Wedding Reception Timeline – What Happens When?

You may have been to dozens of wedding receptions, but it’s hard to know what is supposed to happen when at your own wedding. Relax, this wedding reception timeline maps it out for you so you don’t have to.

00:00 – Cocktail Hour – (bridal party takes pictures)

After your “I dos,” you and your husband leave the ceremony first – followed by the bridal party and your photographer – to take your first photographs as husband and wife. At this time, your guests will head to the reception site. To keep the mood festive and fun, cocktail hour should begin as soon as guests arrive at the reception, whether that happens five minutes or an hour after the ceremony.

01:00 – Grand Entrance/First Dances

Husband and wife…..Mr. and Mrs….this is the time for your grand entrance. The facility or event coordinator will gather your guests to await your arrival. Typically the bridal party and both sets of parents are introduced, followed by the bride and groom. Since all eyes are on you, this is the perfect occasion to step immediately into your first dance. Sometimes the father/daughter and mother/son dances can take place at this time as well – or you can choose to hold those dances after the meal.

01:20 – Welcomes and Toasts

After your first dance, all eyes are still on you. With everyone gathered, this is a perfect time for the parents, the bride and groom, or the honor attendants to speak. The host (often the father of the bride) may choose to welcome and thank your guests for coming. Someone may say a blessing. The best man and maid of honor may also choose to speak at this time.

01:30 – Eat, Drink and be Married…

Whether you serve a sit down meal or buffet, this is the time when everybody eats. The bride and groom and their parents are typically served first or are the first to hit the buffet. This may seem contrary to etiquette, but serving them first affords the time to make table visits while the rest of the guests are seated. Your band or DJ will play subdued “dinner appropriate” music at this time (Sinatra and old standards are a favorite). Word of advice to the bride and groom: make sure you take advantage of this time to eat!

02:30 – Get your Groove On

Take the lead and hit the dance floor! Guests usually follow the lead of the bride and groom, so do your part to ensure a packed dance floor. At this point, you should have already greeted your guests and accomplished your duties as host. Remember – this is your party, so have fun.

04:00 – Cake Cutting

About an hour before the reception’s finale – your waitstaff will begin preparing for dessert and coffee. The cake cutting signifies to guests that it is appropriate to depart anytime thereafter, so make sure it doesn’t happen too early, or you could find yourself alone at an empty reception.

04:15 – Back to the Party

Of course, many of your guests will forego cake and coffee for more drinks and dancing. The band or DJ should kick right back into lively dance music for those all-night partiers who relish another turn on the dance floor.

04:30 – Bouquet Toss/Garter Removal

If you plan to do a bouquet toss, it usually occurs as one of the last events of the evening. You may want to have your florist prepare a throwaway bouquet so you can keep your original as a keepsake.

04:45 – Last Dance/Last Call

Take advantage of this opportunity to leave a lasting impression, and end your wedding on a high note. The right tune for the last dance will have your guests reluctant to leave. It needn’t be slow song; something lively can ignite the mood for the after party, should you desire.

05:00 – Send-off!

These days, receptions are so fun and involve so much pre-planning, the bride and groom no longer wish to make an early getaway. In fact, they’re often the last to leave! Make your send-off the evening’s finale. Your coordinator will usher everyone to watch as you make your getaway. Have guests blow bubbles, toss rose petals or even light sparklers to wish you on your merry way towards a lifetime of happiness.

Now that you know what happens when, this complete wedding receptions guide will help you plan the rest of the party.


Cori Russell is editor for Elegala.com and Gala Weddings Magazine. Elegala.com is a comprehensive weddings and wedding planning resource with a national directory of wedding venues and services, along with articles, expert advice, checklists and photo galleries to lead brides through every step of the planning process.

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