How Long Should Your Wedding's Cocktail Hour Really Be?

Can a cocktail hour be anything other than 60 minutes long?

fall cocktails onelove photography
Photo: onelove photography

A wedding's cocktail hour is traditionally just what its name implies: An hour between the ceremony and reception during which guests can enjoy beer, wine, signature drinks, and light appetizers. But many wedding guests will tell you that cocktail hour is one of their favorite parts of the day, which is why some couples choose to extend theirs beyond the tradition 60 minute allotment. For other brides and grooms, especially those who are trying to be mindful of budget or who do not intend to serve alcohol at the wedding, a shorter cocktail hour is more appealing. So, can you adjust the timing to be longer or shorter than what's expected? We asked wedding planner Hovik Harutyunyan of Harutyunyan Events to break it all down, including how to decide how long your cocktail hour should be and what you need to consider before veering away from the one-hour format. Here, his best advice.

Shorten it by 30 minutes.

The standard cocktail hour lasts 60 minutes, and Hovik says that this length works well for most weddings. However, there are some reasons why you may find yourself looking to shorten it. If your cocktail hour is outdoors, for example, and the season is either too hot or too cold, it would be a good idea to not have your guests out in the elements for too long.

Another factor to consider is the bar placement within your venue. Hovik says that sometimes the bar is located in the same area as where dinner will be served. Even if you have a designated cocktail hour site within the venue, guests may still be walking through the reception space to get their beverages. It is only natural that guests will begin looking for their tables to store their belongings or to take their seats, the pro explains. "If they start taking their seats, then your guests just decided that your cocktail hour has ended." When shortening your cocktail hour, Hovik says it is a necessity to let all of the vendors know. This includes the photographer, who will need to get their décor shots taken care of before guests begin entering the dining area.

Lengthen it by 30 minutes.

There are some very good reasons to extend your cocktail hour (other than to keep the good times going). According to Hovik, some venues may require a longer cocktail hour if the layout will have your guests traveling a long distance to get from one space to another. An additional 15 minutes should work for most locations. The same goes for venues that will use the same space for the ceremony and the reception; the team will need enough time to "flip" the room. Also, if you have a large wedding party your photographer may require more time for the pictures. Bumping your cocktail hour out a little bit further may give you the extra time your photographer needs without leaving your guests sitting in the reception area waiting for you to arrive.

Add another hour—or more.

You are not required to limit yourself to only 60 minutes of cocktail hour. Many couples may find that breaking it up works better for their needs. As long as the venue is okay with it and it is within your budget, consider adding a shorter cocktail hour before the ceremony kicks off. Try a 30 minute cocktail hour before the ceremony to welcome your guests, and then a standard 60 minute cocktail hour after the ceremony ends. A pre-ceremony cocktail hour may also be a good idea if you need to accommodate shuttle bus schedules or early guests.

Another option? Replace a traditional seated dinner with an ongoing cocktail hour. Guests can enjoy small bites throughout the night and move about the space as they see fit. It's a good option for couples looking for a more informal celebration.

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