A wedding planner and a caterer weigh in.
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Credit: Joel Serrato

Have you ever met anyone who doesn't love cocktail hour? Wedding guests get to dig into bite-sized hors d'oeuvres, sip signature beverages, and mingle with friends and family. Since food is a central part of this portion of the wedding, deciding exactly how many options to give your guests can be a daunting challenge. If you serve too little, your loved ones may feel unsatisfied and hungry before dinner. On the other hand, serving too much food means everyone will likely feel too full to enjoy their meal or let loose on the dance floor. Plus, an excess of cocktail-hour bites wastes both food and money. So how do you determine the correct amount to serve?

According to Helah Kehati, president of JPO Concepts, a New York City events and hospitality company, traditional cocktail hours have two separate food entities: passed hors d'oeuvres and a grazing table. The hors d'oeuvres generally consist of bite-sized choices that can be easily eaten while socializing. The grazing table works more like a buffet, and it can offer anything from charcuterie to raw seafood. When planning your cocktail hour menu, Kehati says to make the calculations based only on passed hors d'oeuvres, and consider the grazing table a fun addition. That's because sometimes people don't notice the grazing table, and it often has one particular food theme that won't satisfy all guests.

With this in mind, Kehati says her team at JPO Concepts has a go-to guideline for determining the correct amount of food to serve at cocktail hour: eight to 12 bites per guest. "The range should be adjusted based on the time of the cocktail hour, heartiness of the caterer you've selected, and budget," says Kehati. "It also depends on the heaviness of the hors d'oeuvres." In other words, stick to eight bites per person if your cocktail hour comes shortly before dinner, you're serving heavy and filling items (like sliders or sausages), or your budget necessities it. Opt for a larger number of bites per person if guests have gone a long time without eating or if your food choices are very light.

As far as the types of hors d'oeuvres are concerned, Kehati says that she prefers four to six different options, each served multiple times throughout cocktail hour. This number ensures that there is enough variety to satisfy every guest. Plus, "everybody wants to see their favorites come out at least a second time," she says. Meg Hotchkiss, lead planner and creative director at LVR Events in New York City, says that having a wide variety of options also lets you have something for guests with dietary restrictions; for example, guests may be vegan, gluten-free, or have food allergies. The bride and groom should also feel free to get creative with the type of food served at cocktail hour. "Cocktail hour food is really a place where you can have fun and go off the beaten path," Hotchkiss says. It's the perfect place for a bride and groom to serve cuisine related to their ethnicity and nationality, as well as other favorites that won't work well as a main course.


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