Is It Rude to Skip the Ceremony and Attend the Wedding Reception?

Updated 12/09/17

Photo by The Hendricks

So much thought and care goes into compiling the perfect wedding guest list—that core group of lifelong friends and close family members who are crucial to your marriage celebration—and it can be frustrating (and even hurtful) to feel like they care more about the party than the vows you and your partner are making to one another. So what’s a bride to do when family members are trying to phone in their attendance and bail on the ceremony, but promise to show up once the cocktail hour is underway? Our experts are here to weigh in on how to handle potential absentee guests.

We’ve all been there: you get to a wedding ceremony, ready to watch your loved ones tie the knot, and instead of emotional and sweet, it’s too long, hard to hear, or difficult to follow. By the time the first kiss rolls around (45 minutes later!), you’re ready for a glass of champagne and might be wondering whether going to the ceremony in the first place was a good idea. The short answer is: yes. Receptions may be more fun than ceremonies, but the ceremony is the main event and watching two people make a commitment to one another is why you are here, so your attendance as a witness to their vows is your ticket to the party. Of course, that doesn’t mean your loved ones don’t need some reminding.

Whether they are friends, family members, or co-workers, any guest choosing to skip the ceremony but be there for the reception isn’t just being rude—they’re breaking a major etiquette rule. By skipping the ceremony, a guest is suggesting to the couple and the event’s hosts that they are more than happy to let you spend boatloads of money to entertain them for the evening, but they can’t be bothered to sit through a little ritual to get there. It’s enough to make you wonder why they were added to the guest list in the first place!

If you hear rumblings that someone on your guest list is thinking of showing up later just in time for hors d’oeuvres and specialty cocktails, approach it head-on. Remind the guest in question that their attendance at your nuptials is hugely important, and that you want to know that you have their support and love as you exchange vows with your S.O. It’s easy for guests to feel like one of 100 when the whole guest list is in one room, and they might think you won’t notice their absence, so a subtle nudge will make it clear that you’d be totally devastated if you found out, after the fact, that they hadn’t been there when your officiant asked everyone gathered if they will support the two of you in your marriage.

It’s also a good idea to ask why the guest in question was thinking of skipping the ceremony. Is it far away from your reception venue which is in the hotel where you have a room block? Consider providing transportation to get your guests from the hotel to the church and back. Is there a significant gap between the ceremony and the reception, meaning guests will be gussied up at 11 a.m. and then waiting around in formalwear until 5? Provide suggestions for afternoon entertainment, or arrange an outing yourselves that guests can join in on.

When it’s all said and done, remember that you can’t control the actions of others. If you’ve emphasized how important their presence at the ceremony is to you and your partner, you’ve done as much as you can. All you can do is hope that they’ll realize what a major milestone it is for you and that they’ll show up to be a part of it.

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