If you’re engaged, you might have thought a lot about how to plan out your wedding ceremony, but have you thought about what your wedding reception timeline will look like? 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! I’ll go over the steps to take when planning your wedding reception timeline, including cocktail hour, dinner, dancing, and more!
Some things to keep in mind as you’re planning the wedding reception order of events … Every couple and every culture will have different traditions! Don’t be afraid to mix things up and plan a wedding reception timeline that is going to fit into your dream wedding day! You can change the order of events and switch up your timeline as much as you’d like. That said, I find this wedding reception timeline generally has the smoothest flow. It also gives your wedding photographer a chance to capture every special moment before heading out.
If you chose not to have a first look, you will be needing most of your cocktail hour to take family photos, bridal party photos, and couple portraits. If you planned a first look in your wedding day timeline, you have some more flexibility. You can schedule family photos and bridal party photos before your ceremony, and you’ll only need a portion of cocktail hour for those sunset photos!
Cocktail hour is a chance for the newlyweds to get some alone time to take those beautiful, frame—worthy couple portraits together. Golden hour is such an ideal time to sneak away for photos. This means I always recommend scheduling your cocktail hour about an hour before sunset. That way you get the best light in your favorite couple photos! Cocktail hour also gives your family and friends a chance to mingle with your other guests and start relaxing into party mode for the rest of the night.
This will be a great opportunity for you and your new spouse to ride the high of your ceremony together. You get to take a breath, away from the hustle and bustle of the reception. This is when it really sinks in- you’re married!!
First things first. The grand entrances will be a fun way to get everyone excited, and they can all be customized to suit your style. Some people keep their grand entrance very low key and traditional. They simply walk in to the reception hall once their name is announced. Some couples like to add a little flair and personality to their wedding party entrances by having everyone perform a little dance as they are announced!
If you are a bride or groom hoping to have some beautiful sparkler exit photos, this is actually where I recommend you light them up! Once your family and bridal party are announced into the reception, they can grab a sparkler and start to form a line. Then, when you are announced, you run through the sparklers and onto the dance floor! This is a good idea if you want those gorgeous sparkling pictures with all of your closed loved ones. And unlike a sparkler exit at the end of the night, all of your guests are still there, and no one is looking drunk or disheveled yet!
The first dance is a moment to remember. You’ll want to make sure you have a chance to look into your partner’s eyes. Reflect on how far you’ve come together. This the first time you dance together as a married couple, and it’s your choice on the type of moment you want that to be!
The first dance song is usually something couples put a lot of thought into. Some people will even hire a live band if they’ve dreamt of live music for this moment. Most couples dance to their favorite slow song and create a romantic memory together. But this can also be a wonderful opportunity to show off your style. You don’t have to stick with tradition—you can make yours as unique as you are! If you’re looking for some inspiration, check out this local Charlotte couple that helps engaged couples plan their dances together.
The best wedding reception timeline usually includes a few toasts. These are short speeches made by the happy couple, your parents, or maybe your best man or maid of honor who want to give you a shoutout on your special day. These can be given at any time during the reception. They are usually planned either before or after dinner. If you are planning welcome toasts before dinner, typically the father of the bride will thank your guests for coming, and have a formal opening to your feast.
Now that everyone is seated and hungry, it’s time for the main course. If you’re hosting a buffet style meal, make sure your wedding planner or wedding coordinator has a plan on how to dismiss guests from the tables to get their plates. This is where table numbers or seating charts can come in handy. Some organization makes sure the receiving line for food doesn’t get too long.
Whether you’re doing a waited dinner service or a buffet, the newly married couple should always be served first at the head table. They are closely followed by their bridal party, immediate family members, and wedding vendors. As a photographer, I always make sure I am able to eat when the couple eats. This way I don’t take any unflattering photos of their mouths filled with food, and there’s enough time for me to refuel so I’m up and ready to go as soon as they are done!
The happy couple cuts their wedding cake, which is then served to guests. If you’re nervous about how to cut your cake, you’re not the only one! Just make sure you’re cutting the bottom tier of the cake: two parallel cuts into the cake, then cut out the top cut like a square, and lift the slice onto your plate. Whether you choose to smash cake in each other’s faces or be sweet about it is up to you! If you do choose to do a cake smash, you may want to consider scheduling your parent dances right after your first dance. That way your face isn’t smeared with cake for pictures!
In a traditional wedding timeline, the cake cutting signifies that most of the formal events are coming to a close. It tells the guests that it’s almost time to start dancing! Some guests choose to leave shortly after the cutting of the cake. However, most people will stay for at least another hour or so of dancing before heading home.
This is the formal introduction of the dance floor. The parents’ dance is a time-honored tradition. It’s a chance for the new couple to honor both sets of parents with these special dances. Traditionally, there is a mother-son dance and a father-daughter dance. Sometimes there is a separate song for each of these dances. Sometimes there is only one song in which the both 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. My husband and I both danced with our mothers, since my dad is not an active part of my life. You can also add on additional songs to make sure each parent feels included. Showing gratitude to those who supported you is what this dance is really about!
This is typically where most couples will end their photography coverage. This wedding reception timeline gives your photographer as much time as they need to capture each important activity leading up to this point. Of course, you can always add extra time to your photography package. This is a good idea if you really have your heart set on your photographer staying to the end. Chat with your photographer once you’ve planned your wedding reception timeline to see what your options are!
Dancing is an essential part of the wedding reception timeline. Mostly because it’s the easiest way to make sure that everyone has a fun experience! It also helps you get to know your guests better, as well as letting them see how much of a fun couple you are together. The best thing to do is start with an upbeat song. Your wedding guests have been sitting for a while at this point. Now it’s time to ramp up the energy again!
If you’re not much of a dancer yourself but still want other people at your wedding reception to have a good time, here are some alternative activities that will keep everyone entertained:
The bouquet and garter toss are traditions that have fallen out of favor over the past few years or so as weddings have become more modern. But they can be a lot of fun if you’re into them! The bouquet is thrown to unmarried women in attendance. If she catches it, she will supposedly be the next to get married. The garter tosses go to unmarried men in attendance. Just like with the bouquet, whoever catches it will be next to be married. Good luck single ladies and gentlemen! If you want your guests to participate in this part of your reception timeline, make sure your wedding DJ knows to announce it!
These tossing traditions are typically done towards the end of the reception. At this point, most of the older guests and young families have gone home already. That means it’s the perfect time to show those single friends some love!
It’s time to end the night on a high note. You and your spouse can spend some quality time together while everyone is clearing out. If you want a more intimate moment with just your new husband or wife, consider having your DJ or planner direct everyone outside. You get the wedding venue all to yourselves, and can share this private moment together.
If you have any favorite songs together, or know of some romantic slow songs that you just adore, this is a great way to incorporate them and make your last song memorable.
If you’re having a grand exit at the end of the night, here are some tips:
A wedding reception timeline is one of the most important parts of planning your big day. The best way to make sure that guests have a great time at your reception is to give them plenty of time to celebrate with you! If you’re having a fun party where everyone gets involved (like this one), you can’t go wrong!
If you follow this sample wedding reception timeline, you’ll be able to enjoy all the important parts of your wedding reception without feeling rushed or overwhelmed. The best part about it is that there are so many opportunities for dancing and celebration! You can have fun with everyone who came out to rejoice with you at your wedding reception. They won’t be able to resist the invitation to get up on their feet and dance with others. By setting aside time for each activity we’ve outlined above, everyone will have plenty of time to enjoy themselves—and you’ll have a wedding night you’ll never forget!
Savvy is a wedding photographer in Charlotte, NC 28280. Offering wedding photography in North Carolina.
Contact at firstname.lastname@example.org. Clients can text (980) 202-0886.
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