How Long is a Wedding Reception? 1 Helpful Timeline

How long is a wedding reception? That’s the question you are sure to be asking if you are planning your wedding.

After reading this post you will have your own answer to the question, “how long is a wedding reception?” and you will be able to plan your phenomenal wedding!

One of the challenges with planning a wedding reception is managing your vendors and venue. Hiring wedding vendors will always have a time limit for providing a service unless they graciously serve your wedding. This means that you will want someone other than yourself, who is getting married, to ensure that your wedding reception is moving along in time promptly, sacrificing your guests enjoying the reception.

How Long is a Traditional Wedding Reception

A good plan for your wedding reception will help ensure that you enjoy your wedding, your guests have a good time, and your vendors can do their part with time to spare.

The last thing you want to do is be concerned with the flow of your wedding reception while it’s happening. Don’t let the question, “how long is a wedding reception?” keep you from enjoying both the wedding and the planning process.

Tip: Walk through the parts of your wedding reception with your spouse. Practice introductions, dances, toasts, and flower toss. This will help you to feel more at ease with how everything will go and give you confidence in your schedule. You will also get an idea of how long your reception will last based on what you would like to do.

how long is a wedding reception?

How Long Is A Wedding Reception?

That all depends on the parts of the reception you choose. Here are some wedding activities to choose from:

Introducing the Wedding Party

The introduction of the wedding party is pretty standard and happens quickly, but we always encourage creativity. Typically the bridesmaids and groomsmen pair up to get introduced together. It’s common to have the pairs come up with their unique spin on their introduction with a theme or a dance of their own.

Welcoming the Guests

Once everyone gets settled, someone should welcome everyone to the reception. Because the groom’s father traditionally pays for the wedding, it’s appropriate to have him do the introduction, but it can be meaningful to the wedding to do this part. This is also typically when the prayer for the meal takes place either by the host, a family member, or a minister.

Dinner

Dinner may be in the form of a plated dinner or a buffet. This will affect how much time your feed will take up in your reception. A buffet will take longer because guests will be guided to get in line to get their dinner in groups. This will take longer, and it will also take longer because each guest will take the time to bring their food rather than having it delivered to them.

Plated dinners are quicker because servers are ready to bring out food quickly at one time. It’s also faster because guests are choosing what food they want and what quantities if they are serving their plates. This is something to consider when deciding whether to have a plated dinner or a buffet. If you want to save time, you will want to go with a plated dinner if the cost is not a factor.

Speeches by Maid of Honor and Best Man

The speeches by the wedding party are also fairly standard in length. Most of the time it’s pretty easy to convince them not to speak too long to keep on track but even if they have longer speeches it shouldn’t throw your timeline off too much. It’s still a good idea to have a cue or a signal to let them know that they should try to wrap up their words if possible. These words can get pretty emotional so just remember to be gracious in how much time you allow them to speak as well.

First dance with mother and groom

The first dances are also very emotional parts of the reception. You shouldn’t try to interrupt or give any cues here. The only thing that is appropriate is when the next person cuts in to relieve the first dance.

First dance with father and bride

Like the dance with the mother and groom, this is one of the most tear-jerking moments in the wedding. Be sure to let the moment be and give them as much time as they need.

Tossing the garter, flowers, or in our case a baseball

This moment can be fun and it does not need to go overboard. At my wedding, we chose to do the less uncomfortable route with me taking the garter and putting it on a baseball and throwing it to my groomsmen rather than cause some of our guests to be beside themselves for no reason.

Dancing

The dancing portion of the reception is one of the longest parts of the reception. Your DJ or band will be your best friend here because they will easily be able to guide the guests towards things like a kiss for the bride and groom, cutting the cake, and wrapping up the reception when the time is right.

Cutting of the cake

The cutting of the cake does not need to completely stop your wedding reception. In my wedding, we had the DJ to announce the cutting of the cake but the dance floor remained open and the music kept playing. You may want to just announce this because it is an endearing moment and some of your guests may want to take a photo or two.

The sendoff

After the reception is over, or better yet just before the reception is over the sendoff of the couple will take place. This is intentional because it puts the focus on the couple and makes them feel supported as they begin their new lives together. I mean imagine how awkward it would be if the couple was the last to leave their own wedding. The sendoff should be consistent with the introduction and entrance. If possible you should even go out the same door that you came in unless the logistics of your venue make more sense to leave in a different fashion.

And now back to our original question. How long is a wedding reception? It depends on how many of these parts you use and how you use them. It’s always a great idea to practice and think about what makes sense depending on your location and number of guests.

How Long is a Wedding Reception Timeline

How long is a wedding reception? For a 5 pm start time, here is a sample timeline:

5:15 – Introduce the Wedding Party

5:35 – Welcome by the Father of the Bride

5:45 – Dinner

6:00 – Speeches by Maid of Honor and Best Man (guests will continue eating)

6:15 – First Dance with Groom and Mother of Groom

6:25 – Dance with Bride and Father of Bride

6:45 – Dance Floor Opens

7:15 – Tossing of flowers to bridesmaids

7:45 – Cutting of the Cake

8:00 – Dancing continues until the end of the reception

Ready to Dance

You are now ready to enjoy your reception. If you stick to your plan you will be able to enjoy your time and trust that all will go well.

The Next Step

The next step is to be sure that the rest of your wedding events are all ready by working with your wedding planner.

You’re all set! You will have an amazing time enjoying the best day of your life so far. And now you have your answer to the question, “how long is a wedding reception?

Hi, my name is Aaron! I'm glad to be the founder of Wedistry, a collection of tools and tips to prepare couples for their wedding day. I am currently the manager of the Wedistry Blog and Wedistry for Wedding Parties on the App Store. Thanks for stopping by and I hope that you find this content helpful during your wedding planning process.