The Perfect Wedding Reception Timeline
Your wedding day will quickly arrive and will seem to pass so fast, so I’ve created what I consider to be the “Perfect Timeline”, so you get the most out of your day. I’ll explain each part of the timeline and why it’s important to be placed where it is.
The first thing is to do is choose a window of time. I’m going to include the ceremony at the same location as the reception so we can cover as much ground as possible with this blog post. We will be using a 6 hour window in this tutorial. Simply remove the first hour for a 5 hour/no ceremony reception.
Historically, guests don’t dance until it is dark outside AND there is also a time for Photography called the “Golden Hour” which happens around sunset time. You want your timeline to fall around these optimal moments in time. So, the first thing you want to do is Google search “sunset time on 00/00/0000” replacing the 00/00/0000 with your wedding date.
For example, let’s do a Google search for “sunset time on 10/27/2018”, that time is 6:07pm. You’ll want to be taking pictures between 6pm and 7pm or otherwise known as the “Golden Hour”.
Here is a “perfect timeline” example:
5:00 pm – ceremony guest arrival
It’s important to give guests a 30 minute window of arrival time. So you want to suggest they arrive at 5pm. Some guests will be very early, and some will be late. This window of time will allow you to start your ceremony on time, because most of the guests will have arrived.
5:30 pm – ceremony start time
On time or within a 5 minute window. Keep in mind, NOTHING is ever perfectly on time with weddings. The idea is to keep it as close as possible and not forced/stressful.
6:00 pm – ceremony end time
Guests will now move over to the cocktail hour area and the photographer will whisk you away for photos during the “Golden Hour”.
7:00 pm – cocktail hour over / reception begins / intros
Guests move into the main ballroom area. This takes about 10 minutes to happen. In the meantime, the wedding party and parents, as well as bride and groom gather together outside of the ballroom and line up for introductions. You ALWAYS want to do introductions in the very beginning. Why? Because this is literally the only time everyone is together at the same time. If introductions happen at any other point in the night, it takes a very long time to gather and locate everyone, which turns into less “party time” towards the end. When I say less, I mean 20-30 minutes. We want MORE party time!
7:05 pm – bride and groom first dance
It’s critical to do the first dance IMMEDIATELY following introductions. This is your 3 minutes of magical experience. All eyes on you. If you do this dance at any other point in the night, it will be awkward. People will be ignoring it, walking all over the place, and talking during it. Pictures won’t be as nice because the room/tables will be a mess and people will start removing jackets, etc.
7:15 pm – toasts by maid/matron of honor, best men, or parents
It is important to do any toasts right before dinner and after the first dance Why? First of all, the champagne is poured and sitting there. If it’s left to sit there, some guests will just drink it not knowing any better. Think you can just pour 150 glasses of champagne real quick later in the night? Think again. It takes no-less than 20 minutes and requires several staff to do it, which slows everything else down (like dinner) because staff members are being pulled from their regular duties. Secondly, everyone is seated and in the room, so there is no time wasted looking for the people actually doing the toasts. Think about it. All you need is the best man to “smoke a cigar with Uncle Billy” and the entire wedding slows down for upwards of 30 minutes. “Anyone seen the best man?” It happens ALL the time.
7:25 pm – first course (usually salads)
Just eat salad! Mingle!
7:35 pm – parent dances
This is huge, and most of the elite venues do the parent dances right here. Why? Number one reason is everyone is almost guaranteed to be in the room. Especially, the photographers, the parents, and of course the bride and groom. People are also seated. They aren’t all over the place, walking around, drinking, etc. Also, usually nothing is happening for about 20 minutes between first course and main course. This entertains your guests instead of them wondering “where is my dinner?”. Also, the photographers and vendors are served their dinner last. Which means, the starving photographers are literally handed a dinner and told it’s time to do the parent dance photos. It’s HIGHLY suggested to do parent dances between first and main course.
7:45 pm – main course
Enjoy your dinner knowing all the formalities are over short of cutting the cake and a stress free night of dancing is ahead of you
8:15 pm – kick off the higher energy music
This is where the dj reads the crowd and determines an appropriate time to start the higher energy music. Never go the FULL dinner hour. It’s too long. Start ramping up the music towards the end of dinner. I’m not saying “Turn down for what” right out the gates, but maybe something in the middle, so some guests can dance, and some can finish eating.
8:30 pm– cut the cake
There’s never an exact time for cake cutting. It’s generally about 20 minutes after dinner and the plates are cleared.
8:50 pm – 11pm – dance the night away
Dance, dance, dance, and do anything else you would like such as the bouquet/garter or anniversary dancing!
I hope this helped and feel free to email me with any questions!