How to Throw a Reception-Only Wedding
How to Throw a Reception-Only Wedding
Kevin McCall

Kevin McCall

Because of continued social distancing and lockdown restrictions, planning second celebrations seems like an increasingly attractive option in a post-COVID world. Many choose to have the wedding ceremony on a much smaller scale, such as an elopement, then schedule a much bigger post-elopement reception at a later date. Others opt to have the reception on the same day as the wedding ceremony but only invite a handful of guests to witness the ceremony itself. This setup is what you call a reception-only wedding. 

Whichever route you take, it’s clear that traditional wedding celebrations are not the only choice. While pandemic restrictions are still in place, reception-only weddings also seem to be a more practical way of ensuring the safety of your guests and including more people in the celebration.

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If this setup is something you’d like to have for your big day, here are tips on how to throw a reception-only wedding:

Planning a Wedding Reception Only: 5 Steps

Planning a wedding reception-only party isn’t too different from planning a traditional wedding. You still need to take note of important factors that will make your event a success. The only difference is that in this case, the wedding ceremony itself is regarded as a separate event with its own guest list and details. 

For a reception-only wedding, here are five steps to guide you in the planning stages: 

1. Set a Budget

Budget is always a primary concern among couples. For many, it’s one of the reasons to have a micro wedding instead of a large celebration. In the case of throwing a reception-only wedding, the budget you set should naturally focus on food and the reception venue, both of which can take up an average of 18% of your total budget. 

Coming in second are photos and videos, which can take up 10%, while other expenses such as drinks, flowers, decor, and music can take up 8%. Other items can take a smaller percentage such as makeup, cake, wedding rings, invitations, and transportation. It’s also important to set aside 5% of your budget for extras or emergencies. 

Dancing couple event

2. Choose Where and When

As wedding after-parties are growing in popularity, there are more venues that tend to accommodate this kind of setup inclusive of special packages. When and where you throw your reception is really up to your style and level of comfort. As mentioned, you can have the reception on a day that’s separate from your micro wedding or elopement ceremony, or on the same day at a different time. 

Where you choose to hold the reception will also depend on the kind of vibe you want to have. Do you want a more casual location or a more formal sit-down dinner? Perhaps you want to have it out of town (or even out of the country if you have the budget)? Keep these in mind when choosing a location and remember to list down your options. For instance, if you’re in the City of Brotherly Love, you can check out the best places for parties in Philadelphia and create a shortlist of the venues that interest you. 

3. Create Your Guest List

Since reception-only weddings mean that you’ll invite certain guests to the ceremony only, it follows that your guest list for the reception-only setup should be separate from those who will attend both events. This is particularly important if you’ll be conducting both on the same day. It helps to have a spreadsheet for your guest list to keep track not only of those who have RSVPed, but also those who will receive reception-only invitations.

Stand Your Ground

Some guests might wonder why you haven’t invited them to the wedding ceremony while others might even insist on joining the ceremonial proceedings by getting you to make an exception for them. Prepare to stand your ground; be open and honest about why you can’t invite them to the wedding ceremony. At the same time, let them know how excited you are to share your big day with them at the reception. This way, you won’t be guilt-tripped into repeatedly altering your guest list. 

4. Apply Reception-Only Wedding Etiquette for Your Invitations

Reception-only wedding etiquette should be mindfully applied to your invitations. After all, you don’t want to make the mistake of sending ceremony details to a guest who’s only invited to the reception. 

Additionally, phrasing is key for reception-only invitations. Instead of inviting guests to witness your ceremony, the wording of your invitation should state that guests are specifically invited to the reception celebrating your marriage, not as a witness to the procession. This would let them know that you are already married or would have already been married by the time they attend the reception. 


An important detail that should be included in your wedding invitations is the attire. This is crucial if you have a theme as this will keep your guests in line with it or prevent others from sticking out like a sore thumb. 

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Oftentimes, the wedding party has a separate attire from the rest of the guests. It’s crucial to specify this in your invitation, so they can secure the right clothes. 

Moreover, you must also be familiar with the right wording when it comes to the attire. Most people often confuse formal attire with black-tie events, which can lead to some guests not being able to comply properly with attire requirements. Here’s a quick list that distinguishes the various terms used for wedding attire: 

• Formal: Suit and tie for men; dresses for women

• Black tie: Tuxedos for men; formal gowns for women

• Semi-formal: Suit and tie for men; cocktail dresses for women

• Casual: Button-down polos or shirts for men; summer dresses or skirts/pants with a blouse for women 

• Cocktail: Suits for men; party dresses for women

• Garden or beach venue: Summer suits for men; summer dresses for women

If you have a non-traditional theme such as a fantasy or retro theme, be sure to include specific theme-related terms to properly convey the kind of attire you’re expecting guests to wear. If the theme is particularly elaborate, it would help if you can send guests sample photos or, better yet, direct them to your wedding website that has a compilation of examples they can refer to. 

Of course, you can choose to phrase attire requirements in a less formal way. What’s important is that everyone gets the message, and you’re all on the same page. 

Registry Etiquette

Some couples tend to worry that sharing a registry is considered tasteless, especially if they’re inviting most of the guests only to the reception. However, keep in mind that registries aren’t mandatory and all you need to do is communicate this with your guests. Along with your registry, you can add a short note that says gifts aren’t necessary, but for those who’d like to support your future as newlyweds, they may do so through your registry. 

Instead of getting personal gifts, you can also choose to support a charitable organization through your registry. Whatever you decide on, you can include this detail in your invitations for the convenience of your guests. 

5. Hire Your Vendors

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Finding the right vendors for your reception is vital. After all, the reception is intended to celebrate your wedding and all the vendors you hire — from the food to drinks, decor, hair and makeup, and even transportation — should make the party one for the books. Regardless of which vendor you’re hiring, here are a few tips on how to find the right one: 

• Gather recommendations from friends and family, or do research online. 

• Check the websites or pages of these vendors and browse through online reviews. 

• Make a short list of those you’re interested in and contact them. Don’t forget to ask questions about whether they can accommodate the specifics of your reception-only event. 

• When speaking to potential vendors, take note of how good their customer service is, too, since you’ll be coordinating with them before, during, and after the event. 

When hiring vendors, it’s crucial to pick one that can provide the right entertainment to suit your style and music preferences. Without it, even the biggest venues or the fanciest decor won’t save your reception from being a boring disaster. Pick a wedding band that can provide the music that will fit in with your theme. For instance, you can look at the best wedding bands in Philadelphia or check out individual singers. 

Keep in mind as well that the vibe of the cocktail hour should be different from that of the dinner proper, which is something your entertainment vendor should be aware of. Entertainment should also include a sound engineer who will make sure that all the mics and speakers are working properly for a smooth, enjoyable event. 

Wedding Reception Order of Events

Depending on your preferences, your wedding reception order of events can take either a traditional route or a less formal one. To give you an idea of what you can keep and discard, here’s a quick rundown of how a reception goes in a traditional wedding: 

• Song plays and the wedding party walks out

• Newlyweds enter while the song plays

• Parent’s welcome speeches 

• Newlywed’s dance

• Mother-son dance

• Father-daughter dance 

• Dinner

• Speeches from the maid of honor and/or best man

• Cake cutting 

Remember that the order of events should reflect your vision as a couple. Add and omit steps as you see fit since this is your big day. 

Ways to Get Your Family Involved

While some couples might be wary of too much family involvement during the planning stages, there are ways that you can still get your family to participate without feeling like they’re running the show.

Wedding couple dancing image

Aside from having the mother-son/father-daughter dances, you can have a whole segment in the reception where you honor close family members with gifts. You can also record a video with them that will be played during the reception. 

Of course, if you don’t mind them planning your reception then invite your family to take care of the party for you. This way, you don’t have to stress over it and can even be pleasantly surprised by the outcome. 

Ready to Throw the Best Reception-Only Wedding Ever?!

Reception-only weddings are becoming a more enjoyable, hassle-free, and exciting alternative to traditional ceremonies. If you’re a couple who wants to have this kind of setup, contact us today for help with securing the right entertainment for your reception-only wedding.

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Originally published in April 2020. Updated in September 2021.

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