Planning a wedding reception is party planning to the max so I’ve got some tips for the best wedding reception timeline to get you started. The foundation of a stress-free and super fun reception for both you and your guests is a well-planned timeline (just like it is for the overall wedding day!) that brings all the moving pieces together as seamlessly as possible. A great reception timeline helps your vendors do their best work and ensures you don’t have anything to do on the wedding day except take it all in and enjoy the evening! There are several routes you can take so let’s walk through how to plan the perfect wedding reception timeline for you:
To start, figure out the big picture reception block of time. How many hours does your venue package come with for the reception? Or, if you don’t have any limitations set by the venue, when will the reception start? Are you doing a cocktail hour beforehand? A lot of this will stem from when your ceremony will be and whether or not you are doing a first look earlier in the wedding day. But once you know when your reception will start and doors will open to guests, then we can fine tune the specifics of the wedding reception timeline.
Next, think about and nail down which “events” you’ll include in your reception. Here’s a list of popular events during wedding receptions and how long they typically take:
Grand entrance: 10 minutes
Speeches or toasts: 15 to 20 minutes
Blessing: 3 minutes
Welcome by the couple or a parent: 5 minutes
Dinner: 45 minutes to an hour
Cake cutting: 5 minutes
First Dance: 5 minutes
Parent Dances: 5 minutes each
Bouquet Toss: 3 minutes
Anniversary dance: 5 minutes
Ceremonial and/or religious dances: 5 minutes each
You may also have a performance of some sort, a late-night snack being served and it’s helpful to know and decide on whether or not you plan to do a grand exit of some sort (ie: sparkler exit) at the end of the night or at some point during the reception (sidenote: exits don’t actually have to be at the end of the reception).
Finally, it’s time to put everything together! There are several ways you could plan the wedding reception timeline. From my experience, the biggest piece of advice I can give you is to bump up as many “events” as you can that require your guests’ attention to be one after the other. Getting your guests’ attention (and sometimes getting them onto the dance floor) can be the hardest part of the evening so it’s best to arrange the timeline so you don’t need to do it more than once or twice. So for example, you might go straight from walking in during your grand entrance to the dance floor for the special dances and immediately after, cut the cake. Boom, boom, boom. Below are 2 possible reception timelines to get you started:
Let’s say you’re going with the first arrangement. Here’s what that reception timeline might look like:
Finally, here are some random tips as you think through your wedding reception:
What’s most important to you? Lots of dancing, the food and drinks? Once you sort through what pieces you want to include and what’s most important to you, then you can start to build out the wedding reception timeline that works best for you.
Be sure to talk with your band or DJ about the best way to get people onto the dance floor. Each vendor will have their best strategy or “thing” that can help you decide when to do what. And always work with your photographer to finalize the timeline. Your photographer will likely work with your planner, caterer and DJs to ensure everyone is on the same page.
I hope these tips for the best wedding reception timeline were helpful! For more about building the perfect wedding timeline, checkout these sample wedding day timelines!
© emily kyle photography 2023 / legal / website design by inkpot creative / copywriting by bethany works