How to Entertain Guests Between the Wedding and Reception

Don’t leave your guests waiting around, instead offer them something fun to do while waiting for festivities to begin.

By Emily Forrest

Elvis wedding cosplay
Photo by Zola

If you've ever been a guest at a wedding, you may have noticed that there is a window of downtime between the end of the ceremony and the start of the reception. And, as you plan your own wedding celebration, you may have started to realize just how important that window of downtime actually is.

Often, this section of time is a necessary requirement that allows your guests to simultaneously mingle after the ceremony, while leisurely making their way to the reception venue. Sometimes, if the reception is being held at a new location, there’s a longer gap between ceremony and reception to account for commute time.

While there’s nothing you can do to entertain your guests as they’re moving to a new location for the wedding reception, there are certain steps you can take to ensure that their commute is easy for both older and younger guests. Including enclosure cards with your invitations is a must for every wedding. Even if the evening reception is being held on the grounds where the ceremony took place, any change in location needs to be specified.

The last thing you want on your wedding day is confusion, which is why Zola makes it easy to include a perfect enclosure card with your wedding invites. This ensures that the short migration from ceremony to reception is easy, and it’s a great way to keep your guests happy.

How to Entertain Guests Between the Wedding and Reception Photo Credit // Bachelor Boys Band

From the Ceremony to the Reception

The time between the ceremony and reception is not merely for relocation, there’s a greater plan in the works. More often than not, the time between the end of the ceremony and the start of the reception is filled with some sort of cocktail hour. Here, guests can mingle and enjoy themselves before the reception gets into full swing. Before we get into all the different ways that you can show your guests a good time, let's pull the curtain back and address why you need a cocktail hour as a source of wedding entertainment.

The time between your wedding ceremony and reception is of the utmost importance for you and your wedding party. This small window of time is the only opportunity that you, and the rest of the wedding party, will have to take wedding photos uninterrupted by the other guests.

While photos will be taken throughout the day and night, the block of time between wedding and reception is when you will take all the staged shots. These shots are the ones that you'll inevitably post on social media and frame in your home, so, needless to say, they’re an absolute must on your big day.

For most couples, the amount of time it takes to complete the process of photos is only an hour or two. We should warn you ahead of time, with all those pictures you'll be taking, you won't be able to enjoy your own cocktail hour. Sad as this may be, the cocktail hour is specifically for your guests, so that they don't get restless waiting on you.

Pro tip: Designate a maid of honor, trusted groomsman, or wedding coordinator to set aside some hors d'oeuvres and a cocktail for you and your new spouse. Or, better yet, have someone bring you snacks and drinks while you're doing photos.

The cocktail hour is a great starting point for keeping your guests entertained as they await the arrival of you and your SO. Yummy snacks and tasty drinks are a sure-fire way to keep your guests happy and in high spirits before the festivities really get going. Most catering companies will happily include a cocktail hour with their dinner service. Still, you should always double check to make sure that the cost is included in the quote.

A nice spread of food and some signature cocktails may seem sufficient for your guests. The unfortunate reality is that this is the bare minimum. When it comes to a wedding, the cocktail hour is an expectation rather than a bonus, and you should know that expectations for your cocktail hour are high.

Even though you and your partner will not be able to enjoy cocktail hour in the way that the rest of your guests will, this is one area where you need to splurge a little bit and find a creative way to entertain your guests. Believe it or not, when people remember your wedding celebration, the cocktail hour is one of the details they will remember most clearly. Here are some easy ways to ensure that your cocktail hour is referred to as legendary, instead of lackluster.

Add Some Live Music

With the digital age in full swing, most couples hire a DJ for their wedding and assume that's all the entertainment they need to worry about. Adding a live band or some other kind of live music to your cocktail hour entertainment bucket is a great way to kick things up a notch.

When it comes to live music suitable for a cocktail hour, think easy-listening rather than a full band. You want whatever music you decide on to be background rather than front and center. Usually, a cocktail hour is perfect for a solo guitarist, pianist, and/or singer.

Most of the time, you can easily find musicians by visiting local restaurants or coffee shops that have live music. Typically the rate for hiring a solo musician isn't much, and the exposure and fun of a wedding is a great selling point. If you have the budget for it, there’s nothing quite as classy as a small jazz trio or string quartet, but that's a little more extravagant.

There are many easy ways to add live music to your cocktail hour, and you could even get creative with having more than one musician on the premises. Your guests would be tickled to find a pianist in the main foyer as they entered, only to then be surprised by a jazz ensemble on the outside lawn. Again, don't be afraid to splurge—additions like these are memories your guests will treasure for a lifetime.


Games work best for receptions that have an outdoor area of some kind. Activities such as cornhole, giant Jenga, Connect-Four, and even croquet are a great way to spice up the entertainment value of your cocktail hour. Because they encourage boisterous and jovial behavior, cocktail party games are best suited for an outdoor environment where your guests don't have to worry about being careful or quiet. Plus, lawn games can appeal to both older and younger guests.

Depending on the reception venue, games like this may already be on the premises and available for special occasions, such as an outdoor wedding. Don't be afraid to ask your venue. If you want to purchase games specifically for your cocktail hour, a budget of $100 to $200 will give you plenty of wiggle room to buy a great assortment of entertaining party games.

You don't have to go overboard with games, and they don't all have to be the giant versions. Some couples choose to make their own games, such as cocktail hour bingo where the winner gets a bottle of wine or some other small, fun prize. Remember, the more your guests can be themselves and let their hair down, the more fun they’ll have while celebrating your special day.

The Guest Book

The guest book is an excellent way for your guests to entertain themselves as they await your arrival. People understand that face time with the happy couple is limited during the wedding ceremony and wedding reception. Nonetheless, your friends and family will want to convey their well wishes to the bride and groom. The guest book allows all of your loved ones to take their time and write personal notes of kindness and encouragement that you and your spouse will enjoy reading later on.

Don't be afraid to get creative with your guest book. One of the best new guest book fads includes polaroid cameras or a photo booth. The basic idea is that your guests take a photo of themselves and then tape it into the book next to their message. This idea typically doesn't require much explanation; however, a sign with a brief description is never a bad idea.

How to Entertain Guests Between the Wedding and Reception Photo Credit // Michelle Lawson Photography

Miscellaneous Tips

One of the most important things to remember about your cocktail hour's entertainment value is that people will have more fun if they’re comfortable and happy. Here are a couple pro tips that will keep your cocktail hour running smoothly and your guests happy.

  1. No one likes a line. Make sure there are multiple bars and multiple bathrooms.
  2. Spell it out. Put signs on everything. Keep people informed about what stuff is and where they can find it. The less people need to ask for, the happier they will be.
  3. Keep it simple. A cocktail hour doesn't need to be complicated or extravagant to be fun. Even the suggestions listed above are simple additions that will go a long way with your guests.

The period in between the ceremony and evening reception is the greatest celebration you will never go to, but rest assured that your guests will remember you for it. While it may seem unfair that you and your new spouse don't get to enjoy this particular moment as part of your big day, take solace knowing that you two will be too wrapped up in marital bliss to care.

The joy that comes from saying "I Do," and the intimacy of taking pictures to commemorate that moment will far surpass the fun that your guests are having. There is a direct correlation between how people talk about your wedding, and how fun your cocktail hour was, so make sure to come up with more than one creative way to entertain your guests, whether that incorporates a live band, lawn games, or photo booth. Take care of your guests while you take care of wedding business, and you’ll arrive at a reception celebration like you‘ve never experienced or dreamed of.

Up next for you

Top Wedding Themes for 2022

The Top Wedding Themes for 2022


From romantic and classy, to earthy and rustic, over 3,000 couples weigh in on 2022’s top wedding themes.

How Many Gifts to Register for Your Wedding

How Many Gifts to Register for Your Wedding: The Ultimate Guide


Get everything you want without asking too much. The Zola method for maximizing your registry’s potential.

how long is a wedding reception

How Long Is a Wedding Reception? - Reception Timeline


As most venues charge by the hour, having insight into a wedding reception's length is critical to your plans and budget. Find out what to expect.

Bride jumping into water

Are There Different Types of Wedding Videographers?


There are multiple types of wedding videography to choose from to capture your celebration. Read about the most popular styles and see what's best for you.

Simplify Your Wedding Planning at Zola

Find even more wedding ideas, inspo, tips, and tricks

We’ve got wedding planning advice on everything from save the dates to wedding cakes.