If you’ve ever been to a wedding in NJ, you know that we take our food seriously. And it all starts with the cocktail hour, which many times can suffice as its own meal. But no, it’s just the start of an amazing New Jersey wedding celebration.
So what makes a cocktail hour great? Food, food and more food will typically do it. Along with an area or room large enough for your guests so that they’re not cramped, but also able to sit if they’d like. Throw in a few signature cocktails, accessible bars, a variety of different themed stations, and some background music, and you’ve got yourself a winning combination.
But not all cocktail hours are the same. So I did a little research and came up with this list of NJ’s best wedding cocktail hours. A few are exactly what you’d expect since they’re at some of the top wedding venues in New Jersey. And a few that made the list may surprise you—they surprised me!
But don’t just take my word for it. Here’s what newly married couples and their guests had to say about NJ’s best wedding cocktail hours:
“The food was so over the top and amazing. Literally everything I ate was AMAZING (and I tried everything). People keep asking us about the lobster tails pastries and where they are from. And the lamb chops
at cocktail hour were another crowd favorite. In addition to the Casamigo shooters
and caviar with chilled vodka station.”—Abigail S.
“Our guests are still talking about how wonderful the cocktail hour was,
how delicious the food was and the atmosphere.— Jennifer M.
“The food is delicious. The cocktail hour is out of this world. There are so many different stations for food. They have little mini drinks that go around with fun food items. The ice luge was a hit. It is almost a month later and all my friends and parent’s friends are still talking about the wedding.”—Madeline H.
“All our guests also talked about the food quality, especially the cocktail hour,
for weeks afterwards.”—Edward L.
“Our guests could not stop talking about the gorgeous grounds, stunning ballroom and delish/over-the-top cocktail hour—literally everything you could think of/ever want to eat is available!”—Alexandra G.
“I have to say the food was divine, in particular the food during the cocktail hour.”—Kathleen F.
“Everyone still talks about the endless food that we had at cocktail hour.”—Samantha P.
“I would do anything again for the chicken and waffle station. I still think about it!!!!!!!”—Tara R.
“Four months later and people still continue to rave about cocktail hour. I pray I get invited to a wedding here just so I can experience it all myself LOL”—Nicole D.
“The cocktail hour was insane.”—Kathryn P.
“Full cocktail hour with stations and passed appetizers. Mac-and-cheese bar, many stations, antipasto station, hot food and passed hors d’oeuvres were all excellent!!—Susan P.
“We were told countless times by our guests that the venue was beautiful, the staff were true professionals, and the food was out of this world. Our guests loved our cocktail pairings with the cocktail-hour stations and the traveling treats format of dessert.”—Leah S.
“Cocktail hour…my God amazing. Our guests complimented everything, but these the most: lamb chops, cheeseburger sliders, whole pig, bao buns, raw bar, mac and cheese, quesadillas.”—Danielle M.
“THE FOOD. OMG. The sushi station, raw bar, guac station with tequila shots (inside a hollowed out lime),
the miso cod, the short ribs, the mini hot dogs, the mini burgers, the grilled cheese and tomato soup,
I could go on and on. Our family and friends have probably told us 1,000 times that they have
never had food as good at a wedding (or an event) before.”—Sofia P.
“Just had our wedding last Friday and guests are still texting about
the amount and quality of the food.”—Courtney L.
“Second this! My wedding was in February and people are still talking about it!”—Elizabeth S.
“The service and FOOD was hands-down the best food out of a lot of the North Jersey venue standards. We are still getting calls and texts about the amazing wedding !”—Eunice C.
“The food was incredible and our guests repeatedly told us they’ve never seen anything like it.
The cocktail hour was everything we were promised and more. The presentation was stellar, every
single item was delicious, and the night was just flawless.—Julie C.
“Without a doubt. The mac-and-cheese bar was amazing! Everyone raved about all the food!”—Joanne E.
“The food was incredible. Everyone was STUFFED after cocktail hour but still found room
for the amazing dinner and desserts.”—Casey K.
“The food was incredible and the cocktail hour bar/lounge is unlike anything you’ve ever experienced!
The Hamilton Manor KNOWS what they are doing, and I truly cannot
say enough great things about this venue.”—Kerianne W.
“My husband and I already knew the food was delicious from prior experience and our food tasting,
however, to this day, our friends and family rave about the incredible food
during both cocktail hour and the reception.”—Carly C.
“Beautiful venue. I have never attended a cocktail hour with as many stations as were offered.”—Stacey D.
“I love Macaluso’s—their staff is top-notch! The food, especially the cocktail hour, is the best
cocktail hour I have ever seen. There were so many choices, and their staff was very knowledgeable
and very courteous. I give them five stars.”—Lou D.
“My guests are still talking about how much food we had! Taco bar, pasta station,
wine and cheese pairing, tailgate station, bacon station, mashed-potato bar, over 50 passed
hors d’oeuvres, and a sushi bar. Truly phenomenal.”
“People are still raving about the cocktail hour, venue and service to this day—9 months later.”—Nicole S.
“Everyone was stunned just at the cocktail hour—between all of the food stations, the beautiful view and
outstanding room.”—Joelle C.
“The endless stations and hors d’oeuvres were a huge priority for us, and Clark’s truly executes
in this category. I had several people say that it was the best sushi they’d ever had, and how they
couldn’t believe how much food there was.”—Kristen D.
“The Venetian hands down! My guests still rave about it!”—Gin B.
“The Venetian had a sake warming machine and it blew my mind”—Katrina G.
“THE VENETIAN! 22+ stations for cocktail hour, 3 custom ice sculptures. It’s insane”—Pamela S.
“Our endless cocktail hour had so many options, I was so stunned by, and it was beyond fantastic.”—Kate Y.
“The cocktail room is stunning and there are over 150 seats for guests plus an outdoor area, and the food is absolutely insane. The options are endless—there are also ice sculptures and a martini station etc. I got married there and also attended as a guest.” —April R.
“Valley Regency’s was insane! Went for my cousins wedding in January, LOVED IT.”—Katie I.
“They had ten appetizer stations for cocktail hour with ice sculpture at the seafood bar. Every station had server with smiles on their face.”—Fakhrul K.
“The cocktail hour was INSANE. Wall-to-wall food and it was all delicious! I can’t tell you how many people came up to us to tell us how it was the best cocktail hour they’ve ever been to.”—Sara D.
“In short it was completely AMAZING. Our guests were raving about the food at the cocktail hour in regards to the variety of selections and overall quality of the food served.”—Daniel R.
“Not only did they make us feel like royalty all day, our guests got just as great treatment. The food is truly outstanding. There is nothing like their cocktail hour.”—Samantha S.
“This place is excellent in all aspects. The atmosphere was beautiful. All the food was top-notch,
especially the cocktail hour.”—John T.
“They had the best raw bar at any venue.”—Dena T.
“The food was absolutely amazing, and there are SO many options for cocktail hour. We had guests who didn’t realize there was a dinner too, that’s how extensive the menu was.”—Leah R.
“The cocktail hour had so many different types of food at their stations from seafood, pizza, mac & cheese, tacos, and much more.”—Samantha U.
“My guests also cannot stop talking about the food. There was an abundance of food at cocktail hour
and everything was incredible.”—Amanda C.
“Sooo many guests said it was the best and most fun wedding they’ve been to and the best food and cocktail hour they’ve ever had!”—Michele P.
“Our guests could not stop raving about the food during cocktail hour
and the ambiance of the ballroom.”—Sammi W.
“The food was top-notch, extremely delicious with the most incredible presentation and ABUNDANCE of different cuisines served during cocktail hour. Our guests, and my family, are still raving about it today.—Rokhsana D.
“This is not your usual cocktail hour. People still say the Rockleigh has the best wedding food
they’ve eaten, and they are correct. The sushi, peking duck, tequila ice luge and taco station
was nothing like I’ve ever seen before.”—Alexa L.
“The food was outstanding. We had high expectations but they blew those away. We still have guests calling us talking about how amazing both the cocktail hour and the receptions was. The cocktail hour was so unbelievable that some of our guests thought that was the main hall to only be shocked there was another room.”—Heather P.
“The amazing attention to detail, not to mention the beautiful and extremely amazing cocktail hour and dinner (the food is out of this world!) is something out of a 5 star resort!”—Lynsey S.
“Our guests were RAVING about both cocktail hour and our reception- I had numerous guests come up to me and say it was the best food they’ve ever had at a wedding.”—Sanne P.
“ The cocktail hour space was perfectly spread out with SO MUCH food and plenty of tables and seating for guests to feel comfortable and enjoy.”—Jennifer M.
“People are still telling us how great the cocktail hour food was! And we had a bunch of foodies at
our wedding so food was a very high priority for me.”—Taylor C.
“There are so many different food options for cocktail hour and many of our guests keep expressing how there was so much food and how delicious it was.”—Alexa R.
“With the multiple options for cocktail hour stations, every guest found something they enjoyed.”—Jamie E.
“Everyone is still raving about the food!”—Jordanna S.
“The cocktail hour options were endless and had options for all dietary preferences.”—Lisa P.
“The Bacon Bar at the cocktail hour is definitely highly recommended!!!”—Alexandria V.
“Cocktail hour was phenomenal to say the least. We had 15+ stations around the room with a
wide variety of food. The venue did a small cocktail hour for just my husband and I down in the
bridal suite so we could actually eat before the party began.”—Andrea H.
“The food was incredible- my guests won’t stop talking about the amazing cocktail hour.”—Julia A.
“Our friends and family are still talking about how INSANE the cocktail hour was!”—Amanda C.
“They have the BEST lobster ravioli”—Jamie M.
“The cocktail hour-HOLY SMOKES! Our guests could not stop saying how it was
the most amazing food and how beautiful the room was! The amount of variety and just amount of food and drinks at this cocktail hour is insane!”—Amanda C.
“The cocktail hour was insane and our guests are still raving about how delicious the
food was and how gorgeous the venue was.”—Kelsey L.
“The cocktail hour room is out of this world!!! Our guests are still raving about the space & the food!”—Courtney E.
“There was SO much amazing food”—Lauren J.
“Truly one of the best cocktails hours I’ve ever been to. The seafood was incredible!”—Meg G.
“Our guests are still talking about the abundance and quality of the food.
It was so good. It was so amazing.”—William W.
“Our guests very much enjoyed the endless amount of food, the raw bar, and the views.”—Midori H.
FAQs About Wedding Cocktail Hours:
When should the cocktail hour start? Cocktail hour typically starts right after your ceremony if your ceremony and reception are held at the same venue. If you’re getting married at your house of worship or at an off-site ceremony location, cocktail hour at your reception venue usually starts between 4 p.m. and 6 p.m. or just before dinner starts.
How long does a cocktail hour typically last? The standard cocktail hour is 60 minutes. Some couples extend this to 90 minutes so that they can take family photos and still be back in time to attend the cocktail hour. Or if the venue needs to “flip” the room and add dining tables and chairs to where the ceremony was held. If you just love the idea of cocktail hour and want to extend it even more, consider a cocktail-style reception, where it’s just one big cocktail hour all night long. You can also shorten cocktail hour if that works better with your timeline or if the cocktail area is outside and you have a fall or winter wedding.
Do I need to have a cocktail hour? No, you don’t need a cocktail hour, but it’s a nice formal touch to add to the flow of your day. It gives your guests the opportunity to mingle with other guests they may not be sitting with. It gives you time to touch up, have more photos taken with your family or just to take a break if you’re overwhelmed with the day. And it allows your venue to start preparing for dinner.
Where does cocktail hour take place? Most venues have a separate area with tables and chairs, multiple bars, serving stations and access to an outdoor patio. This is handy if your ceremony and reception are in the same room. Guests move from the ceremony space to the cocktail room, while the team at your venue completely transforms the space into your reception area.
Do the bride and groom attend the cocktail hour? It all depends on your timeline for the day and whether you’ve taken family photos or not. Many couples are now doing a first look, which is when they get all of the images of just the two of them done before they ceremony. Family members and the bridal party can have photos taken at this point as well. If you’re not doing a first look, your photos will typically be taken right after the ceremony. Your guests head to the cocktail hour while you, your bridal party and your family take photos.
Whether you make it to cocktail hour depends on how fast you can get through these group photos. If you’re getting married earlier in the day, you can leave a few hours’ gap in the schedule before cocktail hour starts. This way you can have photos taken then, your guests can either go back to their hotel rooms to relax or find a local pub for a cocktail, and then you all meet back at cocktail hour, without you missing any of it.
What type of foods are typically served? You name it, you’ll find it in NJ! Some cocktail hours consist of just a few passed hors d’oevres along with a large charcuterie board. You’ll want at least five passed appetizers along with two bites per guest. Other cocktail hours include some pretty incredible options. Massive seafood towers, caviar and Vodka luges, slider stations, carving stations, mashed potato station, bacon station, grilled cheese and tomato soup stations, sushi stations, Mac and cheese bars and taco bars are just a few. The cocktail hour can often be a larger meal than the actual dinner. Talk to your caterer about what they offer.
What type of drinks should be served? You can serve whatever you’d like. While full open bars are pretty much the standard in New Jersey, it’s perfectly acceptable if you just served beer, wine and a signature drink or two.
Do I need to have seating for everyone? No, you don’t need to include seating for everyone like you will for dinner, but it’s courteous to provide some small tables and chairs along with high-tops. Your older guests will appreciate the seating.
How do guests know to move from the cocktail hour into the dining room? Typically once the doors to the dining room open, everyone knows to move to the reception area. The team at your venue will guide them, either with a bell or politely ask everyone to take a seat for dinner. They do this all the time and know exactly how to best get everyone to the next room in an orderly manner.
Do I need music for cocktail hour? Music sets the mood for your event, and the wedding cocktail hour is no exception. You can have a deejay, string quartet, guitarist, pianist, reggae band, mariachi band, a cappella singers—whatever best suits your event and your personal style. You can arrange music for the cocktail hour with your band leader or deejay. They’ll have ideas for you and access to almost anything you’d want.