Traditionally, a wedding cocktail hour is held to keep guests entertained while you and your (new!) spouse, bridal party and family take photos. It’s a great way to transition your guests into party mode and can set the tone for the rest of your evening. Now that more and more couples are opting for “first look” photos before the ceremony, cocktail hour has morphed into a kind of pre-reception party that allows you to take a breather, change your dress, do some last minute primping or even flip your venue. Whether or not you’re a traditional or unconventional bride, these 10 cocktail hour must-haves will set the tone for your guests while they wait for you and your boo to be announced.

1. Live Band: Music is a must-have for a cocktail hour to get your guests in the dancing mood! Save the hard-hitting tunes for later, but a live band will bring the right amount of energy to the party. (Music: The Golden Coast All Stars, Photography: Melissa Musgrove)


2. Bar: As implied in the name, a cocktail hour needs cocktails! All of your guests will flock to the bar first. We love this rustic bar setup, complete with signage and lots of drink options. (Event: Antonia Christianson Events, Photography: Dustin Lewis Images)


3. Drink Stirrers: A cocktail isn’t complete without a cute stir stick. It makes drinks that much more Instagram-able, and is a fun place to personalize your wedding details with your name or hashtag. (Stir sticks: Delovely Details, Photography: The Reason Photography)


4. Signage: A wooden cheers sign is such a cute cocktail hour addition. An added bonus? You can take it home after the wedding and use it as decor in your kitchen or on your bar cart. (Event: GATHER Events, Photography: Braedon Flynn // Sign: Happily Ever Etched, Photography: Jenna Bechtholt)


5. Drink Display: Give your guests a visual aid of the options available at the bar. It makes choosing drinks way more fun, and acts as added cocktail hour decor. (Event: GATHER Events, Photography: Marie Buck)


6. Mini Appetizers: Because miniature versions of your favorite foods just taste better. Cute mini appetizer options are perfect grab-and-go bites that your guests can eat one-handed while they sip on their cocktails. Don’t be surprised when everyone starts fawning over these mini corn dogs and tacos! (Catering: Modern Art Catering, Photography: Max & Friends // Event: Fete Nashville, Photography: Evin Photography)


7. Signature Cocktails: A wedding tradition that isn’t going anywhere anytime soon is the signature cocktail. Create a custom cocktail that reflects each of your tastes, and give them creative names for your guests to order. (Event: Fete Nashville, Photography: Smith Studios)


8. Lounge Area: A major key to throwing a successful party is having places for guests to sit and set things down. Scatter mix-and-match lounge vignettes around your cocktail hour for a functional and pretty vibe. (Rentals: Found Rentals, Photography: Braedon Flynn)


9. Wine Tasting: Bring a wine tasting bar to your cocktail hour! Not only will your guests get to discover wines they might not have tried otherwise, but it doubles as a fun activity to keep them entertained. (Event: Antonia Christianson Events, Photography: Tracey Sanders)


10. Food Stations: Passed appetizers are a must, but a food display setup is just as important. Set up tables with different bite options to provide a place for hungry guests to congregate. (Catering: Modern Art Catering, Photography: Brian Leahy)

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