As you’re probably already aware, wedding celebrations generally consist of (at least) two parts. The first one involves the official wedding ceremony, during which time couples share their vows, exchange rings, and so on. Usually, wedding ceremonies are followed soon after by the wedding reception. What you might not have considered, however, is that although both events work in tandem to celebrate the newlyweds, the wedding reception will typically take up more of the bride and groom’s time and energy. So, brides and grooms, if you want to make the most of your day and ensure that you’ve planned enough time for activities, we created a sample timeline to use for reference in answering the question, “How long does a wedding reception last?”
Wedding Reception Length
For the most part, wedding ceremonies last for about an hour or two. As for wedding receptions, they can range from four to six hours (or more). Within this timeframe, you’ll likely need to plan for a grand entrance, first dance, mother/son dance, father/daughter dance, speeches, dinner or dessert, games or other traditions, and ultimately, dancing. Your photographer may even sneak you out for a night shot. Let’s take a closer look at the timeline.
Wedding Reception Sample Timeline
Here’s a typical rundown of activities and allotted time that you can refer to for your wedding.
00:00 – Cocktail Hour
Once the wedding celebration ends and the couple is announced as husband and wife, they’ll first leave the ceremony (with the photographer to take some couple shots), and the guests will head to the reception area.
The period in which the guests wait for the newlyweds is commonly called “cocktail hour.” Guests are typically served appetizers and cocktails while they mingle and prepare to party. As the name suggests, cocktail hour usually lasts about an hour or so in order to give the newlyweds enough time to capture formal photos with the bride and the groom’s family and party.
01:15 – Newlywed Party Announcement
Before the newlyweds are announced, the wedding coordinator or the bridal or groom’s party will ensure that guests are seated. Once everyone is settled, it’s time for the grand entrance.
01:30 – Grand Entrance
You and your partner will be announced and introduced as husband and wife during this time. This moment is significant for newlyweds as it’s the first time outside of the ceremony itself that you’ll be presented as newlyweds.
01:40 – First Dance
After making your way to the reception area, the spotlight will shine upon you and the first dance will commence. Since every guest will be cheering you on, whether you have smooth moves or not, it’s time to throw the shyness away and get your groove on.
During this time, the couple may switch partners and invite their parents to enjoy the moment.
02:00 – Dinner
Dinner is usually served shortly after the bride and the groom finish their first dance. Depending on whether you have a buffet or a server waiting for food, the newlyweds may use their time to greet guests and thank them for attending.
02:30 – Toasts and Cheers
After everyone enjoys a bite, the bride and the groom will address the guests and formally thank them for attending. Then, the Father of the Bride, Best Man, Maid/Matron of Honor, and other designated individuals will give their toasts.
03:00 – Parent Dances
If you and your partner didn’t take the time to squeeze parent dances, now’s the time to share a special moment with your loved ones. You can check out our list of first dance songs to make it even more memorable.
03:15 – Party Time
Lead by example and encourage your guests to dance to the tunes of your wedding celebration as soon as your parent dances are over. Your wedding coordinator should know that you have other activities planned, such as bouquet, garter toss, and cake cutting. Confirm your plans with them to make sure everything moves along accordingly.
03:30 – Bouquet and Garter Toss
Give your guests a short break from dancing and jump into the next event: the bouquet and garter toss! It is good to remember that these activities are not mandatory, and you can skip them if they don’t appeal to you.
03:45 – Cake Cutting
For those who are losing steam, a quick bite of a sweet cake should offer a means of recharging and keeping the party going. You should probably work out with your partner whether or not you plan to smash cake into one another’s faces. Doing so is not mandatory, but the guests will get a kick out of it if you go this route.
04:00 – Dance it Out
To make everyone’s night memorable, you can coordinate with the DJ or the wedding coordinator with the perfect playlist to get everybody grooving. You can even schedule the last song to end the wedding on a high note!
5:00 – Farewell
Once you’ve had a fair share of wedding bliss and happiness, it’s time to step out into the world! You can end the evening with a grand exit, perhaps lining everyone up for a sparkler exit, or you can ask your wedding coordinator to usher the wedding guests outside when the time is right.
The beauty of planning a timeline for a wedding reception is that you can do whatever you want and decide how long the activity will last. You can tell your wedding coordinator that you’ll add a new activity or keep it simple, eliminate some activities, and keep the party going longer. After all, it’s your wedding!