I would like to have an evening wedding and then a really chic wedding reception at an art museum. Can I have a cocktail party (raw bar/hot and cold hors d'oeuvres, stationed and butlered/champagne station/ open bar with beer and wine) with a band, or do I have to serve a full reception dinner?
It's all in the timing. You can have a cocktail party wedding reception, as long as you don't schedule it during prime dinner time, when guests (or at least guests' stomachs) will expect to be fed. Your options are early afternoon, for a light lunch or hors d'oeuvres wedding reception -- say a 2:30 or 3 p.m. ceremony, with the reception to follow and end before the dinner hour (say 6, 6:30), or late evening, with a cocktail or dessert menu (we're talking 8:30, even 9 p.m. for the ceremony).
Though the times on your wedding invitations should clue (most) people in that they are not getting dinner, don't just leave it at that. Include wording in your invites to make the situation absolutely clear: "Join us after the ceremony for cocktails, hors d'oeuvres, and dancing at the Art Institute..." Don't worry that some may consider it "rude" not to serve a full meal. As long as you've given them fair warning, it's your prerogative to do the wedding reception your way, and if cocktails are better for your budget and the art museum is more important to you than chicken cordon bleu -- go for it.
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