Wedding Timeline 101: Important Wedding Day Moments and When They Should Happen

Photo by Aaron Watson Photography


Chances are you have waited a long time to finally get to your wedding reception.  After all the planning, touring and decision making, the party is about to begin and we promise it will be a night to remember and all worth it in the end.  Although your wedding reception is a fun and memorable time, it is hardly without stress.  We think the best way to alleviate some of this stress is to have an idea of what a wedding reception looks like.  Planning out your timeline, whether on paper or just in your head, is crucial for understanding the flow of your day, and it will help to make everything proceed seamlessly.  Read on for your guide to a fabulous wedding reception timeline. 

Cocktail Hour 

Cocktail hour is most definitely a fan favorite.  After your ceremony your guests are usually hungry, thirsty and ready to party. Oftentimes the couple and wedding party will do their pictures during the cocktail hour while their guests mix and mingle and get in the mood for a night of partying. Cocktails, passed hors devours, carving stations, charcuterie and maybe even food trucks will greet your guests and help hold them over until dinner. If  the couple is present during the cocktail hour, this is a great time to greet their guests and take pictures with extended family members and friends.  

The Grand Entrance 

Whether or not the new couple was part of cocktail hour or not, this entrance is easily one of the most significant moments of the reception. The choice of music and the way in which you enter the room will definitely set the pace for the rest of the party.  Your music choices for both you and the bridal party are definitely catalysts in getting the party started. 

The First Dance 

As the dance floor clears and all your loved ones part ways, it is now your moment to take center stage. There is no better time, then when everyone is cheering you on and the spotlight is on you, to show off your love for one another (and your impressive dance moves!). Use the applause from your guests as encouragement to skim away the shyness and step onto the dance floor.  If having all eyes on you is a little unnerving (we get it!), you can invite other couples to join you once you have had enough time for your photographer to take some pics. 

Toasts and Blessings

These highly anticipated and emotional moments are a great way to get guests into their seats and prepare for the first course. Giving thanks, making toasts and even blessing the meal can all take place at this point of the reception. This is the perfect time for the couple or their parents to welcome all of the guests and say thank you for being a part of this special day. If you want you can hold off on your best man/maid of honor toasts just to keep the guests seated during the various courses (We actually recommend this because, let’s face it, people have a 3-5 second attention span, so listening to 4-5 speeches before dinner starts tends to make people a but antsy… and hangry!). This is something that will differ depending on the couple. 

Time to Eat 

It is time to dig in, and as long as you don’t overdo it at cocktail hour, you are definitely going to be ready to enjoy a nice meal. Whether you are having a family style dinner, buffet, formal sit down or something more unconventional, your DJ or band will play softer, subdued music to make everyone aware that dinner is being served. 

Parent Dances 

This special moment will once again draw everyone to the dance floor and this time there won’t be a dry eye in the room. Once you and your partner have completed their dances, you can invite other guests onto the dance floor as a welcome prelude to getting the party started. 

It’s Time to Party 

Once the dinner dishes are cleared, it is time to get the party started.  The music will make a drastic change and guests will start to get up on the dance floor. Remember your guests are going to follow your lead, so get on and stay on that dance floor as much as possible.  Plus, everyone wants a chance to dance with the bride. 

Garter/Bouquet Toss

While once a tradition that wouldn’t dare be passed up, more and more couples are moving away from this fun but silly custom. If you are embracing tradition then this activity can take place either before or after the cake cutting ceremony. Make sure to use a “tossing” bouquet and garter belt, so that you are not throwing away something sentimental. 

Cake Cutting 

Cutting the cake is an exciting, beautiful and sometimes messy moment in your wedding reception.  Although it is not something the bride and groom want to think about, once the cake is cut and served, guests will often begin to leave, as etiquette dictates it is okay to do so. At this time couples may also include other desserts such as candy buffets, ice cream bars, and endless dessert table ideas (pinterest can certainly help satisfy your sweet tooth).  

Some More Dancing 

Once dessert starts to wind down and the cake has been cut and served, the band or DJ should jump right back into it. Once it is time for the final dance of the night, make sure to choose a song that will leave a lasting impression with your guests. You’ll  want everyone to have a chance to take one last twirl around the dance floor so select something fast and festive. 

The Final Farewell 

When it is time to say goodbye, some couples choose to go out with a bang. Make your grand exit by having your guests blow bubbles, throw rose petals or light sparklers and give cheers to your successful celebration and future together.  Some couples may even provide some late night bites for guests to grab on their way out.  Some even go as far as having food trucks lined up outside the venue to make sure their guests go home happy and fed! 

It is important to remember that all wedding receptions are unique, every couple has something special that they wish to highlight on their wedding day.  However in regards to logistics, couples all have one thing in common…a structured timeline. While it may not sound romantic, a detailed plan is important, but this doesn’t have to take away from making it your own.  There are so many ways that you can still include your traditions, customs, cultures and styles. So be prepared, but make sure to keep it special.