Follow This Timeline for a Stress-Free Wedding Reception

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Planning ahead is key for a stress-free wedding reception. From the cocktail hour to cleanup, follow this timeline of events to make sure your big night is one to remember.

Reception Timeline

Cocktail Hour: Aim to have between 45 minutes to an 
hour for the bride
 and groom to mix and mingle with guests and finish up family photos, provided they’ve already done a first look and bridal party shots. (If not, do those now.)

Bridal Party Intro: Elaborate bridal party intros are much less popular nowadays. Instead, think of fun ways to center the focus of the introduction on the bride and groom while still acknowledging the bridal party.

First Dance: Going right from the bride’s and groom’s introduction onto
 the floor to their first dance is a smooth segue that’ll capitalize on the energy of the couple’s big entrance.

Welcome Speech: A welcome speech by the father of the bride or host is the perfect way to let guests know dinner will immediately follow, often cued by a blessing of the meal.

Dinner: The bride and groom should be served first, whether you do a sit-down dinner or a buffet. That way the couple can stop by guests’ tables to chat and visit as soon as they’ve finished eating.

Toasts: During the salad or entrée course is the ideal time for toasts by the maid of honor, best man, and honor attendants, because guests will be seated, fed, and most likely to give their full attention.

Cake Cutting: Whether you make
 a big fuss about this activity or not, now is the time to grab the photographer for a quick snap of the bride and groom with the cake before it’s cut and plated.

Father-Daughter & Mother-Son Dances: From there, move on to the father-daughter and mother-son dances, calling on guests to join them on the dance floor afterward.

Bride & Groom Send-Off: After a night of fun and dancing, have the DJ send off the bride and groom with a final song—or they can choose to stealthily slip away without telling any of their guests.

Cleanup: Designate who will gather the wedding gifts and cards, as well as communicate what rentals need to be returned to vendors. You can also arrange to have the florals donated to a local hospice or nursing home.


Pro Tip: When creating a timeline for your big day, the easiest way to go off schedule is by not budgeting enough time for hair and makeup at the beginning, says Master Wedding Planner Brigid Horne-Nestor of i-do Weddings & Events. “Always allow 15 minutes longer than you think you’ll need—for everything.”

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