There are no hard and fast rules when it comes to the wedding reception timeline. But there are certain elements the majority of couples will include, and there is a traditional order of operations. Below are a few suggestions for the amount of time you might want to allot for each event, including a guide for the order of those events based on general consensus. But always keep in mind: This is your day! Be flexible, and remember that the most important thing is that you and your guests have fun!

The Cocktail Hour

Time to allow: 1 hour

The timing of the cocktail hour will depend partly on whether your guests will need to travel to the reception destination. If the ceremony and reception are in the same place, expect the cocktail hour to begin immediately following the ceremony. If travel is involved, allow for about 30 minutes in-between. Once guests have arrived, you’ll want to allow about an hour for this fun event, which gives your guests time to mingle and gear up for the rest of the celebration. Also, this can be a great time to step out for an initial photo session with your photographer.

Invitation to Dinner

Time to allow: 15 minutes

This event may seem simple enough. After all, you’re just letting everyone know it’s time to eat. However, remember that your guests need time to switch gears and get seated, which is why you’ll want to allow a solid 15 minutes for this important segment of the celebration.

wedding reception timeline grand entrance

Photo courtesy of Alasdair Elmes

The Grand Entrance

Time to allow: 10 minutes

Now is when the fun really begins, so get ready for cheering and fanfare as you make your grand entrance into the main dining room. If you’d like to use this opportunity to introduce the wedding party—as many couples do—you might want to allow about five minutes on top of the standard 10.

The First Dance

Time to allow: 5 minutes

Many couples opt to transition straight into the first dance to keep the event’s energy exciting and upbeat. If you happen to have a crowd who loves to dance, you might want to include a couple of additional songs to really get things rolling before dinner begins. Just be sure to allow for additional time (10 minutes or so) if you choose this option.

The Welcome Toasts

Time to allow: 5 minutes

Now is the time to thank all of your friends and loved ones for joining you to celebrate the biggest day of your life. You and your spouse may want to offer up this toast yourselves, or you might allow a family member, typically the parents, to extend the big welcome and invite all to enjoy the remainder of the evening’s festivities.

Dinner

Time to allow: 45 minutes

Whether you go with a buffet, traditional three-course, or casual family style meal, you should expect dinner to take about 45 minutes. But, again, be flexible, and make sure everyone has plenty of time to enjoy this special time to dine with you and yours.

wedding reception timeline toast

Photo courtesy of Alasdair Elmes

The Wedding Party Toasts

Time to allow: 10-15 minutes

The wedding party toasts typically take place in-between courses or sometime during the meal if you opt for a more casual dining style. Most often, the best man and maid of honor will be invited to offer up a few words. Encourage them to keep their speeches under four minutes, which tends to be plenty of time for most.

The Parent Dances

Time to allow: 10-15 minutes

Father-daughter and mother-son dances most often take place following dinner, before the dance floor opens up to the rest of the guests. You may want to arrange for your deejay to cue up an upbeat song following the dances to help get the party going strong for the rest of the evening.

The Bouquet and Garter Toss

Time to allow: 10 minutes

Though more and more couples are deciding to skip these two traditions, plenty of people still appreciate the fun commotion associated with them. If you decide to go the traditional route, these two events should take place after the party has been going for awhile but before the cake cutting. Be sure to allow about five minutes for each.

close focus of a wedding cake

Photo courtesy of Nicole Boekestijin

The Cake Cutting

Time to allow: 10 minutes

A word of caution: Don’t schedule the cake cutting too early in the evening, as it is traditionally a sign to guests that the party is just about over. That said, we suggest scheduling the cutting about one hour before the night’s end. Remember, this is also a great opportunity to thank your guests for joining in your special day with you. After the cake cutting, open the dance floor to your guests until the last song.

The Last Song

Time to allow: 5 minutes

The announcement of the last song typically takes place about five minutes prior to the end of the reception. During this time, you and yours should be busy preparing for the grand exit.

wedding timeline of the grand exit

Photo courtesy of Edward Cisneros

The Grand Exit

Time to allow: 5 minutes

At last, the time has come to send you off in style! Whether you’ve planned to go out amid sparklers, noisemakers, or bubbles, be sure you go out with the fullest and grandest of fanfare possible! Expect plenty of cheers, tons of well wishes, and lots of love!

Are you gearing up to start planning your own Tahoe South wedding? Visit our homepage and browse our spectacular venues today. Each one has exactly what you need to make your dream wedding a reality, regardless of the timeline!