You and yours finally tied the knot at your dream wedding ceremony in Washington DC… now what? Before the bubbly is popped and the wedding celebration begins, what are your guests to do between the end of your ceremony and the start of the reception?? One of our bride-to-be readers, Christy, sent us her dilemma for her wedding in DC this fall. What should she do about an awkward time gap between her wedding ceremony and reception? Here is Christy’s question:

I’m getting married this September here in DC and I was hoping you might be able to offer some advice, or maybe even do a post on this topic! Our wedding will be a Catholic ceremony at 2:00 and our cocktail hour/reception won’t start until 5:30 or 6. I’m looking for fun and creative ways to entertain our guests during that time. I’ve been to weddings where there was a long gap between events and a lot of people ended up just going to a bar and getting way too drunk before the party even started! About 95% of our guests will be traveling to DC for the wedding, many of them for the first time. I had thought about arranging a bus tour of DC, but I’ve gotten some advice that that can be logistically difficult with people wanting to go back to the hotel between events. It also might not fit into our budget.


Photo Credit: Kurstin Roe Photography from Hand Painted DC Wedding Invitations

To help Christy, we turned right to the people who will know exactly what to do! I went to some of the best wedding experts in the Washington DC area and asked for their advice on how to handle it.

Welcome to Washington DC

“A fun and inexpensive alternative to a monument tour is a scavenger hunt throughout the city. The couple can create a unique tour of their favorite spots that would still allow the out-of-towners to get a glimpse of the DC attractions. The scavenger hunt would allow those guests that do want to go back to their hotel freedom, while keeping a majority of the guests occupied outside a bar.” — Cindy, A. Dominick Events

“I would suggest a self-guided walking tour of DC. If the couple does their research about the area either around their church, hotel, or reception venue, they can pinpoint some locations of interest. From there, they could compose a map along with detailed information about each stopping point.” — Courtney, owner of A Sweet Soiree

“If your budget does not allow for an activity to occupy your guests, provide a fun map of the area with you and your fiancée’s favorite things or spots that are special to you both. Include first date location, first kiss location, favorite museum, garden, where he proposed, first job, etc. It will keep your guests feeling involved and allows them to get a little sneak peek into how your relationship developed or why that area is special to the both of you.” — Ashlee and Tricia, Ashlee Virginia Events

“I think the simplest thing to do is take guests (probably via bus) to one of your favorite places. A museum would be ideal, to avoid the boozing, and they are generally open until at least 5 pm. But maybe it’s an art gallery, monument, or historic site; it doesn’t really matter, as long as it is a place that is special to you or a place you yourself would like to visit. You should designate someone as the group leader, and if the guests are going to a place that charges an admission fee, you should probably plan to cover this.” — Janice, owner of Bellwether Events

“Guests have always enjoyed learning about the cities that they’re visiting, and why their bride and groom specifically chose that city for their big day, but keep in mind that many will choose not to partake in the option. For the ones who don’t, remember to include a details card with your invitation suite that provides the guests with other local activities of interest, or (even better!) direct guests to your wedding website with all of the important information.” — Wendy, owner of Fête Studio

“Have your guests sign up to visit attractions like Air and Space Museum, Lincoln Memorial, Thomas Jefferson Memorial etc. They got the options in the mail with their invitation and they checked off which place they wanted to go to in between the ceremony and reception. Then have a local friend/guest guide them and meet them in the hotel lobby with a sign for the memorial (Kinda like the sign you get when you arrive at the airport and a limo is waiting for you.) Lots of people? No problem! They all jump in cabs together and pay for it themselves. Either way, it is a cheap and your friends who can’t be in the wedding party feel like they are a big part of the day.” — Katie, owner Elegance and Simplicity

corn-hole-casual-outdoor-virginia-farm-wedding-Red-Shoes-Photography cornhole-games-casual-outdoor-virginia-farm-wedding-Red-Shoes-Photography

Photo Credit: Red Shoes Photography from Paulette + Matthew’s wedding

Fun and Games

“Do keep in mind the guests might be wearing more formal attire (and footwear). One idea: if the church has a community hall, perhaps you can hire a dance instructor. I’ve done that before (although during a reception) where the instructor and partner performed a routine as a surprise to the guests, followed by a 30-45 minute lesson for those who want to participate. For those who do not want to participate, maybe you can have some light refreshments and guests can mingle.” — Vicky, owner of Event Accomplished

“Offer a hospitality suite where wedding guests can freshen up before the reception. The room can include an iron or a steamer for freshening up the reception outfits; snacks and bottles of water for hungry guests; and coloring books and board games for the children. If you are afraid that the guests might go to the local bar, include a TV and seating in the hospitality suite so that the guests can check out the local sports.” — Hana, Howerton+Wooten Events

“Here are two interactive ideas for guests during an extended cocktail that would work well in this situation. (1.) Lawn games—you can easily create some DIY lawn games for a nearby park and/or outside the venue such as: lawn dice, Jenga, lawn Scrabble or bean bag toss. (2.) Magician or comedian—there are some great local talents in our area, this may require the couple to rent a conference room at the hotel where there guests are staying, put on a 30 minute or 60 minute show.” — Margo, owner Bright Occasions

“Have the photographer set up a photobooth at the reception early while guests wait for the cocktail hour to begin and have bottle water handy.” — Katie, owner Elegance and Simplicity

Woodend Wedding

Photo Credit: The Happy Couple Wedding Photography from Emily + Dustin’s wedding

Mix and Mingle 

“Set up an informal afternoon tea at the host hotel. Serve coffee, tea, and lemonade (or hot chocolate in the winter) and skip the alcohol. Small bites like tea sandwiches and miniature sweets are the perfect light fare to hold guests over until the reception. If budget allows, add some interactive element like a silhouette artist or a caricaturist.” — Christine, Engaging Affairs

“With approval from your church, have a food truck pull up outside for some snacks before the reception. We love Captain Cookie and the Milkman. Or, pass out snack boxes and drop the guests off at a nearby park or the National Mall with a few lawn games.” — Cindy, A. Dominick Events

“One option is to make the wedding reception black tie. Catholic weddings, with a full mass, are typically 60-minutes long, so wedding guests will have approximately two free hours to change their clothes between the ceremony and reception.” — Marlo, Howerton+Wooten Events


Thank you so much to all of the planners who helped to answer Christy’s question! Be sure to check out the fabulous DC area wedding vendors who helped with this advice post possible. They truly do know what makes having a wedding in this area unique!

So, what are you going to to with a big time gap betwee

If you are planning a wedding in the DC area, there is plenty on United With Love for you. From tips and advice form DC area wedding pros, a real wedding gallery for beautiful Washington, DC area weddings and loads of inspiration in our DC area wedding idea galleries. You can also join the local wedding conversation on our Washington DC area wedding forums!

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