“You may now kiss the bride!” 

Undoubtedly, a wedding ceremony is a moment to cherish. But what follows after the ceremony? The reception! Typically, the wedding planner, MC, or venue manager takes charge of maintaining order. Therefore, it’s essential to provide them with a wedding reception timeline. 

In this guide, we’ve outlined a comprehensive five-hour reception timeline and addressed seven common reception and party-related questions, ensuring that your unforgettable evening runs seamlessly. Whether you’re the bride or a guest at the wedding, having insight into the wedding reception timeline can be quite beneficial for your planning. While the duration of weddings can vary, having a general idea of what to expect during the reception will help you prepare for that beautiful day. 

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Bride and Groom: During this time, the couple is usually takes their wedding pictures in a remote location. The wedding party, parents and close family members are included in the photos as well.

Guests: Your guests are slowly exiting the ceremony and moving their way to the venue or reception location. The cocktail hour is a great time to have your guests mingle, eat some hors d’oeuvres and wind down before the party gets started.

Bride and Groom: The bride and groom are arriving from their photo session and preparing to enter the venue as newlyweds. If the wedding party plans to enter the hall along with the bride and groom, they should be lining up at this time as well.

Guests: This is where the MC (DJ, wedding coordinator or family member) gathers all the guests and ushers them into the reception hall where the party will take place. Guests can also drop off their wedding gifts at the appropriate table.

Bride and Groom: Following their groomsmen and bridesmaids, the bride and groom enter the venue. (Usually this involves a silly dance depending on the theme of the party.)  

Guests: Guests are seated. No food is served during this time but the DJ is creating the perfect ambience for the bride and groom’s unforgettable entrance.

Bride and Groom: After the grand entrance, the couple is now the center of attention! Here, they will dance their first dance as husband and wife. Some couples choose to also include the mother and father of the bride and groom dances immediately after their first dance, so timing can vary.

Guests: Now that the wedding party has arrived, all guests should remain in their seats for upcoming speeches.

Bride and Groom: The bride and groom are seated at the head table.   

Father of the Bride or Groom: Usually the father of the bride gives a welcoming speech thanking everyone for attending. However, some couples prefer to do this themselves.

Bride and Groom: The bride and groom are seated at the head table enjoying their dinner. Afterwards, they make their rounds to each table (once everyone is settled). The couple may choose to take pictures with their guests during this time as well.

Guests: Depending on the time of meal, the MC either directs people to the buffet or the DJ plays music for a seated dinner.

Bride and Groom: During this time the bride and groom are seated (and crying with emotion), as they listen to beautiful words being spoken about them.

Maid of Honor & Best Man: While guests are still enjoying their dinner and mingling with the bride and groom, the maid of honor and best man share heartfelt speeches for the bride and groom.

Bride & Groom: The newlyweds get back on the dance floor to enjoy a sweet moment with their parents. The father and daughter dance typically happens first, followed by the mother and son.

Everyone: Now is the time to get your groove on and get silly on the dance floor. During this time the bride and groom may also choose to do the bouquet toss and garter throw. .

Bride and Groom: As the DJ slows down the music a bit, the bride and groom cut the cake! At this time, they also thank their guests for coming.

Guests: The cake cutting ceremony is usually a good time for guests to grab another drink, coffee or tea and head back to their seats. The cutting of the cake usually marks the half-point of the party.  

Bride and Groom: Usually the bride and groom take fun pictures during this time. The photo session can be on the dance floor, with their guests or even nighttime shots at a chosen location.

Guests: The party continues. If guests don’t show off their dance moves in the first hour, they certainly can now.

Bride and Groom: Whether they choose to stay until the end and make a grand exit, or sneak out for some alone time, the grand finale usually signifies that the party is over.

Guests: This is the perfect time to say your goodbyes to the newlyweds as they prepare to head out.

Tips For Scheduling Your Reception

Keep in mind, things do not have to be set in stone. If something lasts a little longer or a little shorter than expected, there is always room for adjustment. Here are some of the most common reception questions to keep your night running smoothly:

Who is in charge of the wedding reception timeline?

If there is a wedding planner, he or she is in charge of making sure everything runs smoothly. However, it is also common for the MC or DJ to direct your guests on what to do next. Make sure whoever is in charge of this has a printed copy of the order of events.

How much time should be scheduled for a photo session after the ceremony?

30 minutes is a good amount of time for a photo session with the newlyweds and their wedding party. Make sure to plan for a little extra time if the location is not within ten minutes of the venue or if you have a large family and wedding party.  

Does the wedding have to have an end time?

The wedding should always have an end time assuming it’s in a rented venue. Some venues allow for a little extra time, however, there may be an extra fee.

What is the wedding after-party etiquette?

Since most after parties involve casual drinks at a spot near the reception, there does not need to be a formal invitation. Many times, after parties are held by guests who want to keep the party going. The couple does not need to be in attendance, especially if they are heading off to their honeymoon!

Do the bride and groom have to personally greet each guest?

The bride and groom will be running around all day. Although their intention may be to greet each guest personally, time may not always allow that. If the newlyweds don’t say hello, don’t take it to heart.