How Long Is Too Long Between the Wedding Ceremony and Reception?

Reader Christie is trying to plan around a ceremony-reception gap, so she reached out to us over e-mail for some etiquette tips. Here, we share our advice.

Photography by: Scott Clark Photo

Q: How long is too long between the ceremony and reception? The latest our church will marry us is 1:30 P.M., and we’d like dinner and dancing to start at 6.


A: This common conundrum can leave guests, particularly out-of-towners, wondering how to spend the hours in between “I do” and “Let’s party.” In a perfect world, the ceremony would move right into the cocktail hour, then on to dinner and dancing. Kicking off the festivities earlier to follow that schedule is one option (and a smart one, wallet-wise; lunch parties are often more affordable than evening celebrations). But if your hearts are set on nighttime revelry, there are ways to deal with the time gap. “If your finances allow, arrange for a trolley tour of the city,” suggests special projects editor Anthony Luscia. Or, let guests choose their own adventures by slipping cards with a list of local attractions and a map into invites or programs.


When most attendees are old friends who will want to hang out, designate a lounge or café near the venue as a gathering spot, or ask a relative to open up her home and provide nibbles and drinks (soft ones, if you don’t want people staggering into the party later). It almost doesn’t matter what you propose as long as it’s something. “Nobody likes being all dressed up with nowhere to go,” Anthony says. “But you can keep guests happy simply by presenting them with options that turn the downtime into a good time.”