Traditionally, a wedding reception occurs right after the wedding ceremony. It’s usually a day-long affair and guests know the drill. But there aren’t as many rules or traditions for a belated wedding reception. At a belated wedding reception, guests aren’t coming from the chapel. Instead, they’re coming from their cars or ride share. And you’re not waiting behind the door in a dress or tux with teary eyes—you’re circling the venue, greeting everyone.
With this break from tradition comes the freedom to plan a wedding celebration however you want. It can be casual or it can be formal. It can be outside and it can be inside. And it can be wherever you want it to be—not where there’s a stage or gazebo nearby! This kind of flexibility is appealing for many couples, especially those who want to elope or want a small wedding but have too many friends.
But, of course, planning anything—even a belated wedding reception—takes work. You still need to inform guests, choose décor, and accommodate those who are traveling. So while you’re in the midst of planning a tradition-free, totally casual celebration, consider these five tips.
Send Invites Early
Even though it’s not an official wedding, guests still need a few weeks’ notice. Four to six weeks is a good rule to follow, especially if you have a lot of out-of-town friends and family. The more notice you give, the more likely guests are to attend, because they’ll have time to book flights or get babysitters.
In the invitation, tell guests that you’re already married and include a wedding photo if you can. If you always planned to elope or have a small ceremony, don’t send any engagement notices. Instead, host your private wedding and send post-wedding invitations for the big party.
Bonus Tip: Don’t use the word “wedding,” as it might confuse guests. Instead, use something like, “Celebrate the marriage of…”
Of course, sometimes life happens and you have to postpone or pare back your wedding. (We’re looking at you, COVID-19.) In that case, you probably already sent engagement notices. And that’s OK! Simply send an updated “We got married!” card with details on your belated wedding reception. Guests will understand and be excited to still be involved.
Don’t Expect Gifts
Typically, bringing a wedding gift is reserved for the actual wedding. If guests weren’t invited to that, you shouldn’t expect gifts from them a few weeks later. To make that expectation clear, don’t add a registry to your invitations or event website, and don’t mention anything gift-related. Unless, of course, you’re telling everyone to skip the gifts!
If guests do bring something, thank them in person at the event, and wait to open the gift at home. Then don’t forget to send them a thank you card!
Plan a Party, Not a Reception
If you had a small, intimate wedding, you probably already cut the cake and had a first dance. While you can certainly do those things at your belated wedding reception—you don’t have to. It will be much easier to plan a party without worrying about seating charts and timing the speeches just right. Instead, you can circulate and celebrate with your family and friends without a timeline.
This also means that you don’t have to wear a wedding dress or tux. Instead, you can wear whatever you want! Keep it casual with a cocktail dress and khakis—or encourage formal attire with a suit and evening gown. Just be sure to mention the dress code in your invitations and on your party website.
Use Elements From Your Wedding
Of course, you’re not planning a second wedding, and we just told you you didn’t have to plan a second wedding reception, either! But you can still incorporate wedding-related elements to your belated celebration. That way, the party is special for you and your guests—it won’t just feel like another holiday or birthday party.
To bring elements of your wedding into the party, serve a cake that’s similar in flavor or style to your wedding cake, and play a video of your wedding or create a slideshow of wedding photos. Consider giving a champagne toast yourself 30 minutes after the party starts, too. Thank your guests for coming and reiterate how important they are to you and your partner. Then cheers!
While you may not have assigned seating, you’ll still have tables and sitting areas for guests. Decorate them with your wedding bouquets or items from your ceremony. At very least, match the new decorations with your wedding colors. Find small ways to make this feel like a special occasion for you and your guests.
Don’t Forget Out-of-Town Guests
While some guests might not be willing to travel if it’s not your “real” wedding, there are plenty of others who are happy to come see you and your beloved. Especially if you eloped—this may be your only wedding ceremony!
Bonus Tip: Because you’re not flying off to your honeymoon, consider a weekend of celebration instead of one day.
Wherever you’re hosting your belated wedding ceremony, don’t forget about your out-of-town guests! Just like planning a big wedding, traveling folks will need recommendations for local hotels that are near the venue. Plus, if the party is big enough, you may be able to reserve a room block at a hotel or two. This will encourage out-of-town friends and family to attend and make the trip easier for them.
Planning a belated wedding reception is a lot of fun! You don’t have the constraints of tradition or expectation, and you’re already married. It’s truly a day of celebration without the morning-of jitters. To make sure it’s your perfect reception, we recommend that you set guest expectations. Let them know you’re already married and that gifts aren’t expected. And try to work in a few details from your wedding ceremony—it will help your guests feel more involved in the event!
How far out is your belated wedding reception? Will you follow typical reception traditions or plan it your own way?