OPEN THREAD: How to kill the hours between ceremony and reception?

Bride and Groom Morning After Wedding
Should we just… chill? (Photo by Syx and Taryn Photography.)
I booked the reception venue, which we are only allowed to use after 6pm, way before booking the church. I did not know then that the church would only do a wedding at 1pm. So, assuming the ceremony lasts an hour, we have four hours to kill between the ceremony and the reception.

Question #1: Besides the hour or so it takes for pictures, what are some good ways for the wedding party to spend that time?

Question #2: What do I do about the guests? Most of them live in-town. I have provided a list of recommended restaurants, entertaining places, and events going on that day on our wedding website. Is that enough? -demilicious

You've already nailed the answer on question #2. As long as you provide your guests with lots of info as to how they can spend their time with suggestions like museums, arcades, place to catch happy hour, tourist attractions, and places where they can get lunch, you're golden. There have been lots of weddings with breaks between the ceremony and reception, I'm willing to bet that in all cases there were no great wedding guest uprisings and revolts. Whatever you do, just make sure plans are well-communicated with guests — you don't want folks disoriented.

Now what about you and the wedding party? You could totally go wedding photo crazy for hours — how cool is that!? Then you could schedule a lunch at a nearby restaurant with your gang. Or tell them to go on and eat without you while you and your brand new partner sneak in a little alone time action (if you catch my drift).

There are tons of ways to kill the hours between the ceremony and reception — what are YOUR suggestions!?

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  1. I would totally suggest the photo frenzy fun time. We are having two hours of photos before the ceremony and another two hours after the ceremony. This is mostly because we are having a destination wedding, and we are having a reception on a different day. But if your photographer is willing to travel, you could choose some places nearby that are really awesome and get some cool styled looking shots!
    Good luck!

    2 agree
  2. I would definitely recommend two to four hours for photos. It's unlikely you'll feel like you have too much time for that. It can initially be a bit of a war between herding people to the photos you want them in and them getting bored and wandering off, but there are some good ways around that. Take the photos you want with the largest group first and then taper to your wedding party (or just the two of you!). If you're in a metro area or a good space to wander you can take the wedding party out and about to shoot at fun locations. Having that time to play with really allows you to be creative and get people to relax enough that your photos will look more genuine and less forced. If you've got the whole group, perhaps consider street food vendors as fortification for the long hours of photos. Just remember – once the day is past you'll have your memories, your photos, and your marriage – so make sure you focus on those things!

    1 agrees
  3. we got married in the Italy Pavilion in Epcot. They only do wedding ceremonies at 9am. (oof! sucked for my family from Idaho, but it worked out nicely for us because we were able to book their early morning before the park opens photo session, which was a lot of fun.) Anyway, we had a brunch reception immediately afterward, but we *really* wanted a party during the fireworks. So, after brunch we all went our separate ways for several hours. We were lucky enough to be somewhere that pretty much provides your own entertainment, so all we had to do was communicate when and how to get back to the park for the fireworks.

    What did we do? We slept.

    6 agree
  4. Right on! Guests are generally fine with whatever you plan but communicating that info is the key to success (and happy guests)! If you plan activities like a scavenger hunt or a self guided walking tour of your town include something fun like with a coupon for a free or discounted treat from your local ice cream or candy store – include tips and insights like "best burger in town" or "where we had our first date/kiss". Lawn games, pool parties, vineyard tours, wine/beer tastings, trolley sightseeing tour, bike/bar tours and of course photo booths are all great time fillers, too.

    2 agree
    • Yes! Communication! I once went to a wedding where there ended up being a large time gap. I'm pretty sure it was a 1pm wedding with a 4pm reception with about 35 minutes of travel time between the locations. And they said to head straight to the reception venue for a 4pm start time to the reception. Except the wedding party was 1 hour 45 minutes late to the reception, which was fine for when they were planning on serving dinner. I would have loved to had the time to hit up a couple shops and/or bars in town, but instead we were stuck at the reception site in the middle of nowhere with nothing to do. Almost 2 hours late! They didn't open the bar until they arrived either! So more communication and clear expectations for the guests would be lovely.

      (Sometimes cars can break down, etc, but there was no reason for the wedding party being nearly 2 hours late in this case other than poor planning.)

      3 agree
    • I personally love photo scavenger hunts. My friends and I once set up an elaborate one with a point system. For example is you take a photo outside Micky D's you get one point. In line you get 2. With an employee you get 3. And if you can get a pic of you flipping a burger, you get 10 (because you are obviously awesome).
      We ended up having a lot of fun and kept trying to out do each other. The pictures we got were hilarious.
      I think it could be a fun activity for a wedding with the right crowd.

      6 agree
  5. In addition to the wonderful activities suggested by others, I'm thinking one way to make this one easy on out of town guests is to book the wedding-deal block of hotel rooms close to either the ceremony or the reception venues–like, quick walk close. Many people will choose to go nap–especially if they are older, have young kids, or a chronic illness. Otherwise, 10 hours of activities might be too much for some–I'm counting if the ceremony starts at 1pm and the reception is slated to go well into the evening. Some people will defo want to see the sights, but if it were me, I'd want a quiet place where I could read, watch tv, and gear up for the party!

    8 agree
    • Walking distance is great because then you don't even have to worry about people drinking and driving, either. My one friend had their reception in a conference room of the hotel. It looked nice, and you couldn't beat that convenience.

      4 agree
  6. A request from a wedding guest : I prefer it when a couple either has no break or a long break ( 3+ hours ). It's hard to kill just 1-2 hours, especially if you are anticipating eating at the reception ( i.e. you don't want to go to "lunch" right before "dinner" ).

    24 agree
  7. If you're worried about it, you can do anything from something small like an informal "reception" at a bar before the real reception to something major like a cross-town scavenger hunt. You could rent a bus for a tour, rent out a movie theater to play some flick of your choice for everyone, or arrange for some variety of entertainment. But if people know the area already and you are giving them info on tons of stuff to do, you should be golden. If you're going to send them "into the wild" though, expect that they'll probably look less formal at the reception. We had a long break at my wedding, and no one had a problem with it. It was a tourist town with tons of stuff to do though.

    3 agree
  8. One of the most fun weddings I ever attended had a three and a half hour gap between the end of the ceremony and the start of the reception. The couple had put together a "guidebook" of local activities and good spots to hang out (including bars, coffee shops, bookstores, PARKS AND FREE PUBLIC SPACES, and museums), which it sounds like you have done, but having that IN PRINT at the ceremony was really helpful, especially for those of us unfamiliar with the area. They added a page of details about local public transportation, and noted approximate prices for activities and restaurants. I love the suggestion of booking a nearby spot for guests to nap or recharge privately; this can be a lot of fun, too, especially if there are friends or family around who you want to catch up with. We had a blast wandering around downtown, then spent the rest of our time in a park drinking lemonade and chatting with old friends.

    7 agree
    • Agreed! I went to a wedding with a long break before the reception, and the ceremony program came with an attached postcard with a map of the town and little stars highlighting fun things to do. It wasn't elaborate, just a postcard with a map on one side and list of 5-10 recommendations and notes on the other side, but it was great to carry around town with us.

  9. Our church is actually letting us have a mini reception at the church to help kill time between the ceremony and the reception, a little time to socialize, and have a little snack to tide you over til the reception food. My parents did this when they get married at our church 30 years ago and had a chocolate cake to make my dad happy. My fiancé and I are having little baked Mac and cheese appetizers as that was the first meal my fiancé ever made me. 🙂

    3 agree
    • My fiancé and I are doing the same thing at our church! What are you calling this mini reception? We were thinking interlude

  10. At my BIL's wedding, they hired a party bus to take the bridal party around to picture locations and different bars to bar hop prior to getting to the reception. The reception started before we arrived, with a cocktail hour featuring drinks and snacks to keep people satiated until dinner. I was in charge of making sure the bus got to the reception on time; which definitely included having to veto the plans to go to one last bar; however, I fulfilled my promise to my MIL to get them there on time. It was a fun way for us all to spend some time together, have drinks, get pictures at multiple locations and kill the time between the ceremony and reception.

  11. Hate to be a killjoy, but as a guest & partner of a wedding vendor, ugh, I hate weddings with a big gap in between the ceremony & reception. It means a HUGE time commitment of everyone else's for *your* day. If the guests are local, it's a little easier bec. they can go home, but still, they've dressed up for the ceremony, & then, what, they stay dressed for the whole day until the reception? Or they go home, change, do their own thing, & get dressed again, & go to the reception? Might be fine if the two events are pretty different (say, casual morning ceremony, formal evening reception, or vice versa).

    Out-of-town guests are the ones who are really screwed. They have to find stuff to do — yes, nice of you to provide a list, but are they going to go do stuff by themselves or did they intend to come to your wedding to hang out with people? And what if they didn't plan in advance for their own transportation, so they get stuck without a way to get around to all those neat local places, & just spend the time in their hotel room? Logistics to consider.

    As for extra photo time, remember that you will be paying for all those hours. Cool idea, just make sure to budget for it. Don't forget to give your photographer time for a break. That's an extra-long day for them. By the time you all get to the reception, the photographer is going to be pretty tired & you might not get the best work out of them if they haven't gotten some down time.

    19 agree
    • Thank you. I HATE long gaps. Just my opinion, of course, but I feel like a gap means the couple didn't plan well or that their "vision" for their day is more important than all their guests. After all, some family might be coming out of town and have a long drive, some might have kids at home…..asking them to go back and forth or hang out in the middle of an unfamiliar town for several hours in dress-up limbo strikes me as careless.

      A suggestion for couples who want a church ceremony but an evening reception: host your reception directly following the ceremony, just a simple brunch or snacks in the church basement/hall. That way, guests aren't forced to stick around for hours if they have something else to do that day and are still properly hosted and thanked. Then, have your more fun reception that night. Invite ALL guests to both of course, but again, your older guests or anyone who can't pay for an all-day all-night babysitter can skip that later event without feeling cheated or annoyed that they spent an entire day waiting around.

      5 agree
  12. We had a 2 hour gap between. Wedding party/parents were recruited to do some last minute set up at the reception venue (light candles, put ice out, etc.) and the other guests just hung out… somewhere, perhaps their hotels? I don't know for sure. We gave no direction or guide of what to do for them and based on the feedback I heard, they really enjoyed having a bit of time to socialize with other family and just relax. Of course, you gotta know your crowd, but I really was glad we didn't fret about it because these people are grown ups and managed to kill time independently. As for us, we went to a park and just basked in what we had just done, which was pretty sweet.

  13. I have only ever been to weddings with longish time gaps. I find this works well for me as a guest though, I didn't find it madly inconvenient. Depending on the fancy-ness of the reception in comparison to the church, I use that time to eat something (because I find wedding dinners are rarely served on time) and change. At out of town weddings, I usually just end up hanging out with friends I haven't seen for a while at the hotel bar or one of our rooms and I find it a nice chance to chill and catch up with friends I may not have seen in a while and may not be seated with. I can never think of a time I felt bummed out by the long time (in fact, the time I felt most bummed was a local wedding, where I had no catching up or changing and so sat on a dining room chair knitting and trying not to mess myself and my outfit up). So I would say "Here are some great places to chat and catch up if you don't like hanging out in your hotel." Weddings are usually about bringing people together anyways!

    I wouldn't be too worried about people filling the time. I mean it is nice to be thoughtful, but I am sure guests will find something to do. Are there any free museums or galleries? I love local history and art, so that is a nice thought!

  14. If the vast majority of guests are in town…wouldn't they just go home? I'd have the ceremony attire be more casual, and the reception more formal so people aren't dressed up for 12 hours!

    2 agree
  15. A friend of ours put together a photo scavenger hunt with everything within walking distance. In our case we did it the day before the wedding, but this could be a great opportunity to fill some time. It was tons of fun with wine tasting and we received a bunch of funny and memorable photos from our guests as a result showing them loving the location. Since people could break out into small groups there was a lot of freedom for the guests and it ate up a good 3-4 hours very easily. Whatever you end up doing, it will be wonderful 🙂

    1 agrees
  16. I say shoot, shoot, shoot, breathe, enjoy a alcoholic beverage, shoot and shoot some more. As a photographer In my experience the more time I spend getting to know the bride, groom and wedding party the more fun we have and the better the photos turn out. Obviously don't over do it, but heck why not use the time to try things you might not have thought of originally.

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