Wedding Reception Timeline Examples to Help Set Up Your Day

December 15, 2023
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Planning a wedding can be a daunting task, but one of the most important aspects that often gets overlooked is the wedding reception timeline. Though it may seem like a small detail compared to the attire, food, and florals, a well-organized timeline ensures that everything runs smoothly and that all the key moments you’ve dreamed of since the beginning of your wedding planning journey are properly executed. There are multiple different ways you can organize your wedding reception, but we’re breaking down two common wedding reception timeline examples to help guarantee that your day goes off without a hitch.

Two Wedding Reception Timeline Examples

Traditional Wedding Reception

A traditional wedding reception timeline usually follows a specific order of events. It typically begins with the cocktail hour. If you’ve taken all of your wedding photos before the ceremony, this is a great time to enjoy drinks and light bites with your guests. If you opt out of a first look and pre-ceremony photos, this time is usually when the newlyweds and their wedding parties are snapping pictures with their photographer.

From there, you will go into the grand entrance. Depending on how big your wedding party is and how much you have planned, this can take anywhere from five to ten minutes. Once the newlyweds are on the dance floor, they’ll go straight into their first dance. Because the couple makes their way to the dance floor during their introduction, this makes the most sense if you’re looking for a natural flow of events. It’s also a great way to highlight the couple before dinner begins and the party kicks off.

The first dance is followed by a welcome speech. It’s important to keep this on the shorter side since guests will be getting hungry by this point. After the formalities, the guests are invited to enjoy their meals while background music is played. Once everyone has finished eating, toasts and speeches are made before the dance floor opens up for the guests to enjoy themselves. The evening usually concludes with the bouquet toss/garter toss, cake cutting, and a grand exit for the couple. If you feel like keeping the party going, consider an after-party at a dive bar, club, bowling alley, etc. 

For those who are visual learners, it would look something like: 

  • Cocktail hour – 6 to 7 PM
  • Grand entrance – 7:05 PM 
  • First dance – 7:15 PM 
  • Welcome speech and dinner – 7:30 PM
  • Toasts and speeches – 8:30 PM
  • Dancing and other entertainment – 9 to 10:30 PM
  • Cake cutting and bouquet/garter toss – 10:30
  • Grand exit – 11:30

Cocktail-Style Wedding Reception 

For couples looking for a more relaxed and casual atmosphere, a cocktail-style wedding reception timeline may be the perfect choice. This type of reception typically begins with a cocktail hour where guests can mingle and enjoy drinks and appetizers. As with the traditional reception, whether or not you enjoy this as a couple depends entirely on when you take photos with your photographer. 

After the official cocktail hour is over, your guests will enjoy food stations or passed hors d’oeuvres instead of a formal sit-down dinner. One of the biggest advantages to this timeline is the fact that the newlyweds may choose to have their first dance at any point during the reception. You also have the option to do a much more low-key grand entrance. This is ideal if you’re not having a wedding party or don’t love the attention.

Because you’re not having a seated dinner, your first dance is then followed by speeches and toasts. Again, this is more informal than a traditional wedding, so don’t feel obligated to have speeches or toasts to begin with. The rest of the evening is spent socializing, dancing, and enjoying the company of friends and family, so you’re going to be able to enjoy their company regardless of your decision!

Here’s a visual example of what this kind of evening may look like: 

  • Cocktail hour – 5:30 to 6:30 PM
  • Grand entrance – 6:30 PM
  • Welcome speeches and toasts – 6:45 PM
  • Food stations and grazing tables – 7:00 PM
  • First dance – 8:00 PM
  • Dancing and other entertainment – 8:15 to 10:15 PM
  • Dessert table – 10:15 to 11 PM
  • Grand exit – 11 PM

Advice For Your Wedding Reception Timeline

Our biggest piece of advice when it comes to your wedding reception timeline is to hire a wedding planner. Although they seem like a costly expense, they’ll be there with you throughout the day to ensure that you stay on track and everything goes according to plan. Things are going to come up, but a planner will ease the stress so you can focus on the most critical aspect of the day–enjoying being a newlywed. When planning your wedding with your planner, don’t be afraid to sit down and create a timeline together. They’ll know exactly how much time you need for every piece of the evening and how to nix parts that you may not be interested in!