Weekends are for Weddings: Cocktail Hour

Weekends are for weddings!  If you’re like me, with 9 weddings each year, the weekends are, quite literally, for weddings (attending them, that is).  Also if you’re like me, the weekend is a time to think about planning your own wedding.  Lots of people carve out a certain time each week for  to wedding planning (Wedding Wednesday seems to be very popular).  It ensures the wedding doesn’t take over their whole lives; however, I find that confining wedding planning to a specific time is too pressure-filled and bicker-prone.   I plan my wedding when inspiration strikes.  Weekends, in particular, offer the time to let my mind roam and plan my own wedding in a stress-free environment.  In this series, I’ll take you through some of my major planning steps – hopefully this will help you plan your own wedding!

Our cocktail hour was actually a little under an hour.  I’ve noticed in the Northeast, cocktail hours are huge ordeals.  There’s tons of food and they sometimes last as long as an hour and a half.  Southerners, however, typically do stations rather than a seated dinner so guests stand and mingle throughout the whole event, not just during the designated cocktail hour.  Since the food at our cocktail hour was lighter and the guests would be mingling all night, we didn’t stress about it being on the short side and didn’t feel the need to extend it.  Also, logistically, we couldn’t; and here’s where things got tricky for a moment:


Because of the time of sunset, our Rabbi would not begin the wedding until 6:30.  The goal was to have everyone on buses at 7PM for the 10-15 minute drive to the reception.  Even if everything ran perfectly on schedule, that would have left us with a 45 minute cocktail hour (assuming a standard 8 PM reception start time).  We were fine with 45 minutes, but let’s face it: things rarely run with such militant precision.  If we had a long winded homily or hit traffic or couldn’t start the ceremony on time because of a wardrobe malfunction, we would cut into our already shortened cocktail hour.  This seriously stressed me out.  I didn’t want to pay all that money for a 20 minute cocktail hour.  Solution: We asked the band to start their 4 hour set at 8:30 instead of 8 and they agreed.  This 30 minute buffer meant I could breathe.  If everything ran on time, we would have a full 1-hour cocktail hour.  If we ran into any hiccups, we would have a 45 minute one, which we were ok with.

Hot Tip: Unless your ceremony is in a room directly across the hall from your cocktail hour, build in this buffer between ceremony and reception.  Heck, even if it IS in the same place, build in a buffer.  I can’t tell you how many weddings I’ve been to where something went wrong and the ceremony stated late, pushing everything back.  Three in the last year alone.  Also, as the bride and and groom, you’ll want a minute to BREATHE after saying your vows and don’t want your breathing time to mean you miss your super fun cocktail hour!  If you’ve got a lot of young guests, they probably won’t mind a reception that starts later.


Once we got the schedule figured out, it was time to pick what we were serving.  For the cocktails during cocktail hour, we had a full bar plus two signature cocktails.  We toyed with the idea of making each cocktail represent our homes, something like a Manhattan and a Georgia Peach.  In the end, we decided to craft our cocktails using our favorite spirits (vodka for Albert, bourbon for me) and named them after ourselves (or in the case of Albert, after his trademark dance move).  The flavors were also very Southern, which was a nice lil bonus:

  • Albie Shuffle: Vodka, Sweet Tea, and Lemonade (an Arnold Palmer with a kick!)
  • Tessypie à la Mode: Bourbon, Pecan Praline Liqueur, and Vodka

I drew out the bar menu on a mirror that I painted with chalkboard paint.  It’s a fun touch, and I saved a lot of money by doing it myself.


Now for the food:

Personally, when it comes to the apps served during cocktail hour, I prefer for everything to be passed and to require no utensils.  I want to be able to be in the middle of a conversation, see a waiter walking by and – *zoink* – grab something off the tray without having to stop the conversation.  I also like when everything can be eaten one handed.  Ease is the name of the game here.  I hate taking an hors d’oeuvre and then having to find a table to I can put the plate down and cut something up.  Even worse, with only two hands, I hate having to choose between the app and my glass of vino.  Most people don’t care so much, but for some reason, this is a big deal to me.  Thankfully, we didn’t have to sacrifice quality for ease of eating and chose the following passed hors d’oeuvres.

  • Mini Fried Green Tomatoes with Aioli – I love fried green tomatoes and how they’re quintessentially Southern.  This was my “must.”
  • Lamb Chop Lollipops with Mint Dip – This was my father’s “must.”  He probably reminded me 12 times that this would be on the menu no matter what.  No complaints here; they’re delicious.
  • Bacon-wrapped Scallops – This was Albert’s “must.” At weddings, this is the one item he will wait for outside the kitchen door.
  • Oyster Shooter – Oysters are true to the Lowcountry, where I’m from, but serving them raw is big in CT/New York, where Albert is from.  I thought this app, which is a shot glass filled with cocktail sauce, a raw oyster, and a floater of vodka, was the perfect combo of our two upbringings.  It wasn’t on the menu, but the Golf Club was wonderful about working with us for off-menu items.


One of our wedding planner’s best suggestions was to set up a private room for us.  We began the cocktail hour with everyone, but for about 30 minutes we went into an area to decompress and enjoy life as a newly married couple before rejoining the party.  While it was nice to stare into each other’s eyes, the biggest reason we wanted to do this was so we could eat.  If we were running around talking and celebrating with people, we would never eat.  And with alcohol flowing as it was, we needed to coat our stomachs.  In the room, there was all the food from the evening set up for us to taste.


As I said, we had 30 minutes in the room, but only the first 20 were spent alone.  We went in at about 8:00 and then Albert had the great idea that for the last 10 minutes, we would be joined by our wedding party for a champagne toast.  It was a great way to have a few moments with the people we hold most dear.  Bonus: it corralled everyone together so that they would all be in the right place when it was time for everyone to line up to be introduced.