Let’s talk reception length for a minute. I’m probably going to blow your mind here, but your reception should not last longer than 4 hours. Seriously. It should only be 4 hours, 5 hours maximum. If you’re thinking I’m nuts and are about to click off this post, hang with me for just a minute. I want to put things into perspective and explain why.

First, I’m talking about your reception only. When you add in your ceremony time, of course it will be longer than 4 hours. But, when you break it down, here’s what you get in terms of total length for the day. Let’s assume you’re having a 5:00 PM ceremony that will be on the same property as your reception. If you’re ceremony begins at 5:00, guests will begin to arrive between 4:30 – 4:45, meaning they leave their house around 4:00 (obviously depends on distance to your venue). If cocktail hour begins when your reception ends around 5:30, it’s 9:30 before your reception would be over. By this point in the evening, many guests will have left leaving, most likely, your immediate families, close friends and bridal party, typically between 30-50 people. This is the crowd that would hang with you all night if that’s how long the party lasted and that’s awesome! But, it may not be in your best interest to keep it going that long. Here’s why….

Additional Hourly Rates

Many of your vendors will have an hourly rate that’s charged if they event lasts longer than the agreed upon package. For example, you choose an 8 hour photography package. If you want pictures getting ready, you’ve exhausted your 8 hours by 9 PM. So, if you want your photographer to stay till the end, you’ll be paying his or her hourly rate until that time. The same goes for any vendor that sells packages with set hours.


You may not know it but should someone indulge a bit too much in some adult beverages at your wedding then get behind the wheel and the unthinkable happen, liability falls on you. Yep, it’s all on you. You should purchase a one day liability policy to help mitigate the risk. But, I always suggest ending your reception at a reasonable hour and moving the party to your favorite local bar to keep your liability to a minimum. Plus, then you don’t have to buy as much alcohol keeping your cost down a bit.

Grand Exit

You’ve seen the beautiful grand exit pictures with sparklers, smoke bombs, and even glow sticks. What gives these images all the impact is the number of people in them. If your reception goes till midnight, you’re not going to have many people there for your grand exit. By limiting your reception to 4 hours, you’ll find that more people will stay till the end giving you that amazing grand exit picture you’ll hang on the wall in your new home together for years to come.

My Suggestion

You already know I’m a believer in the 4-5 hour reception. But, I also completely understand that you only get one night to celebrate with all your friends and family. I suggest sticking to an early exit and planning one heck of an afterparty. Contact your favorite local late night spot and reserve an area. Purchase a few late night snacks for the group and let everyone buy their own drinks. This shields you from some of the liability, allow you to continue celebrating till the cows come home and gives guests the flexibility to head home at their leisure.

* Disclaimer: In regards to liability, note The I Do List and it’s owner Sarah White are not attorneys. Please seek legal advise from a licensed and practicing attorney in your area regarding liability issues with regards to your wedding.