Planning the Right Timeline for Your Wedding Reception

These days many couples are steering away from traditional conventions and adding more individuality to their reception plans, especially if the couple is not accepting any financial assistance from parents or other family members. While there is flexibility as to how a reception can be organized and ordered, it’s important to be practical. When creating your reception timeline, consider the following:

1. When should you have the first dance? At the start of the reception, the bridal party and/or the couples’ parents, along with the bride and groom can be introduced. After they announce the new Mr. and Mrs., the two of you can flow directly into the first dance or wait until after dinner. This decision should be largely dependent on your reception time frame and length, as well as the type of dinner service you’re offering. If you’re having a late evening or short cocktail reception, you may want the first dance to happen earlier. If you’re having a served, three-course meal, or buffet holding off until after dinner makes the most sense.

2. When should you plan for toasts? Traditionally, if you’re having a seated dinner, champagne (or an alternative beverage) is served as guests are seated, before the appetizer course. An attendant (Best Man) or the bride or groom’s parent(s) may give a welcome speech as guests are seated or as the buffet opens. This is an opportune time for the best man to begin toasts; or you may choose to hold off until guests are finishing up the first course. The maid or matron of honor may deliver a toast directly after the best man. Otherwise, the groom toasts his parents, his new in-laws, and his bride; however, couples may toast together, if they’d like. Lastly, one, or both, of the couples’ parents may want to give a short toast to the newlyweds. Keep in mind that toasts can really eat into your reception time. To avoid any surprisingly lengthy ones, discuss your wishes beforehand with those involved.

3. Decide if you want to have short dance breaks in between courses, or if you’d prefer for the “real party” to start after the formalities. An example of dance interludes between the evening’s events could go as follows: first dance after introducing the bride and groom, appetizer served, father-daughter and/or mother-son dance, guests join in, main course served, dance break, cake cutting, etc. If you’d prefer to start the dancing portion of your reception after dinner, begin with the first dance, move into the father-daughter dance and/or mother-son dance (some couples like to combine the two dances into a single “parents’ dance” to one song, as opposed to having two separate songs for each) Then, invite guests to join in, and let the fun begin!

4. When do you cut the cake? For a seated dinner and buffets, the cake cutting takes place after food service is complete. For an hors d’ oeuvres reception, the cake cutting usually takes place near the end of the reception, after some dancing, but before the majority of guests leave.

5. Though customary, the bouquet and garter tosses are optional. If you decide to do one or both, it’s best to plan them at the end of the reception, but while there are still plenty of guests in attendance. Your pre-determined time for the bouquet and/or garter tosses should be a fair estimation, but use your best judgment to determine the actual time on the day of. If you see that the crowd is dwindling, move up the timing. If your time frame allows, and guests are staying later than you expected, move back the timing. There is not a specific order in which they must occur. It’s up to each couple to decide. About five minutes before you plan on doing either of the tosses, double check that the actual, or “toss” bouquet is in place and that you’re wearing your garter. After the tosses, if you both plan to change into traveling clothes, now would be the time to go to your respective dressing areas to change.

Especially if you are self-coordinating your wedding reception, one of the most important things to remember when scheduling your reception timeline is overestimating is always better than underestimating. Allow enough time in between your scheduled activities for the unexpected; also, don’t forget that you want to be able to enjoy yourself! Leave ample time for mishaps, but also for your own relaxation and enjoyment.