How to Have a Separate Ceremony and Reception

Bride and groom in front of a big crowd of their wedding guests

Photo by Laurine Paumard

One of the things that makes a wedding so special is the opportunity to have everyone you love in one place. Of course, it also means all eyes are on you—which can be exhilarating for some and absolutely overwhelming for others. If crowds are really not your jam, you might be looking for a creative way to celebrate this occasion without getting uncomfortable. So can you keep parts of your wedding more intimate to avoid those anxiety-inducing moments as much as possible? Our experts weigh in.

Traditional etiquette states that anyone invited to your wedding ceremony has to be invited to your reception—but it doesn’t apply the other way around. That means you can 100-percent keep that ceremony small while still getting to have a party with all of your friends (and without any major faux pas). So whether it’s a small ceremony immediately followed by a big reception or events on completely separate days, you can definitely cut down that ceremony guest list to whatever makes you comfortable without feeling like you’ve left anyone out of the celebration.

When it comes to planning the guest list, you can make it as small as you wish, whether it’s just your immediate family or a group of 30 of your very closest family members and friends. You could have the ceremony in a church, at your reception venue, or with only the necessary witnesses at city hall. As long as everyone who gets a ceremony invitation is also included in the reception, you’re golden!

If you’re planning everything for the same day, try to have your ceremony on the earlier side. This will give you and your intimate group of guests plenty of time to celebrate (we recommend a post-ceremony champagne toast before you head to the reception!) as well as provide an opportunity for you to take all the pictures you might need before you continue with your evening. Then, once all of your reception guests arrive, you can make your grand entrance and get straight to mingling.

Having the ceremony and reception on different days requires a little more planning but also gives you some flexibility. You could have the events a day or a week apart, or spread them out if your schedules work better that way. Heck, you can even have the ceremony and reception in different states or countries if you want! And it’s a perfect excuse to put your wedding dress back on.

How to Word the Invitations

No matter what you have planned, the phrasing on the invitations is absolutely key. It’s a good idea to have two separate invitations printed, no matter what your timing looks like.

Ceremony and Reception Guests

For guests invited to both, your invitation should read something like this:

Christopher and Leanne Schwartz
Request the honor of your presence
At the marriage of their daughter
Emily Katherine
Michael Andrew Gordon
Saturday the sixth of October
Two thousand eighteen
At four o’clock in the afternoon
Brooklyn Winery
Brooklyn, New York
Reception to follow

If your reception will be on a different day, remove that "reception to follow” line and instead include an insert in the invitation with the location, date, and time of the reception.

Reception-Only Guests

For guests who will only be attending the reception, here’s sample wording you can use:

Emily Katherine Schwartz
Michael Andrew Gordon
will be married in a small ceremony
on Saturday the sixth of October
Please join us in celebration
at their wedding reception
Saturday the twentieth of October
Two thousand eighteen
At half-past six o’clock in the evening
Brooklyn Winery
Brooklyn, New York

If your reception will immediately follow the ceremony, invite guests to join “at the wedding reception following the ceremony.”

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