Can I Throw A Wedding With No Dinner?

On sticking to your guns, even when everyone else has an opinion

Q: My husband and I got married this past February 2014 (yay!). We had originally planned a big wedding because, well, it seems that’s just what you do, right? Long story short, we’re not rich, and upon adding up all the expenses for our big day, I would panic, cry myself to sleep, get angry, and generally not even enjoy the fact that, I was about to marry my soul mate.

So, we talked about it, and surprised our immediate family shortly before Christmas 2013 saying, “Come and join us in February for our wedding!” It was a great, intimate day—just us, our parents, my best friend, and his brother. We got married in a beautiful historic hotel in a big suite overlooking the city, and then took everyone out to dinner that evening. Perfect. Much more “us” than a huge wedding would have been.

Now it’s fall, and we’re hosting a “celebration dance” for the rest of our family and friends, which will start at 7 p.m. We want it to feel like we’d just gotten married that day, so people could still feel like they were a part of it. We’re having my maid of honor, his best man, a nice venue, speeches, our first dance, the father/daughter dance, the mother/son dance, cake cutting, bouquet toss, garter toss, a wedding dress and a suit, and there will be a slideshow playing with all the pictures from our ceremony. We’re trying to make it really fun (we even have a scavenger hunt, and whoever finishes it first gets to pick a song for us to have a dance off!). In short, there will be everything you would expect at a wedding reception—except a huge meal.

But even though it very obviously says “Celebration with drinks, cake, and dancing—midnight lunch will be served” on the invite, we’re feeling like a lot of people are expecting dinner. So we’ve tossed around the idea of taking some folks out for dinner—again. We’ve got us, our parents, my maid of honor and her boyfriend, his best man, our grandparents. Then he wants his aunt and uncle who will be coming in from out of town to help his grandparents. That makes sense, but they have three kids, and we can’t expect them to leave their children while they go out. But all these other people are traveling too. Will they be hurt? What about that other aunt and uncle, their children, our cousins? Wouldn’t it be rude to not invite them too?


I like the idea of just me and my husband sharing a pizza in our hotel room while we’re all dressed up, and just having a moment to be us before we go out and have the big evening. He likes it too, but we’re feeling guilty. I know this shouldn’t be about everyone else. But all these painful, “So you want me to come all this way for a measly dance, pay for a hotel room and travel, and not even get fed?” looks are really starting to get to me. Not to mention a great deal of our family isn’t even coming, which, I get it. You missed the actual ceremony, it’s just a dance, but it still hurts. Especially when they live six hours away and are retired, or say they couldn’t book time off even though the September date was well known throughout both our families from when it was supposed to still be a big wedding. We just want them to be there because we love them, and it would be a blast to have them there to celebrate with us.

Do I sound selfish? I don’t even know any more, and we both just wish we weren’t even having this dance anymore. But’s it’s too late to cancel, and really, we don’t want to cancel—we just hate all the stress and games. I know once the day is here, it will be fun. Right? I feel like I’m getting lost in the big wedding again, and that’s not what we wanted.


A: Dear Anonymous,

I don’t need to tell you where the line is. You’ve already beautifully articulated it. The idea of sharing a moment with your husband, all decked out and gorgeous in your finery, grinning at each other over cheesy slices, and then heading out to get caught up in the excitement of it all sounds absolutely perfect. Indeed, from this viewpoint, your whole wedding celebration seems like it’s going to be such a nice time. So your ducks are in a row; now all you have to do is keep them there.

Of course, the problem with that, as we often say around these parts, is that ducks are wily.

You think you’ve come up with a good plan that will keep your guests happy, cared for, and well fed. And then you, or your mother, or your fiancé start to worry that “the people want options.” Then you worry about hurt feelings and not offending anyone, and then you’re back to trying to throw every wedding option that ever was into the mix, so everyone feels like they’re a part of it and got what they wanted, even when you’ve already clearly realized you cannot afford it, and maybe don’t even want it. Well, sure, the people might want options. But what they need is for you to communicate clear expectations. Full stop.

I still feel a little guilty that we did not have a receiving line at our wedding, something my dad really wanted. Wouldn’t it have been an easy thing to just give him, to make him happy? I almost thought so. But it would not have made us happy. We suspected that what we’d want most after marrying each other was a little breathing room to giddily hug and make out. And indeed, the pictures of that ten minute pause are just how I remember it: K crying and holding my bouquet, and me taking off my high heels and putting my feet in her lap, and showing each other our rings even though we’d just put them on the others’ hand, and generally beaming and having the time of our lives before we headed into the reception to have another time of our lives. It was perfect, it was exactly right, and yet I STILL feel badly about not “giving” my dad his receiving line. (In fact, I also feel vaguely guilty about approximately another one hundred wedding-ish things we did not do and could have done, but not all that guilty, because then I remember that we had exactly the right wedding for us.)

That’s the rub of wedding planning. You want to do it all, you can’t do it all, and if you did it all, would it even end up being the wedding you wanted to have? The best you can do is craft something that’s going to matter for you and your new partner, and then provide explicit, clear expectations for your friends and family: here’s what the night will be like, here’s what you’re celebrating, and here is what is NOT going to happen. And then you have to remind yourselves, over and over, that you have crafted a thoughtful, meaningful event within the bounds of what feels right to the two of you and what you can afford. You’ve also met my hard rules of having some sort of food if you’re serving alcohol, and starting late enough so that folks can grab a bite to eat on their own before things get started. So as long as you’ve clearly communicated what’s going to happen, you’ve pretty much done all you can do.

When your aunt/mom/father/best friend says you can’t do X or Y, because it’s just not done, ask yourself: have I clearly communicated what’s going to happen? Am I asking people to fly into the Canary Islands for a food-free celebration, or does my wedding just not look the way they thought it should? If the answer is yes, you have clearly communicated what’s going to happen, then you graciously re-explain why you’ve chosen to celebrate your marriage in the way that you have, and hope for the best.

Of course, while simultaneously holding your line, you have to make space for the hurt feelings you might encounter when folks do not like your line, and the hurt feelings you might have at their reactions—even when you know you’ve been as thoughtful and careful as you can. And that’s a lesson I suspect most of us will re-learn over and over, because it extends to way more than wedding planning.

Team Practical, how have you reined it in when things start to slide away from your vision? How have you balanced trying to meet other people’s needs with what you really want to happen?

Elisabeth Snell is guest writing the Ask Team Practical column while Liz Moorehead is on maternity leave. If you would like to ask Team Practical a question please don’t be shy! You can email: askteampractical [at] apracticalwedding [dot] com. If you would prefer to not be named, anonymous questions are also accepted. Though it really makes our day when you come up with a clever sign-off!

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