Weddings tend to follow a fairly set order of events: You get ready in the morning, have your ceremony in the afternoon, and then proceed to cocktail hour, dinner, dancing, and the afterparty. This tried-and-tested timeline is a perfect place to start when you’re planning your own wedding day, but it’s not the only way to do things. Looking to shake things up (and maybe get the party started sooner)? Our experts have a few tips for hosting a pre-ceremony cocktail hour that could be just the thing for your big day.
Rearranging the timeline for your wedding day is a great way to make your celebration feel more unique—and who wouldn’t love being greeted upon arrival with a glass of champagne or a signature cocktail? If you do decide you’d rather start off mingling, then get down to business, here are a few things to keep in mind:
Keep cocktails on the lighter side.
Since you’ll want your guests to settle down (and pay attention!) for your ceremony, keep the cocktail-hour offerings on the lighter side so no one is completely sauced before you say your vows. Offer drinks like wine spritzers (which get their bubbles from club soda) or shrubs that get their flavor and kick from vinegar and fruits, not liqueurs.
Don’t forget the snacks!
Any time you’re serving alcohol for an extended period of time, there should be food available—and that goes for a pre-ceremony cocktail hour, too. Give guests something to nibble on so there aren’t any growling stomachs interrupting your readings.
Aim for an hour or less.
While you can get away with up to 90 minutes of cocktail hour before dinner, keep it shorter if you haven’t tied the knot yet. 45 minutes to an hour is plenty of time for guests to grab a drink and say “hi” to your parents, but not so long that they get antsy and wonder when things will get underway.
Create a smooth transition.
One challenge to having cocktail hour before your ceremony will be getting guests into their seats so you can walk down the aisle. Designate a specific time when the bar is closed, and ask the bartenders and venue staff to help encourage guests to take their seats. You could also have your officiant hop on the mic to let everyone know it’s time to begin.
Choose nearby locations.
Having cocktail hour before the ceremony works best if the venues are close to one another. Ideally, you should be able to see the ceremony location from the cocktail hour space and it should be a very short walk. This will help keep the day flowing smoothly, and create a more cohesive atmosphere.
Or, skip the rows of chairs and aisle entirely.
Another option is to simply have your ceremony in the cocktail hour space. Choose a focal point, such as a fireplace or the spot on the patio with the best view, and enhance it with flowers and candles to designate it as the altar. Instead of rows of chairs, ask guests to gather ‘round (leaving a walkway for the processional!) and witness your vows standing or seated on lounge furniture nearby. Note that this works best for a shorter ceremony!
Be okay knowing your guests will see you before the ceremony.
Cocktail hour is your best opportunity to wander and chat with family and friends, so you and your S.O. definitely won’t want to skip it—which means your guests will see you in your wedding attire before you walk down the aisle. It does take away from the element of surprise, but don’t worry: Your big walk will still be plenty emotional! Wait to put on your veil or pick up your bouquet until it’s time for the ceremony—step away with your wedding party about 10 minutes before for touch-ups (and to signal to guests that it’s time to begin) so you can still make your entrance.
Keep your own drinking to a minimum.
Of course you can have a glass of champagne before you walk down the aisle, but you and the wedding party should keep pre-ceremony drinking to a minimum. After all, you’re the ones who will be “on”!
Have a brief getaway with the wedding party after the ceremony.
Once you’ve recessed, escape to a separate room with your parents and wedding party to soak in the moment. Ask your venue’s staff to have champagne, cocktails, and a few hors d’oeuvres ready for all of you. Then make a quick toast, grab a bite, and head to the reception for dinner and table-hopping.
Go straight to dinner.
Once you’ve shared your first kiss, resist the urge to continue cocktail hour and invite guests to be seated for dinner. Additional cocktail hour time runs the risk of guests getting hungry and restless—or drunk. Keep the bars closed so you don’t wind up with a group of stragglers. Instead, place shareable items on each table (like a crudité and cheese platter, which will tempt guests to sit down and dig in), have servers fill wine glasses, and get the reception started.