How Long Should Cocktail Hour be At a Wedding?

Cocktail hour is the wedding day event that occurs in between a wedding ceremony and a wedding reception. During cocktail hour, the guests mix and mingle while sipping on drinks and nibbling on light bites. But how long should it last?

General Rule of Thumb

A good rule of thumb is to aim for 1 hour. This gives guests enough time to relax and chat before the wedding reception begins, but doesn’t drag on for too long.


But before making your final decision, here are a few factors and considerations to keep in mind.

Photo Timeline – If you had a first look earlier in the wedding day, then many of your photos may already be done at this point in the day. However, if you did not have a first look, you may need to fit in most of your photos during this time, such as couples session, wedding party, and family formals. If this is the case, then you may need more than an hour for all of these photos, and your cocktail hour might need to last 1.5 to 2 hours. Be sure to ask your photographer for their recommendations.

Timeline – Consider your schedule and timeline for the day. If the ceremony and cocktail hour are back to back, a shorter cocktail hour of 30-45 minutes may be sufficient. On the other hand, if there is a large gap between the ceremony and reception, a longer cocktail hour of 1.5-2 hours may be more appropriate to keep guests entertained and relaxed.

Guest List – Also think about the size of your guest list. If you have a large number of guests, a longer cocktail hour may be necessary to ensure everyone has a chance to mingle and taste the drinks and snacks.

Venue Considerations – If your venue has a nice, large, comfortable area for cocktail hour, then a longer cocktail hour will be more acceptable than if your wedding venue has a smaller, less-comfortable cocktail hour area. Also consider the temperature of the cocktail hour area. If it’s outdoors, for example, and the weather is cold, then your cocktail hour might need to be shorter.

Indoor Cocktail Hour at the Marriott Anaheim

Additional Tips for a Great Cocktail Hour

Food and Drink – Remember to provide enough food and drinks for your guests during cocktail hour. Providing an interesting selection of drinks like signature cocktails, wines and beers ensures everyone will find a favorite refreshment to enjoy during cocktail hour.

Cocktail Hour Hors d’oeuvres at the Summit House

Entertainment – Provide entertainment such as live music or games. Couples can even get creative with live magicians, photo booths and other unique ideas. This will help keep the atmosphere lively and guests engaged. Choosing music tailored to the couple’s tastes (but not so loud that conversation can’t take place) adds even more ambiance and creates a lively gathering for guests to mingle before heading into the ceremony.

Cocktail Hour Music

Lighting and Decor – Additionally, picking decorations such as flowers or candles can help set a cozy atmosphere that guests will appreciate. Lighting should also be adjusted so the cocktail area isn’t too dark or too light.


In conclusion, the length of cocktail hour at a wedding depends on various factors such as the schedule, size of the guest list, photography timeline, and entertainment. A good starting point is 1 hour, but adjust accordingly to best suit your wedding plans.

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