Timing is everything

What to do between the ceremony and reception ?? (photo credit: Susie Forrester

Two time related topics today: the gap between the ceremony and reception, and the receiving line. Both of these issues impact your guests’ experience because standing around doing nothing is not fun.

If you are having your ceremony at a house of worship, you may have little or no flexibility about the time it will take place. If your desired time slot is too close to regularly scheduled services, or there is another wedding scheduled on your date, you may have to take the time this is offered. Then, if the ceremony and reception are too far apart, what do your guests do in the gap?

Think this one through carefully. Out-of-towners won’t know where to go or what to do, and even locals may struggle. You don’t want them sitting in their car in a parking lot!  So if at all possible, tighten up the time between the ceremony and beginning of the party, usually a cocktail hour.

Give your guests great directions from location to location and if you must have that gap, include some places for them to stop at on the way. But this is still not ideal. After all, folks are usually dressed up for a wedding and stopping for coffee, or to go shopping just feels silly. And who wants to eat before a reception?

If your reason for a longer gap between the ceremony and cocktail hour is for your photos, consider extending your cocktail hour so you, the couple, can still be a part of it. Be clear with your photographer about the amount of time you are willing to give up to do this. There are other photo opportunities and getting to your own party to be with your guests is an important priority. This is one reason many couples are doing some or most photos before the ceremony and why the ‘first look’ photos have evolved.  (I’ll write about ‘first look’ another time.)

Bottom line: when booking venues check with your ceremony location (church, synagogue, mosque, etc) first, then figure out your reception time from there. This is one of the biggest reasons so many couples choose to have their ceremony and reception at the same location. It’s just an all around better experience for the guest.

The receiving line is another time thief. I’m glad this is waning in popularity, because after sitting at the ceremony (and hopefully it was a wonderful experience) most folks are anxious to get a drink, visit a restroom, or start mingling and celebrating. But remember, without a receiving line you have to be very committed to visiting every single guest at your reception. Don’t mess this up!

Sometimes an unintended receiving lines starts, so after the recessional be sure you know where you’re headed. If you stop at the end of the aisle, a line will form!

If you are having a receiving line, consider having drinks and even hors d’œuvres provided by wait staff. Taking it a step further, have your DJ or ceremony musicians continuing with music, something festive and upbeat! Or have some ritual or activity for your guests to participate in as they wait, such as signing a book.

If you want your wedding to be a wonderful experience for your guests think about it from their point of view and you’ll know what to do. Consider what you loved or disliked about wedding you’ve attending, and let experience guide you.

Thank you Susie Forrester  for the great photo!


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  • Blog Author

    Lois Heckman

    Lois Heckman is a certified Life-Cycle Celebrant who officiates at weddings, funerals, and other ceremonies in the Poconos and beyond. She has performed hundreds of ceremonies and brings a wealth of knowledge to her work. Visit her website: ... Read Full
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