bride above a beautiful wedding reception

How to Plan an Amazing “Wedding Reception Only”

This guide is for couples who want a small wedding ceremony and are planning a “wedding reception only.” While the “only” part may make the planning sound easier, it’s still an overwhelming wedding planning task (but it doesn’t have to be!) We’ve broken down the task of planning a wedding reception only into a few easy steps, plus provided a few checklists and apps that keep you on track.

Where to Start Planning a Wedding Reception Only

It doesn’t matter why you decided to plan a wedding reception only or where your wedding ceremony was (though plan on answering a LOT of questions about it at the reception). The steps for planning a wedding reception only are the same, though they can get mixed around. (Except for the first step!)

Talk with your fiancé.

The first step of planning a wedding reception only is to have a conversation with your fiancé. Discuss with your fiancé key details, such as the location, wedding style, wedding budget, size of wedding reception, and other key wedding details. (Here is a complete list of questions to ask before planning your wedding reception.) This discussion is your chance to have an honest talk about your finances and anything else you or your fiancé really want at the wedding.

Choose your wedding date and venue.

The next steps are to set a wedding date and choose a wedding venue—and these steps are totally interchangeable! Some couples have their heart set on a wedding date and make a list of wedding venues that are available (plus fit their estimated guest count and budget) on their wedding date. Other couples contact their favorite wedding venues and ask what dates are open, then choose one of the available dates. The exact sequence is up to you; if you’re stuck, here is a complete guide for choosing the best wedding venue and selecting the right wedding date.

Set a schedule.

Do you want a wedding reception with a cocktail hour and dinner? Or a dance only? The answer to these questions can help you set a schedule for your wedding reception, which you can relay to your wedding vendors when you hire them. (Professional tip: always leave plenty of time for photos. Your wedding photographer can give you an exact estimate of the amount of time needed.) Typically, the wedding reception schedule is something like this: cocktail hour, meal, dance (with cutting of cake). (Click here for a more detailed breakdown of the wedding reception order of events.)

Hire the best vendors and entertainment.

The next step is to start hiring vendors and entertainment. Typically, this list includes a caterer, photographer, videographer (optional), entertainment (i.e. DJ, band, DIY), bakery (for cake), florist (if applicable), and reception décor vendor. Some couples might also need to hire staff (i.e. bartender, coat check, etc.) if staffing is not provided by the wedding venue. (Use this guide to hire the best wedding vendors for your big day.) If this checklist feels overwhelming, it’s okay to hire a wedding planner. Some wedding venues even have planners on staff, which is a big help because they are already familiar with the venue and local vendors.

Wedding Reception Only Tips

  • Organize, organize, organize! Make a binder with all your paperwork (i.e. contracts, receipts, wedding planning checklist, etc.) or establish an electronic storage system. You can also use a wedding planning app to stay on top of deadlines and details.
  • Be creative about telling your story, including your wedding ceremony, at the wedding reception. There are so many options, such as a video or photo board.
  • Plan on wording your wedding invites just a bit differently than a ceremony plus reception invitation. (Use these tips for wedding reception only invite wording.)
  • Set up a wedding website with helpful information for your guests, such as the cost of parking, directions to the venue, etc. (Here is a complete list of items you should include in your wedding website.)
  • Spice up your wedding entertainment with table trivia, lighting, photo booth, dance floor games, or one of these other fun wedding entertainment ideas for an enjoyable evening.

Wedding Planning Apps & Checklists

Wedding Planning Checklist

Best Wedding Planning Apps/Websites

Wedding Budget Worksheet

Wedding Budget Tips and Tricks