What is the order of events at a wedding reception to keep guests from being bored? See our reception timeline starting with guests’ arrival.
Wedding Reception Format – Chronological List of Events
- The arrival of guests at the venue
- Introduction to the wedding party
- Introduction to the wedding couple
- Newlywed’s First Dance
- Cake Cutting
- Father & Daughter’s Dance
- Mother & Son’s Dance
- Special Dances
- Bouquet and Garter
- Dancing and Fun
The arrival of guests at the reception site
Typically, a wedding lasts about 15 minutes. However, some guests do arrive early to the reception. Therefore, be sure all reception to-dos are complete by the start time of the wedding.
Also, all wedding vendors should be wearing proper attire for early arriving and late staying guests. All tables should be set up including a cake table, entertainment table, Sign-in table, food tables, and tables with chairs for all guests.
If you have a seating arrangement, all seating lists should be at the reception with everyone’s name with where they are sitting.
Special Note: The receiving line can be held at the church or at the reception hall. Final formal pictures by the photographer will be followed by the receiving line. Some halls have a standard procedure they like to follow.
Receiving lines can be as few as the wedding couple, parents, best man and maid/matron of honor, or the formal receiving line in order of mother and father of the bride, mother, and father of the groom, wedding couple, ushers and bridesmaids, special guests.
Introduction of the Wedding Party
This step is not mandatory, but it is nice for everyone to know who the wedding party is as many have not met before your wedding. Create a “Reception Planner Book” and give this to your master of ceremonies prior to your wedding.
These details, among other things, the order of entrance into the reception site with their names and titles. The order of entrance is as follows: parents of the bride, parents of the groom, ushers with bridesmaids, flower girl, and ring bearer, special guests, best man, maid/matron of honor, and the wedding couple.
In addition, review the pronunciations of the wedding party’s names with the master of ceremonies.
Introduction of Wedding Couple
This is always the last of the introductions. Everyone should stand before the wedding couple enter. In addition, a special song can be arranged with music entertainment and a special announcement made to punctuate a truly grand entrance.
Also, inform the master of ceremonies how you would like to be introduced: Mr. and Mrs. Smith or John and Jane Doe.
See our list of fun entrance songs for reception introductions.
Newlywed’s First Dance
The first dance is for the wedding couple marking the first dance as a married couple. The dance is also commonly known as the “First Dance”. The timing of the wedding couple’s first dance can vary in the evening based on your preferences.
The first dance can be done immediately following the grand entrance with the wedding party circling the dance floor or the wedding couple dance can begin the chronological order of the formal dances with fun and dancing to follow.
See examples of the first dance hits for wedding couples.
This is another step that is not mandatory, but for religious couples makes a nice setting. If you invite the person who performed the marriage ceremony to the reception, I would recommend having them conduct the blessing.
If they are not able to attend, a parent or family friend is a good idea. Lastly, the master of ceremonies could give the meal blessing.
Be sure to communicate with whoever is giving the blessing in advance so they are prepared to give a personal touch.
It’s time to eat! NEWLYWEDS, be sure to stop and take a moment to eat. This may be your only chance in the day. In addition, it is customary for the wedding couple to start the food line.
Most guests know to wait until the wedding couple starts the food line. So don’t be late!
You can accent your meal with popular background songs during the reception meal.
This is the traditional wedding couple making the first cut on their wedding cake. Then, they feed each other half of the piece of cake to each other.
The cutting of the cake is a ceremony intended to symbolize caring and sharing for one another. Forks may be used as they make the image very attractive for the photographer. Forks may also minimize the possibility of someone being hurt with the more playful squashing that sometimes happens.
You can highlight this event with a wedding cake-cutting song.
The toast is when the wedding couple toasts each other then interlock arms and drink. Immediately following, the best man and maid/matron of honor make a toast to the wedding couple. Be prepared for other family and friends to follow with their toasts too.
Father & Daughter Dance (for brides)
The Father-Daughter Dance or the Father Bride Dance is the dance between the father(s) of the bride and the bride. Brides, if you have more than one father in your life, one can tap the other on the shoulder in the middle of the dance so you can dance with both of them.
If you do not have a father, a common substitute is a father figure or even your brother would make a very nice gesture. Some couples combine the father-daughter dance with the mother and son dance into just one song to dance.
See examples of songs for the father-daughter dance song choices.
Mother & Son Dance (for grooms)
The Mother Groom dance is the dance between the mother(s) of the groom and the groom. Grooms, if you have more than one mother in your life, one can tap the other on the shoulder in the middle of the dance so you can dance with both of them.
If you do not have a mother, a common substitute is a mother figure or even your sister would make a very nice gesture. Some couples combine the father-daughter dance with the mother and son dance into just one song to dance.
See examples of songs for the mother-son dance song choices.
There may be songs in your life that mean dear to your heart. You can ask the music entertainment to play these songs during the night or immediately following the formal dances.
An example would be if someone dear to you passed recently, you may ask the music entertainment to play “Angels Among Us” by Alabama.
Get ideas through music to memorialize someone at a wedding.
Bouquet and Garter Toss
The traditional tossing of the bouquet is when the bride tosses the bridal bouquet to all single women in attendance. The woman who catches the bouquet is said to be the next one to marry.
For the bouquet toss, check out our list of bouquet toss songs.
Immediately following the bouquet tossing, a chair is set in the middle of the dance floor. The chair is for the bride to sit on and the groom to remove the bride’s garter from her leg.
The traditional tossing of the garter is when the groom tosses the bride’s garter to all the single men in attendance. The man who catches the garter is said to be the next one to marry.
Dancing and Fun
This is what you pay the music entertainment to do…get people to dance and have a good time. Give the music entertainment an idea of what type of music you enjoy but don’t give them a list of 100 songs they need to play.
However, you are allowed to set limitations on what they are not allowed to play. If you would like to give music entertainment suggestions on what to play to get people dancing, see a list of good wedding party songs.
What else should you know?
If you are a wedding couple, relax and have fun at the reception. This is your day! Murphy’s Law is that something will go wrong. Just take it in stride because once the wedding starts, you can’t change anything. If you are looking for songs for each wedding event, check out a wedding ceremony and reception playlist.
Keeping wedding guests entertained is much to do about timing and having a flow between micro-moments. Guests are attending your wedding to show their support for the wedding couple.
Having a planned timeline for your wedding reception will keep them from being bored and leaving too early.
Keep Guests Entertained as Part of Your Reception Timeline
The most important tip about the timing of a wedding reception is to not have a long period of space between the ceremony ending and when the meal is served. You may notice I did not say the space between the ceremony ending and the reception beginning.
The reason is that guests will start drinking adult beverages (if offered) as soon as they arrive at the reception. If you do have a bar during cocktail hour, I suggest an arrangement of hors-d’oeuvres to keep their minds on the reception and to soak up the alcohol.
If you plan to have a long photoshoot after the wedding ceremony is complete, consider having games in order to keep guests occupied. The best games are larger versions of popular games.
Have large-sized games of what the wedding couple likes. This could include, checkers or chess, bean bag toss, Jenga, Connect Four, and Scrabble. For kids in attendance, a kids’ table with crayons and paper covering the table along with board games just for them will create fun.
Before the wedding couple enters the reception venue, the music entertainer can build excitement. Then, have a grand entrance along with wedding party introductions (if desired) with the climax being “And here is the new Mr(s) & Mr(s).
After the grand entrance, a consistent flow would be to perform the first dance. Everyone is already excited and standing. The wedding party can also surround the dance floor as the first dance commences.
Slow or jazz music is a favorite choice for meal-time background sounds. However, you can choose to have mid-tempo music selections and keep guests tapping their toes. The most important aspect is the volume of the music.
For many weddings, the meal is when friends and family will want to have conversations with each other. The volume of the music must be at a level to accommodate the talking but also create the desired atmosphere.
The next focal point of the wedding couple is the cake cutting. Your music entertainer can assist in making this a special moment of the reception and incorporating guests into the event.
Once the meal and dessert have been consumed, you can keep a flow to the reception. Do not have a long drawn-out schedule from the time the meal is started until the dancing. This is when many people may leave if they are bored.
Keep a consistent flow from meal to dessert to dancing. You also may want to keep toasts to specific people, like the best man and the maid (matron) of honor. Once you let one extra person give a toast, then all parents and friends will feel obligated to give a toast as well.
One way to keep guests entertained is to have the bouquet toss and garter toss immediately following the cake cutting. The reason is to not stop the dancing once it begins for the tosses. Breaking up the party time can disrupt the whole flow of a party atmosphere that can be hard to recapture.
Following the tosses, dancing will start with the formal parent dances (Father-Daughter, Mother-Son). Then, you must decide how to “Get the party started”.
Will it be with a wedding party song that will incorporate everyone else like a group dance or will it be your favorite party song to fill the dance floor? Typically, if the wedding couple is dancing, guests will follow. You can also leave it up to your music entertainer as that is his/her specialty.
Lastly, the reception can be highlighted with special moments to keep guests entertained such as celebrating the longest-married couple in attendance with a dance, a special last dance, group dances, and kissing games.
Kissing games are a great idea that will incorporate your guests and save you from the “clinging of the glasses”.