Let me start this by saying...
if you are holding your guests hostage, you should be feeding them.
Not every wedding has a timeline that is conducive to skipping cocktail hour but with some planning and early decision-making, you can skip cocktail hour and either invest that savings on another vendor (like your dream photographer or the area's best florist) or keep that money safe in your bank account!
One of the wedding decisions that we made early on was to skip cocktail hour altogether. I knew that it was a few thousand dollars that we could invest elsewhere or just not spend at all. We wanted our dancing time to be longer but, like most venues, our reception must end at a certain time. We are paying for a good portion of our wedding ourselves so I looked at how we could spend time mingling with our guests (and give them time to spend with each other) that didn't cost any additional money. By expanding the after-dinner portion of the evening we give guests that time together without needing additional servers, more food and more booze.
You might be wondering how this is even possible because likely every wedding you have ever attended has featured in three identical steps: ceremony, cocktail hour, reception. Traditionally, cocktail hour is where guests can chat, mingle, greet family they haven't seen in years and make their social rounds before the formalities of the reception begin. Guests enjoy cocktails and finger foods that serve as appetizers to their dinner. In theory, it's a lovely time. What most people don't realize is that cocktail hour exists because of photographers! We have to have time to do our jobs!
After the ceremony, traditionally photographers are capturing the family formal portraits, wedding party portraiture and then the ever-important photos of the bride and groom! The guests would be fed to distract them for the fact that they're actually just standing around waiting for the bride and groom. The outdated tradition of waiting to see each other drives this necessity. The modern first look allows couples to enjoy their day together for a longer length of time and it also allows couples to eliminate cocktail hour if they so choose!
Should you choose to skip your cocktail hour (which can cost on average $10-$20 per guest), your day will function a bit different than what we're used to. It can be helpful for your officiant to invite guests at the end of your ceremony to please immediately head towards the reception location to find their seats for dinner. It's a subtle cue to them to keep moving and quickly find their seats so dinner can be served promptly.
I often have brides who are looking for ways to still provide their guests with an incredible experience while saving some of their hard-earned money. We all know that planning a wedding can be incredibly expensive and there are some modern ways that couples are able to save money! With the right wedding day timeline, couples can head right to their reception from their ceremony and save anywhere from $1,000 - $4,000+.
You can skip cocktail hour if:
You are 100% committed to doing a first look and all of your portraiture before the ceremony (including family formal portraits).
You are prepared to start your reception within 15-20 minutes after the end of your ceremony with dinner being served less than an hour after the end of your ceremony. We have to keep guests happy and the longer they are on-site without food, the less happy they will be.
So how does a wedding day timeline look when you're skipping cocktail hour? In brief, here is an example!
You'll notice that the traditional timeline on the left gives less than an hour for all of the day's portraiture while guests are enjoying cocktail hour. The timeline on the right, where the couple chose to skip cocktail hour, gives as much time for portraiture as the couple wants (determined by how early they are ready). I'm not interested in making this a first look vs. waiting to see each other discussion - that is for another blog post! Some couples choose to both do a first look and keep cocktail hour and that's perfectly fine too! But now you can visualize how you may be able to skip cocktail hour, save money and receive more portraiture!