How Much Time Should You Have Between a Wedding Ceremony and Reception?

If you’re having your wedding ceremony at one venue and your reception at another, how much of a gap should you have between events? Don’t freak out if you think an hours-long gap will break up your big day.

By Laura Hensley

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Photo by Zola

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 around 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.

Location

If your wedding ceremony is held at the same venue as your reception, couples typically host a 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 both 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 place of worship, for example, 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.

How Much Time Between the Ceremony and Reception? Photo Credit // Ashley Hamm Photography

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 location 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.

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., it’s important that guests have somewhere to go—or something to do—during the break.

Create a little map or guide for guests with things to do, which can include cafes, local shops, some sightseeing (given that it’s not going to dirty their wedding outfits), or even organize 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 in between ceremonies and events. You can also include a map of the area and recommendations of nearby attractions in wedding welcome bags.

The important thing to keep in mind; however, 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.

How Much Time Between the Ceremony and Reception? Photo Credit // Gerber + Scarpelli Photography

Host a Pre-Reception Gathering

If you’re overly concerned about an hours-long gap between your ceremony and reception, you might want to consider having a family member or friend help host a little pre-reception gathering for guests. For example, if guests are staying 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 stay in a wedding mindset. Alternatively, if your ceremony venue has a space for people to gather, 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.

It’s natural that 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 in between events, with some solid planning, activities for guests, and a positive attitude, people will be ready to celebrate with you all night long.