(Closed) Light refreshments after ceremony, dancing etc, then invite only sit down dinner

posted 8 years ago in Etiquette
Post # 33
3297 posts
Sugar bee

What do you do when B-list guest asks A-list guest who they haven’t seen in a while if they want to go for a drink or meal after the appetizer reception, and A-list guest says they can’t because they are staying for dinner.

If your church allows everyone to attend the wedding, then you don’t need to send an invitation to all the members.  You only invite those guests who you will be hosting after the wedding.

If it was a completely separate event, you would be ok.  But as it currently stands it is a continuation of the same event, which is not ok.

Invite who you can afford to host.  I don’t think anyone will be upset to not be invited to attend a wedding.  I personally could care less. It is never the most fun, awesome event for anyone other then the couple, and possibly the families.  I would rather do an event of my choosing on a weekend then go to a wedding of a church mate.

Post # 34
611 posts
Busy bee
  • Wedding: October 2012

@fishbone:  “I would do a pre-wedding brunch instead of a post-reception dinner. Everyone understands that you’ll be planning events with just the bridal party, or just the family, and so forth, and that means your guests understand, too. But it’s kind of rubbing someone’s face in it if they’re told “the party’s over” but they see others sticking around.”

I think this is a great idea, if you can swing it time-wise.

@KristenGotMarried:  “I think you should have your event, then do your family dinner a different day altogether.  Like, the next day.” Or this!

Post # 35
1692 posts
Bumble bee

@Bravebird:  First of all, although having two separate events on your wedding day has fallen out of practice, it is a traditionally accepted practice and as such there are well-established traditional etiquette rules around it.

The way you word your invitation to explain what you are doing after the ceremony is “reception with light refreshments to follow”. A reception is a stand-up meet-and-mingle event with light refreshments, held in the afternoon. A reception may be held at any time as a stand-alone party, especially when there are special guests the hostess wants to introduce to her friends; and in addition should always be held after a formal ceremony that has social implications, such as a citizenship proceeding, a graduation or awards ceremony, a wedding, or a church service. Since they are being invited to a reception, your guests will know that they can reasonably expect “bouqet, as well as fellowship and dancing” and “all the other things that go on at a reception”.

Your second event of the day, the sit-down dinner for close friends and relatives, is not actually a “reception”. It is a “Dinner” — although if you want to be old-fashioned and confuse all your modern friends who have never heard of fasting before a sacred ceremony, you can equally properly call it a “Wedding Breakfast”. You write the invitation for it on a separate card, and you are allowed to slip it into the same envelope as the wedding invitation. Since the Wedding Breakfast is usually intimate and small in contrast to the public wedding ceremony and public reception, the hostess could hand-write the Wedding Breakfast invitation on her visiting card; or have the invitation cards engraved using the same wording they would have if hand-written on her visiting card, like this:


Miss Aspasia Phipps

Dinner at seven o’clock at the Waldorf Hotel

1234 5th Street

Guests are supposed to be able to figure out the implied message that Miss Phipps “requests the pleasure of the company of the same people named in the accompanying wedding invitation to …” If you think your guests are too modern to be able to read between the lines, then you might want to write that bit explicitly, and if you think your guests might not know enough to reply without being told, you might want to add “R.s.v.p.”, to whit:


Miss Aspasia Phipps

requests the pleasure of your company to
Dinner at seven o’clock at the Waldorf Hotel

1234 5th Street

The bits in italics are what you would hand-write if using visiting cards.

Now, you have probably read by now that some people are offended by your having a second event, even one for intimate family and friends, that they aren’t invited to. People of my generation won’t care: we understand that we aren’t intimate with everyone and we are perfectly capable of going off and having a pleasant formal dinner ourselves with our own intimates. But many twenty-somethings and thirty-somethings feel entitled to a meal if they “go to the effort” of attending your ceremony and especially if they give you a present that they chose thinking they were going to “cover their plate”. You might want to mentally check who on your guest list might have that expectation, and cross them off the list ahead of time. For the rest of us, you should know some points of etiquette that go with having a separate wedding dinner:

  1. People who are not invited to dinner should not be asked to R.s.v.p. Just have enough tea and cakes for everyone, and order wine by the case from a wineseller who will accept returns of unopened bottles. Leftover cakes can be donated to the local teen’s shelter, or if they won’t take them, to the church for their regular after-worship reception the next day. Extra soda will keep: you can drink it up over the coming barbecue or holiday season.
  2. People who are not invited to dinner are not expected to bring a gift. In fact by old-fashioned standards, you are telling them that they are not sufficiently intimate to be able to count on your even accepting their gifts. Of course, that comes from an era when receiving a gift was seen as accepting a level of dependency and obligation, which are not modern ideas. Most moderns will have a hard time imagining why giving a gift could ever be unacceptable.
  3. Guests from out-of-town should be invited to the wedding ONLY if they can also be included at dinner. You can’t ask someone to travel, and then feed them nothing but tea-and-cakes. Either they are important and intimate, or you will be perfectly fine having your ceremony and reception without them. 

Just because something is traditional, does not mean it is acceptable or good. Traditionally men were allowed to beat their wives; traditionally women were paid sixty percent of a man’s wage and expected to quit when they married. There are lots of reasons to drop bad traditions. This tradition, however, is NOT necessarily bad. Separating the wedding dinner from the reception allows couples to celebrate their relationship with a wider community. It strenthens their participation in society by offering hospitality to a greater number of people. And guests do enjoy and gladly participate in stand-up receptions (which does not, by the way, imply that you don’t need chairs. Just that there are no place-settings and people get to walk around with their tea and cakes in their hands to find new conversational partners to sit down with).

Insisting that you can’t invite anyone to anything — not an engagement party or a reception — unless you can afford to give them a fancy dinner too, or that you should never have a fancy dinner with family and your closest friends unless you cut all your other friends out of everything else, kills the golden goose of hospitality. It is an attitude that uses the excuse of being gracious and hospitable to force people to limit their hospitality; an attitude born from the sense of entitlement, based on the expectation that gifts “pay” for a certain level of entertainment, in turn born from the entitlement of couples who think they can expect a certain value of gifts of which they can dictate or influence the kind. These are all errors! Every time you offer entertainment, it is a free offering; an “endowment” if you will: guests owe you NOTHING on return, and you owe them NOTHING beyond the care and hospitality you extended in your invitation. Generosity trumps entitlement any day, and must if society is to survive.

Post # 36
1842 posts
Buzzing bee

 Though it is not unheard of aspasia475:  has a point, it is certainly out of practice. Just like having the guests hand write their RSVP on thier own stationary and send it back promptly.

Previous posters make a good point about people being offended. I think hosting the pre-wedding brunch is a good idea. OR if you are having a morning / noon wedding you could have the event MUCH later to prevent confusion.

Wedding at 11:00 Recevtion / light lunch at noon – 4  then bridal party pictures, clean up, guests and every one leaves around 5 or so, THEN you take your family out later that night 7:00 or so. that is the only way I see such a timeline working. so that guests are not offended beccause it is essentailly two seperate events

Post # 37
8994 posts
Buzzing Beekeeper

I think you need to shift it to a lunch time reception and host everyone since your light food reception begins at 1pm which is during lunchtime. I would be a grumpy guest (literally because my blood sugar would drop) if I had to arrive at your wedding by 12pm (because I don’t want to be late for the 12.30pm start) and miss lunch (type 1 diabetic). I couldn’t eat early (at 11am)because that would mess with my blood sugars and insulin and would probably leave the reception early or skip it entirely so I could get something suitable for lunch to eat.

Post # 38
375 posts
Helper bee
  • Wedding: October 2011

Though I answer questions according to my personal opinion of whether I would find something offensive or rude (and they don’t always line up), if you want to know what established etiquette allows, always listen to Aspasia475!

Post # 39
370 posts
Helper bee
  • Wedding: September 2014

One of my cousins had a ceremony followed by cake, punch, and entertainment at the hall of the church. Follwing this there was a catered meal at a private residence that only about a quarter of the guests had been invited to. People found out about the second event because the cake and punch party ended in the early afternoon, so everyone wanted to chat about what others planned to do with the rest of their day. A mutual friend who wasn’t invited to the post meal confided in me that it made her feel foolish to find out that people were potentially whispering “oh, don’t tell her about the OTHER party.. SHE wasn’t invited.” 


I’m not saying that it’s rude to have a meal with your family following your wedding, I just think that if it’s more than maybe just your imediate family and bridal party that people might wind up feeling like they fall in column B. Especially if it’s at the same location. I’d feel kind of hurt if I was asked to leave a wedding, walking past dozens of guests who were sticking around for a dinner I wasn’t invited to.. even if it was 2 hours later.


Another friend of mine had a brunch party the morning after her wedding. She just told people she wanted to be invited a few weeks before her wedding that they could stop by for brunch the next day around 10 if they felt like it. It was both on a seperate day, and the invite was informal in nature. It actually tuned out to be a fairly classy catered brunch event, but because of the way it was presented it seemed like a small informal event seperate from the wedding, and no one ever felt slighted about not being invited.

Post # 40
200 posts
Helper bee
  • Wedding: November 2012

To me it isnt an issue that you want only some guests at the dinner – affordability is a big thing and most people will understand this. To me, the issue is the order in which you are doing things.

I think it is acceptable to have your ‘main’ guests attend your ceremony, drinks reception and sit down dinner, and than have your ‘additional’ guests join them for an evening party with dancing (and you should provide some sort of light food too!).

I don’t think it’s polite to have everyone at the ceremony and drinks reception, then have some people leave while everyone else sits down to dinner. I just think there will be no easy way to instigate some people leaving and others staying without raising some eyebrows.

But I am English and that is how we would do it here so maybe etiquette is different where you are?

Good luck with your decision!

Post # 41
5993 posts
Bee Keeper
  • Wedding: May 2010

You think people would really be offended even if we’re having an hors d’oeuvers reception with dancing for the guests not invited to the sit down dinner


Post # 42
1470 posts
Bumble bee
  • Wedding: April 2012

what if you just had your wedding be only close family and friends?  Have a small intimate wedding you can skip the appitizers and do dinner and dancing and have fun with your family and friends.  You will save money and not worry about hurting anybodys feelings!   Do you really have to invite all your coworkers to your wedding?

Post # 43
2353 posts
Buzzing bee

@abbie017:  Exactly this.

I would be offended. I would try to not be, but I think it would just rub me the wrong way. If it were only family, maybe, but since you’re including “close friends,” I’d see pretty clearly that I wasn’t considered one of those. 

I wouldn’t do it.

Post # 44
2979 posts
Sugar bee
  • Wedding: August 2011

I’d like to know how you plan on getting the guests that are not invited to the sit down dinner OUT THE DOOR before the dinner starts? Some people are serious lingerers and I can’t imagine how awkward and insulting it could become to shove someone out the door so that the “more important” guests can start their dinner.

Personally, I would be extremely insulted if I was deemed good enough to be invited, and good enough to give you a gift and well wishes but wasn’t good enough to be shown the same hospitality to as other guests.

I had to give up a gorgeous venue that was perfect in every way (close to turnpike for travelers, tons of hotels, guest suites upstairs for bridal party, huge mansion, etc) b/c the dining area was divided into 2 seperate rooms. Just the thought of half the guests having to eat in “Room B” was enough to forego an otherwise perfect venue.

My suggestion is to have a smaller wedding where you can feed everyone and show every guest the same hospitality and have a big party/reception the next day and invite EVERYONE. Would something like that be possible?

Post # 45
2775 posts
Sugar bee
  • Wedding: April 2010

@j_jaye:  I think you need to shift it to a lunch time reception and host everyone since your light food reception begins at 1pm which is during lunchtime

Agreed.  OP, if your ceremony ends at 12:30, and the reception goes until 3, you are hitting everyone’s lunch hour, so a meal should be provided rather than just apps.  Would it be in the budget to host a luncheon reception for all of your guests?  Most people don’t want a big heavy meal in the middle of the day, so you could get away with sandwiches, soup, and salad.  With the right presentation and menu it could be very elegant yet far less expensive than it would be to host all 100 people for dinner, where heavier foods and alcohol are expected.

Post # 46
8 posts

@sailor:  f your ceremony ends at 12:30, and the reception goes until 3, you are hitting everyone’s lunch hour, so a meal should be provided rather than just apps. […] With the right presentation and menu it could be very elegant yet far less expensive

This. Totally this.


I understand about budget constraints but also about lingerers. If you can’t give up the idea of doing both events on the same day, I think my best suggestion would be to change venues and clothes for the second event. That way, everyone (including the A-List guests) leaves the reception, goes back to their hotels/houses to change and rest for a bit, then meets up for a completely separate dinner event that happens to have some of the same folks. (And I completely concur that out-of-town guests must be included in both. Otherwise, most of the folks they know in town will be occupied and you will have brought them into town to doom them to an evening of boredom.)


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