Should You Have Evening-Only Wedding Guests? Etiquette Explained

Most U.K. weddings consist of three main parts: the ceremony, the wedding breakfast (followed by toasts and speeches), and the evening reception. The reception starts at roughly 7pm, and features dancing, drinking and informal catering (usually a finger buffet).
However, not every wedding guest has to attend the entire day. If you’d really like a lot of guests at your wedding, but you can’t afford to feed all of them at the wedding breakfast (or the ceremony venue isn’t big enough), there is a solution: invite them as evening-only guests.
In this article, we’ll discuss the benefits of having evening-only guests, who your evening guests should be, and how to word their invitations. We’ll also answer some of the most frequently asked etiquette questions about evening wedding guests.

Is It OK to Invite Guests to Just the Wedding Reception?

It’s perfectly acceptable to invite some guests to the wedding reception only. Anyone who has been to a wedding before will be familiar with this concept.
It’s important to note, however, that you can’t do things the other way around. It’s practically unheard of to invite guests to the ceremony or wedding breakfast but not invite them to the evening reception. Anyone who attends the ceremony will expect to be fed a proper meal, and join in on the evening fun.
Evening wedding guests usually show up at around 6-7pm, after the wedding breakfast is over, and just before the newlyweds’ first dance. This way, they still get to celebrate your wedding with you, even if they weren’t able to attend the ceremony and meal.

…But Won’t It Come Across as Rude?

No, it’s not rude at all to invite some guests to the evening reception only. It’s no secret how expensive weddings are, after all. Any sensible person will understand that most people simply can’t afford to feed a 3-course meal to everyone they know.
Anyone that receives an evening invitation will be happy that they get to experience a part of your special day. If anyone is offended and causes a fuss because they aren’t invited to the whole thing, they aren’t a true friend - and you may want to reconsider inviting them at all.

The Benefits of Having Evening-Only Wedding Guests

There are many reasons why you might choose to have evening-only wedding guests, as well as your all-day guests. For example:
• Budget constraints. With the average cost of a wedding breakfast being £35 – £50 per head, you might not be able to afford to feed all of your guests. Inviting some guests to the evening reception only is a great way to get around this.
• Space restrictions. There may not be enough space at your chosen ceremony or wedding breakfast venue for everyone you’d want to invite. However, you could hire a larger venue for the evening reception.
• Privacy. The idea of reciting very personal wedding vows and then kissing your partner in front of 100+ people may be daunting for some. Get around this by inviting only your closest friends and family to the ceremony, with more guests joining you in the evening.
• Personal reasons. Perhaps you have a few work colleagues or family members that you simply don’t want to be around all day, but you feel that you have to invite them to at least some part of your wedding to avoid drama.
• Solving scheduling problems. Some of your guests may be unavailable during the day due to work or childcare commitments, but they may be free in the evening.

Who Should I Invite to the Evening Reception?

If you have invited a guest to your bridal shower, hen do or stag party, it’s good etiquette to invite them to the whole wedding day. This is especially important if they brought a gift, or contributed financially to the hen or stag parties.
Other than that, it’s up to you who you invite as a day guest, and who attends as an evening guest. Generally, brides and grooms will invite their closest friends and family members to the ceremony and meal. Distant relatives (such as second cousins), casual acquaintances and work colleagues tend to be evening guests.

It really depends on your budget. Work out how many guests you can afford to feed (and how many will fit into the ceremony/dining rooms), and figure out your list from there.
As far as possible, try to keep specific friend groups, family groups and co-worker groups together. For example, if you have four co-workers, either invite them all as day guests or as evening guests. This will avoid resentment and jealousy.
Remember to check the capacity limit with your reception venue before you send out your invites. Venue staff and wedding suppliers all count, too.

How to Invite Someone to Just the Wedding Reception

If you want to invite evening-only wedding guests, the best way to do that is with an evening wedding invitation. These are very similar to wedding day invitations, but their purpose is to invite guests to the reception only.
The only real difference between an evening invitation and a day invitation is the wording. You’ll need to tell your evening guests what time to arrive. And of course, they’ll only need the address of the reception venue.
Usually, both day and evening wedding invitations are sent out at the same time (typically 6-8 weeks before the wedding).
At Bride and Groom Direct, we stock hundreds of evening wedding invitation designs. The vast majority of our evening invitation templates have matching wedding day invitation templates, as well as matching reply cards and thank you cards. As we offer a flat rate for postage, why not order all of your wedding stationery at the same time?

Save the Dates for Evening Wedding Guests

Do evening wedding guests get save the dates? Yes, they do. A save the date is simply a card informing people of the date of your wedding, at least 4 months in advance. This lets attendees keep the date free.
Receiving a save the date isn’t a guarantee that you’ll be invited to the entire wedding day. But it does indicate that you’ll at least be invited to the evening reception. It’s considered very impolite to send someone a save the date and then not invite them to any part of your wedding.

Evening Wedding Invitation Wording

Evening wedding invitations go out along with day invitations, around 6-8 weeks before the wedding. However you word your evening wedding invitations, you must make it clear that this is only an invitation for the reception – not the ceremony or wedding breakfast.
Clearly, it would be rude to write “You are not invited to the ceremony” on your evening guests’ invitations. But there are ways that you can get the point across politely. Here are some evening wedding invite wording examples:

Mr and Mrs John Robinson
request the honour of your presence
at the evening reception
following the marriage of their daughter
Alison Jane
Richard Michael Montgomery
on Saturday the thirteenth of August, 2022
at seven o’clock in the evening
Or, if you prefer a less formal invitation:
Alison and Richard
invite you to join them
for an evening of drinks and dancing
to celebrate their wedding
at 7pm
on Saturday 13th August, 2022
There should be no ambiguity here – the last thing you need is for an evening-only guest to turn up to the ceremony, and expect to be fed afterwards, when there’s no meal or seat allocated for them!

Evening Wedding Guest FAQs

Here are some of the most frequently asked etiquette questions about evening-only wedding guests. We hope you find them useful!

Do Evening Wedding Guests Need to RSVP?

Yes, of course. You should send out evening wedding invitations at the same time as day invites, along with a RSVP card bearing the same deadline. You may wish to use a different reply card design for evening-only guests, so that you can more easily sort your RSVPs.

Do I Have to Feed My Evening Guests?

Evening guests aren’t invited to the sit-down wedding breakfast (which is usually a formal three- or four-course dinner). This usually finishes before your evening guests arrive. However, your evening wedding guests will want to eat something over the course of the night, especially if they’ll be staying for more than 3 hours. Most weddings serve some form of informal fayre at around 8-9pm – this may be a buffet, a food van or a hog roast, for example.

Do Evening Wedding Guests Give Gifts?

Some evening wedding guests bring gifts, while others don’t. If your evening guests do bring a gift, it will likely be a less valuable or smaller gift than your day guests. This is because you aren’t spending as much money on your evening guests as your day guests. You can still share your gift list with your evening guests, but ensure there’s a good range of gift price points.

What Time Do Evening Wedding Guests Arrive?

This is up to you. Typically, evening guests are encouraged to arrive before the first dance begins, and sometimes before the cutting of the cake – usually around 6-7pm. Talk to your wedding planner and/or venue to figure out a rough timeline of the day, and then you’ll know when to ask your evening guests to appear.

What Do Evening Wedding Guests Wear?

The evening reception part of a wedding usually isn’t as formal as the ceremony and wedding breakfast. It usually involves dancing, drinking, and a casual buffet. Therefore, you should expect your evening guests to dress slightly less formally than your day guests. Think “smart casual”: smart trousers and a shirt for men (tie optional). Women might wear a mid-length, comfortable dress that’s easy to dance in, or a smart top and skirt or trousers.

Do Evening Guests Get Wedding Favours?

Normally, evening wedding guests don’t get wedding favours. This is because they are typically given to guests during the wedding breakfast (left on the dining table next to each guest’s place card). However, if you wish to give wedding favours to your evening guests as well, you could place all the favours on a table at the evening venue.

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