The 3 Most Common Reasons Guests Leave Receptions Early

Having personally performed over 1,500 weddings over the years as the most preferred wedding DJ in northern Colorado, including Amore DJ Entertainment consistently being voted the “Best DJ in Estes Park” for several years in a row, I get a chance to see lots of reasons why guests leave early. The fact is, guests came to see and celebrate with you, as the guests of honor. So, if guests take the time to get ready, make the journey, but leave early, do you ever wonder what really causes them to leave? Here are the three most common reasons guests leave receptions early:

The Photographer

Excessively long photo sessions before and after the ceremony with the photographer. Okay, the plan is 25 to 45 minutes for photos, but this often lasts an hour…or more! We’ve seen many photo sessions go 2 to 2.5 hours this year for Colorado weddings! It’s often longer when Colorado wedding photos are off property, or with a newer wedding photographer, or a photographer who is unfamiliar with your Colorado mountain venue. This doesn’t matter whether they are based in State, or are out of State. This problem also includes the very common sunset or romantic shots that tend to happen just after dinner, about the time for the toast and cake causing even longer delays. You know the ones…the very ones that are “supposed” to last about 10 minutes, but in the end, usually take about 45 minutes. Guests are restless, become bored and will always leave early.

The Caterer

The caterer’s food service is slower than they expect coming out. Sometimes the buffet is line long and very slow. We’ve seen this alone take well over an hour! Sometimes unknown to the couple, the caterer is inadequately staffed, or ill prepared. And frankly, sometimes caterers simply “want” the dinner service to go excessively long because their belief is that the meal “is” the celebration, and not a small part of the “total” celebration. Any of these become part of unnecessary delays. Delays that quickly cause the caterer to be slow in breaking down the buffet line, clearing dirty dishes, pouring champagne and preparing for the cake cutting. Abnormal delays with these are commonplace with the dinner service often lasting two hours, or more! Guests become bored and will always leave early.

The Bride and Groom

Waiting for the bride and groom to finish visiting each and every guest, table to table after dinner. (Since the bride and groom eat first, they often feel obligated to say “hi, thanks for coming” but also need to keep moving so the other guests don’t get bored and leave. Suddenly, the aunt you haven’t seen in 15 years, wants to talk for five minutes. Then somebody else, and then another guest, and another…all at the same table.

Doing some simple math here, but if you have 100 guests (10 tables at 10 guests per table), you can expect this to take about 50 minutes (only 5 minutes per table.) This is often a big mis-understanding for the perception of long delays by guests, especially your parents. Your wedding DJ, we can’t “make” a couple visit tables faster. Rather, all we can do is simply check in with the bride and groom a couple of times ask that they let us know when they are ready to proceed with the next event. If this takes too long, or guests feel it takes too long to move to the next wedding highlight event, usually the toast and cake, guests become bored and will always leave early.


Think about the time spent at a wedding from the guests’ perspective. They arrive 30 minutes prior to the ceremony for seating, see the couple get married over that 20 minute span, then woooosh, the couple is off for 60 to 90 minutes for photos for an extended cocktail hour. Yes, it’s often in a secluded, remote setting. Perhaps even offsite.

They return for the reception. The photographer hurries in first, sets up a few flashes, then bride and groom are introduced into the room. After a quick welcome by her dad, the bride and groom are served their food, followed by a dismissal of the wedding party to the buffet. Then the parents, followed by guests. The buffet service takes about 70 minutes, as the couple finishes their meal, they begin to visit guests table to table.

Unknown to the couple, with some guests completing their meal 45 minutes ago, the caterer needs another 20 minutes to clear dishes and break down the buffet. Then, another 15 minutes to pour champagne. (We’re at two hours at this point.) While the champagne is poured and nearly passed out, the photographer makes a comment about the lighting outside, or an opportunity for sunset photos. Poof…..the photographer then takes the couple again, but now is outside for sunset or romantic photos. This is supposed to be for a quick 10 minutes. It turns out to be another 35+ minutes. Guests are waiting, and waiting, to the point about a third of the guests leave without saying goodbye. Mom and dad are upset guests are leaving. They let the DJ know too. They complain to us why the flow isn’t moving along. It can’t. The bride and groom aren’t even around. From the guests’ perspective, at this point, just under five hours of being “at the wedding,” guests have seen the bride and groom (the true guests of honor) nothing more than a quick, fleeting glimpse during the ceremony, and quick “hi” at their table. From the guests’ perspective:

The guests’ perceived time “at the event” so far (pre-ceremony until toast): 5 hours

The time the bride and groom are “visible” to guests: 3 hours at most

Guests’ perceived time bride and groom are really “accessible” to them with any personalized attention: 2-5 minutes (often during the table visits)

The time guests actually spend waiting for something to happen (i.e. waiting for the ceremony to begin, waiting photos during the cocktail hour, waiting during the long dinner service, waiting for dishes to be cleared, waiting for the champagne poured, waiting for the bride and groom to complete more sunset photos, etc): 4 hours

Now you can see why guests are bored. Guests perceive that things are “dragging”…and they are.

Your wedding DJ is the person who was hired play music but is often perceived as the “face and personality of the celebration.” The same person responsible to “make” the day’s memories, create the smiles, laughter, joy, and those special moments memorable. The person guests come to for everything; especially when they feel that things are dragging along. (These are the many, many complaints the bride, groom, the photographer nor caterer never hear about. We do all the time.)

Since the wedding DJ is the only visible and accessible wedding professional to guests, we are also presumed to make the many moving parts at every wedding flow together. We also secretly help cover up the messes and delays by the other wedding professionals. The truth is, that no matter how much the DJ wants to, we can’t control how long wedding photos take, or how fast or efficient the catering staff (or bar staff) is or isn’t at their job. Yes, we will confirm a wedding timeline beforehand, but we can’t control their process. We can’t control how long it takes for a couple to visit their guests after dinner.

The three most common reasons guests leave receptions early: the photographer, the caterer, and the bride and groom.