Nothing says ‘welcome to the party’ more eloquently than cocktails. If you’re looking for just the right way to set off your wedding reception, greeting guests with a cocktail hour kicks off the event in style. And it won’t add much more to your budget when properly planned.
Many wedding banquet halls are happy to set it up and give you ideas to keep things affordable. From signature cocktails to quirky themes, here’s how to have the best cocktail hour at your wedding.
It’s your day, so having a cocktail in your honour makes sense. The beauty of the signature cocktail is that it can either reflect your wedding theme or your personality. You can take inspiration from a classic cocktail and add your flair by adding a touch of food dye, or a fun little cocktail detail to celebrate your theme, or go all out and work with a mixologist to create your very own one-of-a-kind cocktail.
You can even do more than one signature cocktail using different aspects of your event, from seasonally driven flavours to unique cocktails representing you and your partner or even your entire wedding party. Use creative names that allude to inside jokes or that create conversations while guests mingle. Don’t forget to include a mocktail version of each cocktail for designated drivers and those who don’t drink.
Create a Signature Lounge
Work with your venue to set up your cocktail lounge design. Working off your wedding theme, rent unique furniture to create spots for people to sit and chat, spend intimate moments, or relax.
Start by thinking about comfort and build from there. Hip, low backed sectional couches and coffee tables are ideal for modern weddings, while a retro bar complete with high, leather-bound bar stools is a throwback to the “Mad Men” era.
You could create an elegant garden setting for more romantic themes outdoors or choose vintage ornate carved sofas with rich upholstery and carefully placed massive gold gilt mirrors for luxe themes.
Adding little touches — such as drapes, rich area rugs, and candelabras— creates private areas and adds to the ambiance.
Set the Mood with Music
Before the party starts, help set the mood with some dinner music. This is the time for low volumes so people can chat without having to yell at each other. Think mellow vibes, whether it’s some cool jazz, gentle classical or a retro 60s lounge music mix.
If budget allows, consider live music with a jazz trio, string quartet, acoustic guitarist, or pianist. You could even go a little quirkier with an accordion player or a mariachi band.
Consider Your Backdrop
Make the most of what you got. Even the most basic banquet halls can be transformed with a little imagination. For example, if there is a grand entry hall with an impressive staircase, ask your venue if their foyer can be used. It adds more drama, and the stairs can be decorated with lights, elegantly draped rich banners and greenery, flowers, and trees.
Outdoor venues can be wonderful even in a chillier season with the smart use of outdoor fireplaces and cozy luxe blankets draped over chair backs for people to snuggle. Even simple centrepieces and candles can create the perfect backdrop for your cocktail hour.
Add Complimentary Nibbles
Add a creative selection of hors d’oeuvres so guests can enjoy a nibble before the reception is underway. Passing around trays of finger foods or setting up trays at each table allows people to chat and enjoy a little snack.
Consider your wedding theme for inspiration, and speak to your venue or caterer to see what they can suggest. You can also consider choosing foods to pair with your cocktails. The idea is to offer little tidbits and bites, so no one gets too full or too drunk before the main event starts.
Use Lighting and Colour
The easiest way to bring your theme together on a budget is by using light and colour. Pick a colour palette and stick with it to set the tone. Cocktail napkins, glasses, a few centrepieces, and a few artfully hung curtains are all you need to create a theme.
Lighting comes in many forms, from the flicker of candelabras or candles to spotlights casting light on elements, whether it’s trees, your floral arrangements, the bar, architectural details or a fountain.
Glassware and Napkins
To elevate your décor and theme, consider using customized cocktail napkins and glassware. Visit vintage stores and thrift stores to find unique glassware and make your evening more special.
You could also buy bulk glasses, paint them with your initials, or use a stencil to add some little detail to reflect your theme or personality. Use the same stencil to customize your napkins. Stamps with your wedding date, your initials, your names, a funny quote, etc. all add a touch of your personality to the occasion.
Props and Costumes
If you want to encourage guests to get into the spirit of your theme, why not offer props and costumes when they arrive? Guests can choose from a selection of hats, jackets, vests, accessories such as sunglasses, boas, scarves, etc. to create their character.
Create a backdrop for Instagram pictures, and guests can take pictures to share on your wedding social media pages. From roaring 20’s to a Star Wars movie theme, you can add a little more fun to your cocktail hour.
Fun and Games
Consider having some games or activities for your guests. TV game shows, arcade games, or outdoor activities like bocce ball are ideal for keeping younger guests occupied. You could also add a photo booth, custom filters for social media posts, a social media wall that shows posts on your hashtagged wedding pages in real-time, running a movie on a wall, and laying out retro board games on each table.
Cocktail parties are very trendy, providing the perfect way to ease into the evening.