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“Wedding timeline obsolete and old hat. Photos during cocktails (try before reception), toasts all before dinner when guests want to eat, cake cutting/served an hour before leaving, try again, guests want it directly after dinner with coffee. Before you advise brides, I heavily suggest that you speak with wedding directors. It might update your old fashioned old timeline to keep up with todays modern brides and receptions.” –Susann Carroll, BMG Events
Wedding Reception Timeline - What Happens When
You may have been to dozens of weddings, but it’s hard to know what is supposed to happen when at your own wedding reception. Relax; we’ve mapped it out for you so you don’t have to.
Sample Wedding Reception Timeline
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. We recommend an hour and fifteen minutes to an hour and a half for your cocktail hour, so that you get to enjoy a few moments of it after the photos are done.
01:30 – Bride and Groom Grand Entrance and First Dance
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.
01:40 – Wedding Welcome Speech 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. This wedding toasts guide will ensure your words leave a memorable impression.
02:00 – 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 deejay 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!
03:00–03:30 – Start Dancing
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.
04:00–04:30 – Cut the Wedding Cake
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.
04:30 – Back to the Party
Of course, many of your guests will forego cake and coffee for more drinks and dancing. The band or deejay should kick right back into lively dance music for those all-night partiers who relish another turn on the dance floor.
04:45 – Bouquet Toss and 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.
05:30 – Last Dance and 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. Visit our wedding songs section for some recommendations for memorable last dance tunes.
06:00 – Final Wedding 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 toward a lifetime of happiness.