Reception Only Invitations

Victoria's great-grandmother at her wedding in 1906

Victoria’s great-grandmother at her wedding in 1906

Dear Uncommon Courtesy,

I was hoping to get some advice regarding wedding guest list etiquette. My fiancé and I are getting married in a very small chapel. It is a historical chapel that only has 6 long pews and we will be adding some chairs in the back. The chapel is tucked away in a private wooded area…quite secluded and intimate. Our guest list for our wedding ceremony is 50 people. However, our guest list for our meal and wedding reception is 150. Do you think it is bad etiquette to invite people to one part of the evening and not the other?

Thank you,

Confused bride


Official Etiquette:

In my edition of Amy Vanderbilt’s New Complete Book of Etiquette, she says that it’s fine to have a large reception for an intimate wedding. The wording she suggests is:

Mr. and Mrs. Lastname

request the pleasure of your company

at the wedding breakfast of their daughter



Mr. Firstname Middlename Hisname

on Day, Date

at Location


Our Take:

Jaya: Okay so I have my Emily Post book out and am looking for what to do about inviting people to the reception and not the ceremony.

Victoria: Yeah, I know that Miss Manners says you should come up with your approximate guest list first thing to get an idea of the numbers you are working with and THEN find a venue that fits them all. She is a people above all person. I think technically though, you can do this, though I personally do not like it.

Jaya: I know in a lot of cultures it’s pretty common, so I think if it’s that situation, everyone already knows the drill. Okay, Emily Post says basically that this is a way to have a wedding, and that two invitations are needed, so the wording is clear that some people are only invited to the reception. I mean, I think that’s why in a lot of “traditional” invitation packages there’s a separate card with the reception info.

Victoria: Ahhh yeah, that makes sense.

Jaya: I don’t think it’s inherently bad etiquette, though I think that if it’s not what’s usually done in your circle, no matter how carefully you do it, some people may feel jilted. You’re automatically setting up a very clear hierarchy, and if that’s not “what’s done” some people will have a hard time understanding it.

Victoria: Yeah, for sure. And for a lot of people, seeing the ceremony IS important. I actually did go to a wedding where the ceremony was separate and private, but the reception was the next day. So it didn’t feel like as big a deal? I was also about 15 so i don’t think I cared that much

Jaya: Haha right. And yeah, looking at various message boards, everyone has different opinions on this.

Victoria: Yeah, I think that’s why I would tread really carefully. Although, it sounds like it’s already a done deal for her. But for me, I would just avoid any possibility of drama and just have my ceremony somewhere that could fit all my guests.

Jaya: Yeah, so if that’s the case, the invitations should make it very clear that they’re being invited to the reception in honor of the couple. And be prepared to answer questions

Victoria: So many questions.

Jaya: (god so many of these are like “we want everyone at the ceremony but we can’t afford everyone at the reception.” don’t do that!!!)

Victoria: Oh man, it’s situations like this that make me think you should really consider all sides of your guest list and wedding choices before putting any money down anywhere. Like really think through everything you are planning on and what any possible consequences will be. Like that APW post I was reading recently where so many people were like “I wish I knew that having an unconventional venue would mean that I would be responsible for all kinds of permits and tents, and chairs, and floors, and tables, and lights, and portapoties and everything.”

Jaya: Right. We don’t know this bride’s family, or her reasons for wanting the ceremony in such an intimate chapel when their guest list is three times the size. But we’re trusting she has them. And I think she just has to be prepared to explain them to the reception-only guests if anyone asks. Interestingly, a few people on these forums are saying the ceremony is the part that should be open for everyone, while the reception should only be for close family and friends. So, you know, everyone has opinions.

Victoria: Yeah, I think technically weddings in a church are open to all regular parishioners? I would assume she has already dealt with all of the big issues. but I would definitely tell people in the planning stages who are thinking of doing this to talk with their families and really get an idea of what kind of fallout if any they are looking at.

Jaya: Yeah. Also, this might be just me, but 50 guests seems sort of large to get away with “intimate” wedding. I’ve had friends who got married with like, 5-10 people by a JOP, and then held a dinner for everyone after. That makes more sense. 50 people is already the size lots of people have for their full wedding.

Victoria: Haha yeah, definitely. Although, if it’s only 1/3 of her guest list, I guess that’s not SO bad. But I think when you get to the point that 1/2 your guest list is invite to the ceremony and 1/2 isn’t, then it starts to become a bit murky. And if you are only excluding, say, 1/4 of the guests, I think that’s full on rude.

Jaya: Right

Victoria: I mean, it’s all totally subjective. But it’s the situation of all the kids in the class invited to the birthday except for one…it becomes hurtful. And hurting people is bad.

Jaya: Okay, so I think no, this is not inherently rude. But they should start explaining to their friends and family, get the info out there, and see how people react. I think people are much more forgiving if they’ve had a conversation about why this is happening than just getting the invitation and seeing where they fall in the hierarchy.

Victoria: Yeah. Until they think they should be higher up in the hierarchy.

Jaya: Right. And we don’t know their family, but there is definitely a chance that would happen. Offbeat Bride has a great point, that in a reception only invitation, there’s no need to mention the ceremony. You don’t want to bring up the thing people are missing. “We love you but you can’t come to this part — but we still love you … no seriously!” It’s just rubbing salt into a wound that people didn’t even know they had.

Victoria: Although, if there are 50 people there who are all discussing the ceremony that they JUST witnessed…It’s hard to keep it on the DL. Or if they don’t know people were excluded, they’ll be like, why weren’t you at the ceremony?

Jaya: Right. It’s a difficult balance between making sure everyone knows what’s up and also hiding the fact that, well, some people just didn’t make the cut.

Victoria: Yeah. That’s why I don’t like it…its too hard to control that many people. I mean, not control but if you have 5 people at the ceremony, its obvious that its very exclusive.

Jaya: Yes. Which is why I think this bride has to be careful. 5 out of 150 is exclusive. 50 out of 150 is not really? Or maybe it is. It’s hard to draw a line somewhere like that. Okay, so like, hard advice, what should she do if she’s already decided this is what it’s gonna be?

Victoria: Okay, yes, and I want to reiterate, that there’s no real judgment from us about her choice in this. But yeah, definitely separate invitations with clear wording for those attending just the reception something like, so and so invite you to celebrate their marriage at a dinner and dancing (or whatever) reception in PLACE at TIME on DATE. Whereas the ceremony guests would get something like so and so invite you to celebrate their marriage at PLACE at TIME on DATE, reception at PLACE to follow. And I might be so bold as to put something specific on a wedding website like a ceremony page that says “we will be having an intimate wedding ceremony prior to the big party with everyone we love.”

Jaya: Hmm, do you think that’d just be drawing attention to the fact that certain people aren’t invited? Or maybe people invited to the reception would be confused if they went to the website, and saw the ceremony thing? Like, they’d think they could go to that too?

Victoria: It might, but if you’re going to do it, I feel like its better to be up front (yet vague about how intimate) rather than let people find out by calling Aunt Suzy to discuss the wedding and finding out that SHE is going to a ceremony.

Jaya: That’s true. But yes that’s another point–get your family on board.

Victoria: I mean, in the ceremony page, you wouldn’t list the location…

Jaya: I can forsee a lot of aunts being like “well of course the cousins can come to the ceremony” without running it by the couple.

Victoria: Yes, if your parents aren’t 100% with you on this, you are going to have a struggle.

Jaya: Hell that happened to me at the rehearsal dinner. Luckily it didn’t really matter but, yeah.

Victoria: We had some friends get married and one of their moms was inviting random people left and right.

Jaya: Hahaha yuuuup

Victoria: Yeah, I mean, I think that the moral of the story is that the more you go out of “the usual” (the usual for your circle)  the more time you are going to have to spend explaining things. And the more you are going to have to have a fully united front with your families. And the more likely are to have drama and or hurt feelings.

Jaya: Right, and you just have to balance what’s worth it to you.


One thought on “Reception Only Invitations

  1. Here is my take: inviting only a third of your guest list to the ceremony will make the other two thirds feel like second class citizens. But if the historic chapel is really important to the couple, restrict the actual ceremony to the IMMEDIATE FAMILY if only 20 people or so. Or just the couple, the officiant, two witnesses and the parents. Then you can say it was an intimate ceremony. Fifty is not intimate. At the reception, give your guests the thrill of the ceremony with a procession and even a short recreation of the actual wedding vows.

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