Everything You Need to Know About Cake and Punch Receptions

wedding cake

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If you’re looking for alternatives to a mainstream wedding or are looking for ways to celebrate your marriage on a budget, you may have come across the term “cake and punch reception.” Although a popular option for receptions decades ago, many brides and grooms today would scratch their heads at that phrase. I’ll explain what a cake and punch reception is and how to pull it off.

A cake and punch reception is a shorter, more informal celebration after a wedding ceremony that consists of dessert and drinks or “cake and punch.” It was a traditional way to treat your guests after getting married without providing a full meal.

If this simple tradition sounds too sweet to be true, keep reading for how to plan one and what others will REALLY think of you if you do.

Can you just have cake at a wedding?

You can absolutely just have cake at your wedding as long as you set guests’ expectations beforehand. Earlier generations, from the Baby Boomers and back, had smaller wedding receptions as a general rule.

Talk about an “okay, boomer.” I think I know why they were able to afford houses now. 😉

Because a dessert-only reception is more of an exception to the rule these days and not the norm, you’ll want to lay the groundwork for your guests by including the phrase “Cake and Punch Reception To Follow” in your wedding invitations. You’ll also want to have it earlier in the day so it’s not taking the place of a normal meal time like dinner.

Is a cake and punch reception tacky?

A cake and punch reception isn’t tacky. It’s actually a vintage wedding tradition dating back to the 1960’s. It fell out of popularity as weddings became increasingly commercialized. But many brides are bringing it back as the pandemic forced couples to rethink bigger weddings and plan smaller, more intimate ceremonies.

Don’t believe us? We did a poll on Facebook and Reddit of 200+ brides and here are the results. 100% thought a cake and punch reception was a cute, unique, and totally not tacky idea.

quotes from future brides about cake and punch receptions

We also asked a professional wedding planner for her take. Emmanuelle Escandar of Escandar Group Events said, “No. If done correctly, it’s totally fine. During covid, there were a lot of mini weddings. Ceremony, cake, first dance and a champagne toast. That was it. (Outside of course at the time!)”

What happens at a cake and punch reception?

While it seems pretty self-explanatory – it’s dessert – you may be wondering what else happens at a cake and punch reception and how you can fit in traditional wedding elements like toasts, speeches, or some dancing.

First, the ceremony is a traditional religious or secular ceremony. Immediately following the ceremony, you serve drinks and dessert. In addition to the food you can do a toast, have a few speeches, do your first dance, and have dancing for your guests

Drinks can be a full bar with alcoholic and alcoholic drinks. It can be a more limited menu of a few signature drinks. Or it can be just a tea and coffee situation if you don’t want to serve alcohol.

For dessert, cake is traditional and in the name, but you can also serve an array of sweets. Pastries and donuts would be wonderful as a morning celebration. Cupcakes, chocolate covered strawberries, brownies, and other tasty bites would be just as sweet. You could even do an ice cream bar!

You can incorporate any other meaningful moments such as a bouquet toss or Father-daughter / Mother-son dance. Just remember to keep it simpler since these receptions are usually shorter affairs. We’ll explain why next.

How long should a cake and punch reception last?

In general, cake and punch receptions are shorter than evening weddings. They should last 2-4 hours so as not to interfere with a traditional meal time like lunch or dinner.

A dessert-only reception is shorter than usual because you’re not serving a full meal. You don’t want your guests to get too hungry and be inconvenienced by the more limited fare. While planning, if you find that your wedding reception is running longer than four hours, you should count on feeding your guests a more substantial meal.

Here’s how a sample schedule could play out:

  • 2 pm – Ceremony at a local church
  • 3 pm – Ceremony is over and you head to the church recreation room for cake
  • 3:15 pm – Cake cutting
  • 3:30 pm – Speeches from the best man and maid of honor
  • 3:45 pm – First dance while guests eat
  • 4:00 pm – Everybody hits the dance floor
  • 5:00 pm – You wrap up the event so folks can go home and have dinner

Alternatively, if you wanted a secular ceremony:

  • 10 am – Ceremony starts at a local park
  • 10:30 am – Ceremony is over, your guests settle in on picnic blankets
  • 10:45 am – Cake cutting
  • 11:00 am – Speeches from the best man and maid of honor
  • 11:15 am – Your guests play lawn games and mingle to music
  • 12:30 pm – You wrap up the event so folks can go home and have lunch
cake and punch reception timeline

How do you plan a punch and cake a reception?

You can plan a punch and cake reception in the same way you’d plan a regular wedding. Start with your ceremony site and see if they have space you can rent out for the reception, or start with a ceremony and reception venue. Some traditional wedding venues have packages where you can book an afternoon tea wedding for a discounted price. You can also look to church recreation rooms, social clubs like Kiwanis International, local parks, or restaurants. Once you have a date you can send out invitations and start finding other vendors like your photographer and dessert catering.

How to word your wedding invitation

We’ve mentioned a few times how important it is to set your guest expectations beforehand. You don’t want people to arrive thinking they’re about to be served a five course meal only to find cupcakes and lemonade. You don’t need a long-winded explanation, it’s actually quite simple.

To tell guests you’re having a dessert-only reception, put “Cake and Punch Reception to Follow” immediately following your date, time and ceremony location. You can also use “Dessert-only Reception to Follow” or “Light bites and beverages” depending on the catering. If the reception is at a different location, include that address as well.

Here’s an example from Loud Bride of a modern, cake and punch reception invitation.

cake and punch reception invitation
Cake and Punch Reception Invites – Available From Loud Bride on Etsy

One of my favorite tips to cut down on costs is to use an affordable wedding stationery option. Zazzle has some of the best quality and beautiful designs for the price. You can check out my favorite styles on Zazzle here. And don’t forget to check out my review of Zazzle to see why I recommend them.

How much is a cake and punch reception?

There’s no set amount for a cake and punch reception. But since catering is usually the largest cost of any wedding, you can expect to save 40-50% by having a cake and punch reception instead of a traditional dinner reception.

You can check out my free budget guide if you sign up for my newsletter. It automatically calculates what you should spend where based on your budget and guest count and helps you stay on track. It’s like the fairy godmother of numbers.

If you’re looking for budget ideas for a wedding under $5,000 or $10,000, both are possible with a cake and punch reception. We have budget breakdowns for both that you can read more about at How to Plan a $5,000 Wedding and How to Plan a $10,000 Wedding.

A cake and punch reception is also a great idea for last minute weddings. If you’re looking to plan a wedding in less than a week or less than a month, you can read additional tips for both on our posts.


Jaime is the owner of Loud Bride and Coast Designs LLC. She got married in 2017 in Geneseo, NY and designed her own wedding invitations and programs for the occasion. Now, she designs bespoke wedding stationery and affordable templates for other couples. She lives in New York city with her husband and two children.

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