How Long Should the Gap Between Our Ceremony and Reception Be?

Updated 09/23/16

Kate Holstein

Planning the timeline for your wedding day is one of the last big undertakings, but it starts way before you're letting vendors know when to show up. At the very beginning, you'll need to determine the start time for your ceremony and your reception, as it's information your guests will want to know! If you're not flowing straight from the ceremony into cocktail hour, how long should the gap between your ceremony and your reception be? Our experts weigh in.

There are gaps that are too long, ones that are too short, and ones that are just right. If you're stuck with a morning slot at your church for the ceremony, asking your guests to entertain themselves all afternoon until cocktails at 6 p.m. might sound cruel. However, if you plan it right, it can actually be greatly appreciated! You could offer a light luncheon after the ceremony, then give guests time to head out into town or take a nap before the evening festivities. Or, you could simply provide them with recommendations for what to do until it's time to party.

Either way, you may want to encourage guests to pack two outfits: A formal daytime look for the ceremony, then something dressier for the evening. No one wants to wear a tux or a cocktail dress all day!

Having an afternoon ceremony, followed by an evening reception? Try to keep the break around an hour or 90 minutes if possible. This will give guests time to freshen up or grab a cocktail, but won't be so long that they're awkwardly wondering what to do while dressed up for the evening. Sure, you and your wedding party will be busy taking photos, but if you have room in the budget to offer a little something for guests (say, a bus tour of the city or an extended cocktail hour), do your best to squeeze it in.

Anything shorter than an hour should ideally be added on to cocktail hour. Either turn it into cocktail hour-and-a-half or bump up dinner service — which will leave more time for dancing later!

Of course, having a ceremony at a house of worship means you've got other couples and regular services to work around, so you might not have your pick of times. Make the best of the time slot you're given, provide your guests with ideas and activities, and don't forget to have your makeup artist stick around for touch-ups!

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