Reception only wedding: bride and groom holding champagne glasses

Most people can agree that the best part of a traditional wedding is the wedding reception. Sure, the wedding ceremony allows you to bet on which family member will cry first. But if you were to ask your guests, nine out of 10 would say they’re most excited about the cake, dancing, and open bar.

While a few of your nearest and dearest might want to hear you profess your love, you can keep it between the two of you if you want to. Or you can host a small ceremony with your closest loved ones, then throw a big party later with all your college roomies, coworkers, and distant cousins. 

Here’s what you need to know if you plan on keeping your ceremony separate and hosting a reception-only wedding

Take Advantage of These 4 Advantages of Reception-Only Weddings 

Love Can't Wait Announcement

Design: Signature Greenvelope

There are a lot of benefits to bucking the traditional wedding day and narrowing your wedding celebration down to just a reception. We’re sure you have your own reasons for going the reception-only route, but if you want to make the most of this non-tradition, take advantage of as many of these benefits as possible. 

1. Do Your Ceremony Your Way

A reception-only wedding gives you more freedom when you plan your ceremony. You can hold a private ceremony for just you and your partner (plus an officiant and a witness), or you can host a small ceremony or micro wedding with only immediate family.

A separate ceremony also allows you to have your dream destination wedding — even if most of your loved ones can’t make it. You can celebrate with them at a later date thanks to the separate reception. Plus, a reception-only wedding gives you flexibility with your dates. 

Let’s say you and your partner want to tie the knot on a date that’s meaningful to you, but that date happens to fall on a Tuesday — not exactly a big party day. You could have your ceremony on the meaningful day, and host your reception on a Saturday so everyone can celebrate. You could also hold your reception weeks, months, or years after you made your marriage official. 

2. Reclaim the Celebration You Missed

There are a lot of reasons why couples elope, and it’s not always because they didn’t want a party. Whether you chose elopement because of your destination dreams, family matters, an international pandemic, or another reason, a post-elopement reception allows you to celebrate your nuptials. 

Even if you eloped several years ago, you can still have the party you missed whenever you’re ready. Wedding etiquette doesn’t dictate how long after your marriage you can host a reception, so you can even throw a reception-only wedding on a milestone anniversary, like your one-year, five-year, or 50-year celebration. 

3. Create a More Casual Event 

If you had a casual elopement, you can keep that atmosphere going with your reception-only wedding. The point of the reception is to celebrate your marriage, so you can make the event as casual as yard games in your backyard or as formal as a sit-down dinner and dancing at a traditional wedding venue. 

Incorporate your favorite wedding reception ideas. If you’re looking for something less traditional, a reception-only wedding allows you to ditch the formal wedding dress in favor of a white cocktail dress or a summery maxi dress. You can also choose not to have a wedding party — although you may still want to ask some of your closest friends to give speeches. 

You can also choose to have a barn, beach, or backyard wedding reception. And you can keep the price down by doing a brunch (French toast costs much less than filet mignon), a wine and cheese-themed event, or a dessert-only reception. 

4. Have Your Cake and Presents Too 

We know no one throws a wedding for the gifts, but for a young couple just starting out, wedding gifts can help you stock your home and establish yourself. By hosting an intimate wedding ceremony followed by a casual party, young couples can save money on the wedding but still get all the love, support, and presents their family wants to give. 

If you’re a more established couple who already has everything you need, consider using your wedding gifts to raise money for your favorite charity or collect funds for your honeymoon instead. 

But remember, according to wedding etiquette, guests aren’t required to bring a gift to your wedding. Most will want to, but you should make it clear on your wedding invitations or wedding website that gifts are not expected. You can add wording that says something to the effect of, “Your presence is enough of a gift, but if you want to send something extra, you can find our registry at …” 

Plan Your Reception-Only Wedding 

Reception only wedding: Modern Trend Invitation

Design: Owl and Toad

The wedding planning process for a reception-only event is essentially the same as traditional wedding planning. The main difference is that you don’t have to hire an officiant, and if you opt to do without a wedding party and a formal gown, you’ll be able to skip the fittings. Here’s what to consider as you plan your big day

The Venue 

The reception venue, the number of guests, and the vendors will have the biggest effect on your wedding pricing. As such, tour and price out multiple venues before you make your choice. 

Once you choose your favorite, the venue’s availability and capacity will help you decide on both the preferred date for your reception and the number of people you can invite. 

The Guest List

Creating your guest list can be the most stressful part of wedding planning. Family politics come into play, and you might find your mom, dad, grandma, or great-aunt Sally pressuring you to invite distant relatives and old friends of the family. 

Only you can decide where to draw the line. For some couples, it’s the more the merrier. Others don’t want to invite anyone who hasn’t already met them both. Whether you want a large or small wedding, set the boundaries you and your partner feel comfortable with, then stick to them. 

Once you’ve finalized your guest list and collected RSVPs, you may also need to plan a seating chart. If you’re keeping things casual, you can skip this stress by letting guests seat themselves. 

The Invites

Reception only wedding: Ready For Cake Invitation

Design: Solmade Studio

Your reception-only invitations will need to make it clear that you and your partner are already married or will be by the time of the reception. This will help guests understand that they won’t be watching your ceremony. 

If you’ve already sent out elopement announcements, most of your guests will already know that they get to skip straight to the party. If not, use your wedding invitation wording to make it clear. 

Here are some wording examples that we like for a wedding reception invitation

Your favorite newlyweds

Sarah and James Ashbury,

invite you to celebrate their marriage

at their reception on the

19th of October, 2023

Johnathan and William

are married! 

Time to party! 

Join the happy couple 

for a wedding reception on

June 12, 2023

You’re invited to the wedding reception of

Candice Richards and Tyler Beaumont 

To be held on 

6 November, 2023

After they are married in a private ceremony

Send the word out with digital invitations, which not only help you save money and trees but they also make it easier to collect RSVPs. You won’t have to keep track of each guest’s individual RSVP cards. Instead, you can track responses in an online portal and easily see how many will attend. 

The Vendors 

You’ll need nearly all the same vendors for your reception-only wedding as you would need for a traditional wedding (other than the officiant). But you may be able to save money by choosing a buffet-style dinner over plated meals, or by creating your own playlist instead of hiring a DJ. 

Here’s a list of vendors you may need to find for your reception:

  • Caterer
  • Baker
  • Bartender 
  • DJ or band 
  • Photographer 
  • Hair and makeup stylist 
  • Florist 
  • Wedding planner or coordinator

If you’re a DIY couple and only plan to hire one vendor, make it the photographer. You’ll be happy to have high-quality photos to remember all the special moments. A wedding planner or coordinator can also take the stress out of your big day

A Reception Only You Can Throw 

Rustic indoor wedding reception

Planning a reception-only wedding is similar to planning a traditional wedding because it can be whatever you want it to be. Above all else, your wedding reception should be a reflection of who you are as a couple. 

If you’re a non-traditional duo who’s chosen a reception-only event as a way to say goodbye to ceremony (literally and figuratively), then you can embrace a more casual atmosphere. But if you still want all the traditional elements of a formal reception, you can do that too. 

Choose a wedding invitation — and wording — that tells guests what kind of party they’re in for, and your reception is sure to be well received.