Want to plan a reception-only wedding with no ceremony? If you’re already married, eloped, or had a small ceremony, we’ll tell you how to throw a reception wedding with your loved ones. But first, subscribe for the latest tips to your inbox!
It happened: you had a private wedding ceremony and you’re MARRIED! Congratulations! Or perhaps you decided to move forward with your original wedding date last year, but you could only invite three people.
Maybe you eloped with just a witness and your officiant.
Regardless of the how and why, you’re married now, and celebrating is in order! Just because you eloped or planned a private wedding ceremony doesn’t mean you can’t or shouldn’t have a huge party with your favorite people. Getting married is a big, wonderful thing and you can — and should — do it YOUR way.
I’m attending a reception-only wedding in a few weeks and I can’t wait! I’m so excited for the bride and groom and have been waiting to celebrate their marriage ever since they eloped last year.
Planning a wedding reception without a ceremony is not difficult to do at all. And it’s not rude to have a wedding without a ceremony, particularly in these days and times. ;) Many couples are choosing to get married now — or already did! — and plan a no ceremony wedding (aka an elopement reception) to celebrate with family and friends.
If you’re already married and want to plan a reception after a private wedding ceremony or elopement, think about it as a giant celebration with loved ones. Your favorite people. All those smiling faces that wished they could have been there on the original wedding date, but couldn’t for various reasons.
Just because there isn’t a ceremony happening at that very moment doesn’t make a reception any less special or fun! In fact, we hope that all couples — particularly those who stuck to their original wedding date in 2020 but had to do a private ceremony due to Covid — decide to do a reception-only wedding. It is a fantastic way to bring joy and well wishes to your marriage, regardless of the actual date when you said: “I Do”.
Your wedding day should be celebrated, even if it’s extended just a bit! :)
In this article, we’ll tell you how to throw a reception-only wedding. Planning a reception after a private wedding ceremony isn’t too different than a traditional wedding. But since we don’t want you to miss a thing, we’re telling you everything you need to do a wedding without a ceremony including very specific reception only invitations.
Let’s get started: you’ve got some celebrating to do!
1. Make a Budget.
Before any celebration, big or small, you need to decide how much you can and want to spend. This will then give you the ability to price out your reception per person for meals, drinks, tables, place settings, favors, and more.
Once your budget is made — and this spreadsheet can really help in setting up the proper budget, btw — you’re ready to move on to #2.
2. Decide on a date and a venue.
Some people say to create a guest list first. While this may be helpful in determining some preliminary numbers, you need more information first, such as how much it will cost per person for meals, drinks, space (place settings, tables, chairs, etc.) It is helpful to have an estimate — a small or a big wedding? — but you should always find the venue BEFORE creating a guest list for a reception only wedding.
What do you envision?
Once you check out a few venues (plan on at least two, maybe three), it’ll be easier to envision what your reception only wedding will be like. You only need to figure out space for the reception, so that’s very helpful (vs. choosing a ceremony space and a reception venue to hold enough people).
Then, decide whether you’d like a large, small, on in-between size based on space and budget.
The venue you select will also discuss catering options with you, so now is the time to get a proper per-person meal and bar price. If you plan to cater outside of the venue, find out what you can and cannot do; research caterers in your area and get a price list of per person wedding meal rates.
Dessert only wedding reception?
Are you thinking about planning a dessert only wedding reception? If so, that’s up to you, although most guests will expect a meal of some kind. Few couples decide to do so, typically if they’re looking to do a cheap reception for a wedding. However, if a dessert is the only thing on the menu, be sure to include a note about it on the invitations so guests don’t arrive too hungry. :)
Once you’ve found your perfect wedding venue, figured out catering, and you know your budget, what are you waiting for? Book it! Select a date and put down that deposit. Alright, we’re moving right along now. :) See? Your reception-only wedding is coming along nicely.
3. Create a guest list.
Once you’ve made your budget, have selected your venue space, booked it, and have a date, you’re ready to make a guest list.
For tips, listen to: plan your guest list (PODCAST).
And if you need help cutting your guest list to fit a smaller space or budget, here are tips to trim the guest list without guilt.
Use a guest list template to keep track of your guests to invite. The benefit of this spreadsheet is you’ll be able to keep track of invitations as they are sent, RSVPs, number attending, entree choices, etc. later on. A guest list spreadsheet is very helpful to have.
4. Mail save the dates and/or reception wedding invitations.
If you have 8 months or more until the big day, now is a great time to research save the date cards. You can select a simple save the date design or go with something a bit more fitting for your reception wedding, particularly during these crazy times. Here are a few suggestions. [TIP: Click for reception only save the dates.]
It is fun to include a photo on your save the dates from the wedding ceremony itself.
Guests do not necessarily need to know on paper that you tied the knot already (these announcements are best suited for that at the time). Instead, keep it simple for save the dates for a reception only wedding. Just your names, the date, and location are all that you are required to include at this time. (The invitation is where more specifics will be included.)
This is probably my favorite save the date for a reception wedding: it’s sweet, simple, and explains that you got married and a reception is being planned.
Note: As you can see, it’s also helpful to have that wedding website in place for any last minute updates or to outline your reception plans. You can get a free wedding website here.
Browse more here.
When do you send save the dates for a reception only wedding? If time allows, save the date cards are usually sent 6 to 8 months before the wedding, which is the same time frame as any wedding.
Not enough time? No sweat. You DON’T have to send save the dates for a reception only wedding if time does not allow.
Instead, focus on your wedding invitations — those are essential.
Invitations for a Reception-Only Wedding
Planning a reception only wedding has become more mainstream this year due to COVID, elopements, last-minute changes to guest list sizes, and more. As a result, many couples have been asking this question:
Is it rude to invite guests to a reception only wedding?
The answer is: no! Due to the recent changes couples have had to make, sudden closures, and abrupt changes to wedding plans, it is NOT rude to invite guests to a wedding without a ceremony.
If the ceremony already occurred, it makes sense to extend an invitation to celebrate your reception with loved ones who couldn’t attend the marriage ceremony itself.
This no ceremony wedding is slated to rise in popularity throughout this year and slightly into next, as couples are bumped from original wedding dates, decided to elope and plan a party later, and make other last-minute changes. As such, the industry evolved, too, and now offers a new category for invitations to handle situations like this: reception invitations.
You should mail reception only invitations the same as any “traditional” invitations: approximately 8 weeks before the wedding.
How to word reception only invitations
Luckily for you, the guesswork is now taken out of invitations and so is additional paper! When you throw a wedding with a reception and no ceremony, you’ll no longer require a separate reception card enclosure. You may even decide to do online RSVP instead of the traditional rsvp card, envelope, and return postage, which will look like this:
The wording is just slightly different. Here are a few examples of wording for reception invitations. (You can go more in-depth with additional invites here.)
For more reception invitations, shop here.
Okay, it’s looking good now: you have most of your to-do’s completed and wedding guests have officially been invited.
Let’s move on to a few last-minute elopement reception tasks to complete.
5. Pick out your reception dress / wedding attire.
What will you wear for your wedding reception? Some brides decide to forego the traditional gown, partially because they won’t be wearing it down the aisle, the reception is usually less formal, and because of the cost. On the other hand, many brides DO still want to go big — and a traditional wedding gown is definitely acceptable for a reception only wedding. The style you choose for the gown is completely up to you. It helps to pick out attire that complements the tone and theme of your wedding, so if you’re planning a big ballroom reception with elegance, go with a formal ballgown.
Another popular choice is a two-piece wedding dress with an elegant top and full ballgown skirt.
If your wedding is being held in a backyard setting or outdoors i.e. a barn reception, farm, field, etc., plan for a wedding dress like this to suit this style. Boho wedding dresses are especially fitting for weddings like this. And don’t forget the boots!
If your wedding reception is taking place at a traditional venue such as a banquet hall, choose any kind of dress you’d like, from a formal gown to a more casual bridal jumpsuit or boho dress. I love this wedding gown by Barzelai.
The bottom line is to choose ANY wedding dress you like best. It’s your wedding, so make sure it’s everything YOU want it to be.
I highly recommend these reception dresses, which are affordable and on-trend right now.
For groomsmen attire and bridesmaids, you can definitely err on the side of casual for a reception only wedding. Once you select your gown, you’ll have an idea of how formal or casual the bridal party should dress; use your attire as the example to set the tone for everyone else’s attire.
Many reception only weddings do not even have a bridal party, or they keep it small with a Maid of Honor and a Best Man. It is ideal to have at least a MOH and Best Man, as they can do the traditional speeches at the reception.
6. Hire Wedding Vendors.
When you throw a wedding without a ceremony, the amount of vendors is still pretty similar. The only difference is no officiant required, no ring bearer and flower girl, and there will be no need for ushers.
Everything else, though, is pretty straightforward.
You will need to hire:
– a disc jockey or wedding band for music
This is also helpful for having a sound system if you plan to do speeches during dinner.
Even if you do not plan to have a dance floor, music is essential. A wedding without music? No thank you! ;) Even music set up on speakers like these on a playlist you create, or by renting a sound system with microphones, is better than having nothing at all.
– a photographer
You’ll want to capture all the moments, so hiring a photographer is absolutely crucial. The benefit to hiring a photographer for a reception is it’s a shorter period of time, so the cost is usually less; however, it still means a long day outdoors so make sure you feed them well and tip generously.
And while you’re at it, make sure you get all the photos your guests take by adding LiveShare to your checklist. It is an easy way to collect pictures as they happen at your wedding (and afterward). It’s free and simple to set up; every event needs one, tbh. You can even set it up at the last minute.
– a caterer; plus, bartender (optional)
We discussed this briefly earlier, but make sure you hire a great caterer and a bartender, too, if you’d like. Your reception will instantly feel more cohesive when you have someone in charge of making and mixing drinks for guests. It also means one less thing you need to worry about, like setting up the entire bar and having everything accessible for guests to grab themselves. However, if you want to offer self-serve drinks to guests, that’s OK, too, especially in cases of a backyard wedding.
Most indoor venues will already have a bartender worked into the overall plan, so you may not even need to decide this.
You don’t necessarily need that many flowers, to be honest. If you’re having floral centerpieces, then you’ll need flowers for it; otherwise, flowers are needed for some decorations like your cake table, the head table (if you’re having one, or a sweetheart table instead), and boutonnieres for the groomsmen and fathers.
It is nice to have corsages for the bridesmaids and mothers, like these.
– tables and chairs, tent, dance floor
You may need to rent tables and chairs if your venue is not providing them (or you’re planning your own backyard wedding). The same applies to a tent and dance floor if needed.
– glassware, flatware, etc.
In addition, you may need glassware, flatware, dishes for buffets, and more. We covered all of these must-haves — read: Where to Buy Outdoor Wedding Supplies in Bulk.
– uplighting / photo booth / event rental extras
If you want to add special lighting or extras to your reception space, don’t buy it — rent it!
– cake baker
Yes, there needs to be cake! :)
– day-of wedding coordinator
If you wish to have assistance during the wedding day — always a helpful thing — you may wish to hire a day-of wedding coordinator. (If you’re in the Metro Detroit area, we offer it!) And we plan some pretty cool weddings, might I add. ;)
Regardless of who you hire, he or she will be paramount in eliminating stress by taking care of EVERYTHING on the wedding day itself. Setting up, taking down, making sure vendors arrive on time, fixing any last-minute things that come up, etc. Hiring a coordinator is just as helpful to have at a reception-only wedding vs. a traditional all-day wedding with the ceremony included.
6. Plan your wedding decorations.
Once you’ve hired all the helpful vendors you’ll need, start decorating your space! Here are some quick links to our favorite must-haves this year:
– backdrops like this, great as photo walls for guests or as visual interest at your reception
– table linens, especially these table runners
– a card box like this for wedding cards from guests
– personalized napkins
– personalized cups
– centerpieces (I’m going crazy over these rustic lanterns at the moment)
– a cake stand
7. Obtain your day-of stationery.
There are certain day-of stationery things you’ll still need, like escort cards, place cards, table numbers, and more. You can get everything here and see what each one is, how it is used, and how many you need.
The only thing you won’t need is a ceremony program.
8. Choose wedding favors + purchase gifts.
Wedding favors are a must! You can see what’s trending this year: 50 Best Wedding Favors 2021 (Under $5!).
Eat, drink, and be married! Now it’s time to celebrate. You’ve earned it!
After the wedding, feel free to plan a fun honeymoon.
And as with all parties, don’t forget to send thank you cards!
Now that we’ve walked you through how to plan a reception only wedding, do you have any questions or things to add? Tell us in the comment box below!
This is a post in collaboration with Minted.