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Wedding Reception Timeline: Simple plan for seated dinner reception

As you begin to finalize the details of your wedding day, a wedding reception timeline will keep your wedding entertainment, wedding photographer, caterer, and other vendors on track and ensure you have the celebration that you planned.  After DJing, photographing, and providing other services for over 200 weddings in Colorado and Wyoming in just the last few years, we have helped plan and executed countless wedding reception timelines.

There are different forms your wedding reception can take, such as a 3 hour brunch wedding reception, or a 2 hour late evening wedding cocktail party, but since the majority of our Northern Colorado wedding events include a seated dinner at the reception, we will focus on that type of reception.

Wedding Ceremony: The Reason For The Reception

Before the reception will be the ceremony.  Although the wedding ceremony is not the main focus of this article, timing is.  So we will start here: guests will start looking for a seat at your ceremony up to 30 minutes before your scheduled time to walk down the aisle.  The average wedding ceremony in the United States is 19 minutes.  Plan to have background music on for your guests 30 minutes before you walk down the aisle.  Allocate just an hour for the ceremony.

After the Ceremony: If we can give one piece of advice speaking from hundreds of events experience:  Your guests want to go directly from the ceremony to the reception.  Please do not schedule a two hour gap, a one hour gap, or any more time than it takes to drive directly from the ceremony location to the reception.  Inevitably, guests will drive straight to the reception regardless of the direction or times they are given, and then they will end up sitting in a not-yet-ready banquet hall with nothing to do.

Wedding Ceremony Time: 1 Hour

Wedding Reception Timeline: Dinner Reception

Wedding receptions generally start with a cocktail hour.  This gives the couple time with their wedding photographer to get any portraits they didn’t get before the ceremony.  During cocktail hour, family members and guests will arrive until the couple is ready to arrive to their wedding reception.  During cocktail hour, we usually do a Grand Entrance with the couple and a first dance before moving on to dinner.

Cocktail Hour Time: 1 Hour

At the end of cocktail hour, guests will find a seat and get their dinner.  Groups of adults take about an hour to eat, regardless of whether they are eating from a BBQ buffet line or or being served at the table by waitstaff.   Often there is a blessing before dinner which takes a couple of minutes.

Dinner Length: 1 Hour

After dinner, most wedding receptions include some formalities and traditions such as: cake cutting, toasts, a thank you from the couple, and dances with parents.  Every couple is different, so there may be more or less white wedding traditions depending on your style.  We’ll save a few activities like the bouquet toss and dollar dance for later, but count on all these right after dinner to take up to a half hour, to be safe.

Wedding Reception Formalities: 30 Minutes

After dinner, the fun at many wedding receptions begins with dancing!  Young and old will gather together under the music of an experienced wedding dj, and we like to keep things going for a while right after dinner and formalities are over so that people can now relax and come unbuttoned a bit as the focus of the celebration transitions from structured to (somewhat) unstructured.

Dancing: 1 Hour

After a while of dancing, your guests will naturally tire or get thirsty, so it will be time for some more wedding traditions such as a bouquet toss or  the dollar dance.  This is up to the couple.  Bouquet toss and garter activities go by relatively quickly, while traditions like the dollar dance (apron dance, money dance) can take 15 minutes.

Wedding Reception Activites: 15 Minutes

OK, back to dancing for at least an hour.  For real. Let’s just have some fun and not be bothered with posing for pictures or formalities for a bit!

Dancing: 1 Hour – 1.5 Hours

About 20 minutes before the end of the reception, we like to get everyone together and on the same page for one last dance, and possibly an encore depending on the energy of the crowd, then 5-10 minutes of soft background music while the lights come up and people gather their things and say goodbye.  If your reception closing ceremonies include lanterns in the sky, sparklers, rice, or anything else that makes your guests go outside,they will not return to the building.  Do anything that could accidentally put a premature end to your reception – at the end of your reception.

“Closing Ceremonies” – 15 Minutes

Our Wedding Reception Timeline is based on our experience planning and executing hundreds of wedding time lines over the last few years.  This is intended for planning purposes and is not an endorsement or a rejection of any activities or formalities.

Total Wedding Reception Time: 5.5 Hours

Wedding Ceremony and Reception: 6.5 Hours

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