You might have thought a lot about your wedding day timeline, like when your ceremony starts, and when dinner begins, but have you thought about how your reception is going to go down?
With so many different events going on, it’s a bit of a madhouse trying to plan them all. Especially when everybody has their own ideas about when things should happen. (Like should the cake be served right after dinner? Or should there be a buffer?) I got together with my favorite DJ here in Utah Valley, and together we crafted the best reception timeline for a 3.5 hour reception.
As a photographer, I always recommend that dinner happens right around sunset. Scheduling it this way means I can steal the bride and groom away for some beautiful sunset photos before dinner starts, and everyone gets to grab their food while there’s still light out. So for the purpose of this post, I’m going to say that sunset is at 5:00, and dinner is from 4:30-5:30.
Everyone’s bellies are full. People are starting to chat amongst themselves. Now is the perfect time for friends and family to toast to you guys while y’all catch up on some eating you may have missed earlier! The best reception timeline ensures that you guys have plenty of time to eat during your reception!
Kevin from KG Entertainment suggests having the first dance with each other before you do any parent dances. Why? Guests don’t have a long attention span, so you want the first thing you do to be the most important- your first dance with each other!
Traditionally, the groom will dance with his mom and the bride dances with her dad. Sometimes there is a song for each of these dances, and sometimes there is only one song in which the bride and groom take the dance floor with their parents.
If you don’t have one of those parents in your life, or if you are just far closer to a different parent, don’t be afraid to break tradition and dance with them instead! At my wedding, we had a “Mom” dance where my husband and I both danced with our mothers since my dad is not an active part of my life. Showing gratitude to those who supported you is what this dance is really about!
When you discuss your wedding reception timeline with your DJ, ask them to segway the crowd seamlessly from watching the parent dances to getting out on the dance floor themselves! One of the best methods for getting people out on the dance floor is to have dances with a specific audience involved.
For example, one of the fun dances I’ve seen is an “anniversary dance”. The DJ calls all married couples out onto the dance floor. Throughout the dance, he instructs people who have been married less than a year to step off the floor. Then, less than 5 years married. Then 10 years. The DJ continues upping the number of years married until one couple is left on the dance floor- at which point they get to talk into the mike and tell the audience how long they’ve been married, and one piece of advice they would give the bride and groom.
If you have grandparents who have been married for a long time and you want to highlight them in your day somehow, that could be a great way to shine a spotlight on them and honor their marriage!
At this point in your reception timeline, people have danced off some of their dinner and they’re ready to have some dessert! All your guests are still pumped and energized, so you still have all of your friends and family there to watch you cut the cake.
Having your cake cutting after you’ve danced a bit also means you’re free to shove cake in each other’s faces (if that’s your thing!) without worrying about your makeup or stains for those special moments.
Why so many breaks for open dancing? You don’t want long stretches of nothing but dancing going on (plan for no longer than an hour in your reception timeline) or your guests might decide they’ve had enough of dancing and leave prematurely!
Another tip that might get people moving on your dance floor is to have your bridesmaids and groomsmen give the DJ their favorite song to dance to beforehand. When they hear their song come on, they’ll be so excited, they’ll light up the dance floor!
Some brides want to preserve their bouquet after the wedding, so they worry about tossing it over their head and into the waiting arms of a bunch of tipsy bridesmaids. Or maybe you’ll have a cascading bouquet that doesn’t really lend itself to tossing very well. Either way, you can make use of your Maid of Honor’s bouquet and throw hers instead!
Another option is to ask your florist for a small version of your bouquet without any pins or thorns. This option is especially nice because I’ve personally seen more than one occasion where a guest’s hand was all torn up and bloody from the pins holding the flowers together! Ouch!
This is where you can get real flexible with your reception timeline! If you want to shorten your reception, you can end it right after the bouquet toss. If things are going great and you want the party to rage on, keep it going! Older guests tend to leave before the end of the night, so now is when the DJ can really focus on the younger crowd. Less slow dances, and more bangers to keep the party hopping!
Everyone gets called outside to send you off on your first night of married life! If your venue doesn’t allow for sparklers or open flame, you can get creative with some other amazing methods that still make an impact!
Try exiting through bubbles, ribbon wands, glow sticks, or flower petals! (Make sure the petals are real so they’ll be biodegradable!)
Your reception timeline is yours to create however your wish, but I hope you were able to get some good ideas about how to structure it! This timeline ensures that you and your guests are always entertained, but with a lot of focus on the moments that are important to you. If you do decide to go by this guide, don’t forget to adjust the timeline based on when sunset happens on your wedding day! Your photographer or wedding planner should be able to help you adjust the timeline for your wedding day to ensure your photos are always in the best light.
Did I miss anything or leave anything out? Tell me some of your favorite reception traditions in the comments below!
A stunning elopement on enchanted grounds.