24 Jan

What is a Basic Wedding Reception Timeline?

Everyone wants their wedding to be talked about for years to come, but for many couples planning their wedding is their first time planning a major party with more than a few of their closest friends. Starting and ending the wedding on time are key – hitting everything in the middle in the right order is important, but you usually have to adjust timing a bit for fit. Using a basic 5 hour venue rental, we have created a basic hour-by-hour timeline for a traditional cocktail hour and four-hour reception.

Greg & CJ made their grand entrance down the steps of the Indiana State Museum to the Gov. Frank & Judy O’Bannon Great Hall to their reception.


Hour 00:00 – Cocktail Hour

After saying ‘I do!’, the couple are often first to leave the ceremony to take portraits together, but couples may also opt for a first look which frees them up for cocktail hour so that they can attend. Cocktails and hors d’oeuvres kick off the party. Depending on the logistics of the event, cocktail hour can begin immediately (if the ceremony and reception are both held at the venue) or be more than 45 minutes later (it there is travel involved between locations).

Hour 01:00 – Guest Seating & Wedding Party Introduction

Typically the caterer will make a call to dinner with a chime, but many time the wedding’s MC (usually the DJ or band) will tell everyone to find their seats. This is followed by the grand entrance of the couple and the introduction of the wedding party.

Hour 01:10 – Cake Cutting

From introductions, with the couple on the dance floor and everyone’s attention on them, the couple will cut their cake. It may seem out of place to cut the cake before the meal, but there is quite a bit of function to it. Most wedding cakes are made of buttercream and fondant. Both confections do well in cooler temperatures and tend to fall a bit flat after being left out at room temperature for too long. More so, the couple are still looking their best at this time too! Their hair is in place. There hasn’t been the risk of any spills during dinner on their wedding attire. This means that the couple will have great photos to match the moment and won’t have to worry about sneaking away to freshen up.

Hour 01:15 – Welcome

Traditionally, the father of the bride gives a welcome to all of the guests in attendance. However, traditions change and the welcome can truly be given by anyone, including a the couples families jointly. This is also when the a blessing can be offered for the meal if it is part of the couple’s wishes.

Hour 01:20 – Dinner Service

If a buffet or stations dinner is being offered, the catering staff will make their way around the room to dismiss tables to avoid long lines. Otherwise, the first course will be served and then cleared, followed by the entrée and then clearing of the table.

Hour 01:45 – Toasts

Once all of the guests have been served, it isn’t unusual for the head table to be finishing up their meal since they were served first. While guests finish enjoying their meal, this is the perfect time for toasts to begin. Traditionally toasts are  given by the parents of the couple, bed man and maid or matron of honor.

Hour 02:00 – Special Dances

It might be expected that the couple hit the dance floor first to open with a romantic slow number, but it is a great help to photographers for each newlywed to dance with their respective parents first so the lighting and angles are figured out and absolutely perfect for when the couple comes together.

Hour 02:20 – Time to Party!

Once special dances are finished, it is time for guests to join in on the fun and move to the music. It’s during open dancing that the couple will work with their DJ or band to fit in their bouquet toss, garter toss and any other special activities.

Hour 04:50 – Last Dance

It’s important to end the night on a high note and choose a dance song that will leave a great impression. It’s everyone’s last chance to twirl, so something fast and festive is best.

Hour 05:00 – Farewell

If there is a grand exit planned (like a sparkler sendoff), there will need to be coordination between the caterer, DJ or band, and the couple. The DJ or band will make the announcement and will verbally direct guests to the correct location, and the catering staff will be sure the couple is both ready and assist guests to the area where the sendoff will happen.

It’s extremely rare for a wedding to hit every single point at the minute it is supposed to. Every wedding will require a bit of flexibility based on how events unfold. It’s important to remember that a timeline is a guide, it is not the rule.


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