Your Cheat Sheet for Your Wedding Reception's Schedule of Events

wedding reception banquet hall
Image Gallery: Reception Venues The banquet hall looks gorgeous, but it's up to you to keep the room buzzing with activity. See pictures of wedding reception venues.

It's going to be the reception you've always dreamed of. You've got a great location and scrumptious catering, and you've managed to book the best band in town. You also have more events than you can shake a tiara at, so you have to keep the party organized if you want all your festivities to go as planned. A few extra toasts can really eat into your night, so unless you want to cut the cake in the midst of the DJ's strobe lights and thumping dance music, having a cheat sheet for your reception's schedule of events is a necessity.

A cheat sheet will help you plan, organize and stick to a schedule on the big day. It will tell you and the mister what to do and when to do it. It's like having all the answers to a test, only a failing grade here affects the quality of your reception, not your GPA.


Why You Need a Cheat Sheet

The trick to cramming all your events into a short time frame is to be judicious with what you include. For example, a father-daughter and mother-son dance is fine, but you probably aren't going to have time to waltz with your brother, grandfather and favorite uncle, too. (And we know you're the bride and what you say goes, but none of your guests really want to watch all that.)

You also need to be realistic about how long each event will last. Once you determine the time allotment, work a few more flexible minutes into the schedule. If you think the cake cutting will take five minutes, allot 10 just to be sure. Giving yourself and your guests a bit of extra time in your time line will help ensure your reception stays on track, and this wiggle room could even give you the ability to extend a few of the more popular events (like the toasts) without neglecting the more mundane, but still necessary, proceedings, such as seating the guests.


There's nothing intimidating about setting up a reception schedule of events -- and it's easier than actually planning the reception! Just write down a list of your events and estimate a rough time frame for how long each one should last. Be realistic with your estimations. Even if you're planning an afternoon reception, you don't have all day (or night). You might wish it could last a lifetime, but no matter how grand the party is, after a few hours, your guests will want to go home.

Still uncertain? We've got a sample schedule on the next page.


Setting Up Your Schedule

You may have been planning this party since grade school, but unless you and your guests are embarking on a weeklong destination celebration (see 10 Tips for Planning a Destination Wedding if you are), you're going to have to show a little discretion when planning your reception schedule. You'll have to balance the events and cater to everyone in the crowd, so make sure the father/daughter dance occurs before 8:00 p.m., as that's about as late as your 88-year-old grandma is going to stay. Luckily, tradition has already dictated the majority of your schedule for you, so all you need to do is organize the time frame of your events.

Most reception schedules look something like this, assuming your wedding ceremony ended around 3:30 in the afternoon:


  • 4:00 p.m. - guests arrive at the reception site/cocktail hour begins
  • 5:00 p.m. - introduction of the bridal party and the bride and groom
  • 5:15 p.m. - guests are seated
  • 5:30 p.m. - champagne toasts from father of the bride, best man and maid of honor
  • 6:00 p.m. - prayer/blessing or announcement of dinner/buffet opening
  • 6:10 p.m. - dinner is served
  • 7:00 p.m. - first dance
  • 7:05 p.m. - father/daughter and mother/son dances.
  • 7:10 p.m. - bridal party enters the dance floor
  • 7:15 p.m. - dance floor opens to everyone
  • 8:10 p.m. - cake-cutting ceremony
  • 8:45 p.m. - bouquet and garter toss
  • 9:00 p.m. - send-off for the newlyweds

Making Time for the Unexpected

bride and groom dancing
Stay on schedule, and you'll have more time to dance with your sweetie.

In the grand scheme of traditional wedding receptions, there's not a lot of time for any extra or unique events. You can always skip the cake-cutting, first dance or bouquet toss, but your guests will expect these events. Yet, it is possible to create a bit of wiggle room in your reception schedule. Analyze your schedule and prioritize events. Allot the most time for ones that are important to you, and trim a few minutes of dance-floor time or toasting to make up the difference. So, if your new hubby is a musician, for example, he can perform a song or two with the band and still have plenty of time to dance with you and his mom. And if your bridesmaids all have two left feet or terrible cases of stage fright, cut the bridal party dance. No one will miss that.

Using a cheat sheet doesn't guarantee that everything will go as planned during your reception. Rain may force your outside reception indoors; you may find out too late that the much-ballyhooed catering company doesn't live up to the hype, or the band may be having an off night (that won't be the case, of course, if your man is up there with them). A cheat sheet will, however, help keep your reception running smoothly, and despite months of planning and preparation, that's all you can really ask for.