Virtually every wedding in the United States has one. It’s called a “cocktail hour” and it’s what happens right after your wedding ceremony. It’s ubiquitous. If you’ve been to a wedding, it’s that part you’d probably refer to as “reception lite”. There’s food, but only a little bit of it. There’s music, but it’s mellow and quiet enough to have a conversation. There are drinks, but no one’s getting hammered.
So why exactly is this a thing and why do people do it?
Well, let me ask you this, have you ever been to a wedding where after the ceremony the couple disappears for a while leaving you standing around doing nothing, getting hungry and annoyed with the photographer? Well, that’s why the cocktail hour is a thing. Because photographers need time to capture family portraits, wedding party portraits and spend some time creating some special portraits with the couple. The cocktail hour is all about keeping the wedding guests happy while some very important images are created.
So, it’s a bit troubling that over the last year most of our couples have wanted to go to the cocktail hour, at the cost of images that will prove much more important in the long run.
Of course, as I’ve said many times before, every wedding is different and every couple has different priorities. But unfortunately, since a wedding isn’t something you’re doing all the time, you probably don’t know the real price of some of the decisions you might want to make. So from experience, let me say very clearly: if you are having a cocktail hour you should not make any effort to attend it.
However, if for some reason going to your cocktail hour is extremely important to you, consider these points:
Going to your cocktail hour will probably mean skipping family formals
Family portraits, in 99% of weddings, really need to be done immediately following the ceremony. Unlike the wedding party, family members won’t be thinking about pictures as an important part of the day, even if they logically know it to be true. When family members disappear into the crowd, it is extremely time consuming to gather them again. The ceremony is the only time they will all reliably be in the same place, so immediately following the ceremony is the best and most efficient time to get them all together.
If you’re going to your cocktail hour, you really need to do a first look
Your photographer will need around 90 minutes to create all the wedding party portraits and couples portraits. If you are going to your cocktail hour, the only time to create these images will be prior to the ceremony, which means you will need to either be okay with forgoing those images altogether, or you will need to compromise on the tradition of not seeing each other beforehand. In this case, the compromise is a no-brainer because your newlywed portraits and wedding party portraits will be vastly more valuable in time than the tradition is in the moment.
If you really don’t want to skip your cocktail hour, consider doing all of your portraits another day
There’s nothing that says you have to shoot your portraits on your wedding day. In fact, if you were totally new to the wedding culture in America, you’d probably see it as making more sense to do them the day before. Of course, almost everyone in the United States consolidates everything into the same day. It simplifies some aspects of the wedding—you only have to get your hair and makeup done once, you only have to get into your wedding attire once, you only have to get everyone together once. But, in exchange for that simplicity, you add a lot of stress to the wedding day itself and force yourself to make compromises about what you are and aren’t there for.
Ultimately, you can never be in two places at once. For the sake of enjoying your wedding day and getting the most out of the experience, come to terms with skipping your cocktail hour, or get comfortable with one of the compromises I’ve discussed here. Future you will be thankful.