The Ultimate Elopement Reception Planning Guide

Are you planning to elope but still want to celebrate with a party or reception afterwards? Check out this guide for everything you need to know, so you can forget the work and focus on having fun!

Groom holds bride while they touch foreheads in a field with a mountain in the background

Why would you choose to elope but still want to plan a reception after eloping?

There are some big misconceptions around why a couple might choose to elope, mostly because so many people still think of eloping as running away to get married in secret. 

But the definition of eloping has changed, and these days an elopement is really just a smaller, more intentionally thought out wedding. (It could be just you two, or you might choose to include some friends and family).

There are so many reasons that a couple might want to elope! Here are just a few:

  1. COVID-19 ruined your original wedding plans but you still want to get married!
  1. You want your wedding day–one of the most special days in your life–to be about you two! Many big, traditional weddings have become more about the guest experience or what other people want than about the actual couple getting married. In fact, many couples say they felt that their wedding day was a total blur because it went by so fast, and they hardly had any “just us” time to spend together.
  1. Less planning stress. As much fun as traditional weddings can be sometimes, they really are quite stressful. There’s a reason you’ve probably heard at least a couple of your married friends say that they couldn’t wait for their wedding day to be over. 
  1. And less drama too! If the stress of planning a big event hasn’t gotten to you, there’s still the possibility of family drama. The truth is that not everyone is close to their families. And even those who are may have disagreements with their own family members or their partner’s family members about things like who gets invited, whether the ceremony will be in a church, or any number of other things related to wedding planning. The fact is that this type of drama can really put a damper on what is supposed to be a happy and exciting event.
  1. You value experiences more than things. The big wedding industry has found a way to really shift the focus of a wedding from the commitment that a couple is making to one another, to very material things like table centerpieces, floral arrangements, and other wedding decor. Some people are excited to spend on these types of things, but other people would much rather spend their money on an experience that they’ll never forget.
  1. Epic life experiences are a huge part of your relationship. If you’re anything like me, travel and adventure are a big part of your relationship. It seems only right that your wedding would reflect what matters most to you. You want a day that is unique and unforgettable, and an elopement fits the bill perfectly.
  1. A big wedding “just doesn’t feel right.” Maybe you just can’t put your finger on why a big, traditional wedding doesn’t feel like the right fit for you and your partner. An elopement gives you 100 percent freedom and flexibility to do whatever you want for your wedding day. It’s your wedding day. YOU make the rules!
Bride and groom standing on large grey boulders and holding hands

There are plenty of other reasons why you might choose to elope, but whatever the reason is, it doesn’t mean that you don’t want to celebrate your marriage with anyone.

You might have chosen to elope internationally or you went on a fun “just us” adventure, and now you still want to have a party with your loved ones. 

Maybe you have family members or friends that wanted to be included in a special way for your marriage, and this is really a great way to do that.

Or perhaps you just got your photos or video back from your elopement day and you want to be able to share your epic experience with friends and family. 

Well here’s the great news–you CAN still elope and have a celebration afterwards. In other words, you can have your proverbial cake and eat it too.

What to do after eloping: Post elopement reception ideas

Reception is a general word, but really it can mean any type of celebration, party, or get together that you can think of. It can be as formal or informal as you want. Here are a few ideas to help you visualize the type of party you can have, but really the options are endless!

  1. Wedding-style post elopement reception. If you still want the same type of reception as a wedding but you want the ceremony to be private, you can still host a more traditional reception after eloping. This comes with the drawback of being much more stressful to plan, but the effort might be worth it to you. You could also hire a wedding planner to put together just a reception for you and avoid the stress altogether.
  1. Backyard BBQ. On the other end of the spectrum, this is a much more informal gathering, but just as fun. I recommend asking a friend or relative to man the grill so you can focus on having fun. Or you can always order food in from a local BBQ restaurant, which has the bonus of typically being more affordable than many other types of catered food.
  1. Potluck style celebration. Another more relaxed option for a celebration would be a potluck. Instead of asking for wedding gifts, you can ask your friends and family for the gift of being there to celebrate with you and bringing their favorite dish. This type of party has such an intimate feel because everyone is really a part of making the celebration special.
  1. Picnic reception. This is another twist on a BBQ or potluck idea, but instead of being at someone’s home, you can rent a public pavilion or choose another outdoor location nearby.
  1. Brunch. If you love brunch (and who doesn’t) you might consider this type of meal for your elopement celebration. You could make food at home, order in your brunch, or choose a restaurant to host your meal.
  1. Airbnb/VRBO celebration. If your friends and family live elsewhere (or even if they don’t!), you could rent a house together through Airbnb or VRBO and turn the celebration into a multi-day affair. Check out this post for more info on Airbnb Weddings and to find a stunning property to host your elopement reception!
  1. Camping reception. This is a great option for people who have family and friends that love to be outdoors together. You might go on a weekend camping trip together and celebrate your elopement on the trails and around the campfire.
Groom kissing bride's hands at a sunrise elopement in Garden of the Gods in Colorado

Steps to planning your elopement reception

  1. Get inspired and think about what elopement reception style fits you best
  2. Decide on a budget
  3. Make a list of who you want to invite
  4. Decide when to have your reception after eloping 
  5. Decide where to have your elopement reception
  6. Decide what you want to do for your elopement celebration
  7. Think through food and beverage options, such as a potluck, catering, private chef, or even a food truck!
  8. Announce your elopement and invite your loved ones
  9. Confirm headcount
  10. Get any decorations together that you want to have
  11. Hire any vendors you want (planner, food/beverage, DJ, photographer, videographer)
  12. Celebrate your elopement!! 

When to have your reception after eloping

Most people have their elopement celebration within a few months after eloping, but it’s really up to you and your schedule.

You might choose to postpone your reception due to a life event such as the birth of a baby, a deployment, or any other number of life events. You might also want to wait until a different season or time of year. 

For example, if you live in the United States and decide to have an adventure elopement in New Zealand in December (which is summertime down there), maybe you want to wait until the summertime back home to have a picnic celebration.

If you choose to delay your celebration, you might consider having it on your one year anniversary and renewing your vows.

Or you can even have a pre-elopement party,  similar to a couples shower or rehearsal dinner, if that works better for your schedule!

Where to have your elopement reception

When you’re thinking about where to have your reception, the first thing you need to decide is the city or state where it will take place. 

If you and your loved ones live in different cities or states, you might decide to have the reception where you live or you might have it where most of your family lives. Or if your friends and family are scattered, you might decide to have the elopement celebration in a fun destination spot.

You’ll also need to decide on a location for the reception, which could be a formal or informal location. Here are a few ideas to consider:

  • Traditional wedding venue/reception hall
  • Your home
  • A friend or family member’s home
  • Restaurant or bar
  • Local brewery or distillery 
  • Winery
  • Local picnic pavilion
  • Campsite
  • Airbnb/VRBO
Bride and groom dancing in a pine forest with yellow flowers while the sun shines down on them

Elopement party ideas

You have lots of options for what activities you want to do at your elopement party. If you need some inspiration, here are some ideas:

  • Lawn games, such as cornhole, croquet, or giant jenga.
  • Speeches or toasts. This could be a great way to include friends or family and make them feel like they are a special part of your day.
  • Dancing. You could hire a DJ or even just make Spotify playlist.
  • You could have the traditional wedding dances such as the bride and groom’s first dance, the mother-son dance, or the father-daughter dance.
  • You could show a slideshow of your photos from your elopement day or show the video if you hired a videographer.
  • You might consider presenting heartfelt letters or meaningful gifts to parents or special loved ones.
  • Does your family have any special wedding traditions? You might still be able to incorporate these into your post elopement party.

How to announce your elopement and elopement reception invitations

The number one piece of advice for announcing your elopement and inviting loved ones to celebrate is to make it clear that this is a celebration of your marriage and not an actual wedding invitation. In fact, it might be best to avoid using the word wedding altogether to eliminate confusion.

For example, instead of using the words “invited to the marriage of,” you could use the words “invited to celebrate the recent marriage of,” or something along those lines. You may want to include the date that the elopement occured to make it even more clear.

Another important thing to keep in mind is that the formality of the invitation will likely dictate the expected formality of the event. 

For instance, if you decide to send out formal emails or paper invitations to your elopement reception, most people will think it is going to be a more formal event, similar to a rehearsal dinner or wedding reception. And this is great if you want your celebration to have this type of look or feel to it. 

But on the other hand, if you truly want a relaxed event like a potluck, backyard BBQ, etc., you will probably want your elopement reception invitations to reflect that. In this case, you might consider a simple phone call or text to let them know that you’re planning a more casual get together and want them there to celebrate with you.

Finally, know that it is really your choice to decide whether to explain your rationale for choosing to elope rather than have a big wedding. If you want to explain to people, you can. But no one has a right to know and you can keep it as simple or elaborate as you choose.

Bride and groom embracing each other in a a grassy field with mountains in the distance

What to wear to your elopement reception

It’s a common question: what do I wear to my elopement reception? 

Well, again, it’s really up to you! If you want another excuse to put on your wedding attire from your elopement day, by all means you should go for it. Many of your loved ones would probably enjoy getting to see what you two wore on your big day. You might even decide to get your hair and makeup done again!

You might also consider a more relaxed version of wedding attire. Stores like Lulus have very affordable long white dresses that might work well for this type of event. For guys, you could choose just to wear a button up shirt and dress pants, or something similar for a more relaxed version of a suit.

On the other hand, if you don’t want to wear wedding attire at all, you really don’t have to. You can choose either dressy or casual attire. 

Tips for planning your post elopement celebration

  • Remember that your elopement reception can be as formal or casual as you want it to be! You chose to elope for a reason, so don’t let this balloon into something that causes you stress.
  • Consider creating a spreadsheet to keep all of your ideas and details organized.
  • Tread carefully with a gift registry. It’s a personal decision, but most people are of the opinion that if you didn’t invite people to your wedding, you shouldn’t ask them to bring gifts. 

You’ll find that if someone really wants to give you a gift, they’re going to do it anyway. They may just bring something, or they may ask you what you want and insist. In that case you can either accept and let them know what you’d like. Or you can decline by saying something along the lines of “Thank you so much, but we’re lucky enough to have everything we need already.” 

If you don’t want any gifts but find that certain loved ones are unwavering, you might also suggest they donate to a charity of your choice instead.

Couple eloping in Rocky Mountain National Park in the winter at Sprague Lake
  • Consider whether you want to get some traditional wedding vendors involved, such as a planner, florist, DJ, or photographer/videographer. Having memories of your celebration may be just as meaningful as the memories of your big day.
  • Set a firm deadline when you invite your friends and family so you can get a solid headcount. Your headcount can affect a lot with a celebration, such as food costs or capacity at your chosen location.
  • But finally, remember that just like with your wedding, no one has a “right” to be there (even though that may be an unpopular opinion). Invite who YOU want to be there to celebrate with you. Maybe that means 10 people or maybe it means 200 people. It’s your wedding so YOU get to make the rules!

Are you planning an elopement or microwedding?

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Get in touch and let’s chat about your vision!

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Couple looking at their dog during their elopement in Garden of the Gods in Colorado
Couple hugging each other on their hiking wedding in Colorado
Fluffy rottweiler mix dog wearing a pink and white flower collar

Elopement Photographer Kim from Wild and Found Photography

Hi I’m Kim, a Denver, Colorado based photographer specializing in Adventure Elopements in Colorado and worldwide! Photographing couples on the most special day of their lives is a true honor for me. But I’ve made it my mission to take it one step further than that. When you work with me, you’re getting more than just a photographer. I’m here to help you with all of the planning resources you need to have the most amazing elopement day ever! That includes everything from assistance with location ideas, timeline planning, and lots more free resources. So you can forget the work, and focus on having fun!

Elopement reception planning guide cover

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