Wedding Reception Timeline & Template to Plan Your Day

Updated November 6, 2020
moments at their wedding reception

A wedding reception timeline is necessary to keep the reception running smoothly. When you have a wedding reception itinerary, you can avoid forgetting an important part of the evening.

Wedding Reception Timeline

Couples planning a wedding ceremony and reception often concern themselves with wedding reception protocol, worried they may offend someone by not following proper etiquette. Part of keeping guests happy and the evening problem-free is to create a wedding reception itinerary that keeps the evening flowing. It can be just as rude to forget to let guests know when the cake is being cut as it is to skip writing wedding thank-you notes.

Order of Wedding Reception

A wedding reception itinerary does not have to be timed out to the minute, but it does need to serve as a basic outline for managing the order of wedding reception activities. Without some organization to the reception, guests will feel bewildered about reception activities. The excitement of the evening can even cause brides and grooms to forget an important tradition they wanted to include.

Sample Wedding Reception Timeline

Wedding receptions often have two main elements: the dinner and the dance. Not every wedding has a dinner or dance, so you can modify a sample wedding reception timeline as needed. (If you need help downloading the wedding reception timeline below, you can use the Guide for Adobe Printables.)

Wedding Reception Timeline

Cocktail Hour for Guests

After the wedding ceremony, the wedding party poses for post-wedding photos. Wedding guests are invited to a cocktail hour.

Guests Are Invited to Dinner

Before the bridal couple and wedding party arrive, the guests are formally invited to dinner. Guests will find their names on the place cards at the tables.

Grand Entrance of Bride and Groom

The bride and groom will enter after the bridal party. They will be greeted by applause from their guests.

grand entrance of bride and groom

Parents or Bridal Couple Welcome Toast

The parents or bridal couple welcome the guests and thank them for attending. The parents or bridal couple toast the guests. Some bridal couples prefer to wait until dinner to welcome their guests.

Wedding Dinner or Buffet Itinerary

The meal at a wedding can be a seated dinner or buffet. Even receptions without a full meal, such as a dessert reception or appetizer reception, can use an itinerary to make sure the reception stays on schedule. You can follow this itinerary for the dinner portion of the evening and make changes as necessary:

Wedding Speeches

Some couples may choose to have parent speeches given at this time. The wedding party will also make toasts or speeches immediately after the dinner. Each person making a speech or toast should be asked to be mindful of the time. Five minutes is a generous allotment of time for a toast.

Bride and Groom Speeches to Each Other

The dinner portion of the reception usually ends with the bride or groom toasting each other with a speech. This is followed by a brief thank you speech to guests. Afterwards, the bridal couple will invite their guests to join them for the cutting of the wedding cake.

Cutting the Wedding Cake

The bridal couple will move to the table where the wedding cake will be served. The couple will cut the wedding cake and pose for photos before the guests are served the cake.

Newlyweds cutting wedding cake

Bouquet Toss

The single bridesmaids and women guests may participate in the bridal bouquet toss. The bride often elects to have two separate bouquets with a smaller one just for the bouquet toss. The women will try to catch the bouquet. Traditionally, the woman who catches the bride's bouquet will be the next one to get married. The bouquet is usually returned to the bride.

Garter Toss

The single groomsmen and male guests will participate in the garter toss. The groom will toss the bride's garter into the crowd. Traditionally, the man who catches the bride's garter will be the next one to marry.

Dance Itinerary

The wedding dance follows the dining portion of the wedding reception. The wedding DJ or bandleader usually serves as the emcee for the evening, directing activities. Couples who choose to use wedding reception music on an mp3 player or burned CD need to ask someone, whether a trusted friend, relative, or even wedding planner, to announce each activity.

Bride and Groom First Dance

The bridal couple take the first dance with their chosen wedding song. The guests and bridal party stand around and watch as the couple move over the dance floor. A sample dance itinerary may follow this schedule:

Bride and groom first dance

Last Song

The last song is a wonderful time for the bridal couple to close their special day with the final wedding reception dance. It's an appropriate ending with the couple dancing with their friends and families.

Farewell to Bridal Couple Grand Exit

After the last dance, the bridal couple can thank everyone. The couple will then make their grand exit.

Reception Ends and Guests leave

The last dance and the bridal couple's exit signal the reception is over. The guests leave and any stragglers are encouraged to depart.

Different Activities During Reception

Bridal couples may choose to include games, dollar dances, wedding line dances, anniversary dances or other special activities during the reception. Work each element into the dance itinerary as desired.

Weddings Without Dancing

At weddings without a dance, couples may choose to give a short toast to each other, ending with a thank you to the guests for their love and support. Mingling over drinks and dessert may follow.

Combined Wedding Reception Itinerary

The dinner and dancing portion of the wedding reception do not have to be separated. Instead, combine elements by:

  • Dancing the first dance and bridal party dance right after the wedding party grand entrance song, then opening the dance floor to guests.
  • Skipping the bouquet toss during the dance and instead giving the bouquet away during dinner to the couple attending who has been married the longest.
  • Cutting and serving the cake after the first dances, but before the dance floor opens to guests.
  • Giving a thank you for coming speech by the bride and groom just before the last dance, rather than during the meal.

Choosing to Skip Grand Entrance

Couples who choose to skip the grand entrance can ask their DJ to announce the wedding party members during the bridal party dance. Brides and grooms who hire a wedding planner can get ideas from him/her about creative ways to order their reception activities.

Wedding Reception Itinerary Tips

A wedding reception itinerary serves as a wedding planning guide for couples on the big day. To plan an itinerary:

  • Observe the order of things at family and friends' weddings. How well are things organized? Was there too much time between the dinner and dance? Did the guests seem rushed to eat?
  • Ask the wedding caterer advice on how much time to allot to dinner, based upon the type of meal served and number of guests attending.
  • Get help from the reception site coordinator, who may have several sample itineraries available.
  • Remember to ask the wedding reception bandleader or DJ for advice on the reception itinerary. He or she often has sample itineraries available and can serve as emcee of the evening.

Choices for Planning a Wedding Reception Itinerary

A wedding reception itinerary does not have to follow a prescribed order of the evening. Couples should keep in mind the comfort of their guests to have a successful reception. Serving dinner after a full dance will leave guests hungry, but having a slightly different order of wedding reception will be something guests remember long after the last dance played.

Wedding Reception Timeline & Template to Plan Your Day