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wedding reception timeline

Wedding Reception Order of Events: Basic Wedding Reception Timeline

A wedding ceremony is without a doubt quite a memorable event. However, many people are more excited for their wedding reception over the actual ceremony.

There are various wedding reception activities, from the first dance to dinner, toasts, and more. The wedding reception order of events varies from wedding to wedding, but there is a conventional timeline that you can follow.

Usually, it is your wedding emcee, wedding planner or wedding coordinator, or wedding venue manager who is responsible for keeping things well running and in order. As such, it is important that you provide them with a wedding reception timeline so that everything remains well organized.

Not all wedding receptions are alike; they differ in many ways, and it is all dependent on the couple, their guests, and the length of the reception. Below is a step by step guide that can help you plan your wedding reception events, just in case you are not sure of where to start.

Wedding Reception Timeline of Events 

We’ll break down the order of events at a wedding reception. Timing may vary based on the length of your wedding reception, your priorities, and other factors.


Receiving Line


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Some couples host a receiving line outside of the reception site, while others greet guests leaving the ceremony site. Other couples forego the receiving line altogether!

If you do organize a receiving line of close family members and your wedding party, this is typically the first step in your wedding timeline post ceremony.


The Cocktail Hour

signature cocktail

Immediately the wedding ceremony is over, the couple, alongside their families, wedding party members, and other guests, head for a photo shoot session with the wedding photographer. 

While this is going on, other guests who are not in the wedding photos head over to a cocktail hour. Holding a cocktail hour is pretty standard, and it gives guests a chance to mingle before the reception truly begins. Check out our cocktail hour playlist for song ideas while guests chat.

Most cocktail hours feature drinks (sometimes a signature drink) and hors d’oeuvres for guests to snack on. 

Some couples would rather attend the cocktail hour along with their wedding party. If you’d prefer to get the photo session out of the way before the ceremony, consider taking first look photos instead!


Guest Arrivals

couple at wedding

Most guests will arrive during cocktail hour, should you hold one. Guests may trickle in at different times between the wedding ceremony and the reception, especially if you get married at a separate venue from your reception. 

All the wedding vendors for your big day need to be ready and set up by the time guests arrive. All tables that require setting up, including the entertainment table, cake table, food table, and sign-in table need to be fully set up prior. 

Most importantly, have any seating arrangement guides set up and table markers ready. Many weddings feature cute place card holders for guests so that they can find their table number, as well as a visual aid to help them find their way to their tables.

If you don’t assign seats, make sure guests know that they can sit wherever they like!


Presentation of the Couple

bride and groom

Make your grand entrance! Just before the couple enters the reception venue, it is polite that guests stand in order to welcome them in a special way. Typically an MC or an important member of the wedding party who is keeping the order of events announces the new couple’s arrival.

The bride and groom are officially introduced as man and wife for the first time. Be sure to advise the MC or whoever is speaking on how you’d like your introduction to go before hand.

Some couples also choose to announce the wedding party. If you want to give a special shout out to your best man, maid of honor, bridesmaids, and groomsmen, ask if they want to participate in their own grand entrance.


First Dance

wedding first dance songs

It is finally the time for that special first dance as husband and wife. Pick your first dance song ahead of time and be prepared for a little bit of pressure, as everyone’s eyes will be on you and your new spouse.

During the first dance, you will undoubtedly be the center of attraction. Fret not; this is the perfect opportunity for both of you to focus on each other, while completely blocking out the noise.

It can be quite an emotional moment, so be sure to get carried away throughout the three or so minutes that your preferred song of choice will be playing. Allow yourselves to feel the magic as you get lost in each other’s eyes throughout the dance. 

Some couples choose to have their first dance later in the night, following dinner or even after the cake cutting.



wedding priest

This step is not exactly mandatory, and is typically only included at religious weddings or for religious couples. Some couples choose to say grace before eating at their wedding.

If the wedding officiant is present at the reception, ask him or her to conduct this blessing. However, if they are unable to attend, a close family friend or parent can do the blessing.

Alternatively, the wedding MC can pray for the meal to bless it. Make sure you ask someone to say grace if you want it included in your wedding reception timeline.



wedding table with runner

By this point in your wedding reception timeline, your guests will most likely start getting hungry. It is the perfect time to get into the wedding dinner.

There are various wedding reception food service styles to choose from; you could choose to go for the buffet, experience some fine dining, or even treat your guests to a nice and intimate family style meal. 

As bride and groom, make sure you take this opportunity to eat! It can be difficult to find time for yourself as the guests of honor at your wedding reception, so try to get a quick bite during dinner so that you have energy to last the night.

Some people opt for brunch or lunch if they have a daytime wedding – if you aren’t serving dinner, don’t worry. Serve whatever meal is appropriate during this time.



wedding toast

Everyone knows that toasts take place at the wedding reception, but who gives a toast? In most cases, the Best Man and Maid of Honor and usually start off this session, followed by the newlyweds, the parents and any other special guests of your choosing.

While it may seem somewhat cliché, the toasts session of your wedding reception tends to pave the way for a whole new list of fun events awaiting you ahead. The only thing to keep in mind is that the toasts should be kept short and simple so that guests don’t have to sit quietly for too long and so that the true party can begin.


Dancing, Drinks, and Merriment

After your first dance, it is time for everyone else to get on the dance floor! The groomsmen and bridesmaids typically join the bride and groom on the dance floor and encourage guests to get up on their feet for a dance party. 

Until the next scheduled event during the reception, guests can dance, drink, or mingle at tables or around the venue. As bride and groom, you will likely spend this time receiving hugs and congratulatory wishes. Try to make a little bit of time for all of your guests!


Father Daughter and Mother Son Dances

father and daughter dancing at wedding

Once everyone else has hit the dance floor for a bit, slow things down for your father-daughter dance and mother-son dance! This is a sweet tradition, should you choose to reserve a dance with your family members.


Bouquet and the Garter Toss

bride tossing bouquet

After some time has passed, it’s time for the next activity. Some couples choose to forego the garter toss and bouquet toss. If you want to enjoy this tradition however, the right time is after dinner and dancing but before dessert. 

This tradition includes the bride blindly tossing her bouquet to a group of waiting bachelorettes – the idea is that catching the bouquet is good luck, and it means that whoever catches it will be the next one married. The groom typically removes his wife’s garter and tosses that to the bachelors.


Wedding Cake Cutting

cutting wedding cake

Approximately one hour before the reception comes to an end, right after your guests have exhausted all their energy on the dance floor, treat them to the wedding cake!

Conventionally, the bride and groom cut the cake’s first slice in a cake cutting ceremony. They feed one another a bite of cake – sometimes in a rather messy manner to be fun. This is a symbolic act of the couple’s love and care for each other.

After this tradition, everyone gets a slice of cake! The venue typically has slices pre-prepared to give out. 


Late Night Snack

Well, not everyone enjoys cake, so many couples also choose to serve guests with a late night snack. Think anything in the line of drunk snack food or food that you can have while at the dance floor. Avoid saucy foods and focus on finger foods and hors d’oeuvres. 


Final Farewell


Plan your farewell exit! The possibilities here are endless, including driving off in vintage car just for show. 

Some couples leave right from their wedding reception for their honeymoon, while guests wave them goodbye, throw rice, pop confetti, or with other fanfare.

Close out your wedding in style – whatever style matches your personalities will work great! If you prefer a more subtle send off with close loved ones, that will also work well.


Enjoy Your Wedding Reception

While this may sound like quite a long list of activities, most brides and grooms report that their wedding reception goes by in a flash. Be sure to enjoy your wedding reception and celebrate with your closest family and friends! Don’t forget to eat, dance, and take plenty of pictures .

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