Wedding Reception Timeline

A crucial element of wedding reception planning is crafting a well-honed timeline for the evening. Your typical wedding reception runs about 4-5 hours – plenty of time for cocktails, dinner, toasts and, of course, dancing! Follow this foolproof wedding reception timeline to ensure a smooth, fun-filled evening of celebration for you and your guests:

0:00 – Cocktail Hour

After the ceremony guests will head to the reception and get started mingling and enjoying cocktails and appetizers. The bride and groom generally use this time to take formal photos with the bridal party and family. The bride and groom can also set up a greeting line to welcome wedding guests as they arrive at the reception.

01:00 – Seating, Bridal Party Announcement

Before the wedding party and newlyweds are introduced, your wedding coordinator will ensure everyone is seated. Once everyone has found their place, the bridal party and couple can make their grand entrance. The bride and groom may choose to have their first dance at this point in the evening. Or, the first dance can occur after toasts and dinner are complete.

01:15 – Welcome

The Bride's Father traditionally welcomes guests and thanks them for coming after the couple and bridal party are seated. This is also a great time to bless the meal if you'd like to do so.

01:20 – Dig In!

If you have a buffet dinner planned, your wedding coordinator, band leader or DJ will coordinate dismissing tables in sections to avoid a traffic jam. If you're serving the meal in courses or family style, dinner can be served to all tables at once by the caterer's wait staff. Some newlyweds take this opportunity to walk around and personally thank their guests for coming – especially if they didn’t have a chance to greet guests as they arrived.

01:45 – Toasts (grab the tissues!)

Once everyone has food, the bride and groom may want to address the group and thank their parents and everyone for attending. Traditionally the Father of the Bride, Best Man and Maid/Matron of Honor give toasts during dinner as well.

02:30 – First Dance, Father and Daughter Dance, Mother and Son Dance

The bride and groom should be the first to hit the dance floor with a romantic first dance. Next, the bride and her father and the groom and his mother should each have their own dance.

03:00 – Time to Party!

Invite all guests onto the dance floor. Make sure to integrate your bouquet toss, garter toss and anything else you'd like to include into the plan for the evening.

04:00 – Cake Cutting

Pause festivities on the dance floor for the cutting of the cake. Keep in mind, some guests will leave after the cake is cut. So, you may not want to cut the cake too early in the evening.

04:15 – Please Don't Stop the Music

After the cake is cut, get back in the groove. Have the DJ or Band play upbeat, festive music playing to draw guests back to the dance floor.

04:45 – Last Dance

Plan the last dance about 15 minutes before you'd like to wrap up your reception. Decide whether you want to slow things down or end with an upbeat, fun tune.

05:00 – Farewell

If you plan to make a grand exit, arrange for your wedding coordinator to usher guests to the area where the sendoff will happen. Consider providing sparklers or bubbles for guests to add a fun element to your exit.

Related Resources:

Essential Wedding Planning Checklist
When to send Save the Dates, Wedding Invitations & Thank You Cards
Wedding Reception Timeline
How to Address Wedding Invitations
Wedding Invitation Wording
Wedding Reception Seating Etiquette
Rehearsal Dinner Etiquette
Wedding Ceremony Program Wording
Ordering Guideline

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