How much time should be between the wedding ceremony and reception?

If you’re planning on having your ceremony and reception in the same place, you’re doing a great thing for guests since there will be no gap between the vows and cocktail hour. One will flow seamlessly into the other. But if this isn’t your particular scenario, read on for some pointers on extended breaks and guest comfort. If you need advice on your wedding photography, check out our photography packages and services at Wild Romantic Photography.

Planning your wedding day timeline may feel tedious, but you better believe every minute in that spreadsheet is essential. That piece of paper plays a more significant role than just ensuring your vendors know where to be and when. It’s your chance to orchestrate the day in a way that fits in every little detail you’ve dreamed of while keeping celebratory spirits high.

One of the trickiest timeframes on that schedule? The gap between the ceremony and reception. The amount of time between “I do” and dinner could accidentally put a damper on your Big Day. Holes that are too long leave guests looking for something to do, while breaks that are too short may rush guests when trying to find the reception or sip your signature drink during cocktail hour.

For late afternoon weddings with an evening reception, try to keep the break at an hour to 90 minutes. This will give you plenty of time for pictures while your guests make their way to a secondary venue or graze the cocktail hour hors d’oeuvres. It should also still allow you and your brand new hubby a moment alone for a quick bite if you’re looking to enjoy your meal privately before making the rounds at your reception.

However, if your nuptials are at a house of worship, you may not have as much control over your ceremony time slot. If your service is earlier in the day, but you’re still eager for an evening celebration, planning is crucial for your guest experience. If your delay is more than a few hours, make sure your guests are well aware of the gap in advance. Include a reception card with your invitation to inform your loved ones of a more drawn out schedule.

It can also be helpful to include a list of local restaurants or activities on your wedding website or a welcome letter to help guests pass the time. As long as your guests can plan how they’d like to spend their time off, they should show up to the party with plenty of energy to celebrate your Big Day.

A break of 60 to 90 minutes is fine.

If you’re moving onto a different spot in town for the party, having an hour between the end of the ceremony and the start of the reception is fine-it’ll give everyone time to leisurely make their way to the second venue, or to even go home or to their hotel room for a short break. Anything longer and guests will start getting antsy, but it’s impossible to avoid in some instances (like when you’re hosting a church ceremony that can only happen at noon).

Provide ideas and activities if a long break is inevitable.

Think about what guests will do if there’s a multi-hour gap. Maybe it’s happened to you at a friend’s wedding. The wedding was a three-hour drive from your home. You arrived on time for the 3:00 p.m. ceremony. When it was over, you checked the time: 3:25. You looked at the invitation: The reception wouldn’t start until 7:00 p.m. What are you supposed to do when you’ve got several hours to kill in an unfamiliar town? Consider hiring a bus to take guests around town (or a nearby town) to see the sights. Or come up with a list of fun activities that people can do in dress’ clothes (visiting an aquarium rather than renting dirt bikes). At Wild Romantic Photography, we have the best Melbourne wedding photographer to take memorable photos on your wedding day.

Ask local loved ones for help.

If any of your guests are local, ask if they would be willing to host an informal post-ceremony/pre-reception get-together, so out-of-towners will have someplace to go. Light snacks and beverages would be perfect-anything more would be competing with the reception!

Things To Consider When It Comes To The Gap Between Wedding Events

How much time should be between the wedding ceremony and reception?

Wedding planning is a lot of work, and it takes great effort to create a seamless day-of schedule. The two most important times for guests are your ceremony start time and reception. The rest of your itinerary is typically based on these main events. But, how long of a break should you have between your ceremony and reception? Here are some things to consider when it comes to the gap between wedding events.


Suppose your wedding ceremony is held at the same venue as your reception. In that case, couples typically host cocktail hour entertainment immediately between events since guests do not have to travel from place to place. A cocktail hour usually lasts 60 minutes—90 minutes max—which allows plenty of time for wedding party photos and time for guests to fill their drinks and snack on some bite-sized foods. Come up with some other wedding cocktail hour ideas that will keep the guests entertained and get them excited about the reception.

On the other hand, if you’re getting married at a worship place, time slots are often limited and given during daytime hours. This means that you’ll have to be a bit more strategic with your planning if your wedding reception is in the evening. If this is your case, and you’re holding your reception at another nearby venue, there are a few things that you’ll need to consider.

Distance Between Venues

First of all, you’ll need to allocate enough time for guests to travel between locations. If you have a church ceremony at a place in your hometown, yet you’ve rented a reception venue 45 minutes away, you’ll want to factor travel time into your schedule. Too little time between the ceremony and reception can make guests feel rushed, and too much time can leave them aimless and bored.

In an ideal situation, guests can comfortably move from the ceremony venue to the reception site within an hour to an hour and a half time frame. For example, if your wedding ceremony ends at 3:30 p.m., but it takes 30 minutes to drive to your reception venue, and your cocktail hour starts at 5 p.m., the most time that guests will have on their hands is an hour gap.

Of course, not all venues will permit such ideal timing, so, in situations where hours-long breaks in between ceremony and reception are inevitable, you need to get creative. We have the best wedding photographer in Yarra Valley to capture your beautiful moments on your wedding day.

Keeping Guests Entertained

If there’s going to be several hours between your wedding ceremony and cocktail hour to kick-off your reception, make sure that you supply your guests with a guide of things to do in the meantime—especially if they’re coming from out of town. If your ceremony wraps up at 2 p.m., for example, but your wedding reception starts at 6 p.m., guests must have somewhere to go—or something to do—during the break.

Create a little map or guide for guests with things to do, including cafes, local shops, some sightseeing (given that it’s not going to dirty their wedding outfits), or even organise a little tour, if possible. Let guests know ahead of time what’s available for them to do, which can easily be added to your wedding website. For destination weddings, guests may be able to go back to their accommodation to freshen up between ceremonies and events. You can also include a map of the area and recommendations of nearby attractions in wedding welcome bags.

However, the vital thing to keep in mind is that you don’t want guests to be bored and find themselves drinking at a local bar or eating a full meal before your reception. Limiting the time between ceremony and reception will help prevent anyone from enjoying themselves a little too much before the official party begins.

Host a Pre-Reception Gathering

Suppose you’re overly concerned about an hours-long gap between your ceremony and reception. In that case, you might want to consider having a family member or friend help host a little pre-reception gathering for guests. For example, if guests stay at the same hotel, a “pre-party party” at the hotel’s lobby bar or outdoor garden is a fun way for people to mingle and remain in a wedding mindset. Alternatively, suppose your ceremony venue has space for people to gather. In that case, you can also set-up some snack tables for people to mingle around before heading over to the reception space. This is also a prime opportunity for your wedding photographer to get large group shots while everyone is still together and looking their best.

You want your wedding day to be as seamless as possible and move naturally from ceremony to reception. However, it’s important to remember that no matter if you have one hour or three hours between events, with some solid planning, activities for guests, and a positive attitude, people will be ready to celebrate with you all night long.

How to Make the Gap Between Your Ceremony and Reception Work for You

You already know that timing on your wedding day is vital. It keeps everyone on schedule, keeps the energy high, and helps make sure you can squeeze in every last moment you’ve dreamed of. And while you might know exactly when you want everything to happen, you’ll have to be flexible, especially when it comes to the timing of your ceremony.

If you’ve opted to get married in a house of worship, there’s a pretty good chance you’ll have certain set times to choose from for your walk down the aisle—meaning it might not be a convenient hour before your cocktail hour is set to begin. But if you find yourself with a few hours between the “I dos” and the party, don’t worry! We’ve got a few tips that will help you make that gap work for you.

Inform Your Guests

Make sure your guests know well in advance whether they’ll be on their own for a few hours before your reception begins. Add a section to your wedding website with recommendations for nearby activities and entertainment options (including lunch spots and your favourite places for a drink!) where they can pass the time—and don’t forget to include it in any welcome information or gifts you provide.

Consider going traditional with your invitation and including a reception card, which will help alert your guests to the more drawn-out schedule.

Schedule Photos

What should you, your families, and your wedding party do during all of that time? Take pictures! Use it as a chance to explore the setting you’ve chosen for your wedding and get those location-specific shots that you’ll remember. Looking for a Mornington Peninsula wedding photographer? Look no further! Wild Romantic Photography has you covered.

Do Touch-Ups

Especially if you’re getting married in the summer, use that pre-reception time to have your hair and makeup touched up. You’ll want to look just as fabulous when you walk into a cocktail hour as you did walking down the aisle.

Have Some Alone Time

Another great way to use up that gap? Have a little one-on-one time with your new spouse! Arrange for your hotel to deliver a delicious lunch (with champagne, of course) to your honeymoon suite and take some time to bask in the post-ceremony glow. Better yet? Have your maid of honour or planner help you out of your wedding dress so you can slip on some leggings and a button-down shirt (so you don’t mess up your hair or makeup) and enjoy that newlywed meal in comfort.

Feed Your Loved Ones

Make sure your wedding party gets fed during the gap, whether it’s with you and your partner or as a group, while the two of you slip away for some quiet time. The last thing you want is for them to be famished once cocktail hour begins.

Provide Transportation

If your reception venue isn’t nearby, make the most of that gap time by helping to get your guests to the party. Inform them of when shuttles will be leaving or how to grab a designated car service like Uber, then make sure cocktail hour is ready to start as soon as they walk in the door.

Greet Your Guests

How much time should be between the wedding ceremony and reception?

Another great thing about having your reception a few hours after the ceremony is that you’ll be able to get to a cocktail hour before everyone else does. If you’re planning to have a receiving line, do so on the way into the cocktail hour space so you and your guests can say hello, then they can grab a drink. Even if you’re keeping things informal, having time to take photos and do touch-ups before the reception begins means you’ll be able to attend most of your cocktail hour, leaving you to mingle as you see fit.

Timing of the wedding ceremony and reception

You have sent out your invitations, and your guests have saved the day. For the next few weeks and months, you will plan and plan and plan. One of the more important decisions is how you handle the time between the ceremony and the reception. Planning your dream wedding and don’t want to miss out on the special moments on your big day? Worry no more. Wild Romantic Photography has you covered.

Separating the ceremony from the reception is one of those plans that are either delightful or disastrous, depending on how you manage it. The results are more likely to be catastrophic, which is why very few couples do it! But there’s no absolute etiquette rule saying that you must have your reception follow your ceremony.

The key to success here is the same as with any wedding reception: put your guests’ comfort first! Avoid, at all costs, the Disaster Days below-and consider some of the Winning Weddings and Awesome Alternatives.

Disaster One: Right Party, Wrong Time

Guests expect to go straight from the ceremony site to the reception, with perhaps a slight delay for handshaking and photography. If you don’t note the reception time on the invitation card, guests will assume that it follows immediately. They’ll drive straight to the reception site… only to find locked doors or be told, “No, that wedding isn’t until six!” That’s no way to make someone feel welcome!

This is one of the few cases where I would advise spending a few dollars extra for separate reception cards. The different card gives you more space for time and places information, and its separateness reinforces the message that the reception is distinct from the ceremony. If you’re determined to squeeze reception information onto the ceremony invitation, make sure to write “Reception at six in the evening” rather than “Reception follows.”

Disaster Two: Bored, Bewildered and Bushwhacked

It’s every guest’s nightmare: stuck in a small town for six hours, on a 100-degree day, wearing his or her best clothes, with no lunch choices other than Dairy Queen or the local truck stop, and nothing to do after lunch but stare into space and swat flies.

These guests are still your guests between the end of the ceremony and the beginning of the reception: you are responsible for seeing that they have a reasonable chance of being fed, comfortable, and entertained. This is much easier to accomplish in a good-sized city than in a tiny rural town!

Provide your out-of-town guests with the information they need to be amused, rather than annoyed, during the break between the ceremony and the reception. This includes a map of the local area, restaurants at various price points, and a list of attractions and shopping. You can often get nifty (and small) packets from your local Chamber of Commerce or Tourist Bureau for free. You don’t even have to spend postage on mailing the box with every invitation-send it separately to out-of-town guests who accept.

Disaster Three: Bride in Bondage

Formal wedding dresses are not always a picnic to get on and off; elaborate updos with veils don’t come down without destroying the hairdo. If the bride can’t take off her dress during the inevitable lull between the last formal photos (no one can fill six hours with photography!), what does she do? Sit very still and itch? Not much fun!

If you go with the later reception, the bride should think in terms of a more flexible hairstyle that will survive the day-and about how she’ll get in and out of the dress. Bridesmaids and male attendants may also need help planning to look fresh and unwrinkled half a day after getting dressed for the ceremony. Or you may want a theme reception that calls for more casual attire.

Disaster Four: Harumph Time!

The traditional rules for men’s formalwear are different for morning and evening: morning suits for events before six o’clock and tuxes or “white tie and tails” for the evening. Renting two sets of formal attire is unlikely to be a hit with the groomsmen-so which rule do you intend to break? If everyone in your social circle wears tuxes for daytime weddings, you don’t have a problem, but if the old rules are still followed, you might want to start thinking about that casual reception again!

Disaster Five: Photo Fed Up

The cost to keep a photographer from 10 a.m. (for pre-game coverage of the bride dressing) to midnight (when the dancing ends) will be a little short of astronomical. And don’t count on getting a bargain by sending the photographer home between 1 p.m. and 6 p.m. He or she could shoot two weddings at the time needed for your wedding. Will you do without photos of reception events or prepare to empty your bank account for full coverage?

Disaster Six: Party Pooped

The ceremony excitement has dissipated in the six-hour wait… the guests have kept themselves busy all afternoon… now it’s time for the reception… and it’s just a formal dinner that could have been held at lunchtime with equal success. Tired, bored, and out of energy, the guests yawn, eat and leave early.

If you’re going to have a reception much later in the day than the wedding, there needs to be a compelling reason for the gap, like dancing.

Winner One: Dance Fever

One of the best justifications for a later reception is to have more lively dancing. You can have dancing during an afternoon reception, but it’s more difficult to generate enthusiasm to keep the dance floor filled.

Since most women’s formal daytime dresses aren’t cut for hard dancing, you may want to mention dancing in the invitation. I suggest something like:

  • Host’s names
  • request the pleasure of your company
  • for dinner and dancing
  • at six in the evening
  • location of reception

Winner Two: Living Large

Can you make the gap between events into a treat for your guests without entertaining them in person? Suggesting an affordable but luxurious hotel-which is possible in areas that get lots of business travel, but few tourists-with a swimming pool, spa, and shuttle to attractions can be a big hit. So can providing a great list of activities that your specific guests are likely to enjoy, such as a foreign film festival for your artsy friends from college. It is sometimes possible to arrange group rates or even, rarely, free complimentary tickets.

Alternative One: Elegant Luncheon

Almost anything you can do with dinner can be done at lunch time-including dancing! There’s much to be said for taking advantage of your guest’s party mood at the end of the ceremony and heading for the reception as quickly as possible. With an 11 a.m. wedding, the ceremony will end just in time for lunch anyway.

A luncheon reception has two significant advantages. First, it’s usually a bit less expensive than dinner. Second, the reception will end before you and your new spouse are exhausted-which gives you more time and better time together on your first night as a married couple.

The question, of course, is how you fit photos into the day without neglecting your guests. Take as many photos as possible before the ceremony-separately if you want to avoid “seeing” each other. Do only a small number of posed photos with both of you after the ceremony. If you plan this carefully, your post-ceremony images will take about 20 minutes.

Alternative Two: Evening Ceremony

Why not hold the ceremony later in the day? Indeed, several churches don’t hold Saturday afternoon ceremonies due to conflicts with other events-but double check that this applies to your church! There’s a widespread belief that all Roman Catholic weddings must be before noon… but our parish does weddings at 1 p.m. and 5 p.m.!

If you’re not planning to get married in a church, then there’s much to be said for simply holding the ceremony at the reception site. Most popular reception sites can easily be set up for ceremonies as well.

The advantage of an evening ceremony is that you have all day to get ready-no rushing around early in the morning! You can, even if you have your heart set on formals in a park, do those photos before the ceremony, in the afternoon light! (Yes, you’ll “see” each other. Many couples do.) If you’d like to work with professional photographers for your wedding, book with us at Wild Romantic Photography.

Suppose you look for examples of successful “split” ceremonies and receptions, good luck! Very few couples take this route, which might be a suitable warning of the dangers.