When planning a catered meal for your wedding or event, so many people overlook the importance of the cocktail hour. For me, I find this time in your celebration to be one of the most important for many reasons. First of all, it’s guest’s first introduction to the food & beverage of the evening. If it’s good, the anticipation for the dinner will only build. If it’s bad, well, then, you can assume they will have low expectations. Also, it’s a time when you can be super creative with everything from cocktails to food presentation. More on cocktails later, but as you plan the foods being served for cocktail hour, here are a few guidelines to consider:

1. Depending on the length of the cocktail hour, consider having a bare minimum of 3 pieces per guest with 4 to 6 pieces being a better range. The last thing you want is your guests to get so intoxicated during cocktail hour that they can’t make it through the rest of the event.

2. In addition to passed appetizers, consider a station as well. This is your chance to have something fun and interactive. I personally love oyster shuckers, olive oil tastings or even having a charcuterie and cheese station complete with a Fromager to educate your guests on cheeses and the many, many delicious pairings out there.

3. Make sure to include a bit of variety in the menu to keep everyone happy. Men will always love something heavy like a pastrami slider or mini corn dogs, but don’t forget about your health-conscious guests and include something light and fresh. Also, obviously a variety of proteins or vegetarian options throughout the evening is nice to have. For instance, if you’re having beef for dinner, consider lamb lollies during cocktail hour. If you’re going with fish tacos for the after party, maybe some great shrimp or other shellfish is best at cocktail hour. And, just because some of your guests are vegetarian, doesn’t mean you have to give them the same ole boring bruschetta. Consider some great flat breads with local ingredients or even spoonfuls of macaroni and cheese.

4. Lastly, if you want most guests to indulge during cocktail hour, pay attention to the size of the items being served. As a general rule, if it’s more than 2 smaller bites, it should be avoided or you can assume many guests will pass. For most people, it’s awkward to hold a cocktail, eat something big and potentially messy all while standing and socializing.