Your Perfect Wedding Reception Timeline: Tips and Samples

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Planning for your wedding involves a lot more than just setting a date, choosing a wedding gown, and sending out invitations. Of course, now that you are engaged you are well aware of all the details that go into planning your wedding. Now that you have chosen a venue for your wedding reception, you will need to compose your wedding reception timeline.


A lot goes into planning a wedding reception including finding a caterer choosing a wedding cake, making seating charts and so much more! You need to come up with a wedding reception schedule so that everything will go smoothly from start to finish. Starting to feel stressed out? No worries, we have compiled some helpful tips as well as a sample timeline for your wedding reception to give you a guideline.

What Follows a Wedding Ceremony

Obviously, your wedding reception will follow your wedding ceremony! Once you have completed all the tasks on your wedding timeline, you will move on to your timetable for your wedding reception.

Of course, the guests will head straight over to the reception venue after the receiving line, but what about the bridal party? As your guests are enjoying a cocktail hour at the reception, the wedding party will be getting their professional photos taken. This timeline should be configured into your reception or wedding schedule.

If your photoshoot is not at the wedding venue, you will use this time to travel to the photo location. Photo shoots usually take anywhere from 45 minutes to an hour. The time will vary according to your specific request and those of your photographer. Of course, you don’t want it to run too long, as your honored wedding guests will be awaiting the arrival of the newlyweds for their grand entrance!


Sample Wedding Reception Timeline And Tips

We have provided three sample wedding reception timelines to give you a general idea. You can alter these as you wish, according to your specifications. The examples below are for a morning, afternoon, and early evening wedding reception. Of course, your specific times might vary as your wedding timeline might differ. Or your reception might run longer(or shorter) than the times allotted below.

Again, these are just a guideline to give you an idea for some typical wedding reception timelines. You can adjust them any way you see fit. We just want to help make your day as memorable and as stress-free as possible!


Brunch Wedding Reception


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If you are having a morning wedding, you will want to plan your morning wedding timeline and brunch reception timeline accordingly. Morning weddings are ideal for both religious indoor ceremonies and outdoor weddings.

Here is a sample for a brunch reception:

10:45- 11:30 am: Cocktail Hour/ Wedding party photoshoot

Here the guests will enjoy mimosas, coffee, tea, juice and pre-brunch goodies such as fruit and pastry trays

11:40 am: Grand entrance

The bridal party makes its entrance. Welcoming speeches may be given at this time

12 noon: Brunch commences

Brunch will be served, depending on your setup (buffet style, traditional meal, food truck, etc. The band or DJ will play music softly so the conversation can flow.

12:45 pm: Toasts

The best man, maid of honor, etc will make their speeches.

1:00 pm: First Dance

The first dance, of course, is for the bride and groom. This is then followed by any other special dances you wish to include. (ie: mother/son, father/daughter).

2:00 pm: Dessert/Cake Cutting/Photos

Desert and or cake/cutting will take place at this time. Then dancing or any other festivities may resume.

2:30 pm: Thank you speech/Bouquet & Garter Toss

At this time the bride and groom will say their thank-yous and the bouquet and/or garter toss (or another event) will take place. Back to more dancing!

3:00 pm: Last Dance

3:15 pm: Couple departs

Say your final goodbyes and depart for your honeymoon!

3:30 pm: Guests depart


Early Afternoon Wedding Reception Timeline


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An afternoon wedding and reception are ideal for outdoor venues. Early afternoon receptions are perfect for a leisurely reception if you want to spend plenty of time with your wedding guests. Similar to morning wedding receptions, they are also kid-friendly.

1:30 pm: Cocktail Hour/Wedding Party Photos

While you are busy with your wedding photo session, your guests can enjoy light cocktails and hors d’oeuvres at the reception venue.

1:45 pm: Bridal Party Entrance

The bridal party will make its grand entrance. You will usually follow the wedding ceremony order with the newlyweds entering last, of course.

2:00 pm: Lunch commences

The meal will be served at this time. This can be anything from a buffet, to food trucks to light fare such as soup and sandwiches to something fun like a taco bar with all the fixings!

2:45 pm: Toasts/Speeches

At this time the appropriate speeches and/or toasts will be made (ie: Maid of honor, Best Man, Groom’s Parents, etc)

3:00 pm: Special Dances

The newlyweds will share their first dance, followed by any other special dances such as Father/Daughter, Mother/Son and the like). The guests will join after the last special dance takes place.

4:00 pm: Cake cutting/Dessert

The couple will cut their wedding cake and/or dessert will be served at this time.

4:30 pm: More dancing/Special Events

After dessert, the dancing shall continue, along with any special events such as wedding games, etc.

5:30 pm: Thank you speech/Bouquet Toss

The happy couple will give their thank you’s and then, if applicable, toss the bouquet and/or garter belt or any other special traditions.

5:45 pm: Last Dance

The bride and groom will share their final dance.

6:00 pm: Newlyweds make their exit

After saying their final goodbyes to their guests, the couple shall depart for their honeymoon celebration.

6:15-6:30 pm: Guests depart


Evening Wedding Reception


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An evening reception typically starts around 6 p.m but can go later if you are having a sunset wedding, depending on the location and time of the year. Evening weddings are ideal for formal weddings, semi-formal, or even casual backyard or beach weddings. Keep in mind that as they tend to run till midnight or later, evening receptions are not kid-friendly. The following example is for a wedding day timeline 5 pm ceremony.

6:15 pm: Cocktail hour/Bridal Party Photoshoot

While the professional post-wedding photos are being shot, the guests shall be enjoying festive cocktails and appetizers at the wedding reception venue.

7:00 pm: Bridal Party Grand Entrance

The bridal party shall be announced by the Master of Ceremonies as they enter. The bride and groom will the last as they make their first public appearance as a newly married couple.

7:15 pm: Dinner will be served

Dinner will be served according to the couple’s plans (ie: formal sit-down dinner, buffet, food-truck, etc.)

7:45 pm: Toasts/Speeches

As the dinner service is winding down, the best man, maid of honor, and so forth shall give their appropriate speeches or toasts. As well, the M.C. will make any special announcement at this time.

8:15 pm: Special Dances

The newlyweds will share their first dance, followed by Mother/Son, Father/Daughter, Bridal Party and so forth. The guests will be formally invited to the dance floor by the D.J/M.C.

9:45 pm: Cake Cutting Dessert

The happy couple will cut their wedding cake and/or dessert will be served (formally or buffet style as predetermined)

10:15 pm: Dancing/Other Festivities Continue

The party goes on! Dance the night away. During this time, you can have any other special activities such as games, fireworks, bonfires and the like.

11:00 pm: Thank you’s/Final Announcement & Bouquet/Garter Toss

The couple will make their formal thank-you’s as well as any other last words. If appropriate, the garter and bouquet tosses, or any other wedding reception customs, may take place at this time.

11:15 pm: Last Dance

The newlyweds shall share their final dance of the evening

11:45 pm: Bride & Groom Depart

At this time, the couple shall bid their guests goodbye and depart for their honeymoon.

12:00 am: Guests depart

Non-Traditional Wedding Reception Timeline

Non-traditional order of events at a wedding reception is refreshing and keeps the guests and couple at ease. See our Non-traditional wedding reception timeline sample.

5:00 pm Guests arrive

Your wedding reception lineup begins when the guests arrive at the wedding to light cocktails.

6:15 pm Couple Grand Entrance

The couple shows up together at the wedding reception party and greets the guests.

6:20 pm Couple First Dance

The new couple will take the dance floor for a slow and romantic song while the guests watch.

6:25 pm Welcome address

The best man or groom will address the guests at the reception, welcoming and thanking them for showing up to celebrate.

6:30 pm Wedding Dinner

Guests will sit down to a buffet or family-style dinner while soft music plays in the background.

7:30 pm Wedding party Toasts

The maid of honor, groom, best man, fathers/mothers of the couple, and a select few will say something about the couple. The guests will join in raising their glasses in a toast.

7:45 pm Couple Cake Cutting

The couple will head to the stage and cut the cake. It takes all of ten to fifteen minutes.

7:50 pm Light guest Dance

All the guests can hit the dance floor to some select music for a few minutes.

8:15 pm Fun Wedding Shoe Game

This shoe game is for couples with questions handled by the master of ceremony. You can substitute with other games.

8:30 pm Couple’s Parent Dance

Here the mother/son and father/daughter dance happens. The couple’s parents on both sides can also share a moment on the dance floor.

8:45 pm Open Dance

Here the guests and couple can let their hair down, binge on drinks, and dance the night away.

9:30 pm Bride Bouquet Toss

The bride throws her bouquet into a crowd of waiting bachelorettes for the next bride in view to catch.

9:35 pm Groom Garter Toss

The groom takes off the bride’s garter and tosses it into a crowd of waiting bachelors due for marriage.

10:45 pm Couple Last Dance

The couple hits the dance floor one last time, either to a romantic or upbeat number.

10:50 pm Couple Grand Exit

The new couple will leave the reception venue with or without guests escorting them.

11:00 pm Wedding Guests Depart

It was a night of fun, love, celebration, food, and drinks. Guests leave the venue to go home.


Benefits of Using this Non-Traditional Wedding Reception Timeline

The best wedding reception timeline is the non-traditional one because of its many advantages.

  • Enough time for couple and guests – meet and greet
    A good wedding reception plan should give the couple enough time to mingle with their guests. The attendees will feel seen and appreciated.
  • Space for Dj jam before official open
    The non-traditional reception gives the DJ ample time to explore his catalog even before the wedding reception begins.
  • Interactive games scheduled
    The perfect wedding reception planning guide eliminates rigidity and allows flexibility, especially during games. They are interactive, letting guests have maximum fun while making new friends.
  • Time for the newlyweds to make a grand exit
    The couple can exit at their convenience and how they like without unnecessary protocols.

How to Compose the Wedding Reception Schedule

When planning your wedding day timeline, take time to set a schedule for your wedding reception so that everything goes smoothly. But exactly how does one compose the perfect time for their wedding reception. Here are some helpful tips to get you started.

First of all, there is no “perfect” wedding itinerary for your reception. This is your day so you can set your reception timeline in any manner which you choose. If you are a creative and extremely organized type, this should come easily. However, some couples may need a few pointers.

One of the first things to do is get a general idea of the events that are going to take place at your wedding reception. Are you having a sit-down dinner or a buffet? Will there be activities for children? Do you have any special events planned such as fireworks or wedding reception games? How about dancing? Make a general list of what is going to take place to give you a guideline and then go from there.

You will want to include all the basic elements of a typical wedding reception, or you may not… the choice is yours. Following is a list of events that typically take place during a wedding reception. You can work them into your wedding reception timeline as to wish.

If you are planning a special wedding ceremony, you may have to exclude some items. For example, some religious ceremonies do not allow alcohol or dancing. Also, double-check with the venue to see if there are any restrictions or other regulations you must follow. Or if you are planning a bonfire for an outside venue, you want to be sure to follow the fire codes for that venue.

Always be ready for the unexpected. Most venues allow the wedding reception to go over a bit. (Usually, in this case, the guests will chip in to pay for the extra time if it is required by the venue). You should try to stick to your timeline as much as possible while being flexible if needed. The important thing is to have a set schedule so you can sit back and enjoy your special day!

You get a general idea. If you need any more ideas for planning your reception itinerary, you can find templates online to give you a general idea. And of course, if you hired a professional wedding planner, you can always rely on their input and advice!

We hope that our wedding reception timeline has been helpful for you in planning your dream wedding reception. Keep our advice and guidelines in mind, and we are certain that your reception will be everything you imagined! The most important thing is to make both your wedding ceremony and reception as memorable and as fun for everyone! It is your special day so be sure to relax and enjoy every moment!