The key to a smooth reception is a carefully planned timetable. Use these sample reception rundowns as a guide to your wedding celebration. You can shift these timings up or down, depending on what time your wedding ceremony is, and if it’s in a different location to the reception.
When you’ve finalised your sequence of events, make sure your caterer, photographer and entertainers have a copy of it too. Your chief bridesmaid, best man and other members of the wedding party, can help everyone stick to the schedule while your guests – and most important of all, you and your new spouse – simply have a great time and let everything fall into place.
Like snowflakes or fingerprints, all wedding receptions are unique. But traditionally, some combination of the below happens. If you’ve been to even one wedding before, you already know all of this stuff and can probably skip this outline. Wedding newbs only beyond this point.
Table of Contents
- 1 Cocktail Hour
- 2 Guess Arrive At The Reception Site
- 3 Introducing The Wedding Party
- 4 Introducing The Bride And Groom
- 5 Giving The Blessing
- 6 Forks At THe Ready!
- 7 Cutting The Cake
- 8 Toasting The Happy Couple
- 9 Bride & Groom’s First Dance
- 10 Father & Daughter’s Dance
- 11 Mother & Groom’s Dance
- 12 Special Dances
- 13 Bouquet And Garter Toss
- 14 Dancing And Fun
- 15 Late-Night Snack
- 16 Final Farewell
After the ceremony, the couple, their families, and wedding party head off with the photographer to pose for pictures. That leaves the rest of the guests standing around awkwardly with nothing to do, hovering in a weird limbo between ceremony and reception. The solution: get them liquored up. Thus, the cocktail hour was born.
Guess Arrive At The Reception Site
Some guests arrive early at the reception. So be sure all reception to-dos are complete by the time your wedding’s scheduled to start. Also, all wedding vendors should be suited up in proper attire for early and lingering guests. All tables should be set up, including the cake table, the entertainment’s table, the sign-in table, food tables, and tables with chairs for all guests. If you have a seating arrangement, all seating lists should be at the reception with everyone’s name indicating where they sit.
Your DJ/MC will announce your family and wedding party entrances here. This is a fun time for your wedding party and/or immediate family members to enter the reception hall with a funny dance or action that gets your guests excited and ready for your grand entrance.
Introducing The Wedding Party
This step isn’t mandatory, but it’s nice for everyone to know who the wedding party — many guests haven’t met them before your wedding. Create a “Reception Planning Guide” and give this to your emcee before the wedding. Among other things, this guide should detail your party by the order they enter the reception site and give their names and titles. The order of entrance is parents of the bride, parents of the groom, ushers with bridesmaids, flower girl and ring bearer, special guests, best man, maid/matron of honour, bride and groom. In addition, go over how to pronounce the wedding party’s names with the emcee.
Your wedding coordinator and/or DJ/MC will get all of your guests rounded up and seated in the reception hall so that they are ready for the party to start. If necessary, they will explain how guests can find their seat and will give any other special announcements during this time. The start of getting your guests into the reception and the estimation of how long this will take based on how many are in attendance is an essential part of your wedding reception timeline.
Introducing The Bride And Groom
This is always the last of the introductions. Everyone should stand before the bride and groom enter. In addition, you can arrange a special song with musical entertainment and a special announcement with the emcee to punctuate a truly grand entrance. Also, inform the emcee how you’d like to be introduced: Mr. and Mrs. Smith? John and Jane Doe?
This is your time to celebrate being introduced for the first time as the newlyweds that you are. Pick your favourite party song and strut your stuff! Make sure the bride and groom entrance is separated from the other wedding party entrances on your wedding reception timeline so that you can have your shining moment in the spotlight!
The newlyweds, their parents and the wedding party make their grand entrance to the reception. The bride and groom are introduced for the first time as husband and wife. It feels like something from a beauty pageant or a variety show from the 1960s—so that you know, you’ll probably feel like that multiple times throughout the wedding process.
Giving The Blessing
This is another step that’s not mandatory — but for the religious couple, it makes a nice setting. If you invite the minister to the reception, ask them to conduct the blessing. But if they’re not able to attend, a parent or family friend is a good idea. Alternately, the emcee could bless the meal. Be sure to communicate with whoever’s giving the blessing well in advance, so they’re prepared to give it a personal touch.
Forks At THe Ready!
It’s time to eat! And no matter how many people are clamouring to wish you well, the bride and groom should stop, rest and partake. This may be your only chance in the day that can all-too-easily become one big blur. Plus, it’s customary for the bride and groom to start the food line, which most guests are aware of — so don’t be late!
Make sure you grab your food first, chow down and be sure to enjoy the wedding meal you selected! Then if you want, you can make your rounds and greet your guests before your return to your table for the toasts. This is if you haven’t set aside other time to mingle with your guests somewhere else in your wedding reception timeline. If you do choose to take the mealtime to greet or take photos with each table, make sure you allow yourself at least 3 minutes per table and adjust the meal time accordingly.
By this time, guests are probably pretty hungry and thinking, “Hey, where’s the food?” Dinner is served—it can be anything from fine dining, to an intimate family-style meal, to a catered Chipotle buffet; your call—more on this in What to Serve and How to Serve It.
Cutting The Cake
Of course, the bride and groom traditionally cut the first slice on their wedding cake. Then, the bride feeds half of the piece of cake to the groom, and the groom feeds the remainder to the bride. The ceremonial cutting is meant to symbolise the couple’s caring and sharing for one another. Don’t be afraid to use forks for this step, since they look great in pictures. They almost minimise the possibility of smearing cake all over the wedding regalia.
The cake cutting ceremony lets your guests know that the party is almost over, and can be done about an hour before your grand exit or the end of the reception. After the bride and groom cut their pieces of cake, have your DJ play some slow to mid-tempo songs while your guests enjoy their dessert. During dessert is also a good time to thank your guests for coming!
About an hour before the end of the reception (right when guests are probably in need of a snack and starting to lose some steam on the dance floor) is an excellent time to break out the cake and bring on the sugar rush.
The cake is usually cut during the last hour of the reception, which makes sense because it’s time for dessert and coffee as the party is winding down. Also, the wedding cake cutting generally signals to guests that it’s okay to leave soon, so don’t cut the cake too early or things could start wrapping up before you’re ready.
Toasting The Happy Couple
In the first stage of toasting, the bride and groom toast each other, then interlock arms and drink. Immediately following, the best man and maid/matron of honour make toasts to the bridal couple. Be prepared for other family and friends to follow, too.
While your guests are still in their seats, finishing up their meal is a great time to go through the toasts. It’s a good idea to start with the Best Man and Maid of Honor toasts and then follow with anyone else you have asked to toast. If it weren’t the bride and groom that thanked their guests for being a part of their wedding day before the meal, now would be a great time to do so before the dance party starts!
The Best Man and Maid of Honor make their toasts—followed by the couple, their parents, and whoever else will be making a speech that night. There’s a certain art to making a toast—an art that has not been mastered by every reception toast-maker out there. But don’t worry, we’ll help make yours a hit.
Bride & Groom’s First Dance
The Bride & Groom’s Dance is the first dance between a bride and groom as a married couple. Where you choose to place this in the schedule depends on your preferences—one common option: immediately following the grand entrance, with the wedding party circling the dance.
After making your grand entrance, all eyes are on you, and it is a perfect time to go straight into your first dance as a married couple. Whether your dance is choreographed or just a slow and sweet moment to a sentimental song, this is your moment to shine together.
Your first dance as a married couple can be nerve-wracking since it’s just the two of you on the dance floor for the length of an entire song (three minutes go by very slowly when there’s a room full of people staring at you). Just laser-focus on your new spouse—this will be a really special moment if you block out the audience.
Father & Daughter’s Dance
The Father & Daughter’s Dance or the Father Bride Dance is the dance between the father(s) of the bride and the bride. Brides, if you have more than one father in your life, one can tap the other on the shoulder in the middle of the dance so you can dance with both of them. If you don’t have a father, a common substitute is a father figure. Even your brother would make a very nice gesture.
Mother & Groom’s Dance
The Mother & Groom’s dance is the dance between the mother(s) of the groom and the groom. Grooms, if you have more than one mother in your life, one can tap the other on the shoulder in the middle of the dance so you can dance with both. If you don’t have a mother, a common substitute is a mother figure or your sister.
Like many people, you might have some songs that are near and dear to your heart. You can ask the entertainment to play them immediately after the formal dances. Example: If someone close to you passed recently, you could ask the entertainment to play “Angels Among Us” by Alabama.
Bouquet And Garter Toss
In the traditional tossing of the bouquet, the bride tosses her bouquet (or a substitute) to all the single women in attendance. Immediately after the tossing, a chair is set in the middle of the dance floor, for the bride to sit on while the groom removes the garter from her leg, and tosses it to all the single men in attendance. The man and woman who catches the garter and bouquet are said to be the next to marry.
Many people include these in their weddings, but they have pretty creepy meanings behind them if you think about it (more on that later). Decide what’s best for you, or make up your traditions.
Dancing And Fun
This is what you pay the music entertainment to do — get people out of their chairs and on to the dance floor. Give the entertainment your favourite songs and some absolute no-gos, but don’t try to conscript them to a list of 100 songs you picked out in advance.
This is a perfect time in the wedding reception timeline to start the dancing portion of your party with the mother & groom and father & bride dances. After the last family dance, you can have your DJ ask all your guests to come to the dance floor for a group photo. This gets everyone up and out of their seats and on the dance floor, so when the music hits you will have a good crowd to get the party started!
Now it’s time to get your groove on! Start off the power dance session with an upbeat song that will get everyone in the room moving. In between bursts of high energy songs interlaced with some slow jams is an excellent opportunity to do your garter and bouquet toss, or any other fun activities you have planned on your wedding reception timeline.
Not everyone has a sweet tooth, so a lot of couples like to bring out other late-night snack options for their guests, keeping their bellies full and the party going. Think about foods that drunk people like—so basically, the more fried, the better—and ideally things they can eat while on the dance floor (finger foods, anything on a stick, nothing too saucy).
Make an exit as grand as your entrance. Have your guests see you off with sparklers, bubbles, rose petals, beach balls—or depart in a cool vintage car. The possibilities— and photo ops—are endless.
After the last dance, have your DJ/MC usher everyone outside for you to make your grand exit to your getaway car. Then, it’s honeymoon time, and we will just leave that timeline up to you.
Some couples may decide to offer more food during the course of the evening, especially if dinner has been at an earlier time. This could be a buffet, bacon sarnies, a wonderful cheese board, or perhaps a chocolate fountain. Consider offering guests a special cocktail before they leave. In winter, a hot toddy is sure to go down well. Traditionally, all the single women gather for the bride to throw her bouquet before the bride and groom head off to their first night destination.