Reception Basics: Planning the Perfect Reception Timeline

You've got five hours of fun (for a cocktail hour and a four-hour party) at your reception venue, so you'll want to make sure that you maximize your time and ensure that everything runs smoothly. While we've supplied you with the lineup, feel free to take away, add on, or move things around according to your taste. By the wedding day, you and your coordinator should have this list memorized -- guaranteeing you a hitch-free reception.

00:00 Pictures and Cocktail Hour

After your officiant pronounces you married, you two should be the first to leave the ceremony, skirting off for pictures together before the partying gets underway. During this time, your guests can head to the reception site for cocktails. Your cocktail hour should begin immediately following the ceremony so that guests are greeted with a drink and perhaps an hors d'oeuvre or two. You can use the entire cocktail hour for pictures, or do pictures for half the time and mingle with your guests for the last half. This is also the perfect time to formally greet your guests if you didn't do a receiving line at the ceremony. Don't want to miss an ounce of fun? Buck tradition, and have photos taken prior to the ceremony.

1:00 Newlywed Arrival and First Dance

Here's where you make your grand entrance (if you so desire). The manager at your venue or your coordinator should alert your DJ or emcee so your guests will be seated before you walk in. If you like, both sets of parents and the wedding party can also be introduced at this time. After you are announced, and while you have your guests' attention, take this opportunity for your first dance as a married couple. Of course, if you're not big dancers, this is optional. You could also wait until after the first course is served, or even until after the cake cutting and toasts, to hit the dance floor.

1:20 Predinner Toasts

Following your entrance and first dance, the best man or maid of honor will usually say a few words to toast the happy couple; it's easiest to do this when you have your guests' attention. You might also want to take this opportunity to thank everyone for coming to your wedding. But don't go overboard with the talking here -- everyone should keep their speeches short and to the point so that you can serve the first course and get the party started.

1:30 Dinner

If you're having a seated meal, the music should be subdued and conversation-friendly as the wait staff serves tables. And, if you're having a buffet, your coordinator or emcee should dictate how the rotation will work by calling each table when it's their turn. Just remember that you two should go first, followed by your family and wedding party.

2:45 Party Time

Guests are going to follow your lead. So once dinner dishes have been cleared, you two should be the first ones on the dance floor so that guests know it's time to start partying. If you're planning father-daughter or mother-son dances, this is the perfect time to do them.

4:00 Cake Cutting

About an hour before the reception conclusion, when the party has been underway a while, your wait staff should prepare tables for coffee and cake. Once those tables are prepared, it's time to cut the cake -- your coordinator can give you this cue. After you've done that, you can take that opportunity to make a toast (if you didn't do it earlier).

Knot Note: You could switch this step with the one above -- as in, do the cake cutting right after dinner, and then have straight dancing and partying from there on out.

4:14 Continued Dancing

Once you cut the cake, the band or DJ should play music while those guests who want cake are served, and those who choose to skip the cake, can continue dancing.

4:45 Last Dance

End your wedding on a high note and choose a dance song that will leave a lasting impression. You'll want everyone to have a chance for one last twirl on the dance floor, so select something that's fast and festive.

5:00 Final Farewell

Now that the time has come to say good-bye, your coordinator should usher everyone into the foyer or onto the steps outdoors. Once everyone is lined up and ready, you can make your grand exit from the reception, and friends and family can see you off (with sparklers, flowers, or anything else you like) while giving you one last congratulatory cheer as you head off into newlywed bliss.

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