The question of whether or not it's okay to have a break in the action between your wedding ceremony and reception festivities comes up a lot in wedding planning -- not so much for destination weddings on the beach as it does for couples getting married in churches where they have to grab the only available timeslot on their first-choice wedding date.
Herein lies the problem: What are your guests, especially the ones from out-of-town, supposed to do during that several-hour time span before the party begins? The bride and groom will be taking photos with their family and wedding party and then enjoying a quick break -- but what is everybody else doing?
Unfortunately, most of your guests will kill time at the bar at their hotel or your wedding venue (sometimes it's the same place). The ones who know each other might have parties in their rooms -- all involving booze. What's the end result? A largely wasted group of wedding guests descending on a wedding reception to enjoy the benefits of yet another five hours or so of free open bar. It's a recipe for disaster.
Why do people postpone the reception til later in the day? For a couple of reasons:
1) Some churches will only do ceremonies at certain times of the day on certain days of the week. But the bride and groom still want an evening reception regardless.
2) The ceremony venue is popular and only has one time-slot available early in the day -- but the bride and groom have already selected their evening reception venue.
3) The bride and groom don't want to miss a minute of their wedding reception -- but they want HOURS of pictures and video -- so they send their guests off to entertain themselves for a few hours until it's convenient for the bride and groom to make their big arrival at the event and start the party.
I STRONGLY encourage you to consider having your reception immediately after your wedding ceremony for a lot of reasons, not just because most of your guests will become inebriated in the gap of time you've left them unentertained.
1) This can't be a nap time for guests -- at least not for the ladies. They'll have put on dresses and makeup and done their hair for your wedding ceremony. If they crash for a few hours and have to get ready all over again, it's a nuisance. Hence, the bar entertainment forays mentioned above.
2) Guests from out-of-town, especially if they don't know many other guests, literally have nothing to do during the down time. If you're getting married someplace with lots to do (like Key West), it might not matter. But when you're getting married at home (and home happens to be a Podunk town where the biggest excitement is the local drive-thru Starbucks), people will be bored. And they'll bitch about it.
3) Weddings at different times of day require different attire. It's not really appropriate to wear a full-length formal dress to a wedding before 4 pm. While the trend in popularity toward the "maxi-dress" has changed that a bit, end of day, you dress up more for an evening reception. That's the etiquette. If you get married at 11 am and launch your black-tie reception at 7 pm, you create a wardrobe quandary for your female guests. The guys can wear the same tux to both (nobody does morning coats anymore) -- the ladies, not so much.
If you must have a lag-time between ceremony and reception, do your best to provide suggestions for entertaining alternative activities (alternatives to drinking, that is). Perhaps you could set up a tour of the island or town if it's someplace particularly enchanting.
Getting married in the mountains? What about a train tour for your group in a private car? If you're getting married on an estate with beautiful lawns, consider doing lemonade and iced tea under a tent while offering croquet, badminton and other low-sweat games in the yard. Anything to keep them entertained and sober.
You don't have to serve alcohol at EVERYTHING you do -- but you do have to focus on keeping your guests entertained from the time your ceremony begins til the minute your reception ends. That's the best rule to follow. Otherwise, you can't predict what nonsense they may get up to in the meantime.
Until next time, happy wedding planning from Weddings in Vieques!