It's not unusual for couples to get married in the presence of only a few of their closest family members and friends and then celebrate with a larger crowd later. The reason could be anything from keeping the ceremony intimate to a dream venue with a low capacity to the major anxiety (and cost) associated with saying "I do" in front of 200 people.
But how do you do that without offending guests who aren't part of the entire ordeal? Amber Harrison, Wedding Paper Divas’ style and etiquette expert, suggests including an insert or sending a separate invite with details on the ceremony for the select guests invited to listen to your vows. Make sure that there's no mention of the ceremony on invites sent to those only coming to the reception. Keep in mind: Most people are looking forward to the party, so skipping the processional is—surprise—probably not a big deal for many of your guests anyway.
But doing the opposite—inviting everyone to the ceremony but only a few guests to a sit-down dinner—is a whole different story. In other words: That's a no. "Anyone invited to the engagement party, bridal shower, or ceremony should be invited to the reception," says Harrison. "My recommendation would be to cull down the invite list until you’re in a place where you can afford to invite those celebrating your wedding ceremony to join you for a celebration of the big day."
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Designers and bridal experts Valerie and Stephanie Chin agree: "It would be rude to only invite them [guests] to the ceremony since it gives the impression of, 'I want you at the ceremony, but don’t want to pay for your dinner plate.' You definitely don’t want to give off that impression on your big day. If you have always envisioned a big wedding ceremony with numerous guests, expect to also have a large reception as well."
Think of it this way: Each one of your guests has invested time and money to be with you on your day. That's how they show you that you're special to them. They don't want to feel like you don't appreciate that.
If you are on a tight budget, keep the list short—close family and friends only—or consider having a DIY cocktail-style reception with drinks and light snacks instead of a sit-down dinner. That way, you cut the costs of your reception and get to spend time with your guests. All of them.