I was recently asked an etiquette question that was difficult to answer.
This bride has a ceremony site which is larger than the reception site. This situation is the opposite from what you would normally see. Enter the dilemma. There will be fewer guests at the reception. So, how does one invite a bunch of guests to a ceremony but not to the reception and stay within the lines of etiquette?
One option would be to create two separate sets of invitations. One would end with an invitation to the reception, along with its location and the other would omit anything about the reception.
The alternative would be to create reception cards. This way you only have to make one set of invitations, and just add a reception card to those who will be invited to the reception. This card should include all the information necessary to prepare a guest. It is important that you include what kind of reception is to follow the ceremony (dinner, cake, cocktail) so that they are not expecting a feast when they are met with one slice of cake.
Another good tip would be to tell your parents, your bridal party and anyone else directly related to the wedding to have a stock answer for those phone calls from guests who weren’t invited to the reception. The easiest answer would be ‘because of limited space, we had to have a family-only reception’. Of course, if that is what you’re saying, then it better be true. The only exception would be the bridal party. If it isn’t for family only, another good term is ‘private reception’ and be sure to put this on your reception card, so guests don’t get chatty about it with everyone who isn’t invited.
Remember that a wedding is one of the most common times that people get their feelings hurt. Be very sensitive to your guests and explain to them that they are important to you and that you would be honored if they could witness the most important time in your life. You could even have a low-key ‘reception’ after the honeymoon for those who weren’t invited to the original reception, if your budget allows it.