All For Some: Inviting guests to the ceremony only

Q: I think that it is tacky to invite someone to my wedding, but not to the reception. Someone else told me that doing so is completely acceptable. Is this true?

A: It is indeed acceptable to invite someone to witness the ceremony and not to take part in the reception. The reverse, inviting a small number of guests to an intimate or private ceremony and a larger number to the reception, can be perfectly acceptable too. Keep in mind, though, that the former can be a bit trickier to pull off, especially if the reception is at the same location as the ceremony, as guests may simply follow the crowd to the next location.


  1. Amanda

    I really don’t understand why inviting someone to the ceremony and not the reception would be necessary or acceptable. I understand that some ceremony venues are small and a couple might have a private ceremony and then a larger reception. However, I cannot imagine being invited to the ceremony and then seeing/knowing others are considered special enough to attend a reception and somehow I am not.

    If the ceremony and reception are on different days, it might make it easier, but this just seems like a good way to hurt people’s feelings.

    • Alicia

      I agree. If you do not care about someone enough to offer them hospitality why do you want them to watch you get married? Honestly I view that are one of the least kind least polite things you could do. Scale your reception to be able to host everyone at the ceremony. Or cut back on the ceremony invites. You should not just have seat fillers at your wedding.

  2. Heather

    I agree with the other posters. If I attended a wedding, and then heard people saying “See you at the reception!” and I had to mumble, “Oh, actually… I’m just going home after…” I would be so mortified, I might never speak to the bride and groom again!

  3. Vanna Keiler

    I must admit I was a little surprised as well to read the EPI response, but perhaps this is in consideration of other cultural issues or the possibility of extenuating circumstances. With my own wedding years ago, we chose to keep the ceremony intimate between our future in-laws and immediate family (who had never met each other prior to the ceremony) because two religions were colliding and most of the reception-goers were unfamiliar with the religious ceremony particulars as well. On top of that, we held the ceremony in my parents’ wee little backyard.

    In hindsight however, and after hearing from a few reception participants weeks later, I would have invited ALL to the ceremony who were interested/able to attend. I ignorantly assumed most would rather attend the feastful reception than possibly endure a strange religious ceremony. But I now know otherwise :)

    • Alicia

      Oh yes as a guest I would rather attend both if at all possible and honestly religions that are not my own are slightly more interesting as I’ve been to a million of my own religion and something different is nice.

  4. Ruth Peltier

    Unless you are Prince William and Catherine, I see no reason to invite people to the wedding but not the reception. However, I once went to a wedding where the ceremony was held in a Church that would make even 30 people feel like sardines. The reception was held in an area around the church (outside). That I felt was acceptable, if a bit off-putting.

    • David

      I agree with Ruth Peltier. I can imagine this scenario only if you expect the ceremony to be such a public spectacle, as would be with high – profile public figures, that most in attendance would be unknown to the couple. You wouldn’t invite media representatives to the reception, either. Yes, please let us know how it all turns out.

  5. Jody

    I agree that if a person is invited to the wedding, he/she should also be invited to the reception. The few exceptions that I would deem “OK” are situations where a small ceremony is held at one time and then a reception on a different day (such as a wedding in one part of the country and a later reception for those in another part of the country).

    Another rare (for me) allowable exception would be for religious reasons. For example, I’m LDS and our wedding ceremonies (sealings) are held in the Temple. Only those who meet church criteria are allowed inside the Temple so the larger group of friends and family are invited only to the reception.

  6. Father of the Groom

    Hope I am posting this properly!
    I am Father of the Groom. 24 month engagement, getting married Summer 2014. Bride’s family paying for dinner reception, 200 people, $10k, immediate family (+/-) only. Groom’s side has 40 invitees, including a few friends.
    My fathers’s side of the family is not invited, no reason. (Mom & Dad married 50+ years) My Mother’s brothers are invited. Dad’s family is not.
    We, as parents asked to contribute to Rehearsal Dinner. Had not planned on it, we paid all of our own wedding expenses) Bride’s family better off financially than us.
    We offered $500 for rehearsal dinner.
    Considering lowering or withdrawing offer for Rehearsal Dinner since my family is not welcome (not forgotten.) No option to increase guest list by 8 people. Which ice sculpture is higher priority.
    Hard feelings are building up here. Mother of the Bride seems to be in control.
    Would I be wrong to leave immediately after reception dinner? I want to honor my son, but I am not pleased that my family (his name sake) is not welcome by the Bride’s family.

    • Elizabeth

      Couples usually invite the people to whom they feel the most close to their weddings, which are limited by budgets, space, etc. Your parents’ siblings would be your son’s great aunts and uncles. Since he is inviting some and not others, I as an outsider would assume there was a reason. The most likely reason is that he is not close to those relatives and decided to invite those with whom he has a relationship. There could be other reasons – he may not like them, they may live far away and he thinks they will not attend, or he simply had to prioritize given the budget/space constraints and decided that he felt closer to the other side of the family. In any case, it is not your place to dictate the guest list. If you don’t know the reason why this part of the family was excluded, you could certainly mention it to your son and ask, but I would think that you already know the reason whatever it is.

      The rehearsal dinner is a cost traditionally borne by the groom’s family. That doesn’t mean you’re obligated to host it, but it doesn’t surprise me that you were asked. I don’t think you should wave the $500 around as a carrot (or a stick). Nor should you skip out on celebrating your son’s wedding in protest over the invitation decisions. Would you rather register your displeasure or celebrate the fact that your child is entering into the next stage of his life, one that you have painstakingly prepared him for. What would you get out of leaving early, besides alienating your son and his new wife and missing out on a great party? If you feel that strongly about the whole thing (which honestly seems weird and controlling to me), then discuss it with him beforehand and allow him to let you in to his thought process.

    • Kelly

      FoG, I’m really sorry you were so hurt. I can’t imagine doing that to a tight knit family. But perhaps they have a reason.

      Maybe it would help family harmony to call a family meeting and just ask what the reason was. If the MoB is the one in charge maybe your soon to be daughter-in-law will put her foot down when she realizes how much this has hurt you.

      That being said, I’m not inviting my soon to be Mother-in-law to the wedding at all. Neither she, nor her side of my fiancés family, are invited. Why? She has said horrible things about him and he hasn’t seen that side of the family in over a decade and hasn’t heard from them at all. Of course I’m also not asking for a penny from her.

      But I think the key to this, and all family disputes, is honesty. Ask why. I was open with my soon to be mother-in-law. She hates me but the feeling is mutual so I don’t care because my brothers and sister in law get it and I have salvaged those relationships. Even if it ends badly, you will know why, and I think that helps. And yes, if, in the end, you still feel hurt, then stay for dinner, let your son have his mother/son dance with your wife, and then bail. I would.

  7. jordi

    Perhaps your son think that you understand this exclusion. Since you don’t it might be beneficial for you to quietly sit down with him and ask him to explain. It doesn’t mean that you will like the answer but at least you will know.

    It is kind of you to offer to pay for the rehearsal dinner and I’m not sure it would be beneficial to you to withdraw that offer. This is your son and his bride is going to be your daughter-in-law and you need to be on good terms with them in order to have harmony in your family.

    It may be that your son feels like wedding decisions have been taken away from him if his future mother-in-law has taken charge and he may be thinking he can’t rock the boat with her.

  8. J. Lavette

    My fiance and I are planning our wedding for July this year and we have opted to have an rsvp only reception due to financial constraints. The ceremony will be open as we are planning to have it at my childhood church and plan to announce the ceremony plans to the congregation beforehand. The will be welcome to attend since they have known me for most of my life. However since our budget is small, we only intend to include reception rsvp cards in the invitations of immediate family and chosen few friends (mostly the bridal party). If we simply cannot afford to feed 100-200 people that may attend the ceremony, why should we feel obligated to invite them? They are under no obligation to bring gifts.

    • Elizabeth

      Not at all. You are perfectly within the bounds of etiquette to have a reception for your invited guests. You may consider having a little cookie and coffee reception, or something, immediately following the ceremony for the whole congregation. That is what would be typical at my synagogue – the couple would host the fellowship immediately following the worship if their ceremony was taking place during a regularly-scheduled worship.

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