Wedding Reception Timelines to Follow

Whether you have two, three or four hours to party, here’s your guide for how it should flow.
by The Knot
Wedding reception in ballroom
photo by Charlotte Jenks Lewis Photography

No two wedding receptions flow the exact same way—especially if you're doing a brunch as opposed to a seated dinner. To give you an idea of a timeline to follow, check out three samples below to help structure your day.

Two-Hour Cocktail Party

9:00 p.m. Guests head into the reception area.
9:05 p.m. The emcee introduces you and your partner. 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 commences.
9:35 p.m. The father-daughter and mother-son dances commence.
9:40 p.m. Food service resumes. If there will be dancing, an upbeat song to get the party going would start now.
10:10 p.m. The toasts commence.
10:15 p.m. The cake cutting commences.
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 commences.

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 partner and you do your first dance right away.
11:15 a.m. A welcome speech, a blessing or just the toasts commence, starting with the best man.
11:20 a.m. Brunch is served.
11:55 a.m. As guests are finishing their food, have the father-daughter dance, followed by the mother-son dance.
12:00 p.m. A 40-minute dance set commences.
12:40 p.m. The cake cutting commences.
12:45 p.m. Musical entertainment plays some slow songs while the staff plates and serves the cake.
1:00 p.m. Guests are seated for cake.
1:15 p.m. The final dance set plays.
1:55 p.m. The last dance commences.

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 commences, followed by the father-daughter and mother-son dances.
8:25 p.m. A welcome speech or a blessing is said. If you're not having either, begin the toasts now—best man followed by maid of honor.
8:30 p.m. Dinner is served, and 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.
9:35 p.m. A dance set begins with more upbeat songs to entice most guests out of their seats.
9:45 p.m. The 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 commences.
10:35 p.m. Some mid-paced songs play as cake is served so guests can dance if they want.  
11:00 p.m. The bouquet toss, followed by the garter toss, commence—if you're doing them.
11:10 p.m. The final dance set commences.
11:55 p.m. The last dance, followed by your grand exit if you're making one.

See a traditional wedding reception timeline, here.

Check out points for your reception venue contract, here.

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