Cocktail hour, by definition, is “the interval before the evening meal during which cocktails and other alcoholic beverages are often served.” By reading that, I don’t see any mention of food, which may cause a problem when there are empty stomachs mixing with tasty alcoholic beverages.
When we first start talking about what our clients should offer during cocktail hour, 50 percent of them say that guests shouldn’t be hungry because the evening just began. Well that is the misconception!
We notice that guests come scavenging for food the minute they walk in the room, as if they haven’t eaten in days. Maybe it’s the fact that it’s “free” which makes them drool; but no matter what, the prepared hosts should have multiple appetizer options to accompany their cocktails.
Now, what is the golden number? At what point are the guests happily satisfied with appetizers but still have an appetite for dinner? After 10 years in business, this is what we’ve noticed.
Four to five passed appetizers per person and one to two stationary appetizers.
The four to five passed appetizers should be at full count, and all different appetizers. So, if you have 100 guests, order 100 pieces of four to five different appetizers. If you don’t order at full count, there will be people who wanted to try one of the appetizers but were finished by the other guests. Depending on the season, you should alter how many hot versus cold appetizers; but no matter the time of year, there should be some of both. For summer weddings, three cold appetizers and two hot appetizers would be a nice combination. For winter weddings, three hot appetizers and two cold appetizers are just right.
Besides a mixture of hot and cold appetizers, there should also be a combination of different proteins and vegetarian options. It’s nice to have at least one meat, one seafood, and one vegetarian option. But, you know your guests more than anyone; so some weddings may have more protein-focused options, and some may have more vegetarian options. One wedding we coordinated had almost 200 guests and almost 75 chose a vegetarian meal, so the couple decided to have more vegetarian appetizers and fewer meat appetizers to accommodate their guests’ preferences.
Stationary Appetizers – why are these important?
- The Picky Eaters
Some people tend to be very particular with what they eat and therefore have a lot of restrictions. It’s tough for these people to try a random appetizer, not knowing what it truly consists of. Stationary appetizers typically have a more “simple” food, such as a cheese or fruit. Having deconstructed food allows these picky eaters to pick only the specific items that they want!
- The “I Haven’t Eaten in 3 Days” Guests
While guests prepare for a wedding, they know that they are walking into an evening full of free food and drinks. So, many people come hungry to the evening affair. When people also are drinking (as if there is no tomorrow), food is necessary to balance out the two out.
- The Food Stalkers
Everyone knows that the appetizers come out of one kitchen, so typically the servers come from the same direction when serving. There are those people, and I’m not saying we’ve never been those people, who plant themselves right around the kitchen door, so they get more than their share of appetizers. When this happens, there are plenty of people on the opposite side of the room who never see the wait staff passing the appetizers. If there is a stationary appetizer (we recommend cutting the display in two and placing on opposite sides of the room), the guests who are far from the passed appetizers now have clear access to more delicious food.
How much should you order?
We do not think a stationary appetizer at full count is necessary. Some guests do not want to stop their conversation to walk over to the display, or they don’t take a full serving. We find the sweet spot is to order your stationary appetizer at 75% of your guest count (75 servings for 100 guests). Or, another option is to do a few stationary appetizers but lessen the percentages even more. For example, provide a fruit display for 75 percent of your guests, a cheese display for 60 percent and a tapenade bar for 60 percent.
The one caveat with stationary appetizers
We do not recommend a shrimp cocktail display, unless you order more servings than the actual guest count. We never see someone take just two shrimp, instead we see a plate full of 4-6 pieces, so the display runs out pretty fast. Another downside is shrimp cocktail tends to be one of the more expensive items on the menu.
Follow these recommendations and you will notice many happy and satisfied guests walking into your reception!
-Effortless Events Team