7 Rules of Outdoor Wedding Cocktail Hours

Is there anything better than sipping cocktails in the sunshine?

Wedding guests outside of tent

Photo by Charlotte Jenks Lewis

Alfresco ceremonies and receptions are all part of the splendor of hosting summer weddings. Another added bonus? Outdoor wedding cocktail hours. After all, is there anything better than sipping cocktails in the sunshine? Just imagine the transition between your ceremony and reception when filled with fresh florals, plenty of natural light, hand fans, interactive lawn games, and custom bar setups! Sounds dreamy, right?

However, there are some things you need to consider if you want to treat your guests to an outdoor wedding cocktail hour. We tapped a few industry's experts—photographer Charlotte Jenks Lewis; Demi Meeker, senior sales manager at Cannon Green; Britt Cole and Francie Dorman, founders of 42 North; Brooke Keegan, owner and creative director of Brooke Keegan Special Events; Aleah and Nick Valley, founders of Valley & Company Events; Brenda Babcock, owner of Brenda Babcock Celebrations; and Shannon Wellington, owner of Shannon Wellington Weddings—for their insight on nailing a summer soirée.

Here are some creative, expert tips that will guarantee a cocktail hour well spent.

01 of 07

Tent Your Bar

Wood bar with floral decor

Photo by Norman + Blake

“Don't be afraid of tenting the bar for cocktail hour, especially if you are having your wedding during the summer,” suggest Cole and Dorman. An outdoor wedding cocktail hour can quickly become very hot, so think about shade. “Here, we maximized the size of the tent by creating a custom-made round bar that fully wrapped around the center pole, allowing guests to come into the tent and access the bar from any angle."

02 of 07

Focus on Your Portraits

Newlyweds holding cocktails

Photo by Charlotte Jenks Lewis

“Do sneak away for portraits during cocktail hour,” says Jenks Lewis. “It’s a nice time of the evening to get some extra pictures.” Strategize a golden-hour setting for your cocktail hour, gathering for photos filled with glowing, sunset light.

03 of 07

Keep Guests Cool

Outdoor welcome station with favors

Photo by Jose Villa

There are endless ways to offer guests options to beat the summer heat. Keegan suggests couples set up displays of parasols and chilled lavender towels. “These small touches will leave a lasting impression on your guests and set the tone for the rest of the night!” she says.

04 of 07

Customize Cocktails

Pink summery cocktail

Photo by Christopher Shane

Toast your special day with a themed cocktail! “Don’t be afraid to stray from traditional Champagne and add a personal touch with a signature cocktail feature during your cocktail hour,” suggests Meeker. A personalized menu with an homage to memories of your relationship—where you had your first date, an ode to your hometown—can add a memorable experience to your wedding cocktail hour.

To complement the outdoor setting while helping your guests keep cool, stick to refreshing flavors, such as citrus-infused drinks! Try a frozen margarita made with coconut or a peach aperol spritz. 

05 of 07

Get Interactive

Floral and greenery wedding arch

Photo by O'Malley Photographers

Staging a comfortable happy hour for your guests can set the tone of your reception, so start it all off with a fun activity. “Think of a creative display where guests can walk through and pluck their escort card from a garden arch or pull it from a basket of fruit with names penned to each,” suggest Aleah and Nick Valley. “We all love lawn games, but other activities, like a raw seafood bar or wine pairings, will elevate the experience."

06 of 07

Consider Seating

Aerial view of wedding guests on lawn in front of fountain

Photo by Magnus Bogucki

“If the cocktail hour is held on grass, there is nothing worse than having your guests jockeying to be comfortable and relaxed,” says Babcock. When finalizing your cocktail hour design, plan for an abundance of seating and separate lounge areas to guarantee your guests are comfortable in between events.

07 of 07

Choose Seasonal Decor

Flat lay of wedding guest staples

Photo by Kate Headley Photography

“Summer soirées call for paper fans and cool cocktails to keep your guests refreshed,” says Wellington. This fun summer wedding decor idea can translate into a festive seasonal design that will help keep guests cool as well as hint to the time of year.

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