Unique Passed Appetizers Guaranteed to Elevate Your Cocktail Hour

pizza appetizer
This Modern Romance

Ask just about any wedding guest out there: The cocktail hour is often the most loved part of any celebration. Of course, there are plenty of good reasons for this. The ceremony (the serious bit!) is over and the festivities have begun; now it's officially time to eat, drink, and be merry. We'd argue that the first item on that list is the most important when it comes to cocktail hour. Your attendees are hungry, which is why preparing a next-level bite-sized menu is absolutely essential (plus, it's a great way to counteract all that free-flowing celebratory Champagne right off the bat).

Most couples opt for a passed appetizer service during this interlude, and there's a solid chance you're considering this food style, as well. If so, we'd like to encourage you to think beyond those safe, overdone choices, like sliders and shrimp cocktail and instead curate a cocktail hour menu that speaks to your specific culinary tastes, whatever they may be.

Not sure where to start when ideating your selections? Think about the cultural foods you grew up eating; serving up renditions of those childhood staples is an incredible way to personalize your big day. Alternatively, note the places where you and your partner love to eat. Consider your go-to date-night restaurant, and create a menu based on the dishes you most often order. Of course, there's nothing wrong, per se, with traditional passed appetizers (after all, they're classics for a reason!), but you should feel free to reinterpret them by serving these go-to dish types creatively.

Take this pizza, for example. Pizza is a total crowd-pleaser, but it's a food that you've likely seen served at many weddings. Make the dish your own by serving unique flavor combinations. At this wedding, catered by Wolfgang Puck, mini pies were inspired by a meal the couple shared in Italy. A combination of smoked salmon with dill crème fraîche and caviar kept their bites exciting.

Ahead, more fresh takes on signature cocktail hour foods—plus, dishes you (and your guests!) won't see coming.

01 of 24

Wonton Spoons

cocktail hour appetizers on platter
Joel Serrato

Ensure your guests still have an appetite come dinner by serving some lighter offerings during your cocktail hour; these tuna tartare bites from 24 Carrots, which were passed around on edible wonton spoons, are a great option.

02 of 24


cocktail hour foods
Nancy Ray Photography

Let the locale of your wedding guide your cocktail hour choices. If you're tying the knot by the sea, you can't go wrong with a raw bar—but there's no rule that says your raw bar can't be transformed into a passed appetizer. At this wedding, servers moved about the cocktail hour with freshly-shucked oysters in galvanized trays.

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03 of 24

Down Under

wedding cocktail hour appetizers
Shannon Moffit Photography

If there's a meal you really love, but it doesn't necessarily lend itself to appetizer form, try scaling it down to a snackable size. Make like this duo who served Hawaiian tuna poke on nori crackers rather than an entire poke bowl.

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04 of 24

Options for Everyone

server holding small wooden tray with wedding appetizers
Mike Cassimatis Photography

Be sure to take your guests' dietary restrictions into consideration and have options that everyone can enjoy. We love the offerings at this Norfolk Country Club catered event, which featured a vegetable option of cucumber rounds alongside chicken skewers and Italian meatballs.

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05 of 24

Spring Rolls

spring rolls on serving tray wedding reception food
Ether and Smith

Don't feel required to serve appetizers that fit perfectly with the rest of your overall wedding theme. At this Paris-inspired event, for example, cocktail hour featured spring rolls for a welcome twist.

06 of 24

Pizza Slices

cocktail hour foods
Koman Photography

Get inspired by your childhood favorites and serve something like this couple did. Tiny pizza bites reminiscent of pizza bagels made the rounds during cocktail hour—a tasty throwback that everyone loved.

07 of 24


cocktail hour appetizers on platter
Rebecca Yale

Turn to your wedding's theme when considering your cocktail hour menu. If you're planning a light and carefree event, like this couple's floral-filled outdoor wedding, serve something equally as inviting—they opted for goat cheese tartelettes.

08 of 24


chef serving variety of gourmet appetizers
Anya Kernes

Your cocktail hour is the perfect time to let some of your personality shine through, and that's especially true if you're a self-proclaimed foodie. This couple wanted the entire day to be a culinary experience for guests. To do so their menu—which was dreamed up by De Bouche en Bouche—featured an array of offerings including 10 different hot and cold canapes.

09 of 24

Charcuterie Cones

reception appetizer cups
Valorie Darling

Everyone loves a charcuterie board, but they're not easy to serve as a passed appetizer. After all, it takes time to curate a plate with your preferred cured meats, artisanal cheeses, fruits, and nuts. Instead, try serving the fixings for antipasto charcuterie in individual cones, as seen here, so guests can conveniently grab-and-go.

10 of 24

Soup Shots

wedding food pairings elaine palladino
Elaine Palladino Photography

Are you planning a winter fête? Help guests warm up from the cold weather by serving shots of creamy tomato soup and miniature grilled cheese sandwiches, like Constellation Catering crafted for this event.

11 of 24

Seafood Snacks

jessica aaron cocktail hour appetizer tray
Rachel Havel

Seafood lovers will rejoice over a few fish options being served at your cocktail hour. Looking for inspiration? This couple's wedding has plenty of it. They offered a variety of appetizer options including cantaloupe-wrapped crab and truffled salmon tartare.

12 of 24

Elevated Toasts

unique passed apps toasts
Megan Clouse

Avocado toast is great, but it's a predictable daytime cocktail hour food. Switch it up by topping flaky ciabatta with all kinds of unexpected combinations, like pickled veggies, chicken salad, and more, just like The Girl & The Fig Caters did here.

13 of 24

Crab Cakes

unique passed apps crab cakes
Ashley Seawell

If you're planning on hosting an extended cocktail hour during your celebration, you'll want to serve food with more substance than traditional bite-sized snacks. These hearty crab cakes, provided by Montage Palmetto Bluff, were topped with a tartar sauce aioli and filled guests' bellies until it was time for dinner.

14 of 24

Mobile Fruit and Cheese Plate

unique passed apps cheese board
Erich McVey

At weddings, meat, cheese, and fruit offerings are often grouped together and displayed on a long grazing table. We're all for serving these crowd-pleasers, but why not reinvent their presentation for a fun twist on tradition? This couple enlisted their staff waiters from Seasons Catering to pass around their favorite small bites on chunky wooden boards.

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15 of 24

Colorful Ahi Tuna Bites

jena donny wedding appetizers on tray
Ashley Ludaescher Photography

An easy way to elevate sliced ahi tuna, a classic big-day snack? Make like Field to Table Catering and Events and serve bite-sized pieces on flaky sesame crackers, and top the snacks off with colorful watercress and colorful edible flowers.

16 of 24

A Little Bit of Everything

unique passed apps assorted board
Jen Huang

If you're catering to a crowd of foodies on your big day, an assorted collection of cocktail hour bites (like this tray-full of Le Papillon snacks) will surely impress. Guests will enjoy the experimental approach and engage more with your big-day cuisine, since they'll likely have to ask waiters what, exactly, it is that they're trying.

17 of 24


slider appetizers
Ashley Ludaescher

Burger and chicken sliders are a traditional cocktail hour appetizer, but feel free to make them your own by serving them with your favorite proteins, like pulled pork, pork belly, and more.

18 of 24


server holding tray of wedding food
Liz Fogarty Photography

Let your cocktail hour menu offerings complement your beverage selection, as this couple did at their celebration. Attendees were offered an assortment of passed appetizers that paired nicely with their wine offerings. The duo even provided tasting sheets so guests could snack and drink accordingly.

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19 of 24

Pizza Bites

unique passed apps mini pizza boxes
Birds of a Feather

Pizza lovers, this passed appetizer is for you. Instead of serving regular slices, present teeny, tiny pizza triangles in miniature boxes emblazoned with your names—this approach, coined by Peter Callahan, is about as creative as it gets.

20 of 24


unique passed app cocktail hour
Ben Christensen Photography

Try something interactive at your cocktail hour and take a note from this couple's book—they enlisted roomforty to cater their insanely-creative offerings—and bring an experiential quality to your cocktail hour appetizers. Guests were encouraged to run these unique bites through the panko line down the center of the serving board (take that chips and dip!)

21 of 24

Spoon Me

unique passed apps tuna spoon
Cavin Elizabeth

The biggest downfall of passed appetizers is that they're often messy or require two hands to eat (which is a dilemma if your guests are already holding your signature cocktail in one!). Remedy this common issue by serving precarious bites (like tuna tartare) in oversized spoons for easy snacking, like the caterers at La Valencia Hotel did at this event.

22 of 24

Taco Time

mini taco cocktail hour appetizers on tray
Natalie Bray

Just as important as the flavor of your cocktail hour offerings is how you present them. Take tacos, for example—they're made even cuter when served inside lime wedges, as evidenced by these Omni Catering bites. Bonus points if you pair this miniature dish with a margarita as your signature cocktail.

23 of 24

Ricotta and Fruit

unique passed apps ricotta toasts
Tenth & Grace

Let the time of your celebration guide your menu choices, as Omni Catering did at this event. The brunch-time cocktail hour featured offerings that fit the mid-morning affair, like these ricotta and berry topped toasts.

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24 of 24

Miniature Pizzas

unique passed apps mini pizza pies in boxes
Jen Rodriguez

Pizza is a classic cocktail hour appetizer, but pulling slices from a tray can often lead to a mess of spilled sauce and cheese remnants. Keep things nice and tidy and make like Modern Art Catering did here and serve miniature pies in tiny boxes—each bite was topped with arugula for an added twist.

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