember the children. In an interview with Wedding Spot, Sally Gibson of Someone Sent You a Greeting said that “kids are often overlooked when it comes to cocktail hour, so try serving drinks and food that will be suitable for them — smoothies, milkshakes, etc.” Even if you choose to have an adults-only wedding, you should still provide guests with non-alcoholic drink options.

5. Make a limoncello stand. Like a lemonade stand but for adults — what’s not to love? Depending on your budget, there are tons of ways to DIY a lemonade stand that will be sure to be a conversation starter.

6. Add in florals. “Our rose petal scented hibiscus martini is always a guest favorite,” Omar Torres, Bartender and Food & Beverage Director of Bonsai at Hilton Pensacola Beach, told Wedding Spot. “It resembles the reason for the harmonious event taking place as it perfectly matches the aroma of rose petals and hibiscus with the flavorful spiced Yuzu gin and Japanese Bermutto.”

7. Dedicate drinks to your pets. Naming your signature cocktails after your pets is a trend we can get behind. It may not seem obvious at first, but try to match the cocktail with your pet’s personality. For example, your funny elderly pug may be a bit grumpy in his old age, so a cocktail with bitters would be an entertaining matchup.

8. Have self-pour stations. Companies like Pour My Beer are revolutionizing the beverage game, and having something like it at your cocktail hour is a great way to add an interactive element without going over the top. “If it’s a liquid, we can pour it,” reads a section on the company’s website. “Self-pour technology provides many options just like a regular bar – if not more! Beer is not the only thing to pour, there is wine, cocktails, sodas, kombucha, and even cold-brew coffee. Since our self-serve technology is so versatile, it reaches a broader market as there are more choices for customers.”

Wedding cocktail hour ideas for design and decor

9. Use the entire venue. Having a destination wedding? Jen Avey of Destination Weddings Travel Group recommends “utilizing the entire resort grounds to keep your guests on their toes. If you got married on the beach, consider having your cocktail hour/reception on the rooftop terrace — the panoramic views are sure to wow your guests. Alternatively, if your ceremony is being hosted in the garden gazebo, bring your guests to the beach for cocktail hour to enjoy the sunset views!”

10. Create shelving displays. Bring your indoor furniture outside for your cocktail hour by using glass bookcases as drink displays. This classic one from Ikea is a great example of how stunning it can look. Add pre-poured champagne flutes to the middle shelves, plus plenty of greenery and electric candles near the top, and you’re well on your way to hosting a gorgeous cocktail hour.

11. Offer unique seating options. “Traditionally, cocktail hour set-ups include high-top tables and very minimal seating,” Avey said. “In a turn of events, couples are now opting to include ample seating options, and do so in a very comfortable fashion. We recommend offering lounge seating (think sofas and love seats, poufs and pillows on the beach, etc.) and make the atmosphere very cozy and comfortable. Lanterns and fire pits help add to this ambiance.”

12. Use homemade signage. DIY a “cocktail hour this way” sign with some wood, stain, and painted calligraphy. You can also use this homemade sign idea to share the menu, reception itinerary, or seating chart.

13. Make a living wall. Whether it’s a wall of pots on shelves, floating air plants in macrame, or a faux leafy backdrop, a living wall is great for photo ops and drink displays. Want to take it up a notch? Attach champagne flute holders to the wall so guests can serve themselves.

Cocktail hour ideas for entertainment and activities

14. Play lawn games. In an email to Wedding Spot, Elegant Occasions’ JoAnn Gregoli said that “the secret to a great cocktail hour is to make it more interactive and engaging. We love to incorporate lawn games guests can enjoy such as croquet, cornhole, and a giant chessboard. Guests love to get involved, and planning lawn games, if space allows, is a great way to achieve that.”

15. Host visual artists. “Add live artists to your wedding cocktail hour,” Gregoli said. “They can paint the event as it unfolds before the eyes of the guests. It makes for a wonderful moment that you can hang in your home after the wedding.” Or, Gregoli said, “why not also offer a fashion illustrator during cocktail hour? These artists sketch your guests and give them the drawing as a wedding favor.”

16. Make transitions fun. “I love a definite transition from cocktail hour into the reception,” Bridal Bliss Founder Nora Sheils told us. “Consider hiring ushers to seat each guest or couple, or dancers to lead the way, or even a marching band to really make a statement! This will make it absolutely clear to guests that it is time for dinner, and you can rest assured that there will not be any stragglers!”

17. Share fond memories. Another wedding cocktail hour idea that will leave your guests smiling? “Have a video or slide projection recounting how you met and fell in love,” Gibson said. Feature lots of your friends and family and their involvement in helping your relationship grow.

Cocktail hour ideas for catering

18. Hire food trucks. Gregoli also suggested replacing traditional cheese and charcuterie boards with food trucks. “Food trucks always make for a fun and creative cocktail hour,” Gregoli said, “so why not offer a taco truck or pizza truck to enhance the party and let guests grab and go? It's easy, fun, and festive, and you can pick any of your favorite food items and offer it via a food truck. You can also find trucks that offer champagne or frosé.”

19. Infuse local flavor. “Introduce your guests to the local flavors of your wedding locale,” advised Avey. “For example, if you are in Mexico, serve bite-sized tacos with a margarita shooter. Beef patties and rum runners are the perfect options in Jamaica, and food trucks are always a hit to include, too. You can also bring in fun, local traditions outside of cuisine, such as a mariachi band in Mexico, a steel-drum band in Jamaica, or hula dancers in Hawaii. Your guests will appreciate the unique elements that make them feel right at home in your exotic wedding destination!”

20. Make it interactive. “Interactive food stations are always a hit!” Sheils said. “Consider an oyster bar with a chef shucking, craft cocktail bartenders, or aerial dancers serving champagne. These unique details will serve as entertainment while also nourishing your guests!”

21. Smoke some meat. “Our smoked station is everyone's favorite, as it always tends to have guests gravitate towards it with the nice aroma of cherrywood and the visual effects of the smoke coming out of the elegant cloche,” Torres told us.

Put these wedding cocktail hour ideas to use!

No matter what you serve in between your ceremony and reception, your guests will appreciate the effort you put into making them happy even during event transitions. Keep in mind that the simple formula of drinks plus food, entertainment, and decor is all you need to perfect this important wedding experience. Think about what your guests will want during this time and choose at least one focal point of the cocktail hour that gives them that. If you’re having fun planning the cocktail hour, chances are your guests will have fun being there!

Up next, check out 32 of our favorite wedding entertainment ideas for even more ways to leave your guests in awe.

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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.