There is no doubt a wedding ceremony is unforgettable. But what happens after the ceremony is over? The reception!
Usually, the wedding planner, MC or venue manager is in charge of keeping things in order.
For this reason, providing them with a wedding reception timeline is a must.
While there are no set rules or procedures for wedding receptions, many do follow a traditional formula.
If you’ve been invited to a wedding but don’t know what to expect from the reception, check out this overview of what is likely to happen at a “typical” wedding reception. Check out Cosmopolitan events Wedding Venue for your ultimate wedding reception.
Even if the event you are attending is informal or avant-garde, chances are at least some of the following components will be involved.
What to Expect at a Typical Wedding Reception
- The Welcome Process
- The Arrival of the Newlyweds
- The Wedding Speeches
- The Food
- The Opening of the Dancefloor
- The Cutting of the Cake
- The Departure of the Newlyweds
The Welcome Process
After the ceremony, the bride and groom often go out to photograph the bridal party while the guests commute to the reception venue.
When guests arrive at the venue, they are likely to encounter a table list. This is a mounted document that lists each guest’s name next to their table number.
Once guests have found their assigned seats, welcome drinks are typically served.
Alternatively, guests may pick up their welcome drinks at the venue’s entrance near the table list before proceeding to their seats.
Typically, a gift table is set up somewhere in the room. If you brought a wedding gift for the bride and groom, you could place it on the gift table before taking your seat.
Once seated, guests typically mingle with others at their table until the bride, groom, and wedding party arrive.
At many wedding receptions, mounted seating lists are displayed to help guests find their assigned tables.
At many wedding receptions, mounted seating lists are displayed to help guests find their assigned tables.
The Arrival of the Newlyweds
Most couples hire a D.J. or musician to create ambience in the venue. Typically, background music is already playing by the time guests arrive.
Once the bride and groom are finished with their photos, they enter the reception venue, where they are greeted by either a song of their choice or “Congratulations.”
In most cases, once the bride, groom, and wedding party proceed to their seats, the bar is opened, and starters are served.
The First Dance
After the grand entrance, the couple is now the centre of attention! Here, they will dance their first dance as husband and wife.
Some couples choose to also include the mother and father of the bride and groom dances immediately after their first dance so that timing can vary.
Now that the wedding party has arrived, all guests should remain in their seats for upcoming speeches.
The Wedding Speeches
Once the starters have been cleared, M.C. may welcome everyone and propose a toast to the bride and groom before inviting the best man to the stage.
The bride and groom are seated at the head table.
Usually, the father of the bride gives a welcoming speech thanking everyone for attending. However, some couples prefer to do this themselves.
The best man often thanks to the bridal party and bridesmaids for all their hard work then delivers his speech about the bride and groom.
The bride’s father usually says a few words once the best man has finished. Then, finally, the groom delivers his speech.
Wedding speeches are meant to be fun and short, but they tend to go on for a bit in most cases.
Speakers often embark on trips down memory lane or spend time thanking particular guests for coming from far and wide to be with the happy couple on their big day.
Once the speeches are finished, the main course is served.
Depending on logistics, the line can form at the wedding ceremony site just after the wedding or at the reception site.
If you think your guests will get to the reception before you (if you and the wedding party take pictures after the vows), you might want to have the line at the ceremony site.
Another option is to hold the cocktail hour in a room other than the main reception room.
You’ll have plenty of time to get to the cocktail hour, and when the doors to the reception room open, you and your parents can form the receiving line as guests enter.
The cocktail hour kicks off the wedding reception and can last for an hour or perhaps an hour and a half. Guests arrive, greet each other and you, and generally get into party mode.
Once cocktails are finished, the couple and wedding party have been announced, and the first dance is over (if you’ve chosen to dance before the meal), dinner should be served.
Generally, not more than half an hour should have passed since guests entered the main reception room.
Buffets are typical at wedding receptions, but some couples serve guests at their tables by catering staff instead.
Three-course meals are popular and usually involve a starter, a main course, and a dessert.
These courses are sometimes followed by cheese and biscuits later on. Music continues to play in the background while guests eat and socialise.
Wine and champagne are typically provided to each table for toasts during the wedding speeches.
Some couples choose to have an open bar at their wedding reception (usually paid for by the groom). In contrast, others prefer to provide only table wine and have a cash bar service available for guests interested in additional drinks.
Champagne Toast and Speeches
The toast generally happens after everyone is seated and the first course has been served. The best man starts the toast and gives his speech, followed by the maid of honour.
The couple responds (the groom usually responds to the best man, but why not let the bride say something too?), and then parents and other guests can say a few words as well.
Speeches and toasts are familiar at all wedding receptions, but couples should take care to limit the number of toasts to avoid boring guests.
After the couple has been toasted, they should make a return toast to thank their guests for attending and sharing their special moments.
Bouquet and Garter Tosses
The bouquet and garter tosses are typically held toward the end of the reception as the couple is preparing to leave.
However, not every couple has these activities as part of their wedding reception, and alternatives include giving the bouquet to the longest-married couple in attendance or tossing a faux garter instead of one indelicately removed from the bride’s leg.
Wedding Cake Cutting
The cake is usually cut during the last hour of the reception, making 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.
The bride and groom usually cut the wedding cake together. Sometimes, the flower girls are tasked with handing out slices to the guests.
As the cake is consumed, the socialising and dancing usually continue for a short time longer before the event begins to wind down.
Cutting the cake is one of the most anticipated wedding reception activities.
The couple will cut the first slice of cake and feed one another bites to symbolise their commitment to care for and provide for each other. Looking for the best Wedding Cake in Melbourne? Look no further, Cosmopolitan events have you covered.
To make the cake cutting more unique, opt to cut the cake with an unusual implement, such as a sword for a military wedding or a jungle machete for a beach wedding.
The Opening of the Dance Floor
After dessert is eaten, the bride and groom enjoy their first dance to a song of their choice. In many cases, the newlyweds then dance with their parents.
The bridal party is usually the next to join in. After these first dances, the floor is open to the guests, and it is time for celebration and fun!
At some point, the bachelors at the wedding may be called up to the floor to throw the garter.
The groom removes the bride’s garter then throws it blindly into the crowd of bachelors, and the individual who catches it is predicted to be the next to marry.
The bride then performs a similar ceremony. She throws her bouquet into a crowd composed of bachelorettes, and the individual who catches it is predicted to be married next.
This moment can occur when you two are announced for the first time as husband and wife—go directly to the dance floor.
Alternatively, you can wait until after the salad course—it’s entirely up to you.
The Departure of the Newlyweds
Typically, the newlywed couple is the first to leave the reception. Guests often join together to form a tunnel with their hands through which the couple may exit the room.
As an exit song plays, the bride and groom leave from their seats and file through the living tunnel, thanking guests along the way.
After leaving the reception, the couple usually heads to a hotel to get some rest before jet-setting off on their honeymoon.
Guests are usually welcome to stay and dance after the couple departs, but in most cases, this is when the music ends, and people begin to leave.
A bridal party member is usually tasked with removing the flowers, wedding cake, and gifts from the venue.
Leaving the wedding reception should be a grand moment for the bride and groom.
Guests might throw rice or birdseed, blow bubbles, or wave sparklers to wish the happy couple well as they leave the wedding and take their first steps into their life together.
Wedding Reception Activities
There are many activities you can incorporate into your wedding reception.
Some are traditional and expected, while others are unique, fun and memorable for the bridal couple and their guests.
From cutting the cake to releasing a pair of white doves, wedding couples have plenty of creative activity choices.
If you plan on having various activities at your wedding reception, it is essential to have an excellent emcee to make announcements, give instructions, and encourage everyone to be involved.
Provide the emcee (many wedding D.J.s will do emcee duties) with a list of activities and generally when you would like them to happen in the reception to keep everything on schedule.
After the dignity of the wedding ceremony, the reception can be a great time to take some funny wedding pictures.
The couple can pose in unique ways, and getting the guests involved with the photos is a great way to record wedding memories.
Many photographers will also offer a photo booth for receptions, allowing everyone to take a nice photo that can be downloaded from the photographer‘s website after the event.
A white dove release is a highly symbolic wedding reception activity, and a couple can use this type of event to begin their reception festivities.
However, be sure to use a reputable wedding dove coordinator to ensure the birds are treated humanely and to guarantee the moment will go as planned.
If birds aren’t suitable for your event, consider a butterfly or balloon release instead.
Candy and dessert bars are a hot trend at wedding receptions.
The treats may be themed to the wedding colours or motif, such as autumn or beach themed candies, and guests can fill small boxes or bags with their favourites for a custom wedding favour.
This can be a fun and attractive part of the wedding reception, and it is easy to customise for any couple’s special day.
The guest book helps couples record everyone who shared their special day, and the book can be passed from table to table during the reception to ensure everyone has a chance to sign.
More unique options are a poster or picture frame that guests can sign, creating video greetings for the couple to view after the wedding, or using a wishing well for every guest to leave personal greetings.
Tips for Scheduling Your Reception
Keep in mind; things do not have to be set in stone. If something lasts a little longer or a little shorter than expected, there is always room for adjustment.
Here are some of the most common reception questions to keep your night running smoothly:
Who Is in Charge of the Wedding Reception Timeline?
If there is a wedding planner, they are in charge of making sure everything runs smoothly.
However, it is also typical for the MC or D.J. to direct your guests on what to do next. Make sure whoever is in charge of this has a printed copy of the order of events.
How Much Time Should Be Scheduled for a Photo Session After the Ceremony?
Thirty minutes is a reasonable amount of time for a photo session with the newlyweds and their wedding party.
Make sure to plan for a little extra time if the location is not within ten minutes of the venue or if you have a large family and wedding party.
Does the Wedding Have to Have an End Time?
The wedding should always have an end time, assuming it’s in a rented venue. Some venues allow for a little extra time. However, there may be an additional fee.
What Is the Wedding After-Party Etiquette?
Since most after parties involve casual drinks at a spot near the reception, there is no formal invitation.
Many times, after-parties are held by guests who want to keep the party going. However, the couple does not need to be in attendance, especially when heading off on their honeymoon!
Do the Bride and Groom Have to Greet Each Guest Personally?
The bride and groom will be running around all day. Although their intention may be to greet each guest personally, time may not always allow that. So if the newlyweds don’t say hello, don’t take it to heart.
Do I Bring a Gift to a Wedding Reception?
Yes, you do. Usually, the bride and groom have a gift list and registry in a specific shop to prevent people from buying the same thing.
If you don’t have the list, you can ask the couple for it or buy an easy gift: a wedding photo album or photo frames.
Whether you are the bride or a guest at the wedding, it’s always good to know a wedding reception timeline so that you can plan!
Check out our Top Wedding Planners here to help make your special day as smooth as possible.
Of course, weddings can vary in length but having a general idea of what a reception holds will give you a sense of what is expected on that beautiful day.