Does this scenario sound familiar: There are 150 people you'd like to invite to your wedding but space limitations at the chapel you booked leave only enough room for 75. Or, in another scenario, you've always dreamed of a small, immediate-family-only ceremony, followed by a dance-til-you-drop party for 200 later that night or another weekend. In both situations, you want to invite fewer people to the ceremony than to the reception. Is that an etiquette misstep? Will this cause hard feelings?
Good news—it's totally fine in either of these situations! (But should you have room for everyone, or the reception immediately follows the ceremony, it's considered poor form to not invite guests to both parts of the day.) It's also getting more and more common, so chances are, many of your loved ones will be familiar with this arrangement. To do it right, though, there are a couple of things to keep in mind.
It's best to print the ceremony and reception cards separately.
Many wedding invitations come with all the ceremony and reception details printed on a single card. While it's economical, it won't work if you're limiting ceremony attendance. You'll need two different invites: a reception-only main card and a smaller card inviting people to the ceremony. Guests invited to both the ceremony and reception get both cards; reception-only guests receive just the reception card.
Word the cards correctly.
Try this sample reception-only wording, which makes it clear the couple already were married by the time the party rolled around: "Amber Davis and Peter Moore request the pleasure of your company at their wedding reception to celebrate their marriage…" The ceremony card could say: "Amber Davis and Peter Moore request the pleasure of your company at their wedding ceremony…"
A reply card should be included with both invites.
The same rule that applies to traditional ceremony-and-reception invitations applies here, too. Send ceremony-and-reception guests as well as reception-only guests a reply/RSVP card.
If you invite someone to the ceremony, you must invite them to the reception.
While there are certain situations that make it acceptable to invite some guests to the ceremony and reception and others to just the reception alone, you should never do the opposite. Inviting someone to your ceremony and not to the reception would most likely hurt their feelings, so you shouldn't even consider it. And why would you? If a person is important enough to be invited to watch you take your vows, you'd certainly want them to party with you later, too.