I’m with you on not wanting people to leave really early, although my reception starts at 6 (ceremony at 5:30 in same location; dinner will start around 6:30). Here are some things I’m doing to try and help with that:
– I’m publishing a specific ending time for the reception, 11:00. I think a lot of people leave because they think this thing is going to go on into the wee hours of the night. The 11:00 end time is written on our entertainment/menu cards (see below) as well as on the brochures in the out of town bags. Tell people what to expect, if you can give them an outline of how the night is going to go (like telling them cake cutting at 8:00), they are more likely to stay for it because they aren’t left wondering.
– We are having a fun send off at the end and put that on the entertainment cards, so hopefully it is some sort of motivation for people to stay and participate. If it’s 10:00 and they are starting to feel tired, maybe they’ll see that and think, “Oh, we can hang in there another 45 minutes.”
– Open bar.
– When I leave receptions early, it’s because I don’t care for dancing and feel awkward because there is nothing else to do. So we are having some non-dancing entertainment. We are having a photo/video booth, a lounge area with comfy furniture, and a games area (for adults!) with life-size Jenga and a Wii.
– Our cake will be cut and put out on a dessert table right around 7:45 or so (not that long after dinner). But we ordered lots of extra cake and I am putting a framed sign on the cake table that says “Wedding Cake for Breakfast? Sounds good to us. Please feel free to box up an extra slice of cake after 9:30 for later or those back at home.” So people will have to stay until 9:30 if they want a takeaway slice! Our DOC will put the boxes out then.
– A lot of our guests are staying at local hotels, and we coordinated the shuttle times. We have one at 9:15 and one at 11:05, right after the reception ends. So anyone taking the shuttles will have limited options (we did provide cab numbers as well).
– Seat people well! Have assigned tables where people are seated with those that they really enjoy. Don’t try and be all creative and put people with those they don’t know and think it will force people to mingle. Keep them comfortable with those they already know, and if they don’t know anyone, try to put them with people who they have very basic things (kids, stage in life, age) in common with, not obscure things that won’t come up.
Does that help at all? I do think keeping it relatively short from beginning to end (seating starts at 5, everything over at 11) rather than having a gap will help, as well as everything in the same location, but that doesn’t apply to you. I do think a 5:00 dinner will have people leaving pretty early… could you do a longer cocktail hour or some of the formalities (dance, cake cutting, toasts) before dinner to make that a little later?