by Abby DiBenedetto | Photographs by Cayla Zahoran

How to kick off your reception with a rockin’ wedding cocktail hour

We’ve all been there: the cocktail hour that never seems to end. First comes a beautiful wedding ceremony — then comes an hour filled with big crowds, long lines, and one very elusive cheese tray. While the cocktail portion of your wedding may not be your biggest planning priority, it’s important. Those 60 minutes set the tone for the entire reception and guests greatly appreciate the amenities. So, take the time to plan — it’s easy with our experts’ tips!

Power Hour - Wedding Cocktail Hour

Trend, Tradition | The “Little Something Blue” signature cocktail is a hit at LeMont! The vodka and Blue Curacao mixture is really refreshing — and looks cool too! “The signature drink, which is usually named after the bride and groom, is great passed on trays and served at the bar.” — Bill Laughlin, LeMont


Power Hour - Wedding Cocktail Hour

Photo courtesy Omni William Penn Hotel



A lot of planning goes down before the big day. When picking a place for cocktail hour, make sure to keep comfort in mind.

“Our newly-renovated Speak Easy space has been a favorite spot for brides and grooms. Keep you guests comfortable all evening by adding in lounge furniture or eclectic furniture pairings. Adding personal accessories, like toss pillows or family photo displays, is a great way to make the space yours.” — Christine Zimmick, Omni William Penn Hotel

“I suggest having a place to sit for those guests who can’t or don’t want to be standing for a long period of time. A mix of high and low cocktail tables give people a place to sit down and place their belongings. I also really like lounge areas with couches, ottomans, and fancy pillows — it dresses up the cocktail hour.” — Amanda Cressman, big Catering

“Upon entrance to the national historic landmark DiSalvo’s Station, guests walk through a 150 foot tunnel and into a beautiful venue and are met by a welcoming staff. Guests can mingle in the smoke-free banquet space or peruse to the cigar bar for world-class cigars, plasma televisions, and billiards — the comfort zone.” — Joey DiSalvo, DiSalvo’s Station


Power Hour - Wedding Cocktail Hour

We love the simplicity of Eleven’s Vodka Bellini, made with Prosecco, Boyd & Blair Vodka, and local peaches.


The experts all agree — whether it’s ice water, a signature cocktail, or Champagne, give your guests a drink as soon as they walk in the door.

“I think it’s nice to greet guests with a passed cocktail as they are arriving, like Champagne or a specialty drink. This helps to cut down on the initial rush at the bars and is a nice way to welcome guests to your reception. Something simple is best — you don’t want to go crazy with lots of ingredients.” — Amanda Cressman, big Catering

“Present a glass of sparkling wine,Cchampagne, or Bellinis as guests enter the room. This makes for an excellent kick off to the festivities and keeps the bar from being overwhelmed.” — Nicole Hammond, Restaurant ECHO

Power Hour - Wedding Cocktail Hour

Photo courtesy Araujo Photography





While crowd-pleasing dance anthems are definitely appropriate at your wedding reception, play the smoother lounge-y tunes at cocktail hour for a laid back atmosphere.

“Make sure you have music during cocktail hour to set the ambiance. Fairmont Pittsburgh cocktail hours include a baby grand piano and pianist that make for an easy and elegant atmosphere.” — Meaghan Tiberio, Fairmont Pittsburgh

“Entertainment is a big plus for the cocktail hour, and at LeMont, I have seen everything from a simple keyboard player to Sinatra impersonators, bagpipe players, and band trios.” — Bill Laughlin, LeMont



Power Hour - Wedding Cocktail Hour

Use this beautiful bouquet of fruit as a centerpiece for the wine table and pair the wine picks with the fruit! We recommend Champagne or a light zinfandel.


When picking a menu, keep an eye out for fresh new ideas to satisfy adventurous eaters.

“An au courant idea for cocktail hour is an Italian gluten-free and/or vegan antipasti table. Your guests can eat healthily and still enjoy great Italian food from Girasole. A quinoa salad with peaches and almonds or polenta pizzas are just a couple yummy ideas.” — Patti Gerasole, Girasole

“Action stations based on the couple’s preferences, such as speciality sushi rolls or their favorite comfort foods, are a fun way to make the reception more personal.” — Christine Zimmick, Omni William Penn Hotel

“Our gourmet chocolate dipped strawberries, chocolate dipped bananas, and other chocolate dipped fruit varieties are a great fit for the wine table. Every piece of fruit is placed on skewers for easy handling — and the centerpieces are as beautiful as flowers in bloom.” — Donna Kalany, Edible Arrangements McMurray



Power Hour - Wedding Cocktail Hour

Some of Fairmont’s most popular hors d’oeuvres are tuna rolls, California rolls, lamp chops, mini crab cakes, mini grilled cheese sandwiches, and mini fresh mozzarella, prosciutto, and basil sandwiches. | Photo courtesy Araujo Photography


To pass or not to pass — that is the question. Stationary hors d’oeuvres service can lead to crowds and lines while wandering servers can be hard to track down. We recommend a mixture of both service styles to ensure all guests get a little something to nosh on.

“At LeMont, we recommend butler served hors d’oeuvres throughout the room and stationary items such as a vegetable and cheese display, and oftentimes, elaborate seafood displays.” — Bill Laughlin, LeMont

“I typically recommend for my brides and grooms to have a combination of passed and stationary food items, including a few different passed hors d’oeuvres plus a table where guests can help themselves. Artisanal cheeses, dips with crusty breads, and fresh fruits are always popular.” — Amanda Cressman,
big Catering

“I recommend doing a combination of interactive stations (roast beef carving station, risotto station, etc.) and passed hors d’oeuvres. The chef-manned stations create a fun and interactive element for your guests and the combination of stations and passed hors d’oeuvres ensures the food is easy to get to and there’s plenty of it.” — Meaghan Tiberio, Fairmont Pittsburgh

Power Hour - Wedding Cocktail Hour

Photo courtesy Vito Gerasole



If you take the time to select a signature drink for your cocktail hour or reception, make sure it is truly special. We have some great ideas!

“Set up an old-fashioned soda bar with local Red Ribbon Sodas. Red Ribbon ginger beer makes the best Moscow Mules. And for non-drinkers and children, think Red Ribbon root beer for root beer floats.”
— Patti Gerasole, Girasole

“I always recommend doing a bride’s favorite and groom’s favorite cocktail for this period of time or throughout the duration of their event. I list each on a sign placed upon the bar listing the ingredients, as well as a quote from each stating why this is their favorite. It really strikes up conversation giving those out-of-town guests or relatives of the opposite family a speaking point when trying to get to know their new friend or relative.” — Leisa Anderson, Cioppino

“Specialty drinks have always played an important role in the cocktail hour, but we are going a step further by creating entire specialty drink themed menus or wine bars.” — Christine Zimmick, Omni William
Penn Hotel

“Incorporate a featured cocktail that highlights the bride and groom. Approach your planner or coordinator with general ideas as you know your love story best.” — Terri Hammond, Restaurant ECHO


Who says cocktail hour should be stopped after 60 minutes? When properly planned, the time between the ceremony and reception can be one of the best time of the night.

“Many brides and grooms are extending cocktail hour to cocktail hour and a half to ensure guests are getting enough to eat and getting to know each other before sitting down to dinner.” —Meaghan Tiberio, Fairmont Pittsburgh

“Most cocktail hours end up being longer than one hour. One hour is usually not enough time to greet and meet people you have not seen in many cases for years.” — Bill Laughlin, LeMont


This article is featured in the Fall / Winter 2012 issue of WHIRL Wedding Guide.

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