Your Wedding Reception Timeline

Whether you have two, three, or four hours to party, here’s your guide for how it should flow.
by Meredith Bodgas
Wedding reception in ballroom
photo by Josh Gruetzmacher

Two-Hour Cocktail Party

9:00 p.m. Guests head into the reception area.
9:05 p.m. The emcee introduces you and your groom. Once you're in, start greeting guests!
9:10 p.m. Food stations open, and passed hors d'oeuvres start rolling out.
9:30 p.m. The first dance. Food service pauses.
9:35 p.m. The father-daughter and mother-son dances. Food service is still paused.
9:40 p.m. Food service resumes. If there will be dancing, an upbeat set would start now.
10:10 p.m. The toasts.
10:15 p.m. The cake cutting.
10:20 p.m. DJ or musical entertainment plays a couple of slow songs as the staff cuts and plates the cake.
10:25 p.m. Cake is passed around.
10:40 p.m. The final dance set plays.
10:55 p.m. The last dance.

Three-Hour Brunch

11:00 a.m. Guests head into the reception area and make their way to their seats.
11:10 a.m. The emcee introduces you and your groom; you do your first dance right away.
11:15 a.m. A welcome speech, a blessing or just the toasts, starting with the best man.
11:20 a.m. Brunch is served.
11:55 a.m. As guests are finishing their food, have your father-daughter dance, followed by the mother-son dance. Keep the songs short!
Noon A 40-minute power dance set.
12:40 p.m. The cake cutting.
12:45 p.m. Musical entertainment plays some slow songs play while the staff plates and serves the cake.
1:00 p.m. Guests are seated for cake.
1:15 p.m. The bouquet toss, if you're going to do one. We recommend skipping the garter toss -- it's a little early for that!
1:20 p.m. The final dance set begins. The most upbeat music plays now.
1:55 p.m. The last dance.

Four-Hour Seated Dinner

8:00 p.m. Guests head from the cocktail hour into the reception and find their seats.
8:15 p.m. Your emcee begins introducing the wedding party, starting with your parents.
8:20 p.m. The first dance.
8:25 p.m. A welcome speech or a blessing. If you're not having either, begin the toasts now -- best man followed by maid of honor.
8:30 p.m. Dinner is served. The emcee asks guests to take their seats. Music should be low enough so guests can talk at their tables.
9:00 p.m. The music volume starts to increase gradually to get people who finished their meals out onto the dance floor.
9:30 p.m. The father-daughter dance, which is followed by the mother-son dance.
9:35 p.m. A dance set begins with more upbeat songs to entice most guests out of their seats.
9:45 p.m. DJ or band plays a couple of slow songs.
9:50 p.m. Back to more upbeat songs.
10:30 p.m. The cake cutting.
10:35 p.m. Some mid-paced songs play as cake is served so guests can dance if they want.
10:45 p.m. Guests are seated for cake.
11:00 p.m. The bouquet toss, followed by the garter toss, if you're doing them.
11:10 p.m. The final dance set. Time to play those songs you felt funny playing while all the elderly guests were still there!
11:55 p.m. The last dance, followed by your grand exit if you're making one.

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