Navigating That Time Between the Ceremony & Reception


Just as much as it's important to have every wedding detail set — from the flowers, to the cake, to the reception lighting — it's also important to time your big day just right. You don't want to get guests all excited during your ceremony, and have them lose energy and interest with a four hour-long break between your "I do" and the reception. It's key to have a good momentum going. That being said, a break between ceremony and reception is also necessary for taking pictures and setting up your venue. To do so well, our etiquette experts are here to help you nail the perfect timing so you can keep the party going!

Can I have a pre-reception break?
A short break between the wedding ceremony and reception is probably helpful to you (you can take your formal pictures then and still make it to your cocktail hour). And two hours of downtime shouldn't upset your guests. (It's pretty common, actually, especially for Catholic church weddings.) Your local guests can probably just head back home and cool their heels before the evening festivities begin. As for the out-of-town guests, be sure to provide a little something for them. Maybe offer a few light snacks and drinks in a hospitality suite at the hotel where they're staying. Or, ask a friend or family member to invite the out-of-towners to their house for iced tea and cookies.

What's the appropriate amount of time between the ceremony and reception?
Having your reception start immediately after the ceremony is ideal, which is possible if you're holding both at the same place. If not, don't let guests languish for more than an hour between events. Try to choose venues that are no more than half an hour's drive apart, and take as many formal photos before the ceremony as possible, suggests Holly Tripp, a wedding consultant and owner of Holly Tripp Event Design in Dallas, Texas. "You could even have the receiving line at the reception [during the cocktail hour], so guests can start enjoying drinks and hors d'oeuvres once you greet them," says Tripp. If, however, a long wait is truly unavoidable, "arrange to have a hospitality suite with refreshments at a nearby hotel, or ask a family member or close friend who lives in the vicinity to host a pre-party," she says.

I'd like the wedding ceremony to be small and intimate — can I invite most guests to the reception, only?
Yes, it is certainly acceptable to extend an invitation to only the reception. More and more couples are going this route, choosing to have an intimate, private ceremony with just family and closest friends, followed by a larger reception with everyone else. (However, it's never acceptable to extend an invitation only to the ceremony if you're also having a reception.)

Just keep in mind that some guests may feel a bit bummed about missing out on the poignant part of your wedding day. To make sure everyone is aware and comfortable with the decision, it's important to announce it in advance; otherwise, you may risk some hurt feelings from guests who had hoped to witness the ceremony. First off, you will need to print two sets of invitations. The first set should list both the ceremony and the reception information, while the second should invite guests to the reception, only. Once the RSVPs start trickling in, stick to your guns: Some guests may try to pressure you into inviting them to the ceremony also. But if you make one exception, you'll invariably have to make another one. So stay strong and don't go back on your original decision. Just be sure to convey how excited you are to party with them at the reception.

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