How to Plan Your Wedding Reception Timeline

wedding receptionA traditional wedding reception lasts between three to five hours. This is the time during the wedding celebration where the bride and groom relax and party with their guests. The reception can include seated dinners, cocktails, and brunches.

The wedding emcee is usually tasked in planning the wedding reception timeline (especially if he or she has done it professionally). However, if you would like to contribute to how a wedding reception flows, here are basic scenarios for a five-hour wedding reception.

Cocktail hour – A reception begins with the acceptance of guests into the venue. Cocktails and hors d’ oeuvres are served while the guests can enjoy taking pictures with the bride and groom.

Dinner – The emcee announces that dinner will be served and asks the guests to take their seats, even if it is a buffet dinner. Ambient music is usually played to lighten up the mood.

Announcement of the bridal party – When all of the guests are served, the emcee acknowledges the presence of the bridesmaids, the groomsmen, the Maid of Honor, Best Man, and finally the bride and groom. This is when the guests would often cheer the couple to kiss each other.

Father of the bride speech – The bride’s father typically welcomes the guests for attending the wedding reception. A toast can be done here, but most couples wait until later in the party. This is also the time when prayers before meals can take place.

Serving of dinner – The first course is served. In the case of a buffet dinner, guests are accosted to the stations and have their fill of the dishes being offered.

Toasts – The Best Man makes a speech for the couple and offers a toast. If the Maid of Honor is making a toast, she follows the Best Man.

Main course – In a sit-down dinner, the main course is usually served after the Best Make makes his speech. This is also the time when other family members and friends would make their own speeches and toasts.

First dance – The emcee announces that the couple will make their first dance together. They can either dance the whole song by themselves, or have the rest of the bridal party come to the dance floor during the second half of the song. Other modifications include a father-daughter and mother-groom dances, where the parents dance with their child "for the last time" before offering them to their love partners. Dancing among other guests can proceed as well.

Cake cutting – The bride and groom cut the cake and share it with each other. This can also be followed with the couple doing a champagne toast. The wedding cake is served to the guests with either coffee or champagne.

Couple appreciation – The bride and groom say their thanks to the guests, especially to their parents. For some guests, this usually marks the end of the wedding reception.

Dancing continues – While more dancing goes on the venue, the couple should greet guests who are about to leave and personally thank them for coming.

Bouquet toss and garter toss – Traditionally, the tossing of the wedding bouquet happens during the reception. All single women gather behind the bride as she tosses the bouquet backwards. The woman who catches the flowers will be paired with a single man who would catch the wedding garter to be tossed by the groom. The pair would be asked to dance or have the guy fit the wedding garter into the woman’s thigh.

Last dance – The emcee or DJ invites everyone for a last dance together. The music should be upbeat so that everything ends on a high note.

Farewell – The emcee thanks everyone for attending the reception and asks them to the front steps.


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