Friday, September 23rd, 2011 by Courtney

Planning the Reception Timeline

Timing of you reception is something you’ll want to start planning early on.  You don’t have to have specifics nailed down, but most contracts will be dependent upon your reception timeline; you don’t want to book your photographer for six hours, only to learn a few weeks out your contracted time runs out halfway through dinner!  It’s better to negotiate extra time early in the hiring process (as outlined in How to Negotiate With Your Vendors), so having an idea of what your timeframe is now will save you on headaches later. 

Each wedding IS unique and special, but you’ll find most receptions follow the same general timeline.  This isn’t because it’s the only way you can do it!  It just means that over time, this timeline has proven to be the simplest and most straightforward.   Your ‘standard’ reception looks like so:
• Cocktail Hour
• Bridal Party, Bride & Groom announced
• Welcome speech & blessing
• Dinner
• Toasts
• Slideshow
• Cake Cutting
• First Dance
• Father/Daughter, Mother/Son dances
• Dancing
• Special dances (Anniversary dance, etc)
• Bouquet & Garter toss
• More dancing
• Bride & Groom departure
If this timeline looks good to you, use it!  If you want to change it up, you should!  We’ve seen such variations as having the First Dance before dinner; toasts before or during dinner; cake cutting after the bouquet and garter toss; you get the idea.  Just make sure it works for you and your guests.  That being said, instead of giving you the generic and typical reception timeline you ‘should’ follow, we’ll give you an idea of how long things actually take so you customize your own reception timeline!   One thing to keep in mind; always allow for more time than you think it’ll take.  This will allow you some breathing room if you’re running behind, and will make for a more relaxed atmosphere; and don’t forget to account for the time it takes to round up the necessary players for each event!

Cocktail Hour: Just because it’s cocktail “hour” doesn’t mean it needs to last an hour!  If you’re serving cocktails before the ceremony, this should last 30-60 minutes; after the reception, 45-75 minutes.  If you’re having a cocktails-only reception, plan for 1.5-2 hours. 

Announcement of Bridal Party, Bride and Groom: This depends entirely on the size of your bridal party, but allow for 5-10 minutes

Welcome speech & blessing: 3-5 minutes; take into account how much your toaster/blesser likes to talk!

Dinner: This can be tricky because of the many factors involved: what style dinner you’re having, number of guests, reception hall layout, how fast your guests eat, the number of kids… talk it over a bit with your caterer or the manager of the reception venue, but here’s the general idea:

Buffet Dinner and Food Stations
20-75 people: 45-60 minutes
75-150 people: 60-75 minutes
150-250 people: 75-90 minutes
250+ people: 90 minutes
• For large groups, consider having two buffet stations.  If that’s not possible, a double-sided buffet table is a must to get everyone through in a timely manner.  Dismissing groups by table helps keep the line down and guests moving through quicker.

Plated Dinner:
20-75 people: 60-75 minutes
75-150 people: 75-90 minutes
150-250 people: 90 minutes
250+ people: 90+ minutes (your caterer should staff enough servers to keep it around 90 minutes, but check with them just in case)

Brunch or Lunch Buffet and Food Stations:
20-75 people: 45 minutes
75-150 people: 45-60 minutes
150-250 people: 60-75 minutes
250+ people: 75+ minutes

Brunch or Lunch Plated meal:
20-75 people: 45-60 minutes
75-150 people: 60-75 minutes
150-250 people: 75-90 minutes
250+ people: 90 minutes

Slideshow: We recommend showing this during another event; during dinner, while guests are eating cake, etc.  If you want it as a standalone event, plan for the length of the show plus 3 minutes (in case of technical errors, to announce it, etc.)

Toasting: About 4 minutes per person.  Adjust this as needed for toasters who you know like to talk!

Cake Cutting: 5 minutes, 10 if you want it announced so guests gather around to watch.

First Dance: 3-6 minutes, more if you have a long song

Father & Daughter / Mother & Son Dances: 3-5 minutes each, 4-6 minutes if you’re combining them into one dance (pick a longer song if you’re having one song for both dances)

Bouquet and Garter Tosses: 15 minutes for both, 5 minutes if you’re only doing one.

Special Dances (Anniversary Dance, etc): 4-6 minutes

Hora: 5-25 minutes; completely dependent upon your crowd!  Make sure your DJ is prepared with enough music to last up to 30 minutes if you have a crazy crowd that loves to dance.

Chinese Dragon or Lion Dance: 5-15 minutes.  Talk to the dancers to see how long their routine is, then add 3-5 minutes on top of that.

Departure: Plan for it to ‘start’ happening 15 minutes before you want to be driving away from the reception if you’re having an organized sendoff.

Remember that it is VERY common for things to get behind at a wedding reception, so be prepared to go with the flow throughout the evening.  Other than that, mix and match the events to maximize your guests’ comfort and entertainment!