What Is The Ultimate Wedding Reception Timeline?

A wedding reception consists of a one-hour cocktail party followed by a four-hour reception, at which a meal is typically served. Many variables—including the couple, their cultures, the wedding location, and the number of guests—can alter the course of the evening to make it uniquely their own. The trick is to develop a schedule that fits logically into those constraints. Although there isn't a universally applicable timetable for weddings, we polled planners throughout the country to get their input on a basic outline that can be adapted to match the needs of any couple.

Here, experts share an hour-by-hour rundown of the ultimate wedding reception timeline.

Your typical wedding reception runs about 4-5 hours—plenty of time for cocktails, dinner, toasts, and dancing! Follow this foolproof wedding reception timeline to ensure a smooth, fun-filled evening of celebration for you and your guests.

  • Cocktail Hour. After the ceremony, the couple, families, and the wedding party head off with the photographer to pose for pictures. 
  • Arrivals
  • Dinner. 
  • Toasts. 
  • First Dance.
  • Dancing. 
  • Bouquets & Garter Tosses
  • Cake Cutting.

Because the 4 P.M. ceremony time, 10 P.M. reception end (with both ceremony and reception in the same venue), with secular ceremony and photos beforehand is a pretty common format, let's start with that wedding timeline.

It's possible to fit a single-location ceremony, cocktails, dinner and dancing into 6 hours if you have a planner or a DJ who is good at keeping everything on schedule. On the other hand, if it's just a reception for a few dozen close friends and relatives, then 5 hours may be enough.

Many wedding venues have a curfew of 10 P.M., and some are even earlier, depending on zoning restrictions. However, 10 P.M. is not nearly late enough for most couples to stop the party.

FAQs About Wedding Venue

Cocktail Hour 

Welcome Guests 

Including images of the pre-shower preparation process and the initial reveal, wedding party photos, and family photos taken before the ceremony, so you can relax and enjoy your cocktail hour with your guests, advises Lizzy. Lizzy Liz Events is the brainchild of Liz Chan, a professional wedding planner and designer.

Your couples workout and formal family photos can be taken while your guests are interacting after the ceremony. Although the bride and groom Even though you probably won't be able to make it to the cocktail hour, having some time to unwind with drinks and appetisers before the main reception starts is always appreciated by your guests.

Reception Hour 1 

Chan suggests starting the reception with the formalities so that you can get to the fun stuff as soon as possible. If you're working with a tight schedule, you should also try to wrap up the bulk of the action as soon as possible photographer or videographer. Finally, your wedding coordinator All of your guests will be gathered and seated there in reception hall by the time the DJ/MC has finished setting up. The hosts will use this time to make any final announcements and guide guests through the seating process. There needs to be room in your wedding reception schedule for the arrival of guests and the length of time it will take to seat everyone.

Grand Entrance 

The mothers, bridal party, and newlyweds are all introduced to guests at the reception's outset. In traditional American weddings, It could take anywhere from five to ten minutes to complete this procedure, depending on the number of guests. Lola Akingbade, an event planner with MasterPlan Events, says that adjustments may be necessary if the couple wishes to observe certain traditions. This can take up to 30 minutes in a Nigerian wedding, as "money spraying" occurs both as guests enter the reception and once they reach the dance floor.

The disc jockey or emcee will make the following announcements: wedding party entrances here. It is a fun time for your wedding party and immediate family members to enter the reception your guests in the hall with a funny dance or action that gets them ready for your grand entrance.

It's time to party like it's your official introduction as a married couple. So put on your favourite dance tune and show off your moves! Create a special entrance for the bride and groom that is distinct from the others wedding party entrances on your wedding reception timeline to be the centre of attention for a while.

First Dance

Your first dance as a married couple should follow your dramatic entrance, when all eyes will be on you. This is your opportunity to shine as a couple, whether you're performing a choreographed dance or just sharing a tender moment to a heartfelt song.

Welcome Speech/Meal Blessing

You and your forever sweetheart have taken your places at the head table, and it is time to extend your gratitude to your guests. The bride and groom, or the bride's parents, can do this. To start the dinner off right, a family member's blessing is appropriate in many situations.

Start Meal Service

This is the point at which the hosts should forego serving the first meal. Cocktails and small bites can tide visitors over until the main course is ready, but it's preferable to get the dinner started as soon as possible so that everyone is busy eating and mingling before the dance floor opens.

Getting your food first, eating it, and enjoying it is a must wedding meal you selected! When it's time for the toasts, you can return to your seat after greeting everyone at the party. The same holds true if you haven't planned any other socialising opportunities for your guests wedding reception timeline. If you want to use dinner as an opportunity to meet and greet guests or pose for photos, you should allot at least three minutes at each table.

Reception Hour 2 

Change Of Outfit

These days, many brides choose to change their attire for the reception. You may easily shift from dinner to dancing by changing into something more casual.

It is also during this time that many Asian couples will don their cultural garb. However, depending on the complexity of the ensemble, Chan warns that you may need to schedule extra time for wardrobe changes.

"Keep in mind, For multiple hairstyles and makeup applications, some brides choose to have their MUAH artist present makeup touch-ups, so factor in glam time too!"

Wrap-Up Meal Service

Akingbade suggests that once the last plate has been served, the event should move promptly on to the next item on the programme to maintain momentum. The toasts or the family dances should come after the bulk of the visitors have finished eating, allowing the rest of them to relax and enjoy their meal.


In case any of the evening's speakers run long, it's prudent to build in some breathing room at this point—roughly 10 to 15 minutes. It's a good idea to set a time limit for all toasts so that people don't ramble on for too long.

It's best to go over the toasts while your guests are still seated and towards the end of their meal. When planning the toasts for the wedding, it is customary to begin with those given by the Best Man and Maid of Honor.

A wedding reception would not have been complete without heartfelt thanks from the marriage to each and every guest wedding day There hasn't been a better time to get that meal in before the after-dinner dance party begins than right now!

Family Dances/Open Dance Floor

Since the couple is already on or near the floor for a family dance like the mother/son or father/daughter dance, it is an easy transition to the open dance floor. "Remember that people go wherever the couple goes," Chan advises. If you want your visitors to stay on the dance floor all night, you should do the same.

The mother and groom dance, followed by the father and bride dance, is a great way to kick off the dancing section of your reception. Then, following the last family dance, have the DJ call everyone to the dance floor for a memorable group shot. As a result, when the music starts, there will be a sizable group ready to get the celebration going on the dance floor.

Traditional Dances

In Jewish weddings, By the time the hora is over, all the posed photos and other formalities have been taken care of. In her capacity as director of sales department for The Opus in Westchester, Maureen Stella recommends waiting until after lunch to get the party started on the dance floor. The future Mrs. Groom has nothing to hair and makeup, and since it can get quite warm and sweaty during this enjoyable custom, the groomsmen can shed their tuxedo jackets.

Get out there and start moving your body! Get everyone in the room moving with an exciting music to kick off the power dance. The garter and bouquet throw, as well as any other exciting events on your wedding reception agenda, can be carried out during the brief interludes between the more upbeat songs and the slower songs.

If the bride and groom are members of a historically Black fraternity or sorority, Akingbade says, the members of that organisation would likely want to put on a special "stroll" performance, which will need to be worked into the schedule.

Cake Cutting

Don't forget, custom says it's fine to leave a wedding once the cake have been eliminated, so this ceremony should take place only after the evening's major events have concluded. You can signal to your guests that the party is coming to a close by cutting the cake about an hour before the grand exit or the end of the greeting. After the cake has been cut and the toasts have been made, have the DJ play some songs with a moderate tempo so that guests can relax and enjoy their dessert without being interrupted by fast songs.

Reception Hour 3 


The traditional garter and bouquet toss take place at this time of night, though many modern couples also incorporate other reception games and diversions.

Latin wedding receptions Events planned by Claudia G. De Velasco, founder of A Day To Remember, are known to last until the wee hours of the morning and, as a result, a number of moments are sprinkled throughout the night to keep the party going. Guests may be treated to Brazilian dancers, stilt walkers, and confetti bombs at La Hora Loca, a party within a party with a variety of cultural themes. It's typically done after dinner night when the party needs new energy. The bride and groom should take advantage of the time between the end of the reception and the beginning of dessert to sneak away for a romantic nighttime photo shoot. It's crucial that you plan out your wedding reception timeline with your photographer. That's when the photographers will capture the gorgeous nighttime shots that will forever immortalise the stunning conclusion to your beautiful wedding day. Please don't forget to return for the final dance!

Reception Hour 4 

Late-Night Bites

According to De Velasco, a recalentado is offered at Mexican celebrations to ensure that no one passes out from eating too much. Another round of little snacks is passed, or a food truck may show up during the last hour, at many modern American weddings.

Last Call

When the last call is made, it's often considered time to wrap up whatever it is you were doing. It's not required, but if your location has a strict cut-off time, letting folks know in advance will assist them get ready to start packing things.

Last Dance And Grand Exit 

The last 10 minutes of the night, according to Ross, are ideal for announcing a spectacular departure. Guests should start leaving while the couple has their last dance privately to make room for the big exit. To make a hasty exit to your waiting getaway car after the last dance, have the DJ/MC lead the guests outside. The honeymoon period follows, and how long that lasts is entirely up to you.

The After Party

Most wedding guests is about six hours long, including the ceremony and reception, but there are always a few people who want to keep the show started. The best way to continue the night smoothly is to decide on a local bar in advance, disseminate the word, and let anyone who wants to come party until the wee hours of the morning show up.

When your sugar high from dessert finally begins to wear off, it's time to keep the dance party going! Time your final dance performance with your night - time photo shoot on your wedding reception timeline. First, before the last song, have the DJ make an announcement telling the guests it's their last likelihood to get out on the dance floor. Then, play a high-energy, chart-topping song that will have everyone on the evening as you call it a night.


Lizzy Liz Chan, a trained wedding planner and designer, founded Liz Events. So that you can jump right into the fun parts of the reception, Chan recommends starting with the formalities. The "money spraying" takes place both as guests enter the reception and as they move to the dance floor. At dinner, everyone will be looking at you as a married couple. Whether you want to perform a dance or share a touching moment, now is your chance to shine as a couple.

Allot at least three minutes at each table to meet and greet guests and pose for photos if you plan on doing so during the dinner. When it's time to move on to the next part of the evening's schedule, Akingbade says everyone should do so as soon as the last plate of food has been cleared. Starting the dancing portion of your reception with the mother and groom dance, then the father and bride dance, is a lovely tradition. Historically Black sororities and fraternities may want to include a "stroll" performance in the wedding festivities if the bride and groom are members. Short pauses between faster and slower songs are ideal for the garter and bouquet toss.

Many people consider the last call to be the signal to finish up their work for the day. All Mexican celebrations feature a recalentado to prevent guests from passing out from overeating. Then comes the honeymoon phase, the duration of which is up to you.

Content Summary

  • The Cocktail Hour: A Time to Greet Your Guests So that you can kick back and enjoy the cocktail hour with your guests, Lizzy recommends that you document the entire pre-shower process, from the initial reveal to the wedding party and family photos.
  • Lizzy Liz Chan, a trained wedding planner and designer, founded Liz Events.
  • In spite of the fact that the bride and groom You won't be able to attend the cocktail hour, but your guests will still appreciate the opportunity to relax and enjoy light refreshments before the main reception begins.
  • So that you can jump right into the fun parts of the reception, Chan recommends starting with the formalities.
  • At long last, the wedding planner you've been waiting for By the time the DJ/MC is ready to begin, all of your guests will have arrived at the reception and be seated.
  • Wedding party and close relatives can entertain guests as they wait for the bride and groom by entering the reception hall with a humorous dance or other action.
  • If you want the bride and groom to receive undivided attention for a short period of time during your wedding reception, you should plan for them to make an entrance that stands out from the rest of the wedding party's entrances.
  • After making an impressive entrance, you and your new spouse should dance for the first time as husband and wife.
  • It's best to wait until the majority of guests have finished eating before holding any toasts or performing any family dances.
  • Just as you'd want your guests to keep on the dance floor all night long, you should do the same.
  • Maureen Stella, director of sales at Westchester nightclub The Opus, suggests saving the dance floor for later in the day.
  • Begin the power dance by playing some upbeat music that gets everyone moving.
  • About an hour before the big exit or the end of the greeting, you can cut the cake to let everyone know that the party is winding down.
  • If the reception ends before dessert is served, the happy couple can use that time to sneak away for some intimate nighttime photos.
  • Many people consider the last call to be the signal to finish up their work for the day.
  • Exit Dance and Finale Performance
  • Ross says that the last ten minutes of the night are the best time to reveal a spectacular farewell.
  • In other words, the after party
  • The average wedding, including the ceremony and the reception, lasts about six hours. However, there are always a few revellers who want to keep the party going long past that.
  • The last dance should coincide with the nighttime photo shoot, if you plan on having one.
  • Make sure everyone knows it's their last chance to get out on the dance floor by having the DJ make an announcement just before the last song.
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