Shuffling around the usual order of a wedding by having the cocktail hour before any utterance of "I do" can be a fun and unexpected twist on tradition. It starts the day off with a party atmosphere, which can calm any nerves (yours!). Here are a couple of things to keep in mind if you're planning on doing a pre-ceremony cocktail hour.
The place where you have cocktails should be right near the ceremony site.
That's why this idea works best when there's little distance between all three parts of the wedding (cocktail hour, ceremony, dinner reception). For the smoothest transition, hold the ceremony in the same space as the cocktail hour—guests will appreciate it!
There should be food, not just drinks.
To avoid anyone being too "happy" during the ceremony, offer plenty of hors d'oeuvres. What you serve depends on your budget, time of day, and venue, but the options should be plentiful and filling.
Some guests will continue drinking during the ceremony.
If the bar is still open, some may leave the ceremony to get a refill; others may carry half-finished drinks to their ceremony seat. If this bothers you, ask waiters to collect glasses before the ceremony starts.
You should take photos before cocktails.
If your timeline is cocktail hour-ceremony-dinner, take your photos before the cocktail hour starts. This way you won't miss any part of your wedding. But if you don't want to have a first look, you'll need to decide what's most important to you: seeing each other for the first time as you walk down the aisle or having your cocktail hour early.
You may want to wear a different cocktail hour dress.
If you don't want guests to see your actual wedding dress before the ceremony, you might want to wear a simple white dress to cocktail hour, then change before your walk down the aisle. You could also wear your wedding dress without the headpiece and veil—save those for the ceremony. If you're really strict about no one seeing you before you trade vows, you'll have to skip cocktails to make the timeline work.
Let your guests know about the timeline.
Make sure guests know to arrive early so that they'll have ample time to enjoy cocktail hour. Some pre-ceremony cocktail hours last longer than 60 minutes so you'll also want to give guests the timeline so they can pace themselves as far as eating and drinking go.