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Wedding reception timeline grand hall

Your Wedding Reception Timeline

Whether you have two, three, or four hours to party, here’s your guide for how it should flow.

Photo: Josh Gruetzmacher

Two-Hour Cocktail Party

9:00 p.m. Guests head into the reception area.
9:05 p.m. The emcee introduces you and your groom. Once you’re in, start greeting guests!
9:10 p.m. Food stations open, and passed hors d’oeuvres start rolling out.
9:30 p.m. The first dance. Food service pauses.
9:35 p.m. The father-daughter and mother-son dances. Food service is still paused.
9:40 p.m. Food service resumes. If there will be dancing, an upbeat set would start now.
10:10 p.m. The toasts.
10:15 p.m. The cake cutting.
10:20 p.m. A couple of slow songs play as the staff cuts and plates the cake.
10:25 p.m. Cake is passed around.
10:40 p.m. The final dance set plays.
10:55 p.m. The last dance.

Three-Hour Brunch

11:00 a.m. Guests head into the reception area and make their way to their seats.
11:10 a.m. The emcee introduces you and your groom; you do your first dance right away.
11:15 a.m. A welcome speech, a blessing or just the toasts, starting with the best man.
11:20 a.m. Brunch is served.
11:55 a.m. As guests are finishing their food, have your father-daughter dance, followed by the mother-son dance. Keep the songs short!
Noon A 40-minute power dance set.
12:40 p.m. The cake cutting.
12:45 p.m. Some slow songs play while the staff plates and serves the cake.
1:00 p.m. Guests are seated for cake.
1:15 p.m. The bouquet toss, if you’re going to do one. We recommend skipping the garter toss -- it’s a little early for that!
1:20 p.m. The final dance set begins. The most upbeat music plays now.
1:55 p.m. The last dance.

Four-Hour Seated Dinner

8:00 p.m. Guests head from the cocktail hour into the reception and find their seats.
8:15 p.m. Your emcee begins introducing the wedding party, starting with your parents.
8:20 p.m. The first dance.
8:25 p.m. A welcome speech or a blessing. If you’re not having either, begin the toasts now -- best man followed by maid of honor.
8:30 p.m. Dinner is served. The emcee asks guests to take their seats. Music should be low enough so guests can talk at their tables.
9:00 p.m. The music volume starts to increase gradually to get people who finished their meals out onto the dance floor.
9:30 p.m. The father-daughter dance, which is followed by the mother-son dance.
9:35 p.m. A dance set begins with more upbeat songs to entice most guests out of their seats.
9:45 p.m. A couple of slow songs play.
9:50 p.m. Back to more upbeat songs.
10:30 p.m. The cake cutting.
10:35 p.m. Some mid-paced songs play as cake is served so guests can dance if they want.
10:45 p.m. Guests are seated for cake.
11:00 p.m. The bouquet toss, followed by the garter toss, if you’re doing them.
11:10 p.m. The final dance set. Time to play those songs you felt funny playing while all the elderly guests were still there!
11:55 p.m. The last dance, followed by your grand exit if you’re making one.

-- Meredith Bodgas