A Guide to Reception-Only Invitations

Reception only invites are rising in popularity. Learn more about what they are, who they’re sent to, and how they’re different from standard invitations.

By McCall Minnor

reception-only wedding invitations
Photo by Zola

It goes without saying that this year has brought some unprecedented hurdles to those who planned on getting married. Weddings have been postponed, adjusted to accommodate the present normal, and even canceled. Many couples, however, are opting for a more intimate wedding ceremony (some are even virtual), and celebrating with a wedding reception including family and friends later. That’s where reception-only invites come in.

Whether you’re splitting your ceremony and reception dates or have always wanted to only host guests at the reception portion, reception only invitations are a must. Read on for our full rundown of what they are as well as how and when to use them.

What are reception-only invites?

As the name suggests, these are invitations sent to guests invited only to your wedding reception. Reception only invites come in handy if the couple has a handful of guests that are not invited to the ceremony or if the couple has already been wed, especially through an intimate elopement ceremony. In essence, reception-only invites contain information only pertaining to—you guessed it—the reception.

Why have reception-only invites?

That being said, let’s talk about why someone would send out reception-only invitations. What we’re seeing a lot of right now due to the coronavirus are couples that—rather than postponing their weddings entirely—are having small civil ceremonies. Sometimes a small group attends, but often it’s just the couple that’s being wed, the officiant, and any witnesses.

Thanks again to COVID, currently many receptions are being postponed to a later date, when more people can safely gather together. This way, couples can still get married as planned and, down the line, throw their celebratory bash.

Reception specific invites aren’t new, though. There are a handful of situations in which an engaged couple would want to send them out. For example, destination weddings or elopements where the couple plans on having an in-town celebration later. Similarly, couples opt for reception-only invites if they plan to have a smaller, intimate ceremony followed by a larger reception.

When do I send reception-only invites?

Like standard wedding invitations, these should be sent out six to eight weeks in advance. This allows guests just as much time to reply with a yes or no, purchase a gift off of your Zola Wedding Registry, and (if needed) book travel and accommodations. While a ceremony may not be taking place, this is still a special occasion and people will need to plan ahead.

Who do I send them to?

If your wedding plans have changed and you already sent out invitations, reception-only invites should be sent out to everyone who received one before. Doing so will clarify your new plans with your entire guestlist. Plus, having a formal invite will help make the event feel special and important, despite the hurdles it may have taken to get there.

If you’re having a ceremony the same day as your reception, make sure these invitations are only sent to those who are invited to the reception. Think friends, friends of family members, coworkers, and the like.

When sending out paper suites, consider printing two separate cards: the main reception card and a ceremony card with all the wedding details. Guests invited to both should receive both cards, while reception-only guests receive only the main card. Include instructions on how to RSVP in both. This way you get the right information to the right people without confusion and potentially offending anyone.

Reception-Only Invitation Etiquette.

Before dropping your envelopes in the mail, there are a few pieces of etiquette you should consider. This differs slightly from wedding reception invitation etiquette, so take note!

In the case of a same-day ceremony:

  • Don’t give reception-only guests access to ceremony information. Invitations and wedding websites including this should be limited only to guests invited to both.
  • Have two separate guest lists. This will aid you immensely in sending the right things to the right people.
  • If you’re inviting someone to your ceremony, invite them to your reception as well. While it’s understandable to invite someone only to the latter, you shouldn’t do the opposite. Besides, if you want a person there to watch you take your vows, wouldn’t you want them to stick around for the party?
  • Have an honest, kind response to any questions like, “Why aren’t I invited to the ceremony?” in case it comes up. Whether it’s budget constraints or the desire to have an intimate ceremony, be truthful and express how excited you are to have them at your reception.

In the case of a postponed reception,

  • Inform guests ASAP. While invitations will be sent out several weeks in advance, it’s respectful to give guests more of a heads up (especially if you don’t plan on sending out new save the dates). Keep everyone up to date as you figure things out and new details are set in stone. A wedding website is a great hub for this information!

Reception-Only Invitation Wording Examples

Now that we’ve covered the common questions like the whats, whos, whens, and hows, let’s look at some wording examples. Again, keep in mind that these tips may differ from traditional wedding invitation wording.

Private ceremony, later reception

Refer to in the case of a destination wedding, elopement, or civil ceremony followed by a reception at a later date. What’s key here is letting the guest know you’ve already been married. For example, don’t invite them to witness your marriage. Instead, invite them to a reception in celebration of your wedding. However much or little information you want to include in this regard is up to you.

“First Last and First Last invite you to their wedding celebration party! Saturday, October 10th, 2020 at 7pm. 123 Street Name City, State Please respond by October 19th by mail or online.”

“WE DID IT! First Last and First Last were married in a private ceremony in Location on Wedding Date. Please celebrate with us at our reception on October 10th, 2020 at 7 pm. 123 Street Name City, State Please RSVP by October 19th.”

Private ceremony, same day reception

Refer to if your ceremony and reception are on the same day with different guest lists.

“First Last and First Last will be married in a private ceremony on Saturday, the tenth of October.

Please join us in celebrating at our wedding reception following the ceremony at seven in the evening. 123 Street Name City, State Please respond by October 19th by mail, online, or to somebody@theiremail.com”

As always, we’re here to assist you in these unique times. If you have questions regarding your wedding and COVID-19, check out our dedicated advice section. If you have any further questions or need assistance, don’t hesitate to reach out to us at support@zola.com.

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