Your Wedding Reception Timeline: An Easy Guide To Follow

Once you save and customize our simple wedding ceremony order, we’re ready for you with step two: your reception timeline.

Wedding receptions vary majorly. First, you consider the variety of styles of dinner you can serve: buffet or table style, food trucks or stations. Second, which wedding reception traditions and entertainment do you want to include? This can range from live music and DJs, dancing and live performances. Maybe you want to include activities and areas for introverted guests. It’s up to you how involved or simple you want to make your wedding reception.

So, with all that in mind, we wanted to share an easy and customizable reception guide to follow. This way you don’t get overwhelmed with the notion of, “Holy cow, when do we do everything?!” Ashley Lachney, the owner of Alston Mayger Events, kindly shares her basic but beautifully spaced out reception order guide for a classic plated dinner for about one hundred guests.

What is great about this timeline is that – much like our wedding ceremony guide – it’s easy to customize. Remove the activities you don’t plan to include in your reception and replace them with fun ideas you have for your party. Shift the timeline to match your ‘Golden Hour’ couple portraits. Or, add more time to the end if you plan to party well into the night!

Now, we’ll hand it off to Ashley to go over her reception timeline and answer any of your budding questions…

I always ask my clients during our initial consultation what they loved about a recent wedding they attended, and what they disliked. So, what is the number one answer I always receive on the dislike side? There wasn’t a good flow, the celebration felt stunted, or like it stopped and started and maybe stopped again. Timing and logistics can be difficult for anyone who doesn’t specialize in them, which is why we created this simple guide to follow.

Reception Timeline

For a summer wedding with plated dinner service for 100 guests:

4:00 pm Ceremony
4:30 pm Ceremony conclusion / Cocktail hour begins
5:30 pm Cocktail hour concludes / Guests seated for dinner
5:45 pm Announcement of wedding party and couple into the reception area
6:00 pm Dinner service begins / Salads served
6:15 pm Entrees served / Vendor meals available
6:30 pm Tableside champagne to be poured for toasts
6:45 pm Planner to cue those who are providing toasts (typically three guests at five minutes each)
7:00 pm Cake cutting / Dessert available to guests
7:05 pm Golden hour portraits with photo/video team
7:35 pm First Dance / Special Dance 1 / Special Dance 2
7:50 pm Open dance floor
8:15 pm Bouquet/ Garter toss (if desired)
9:45 pm Last dance / Line up for send-off
10:00 pm Send-off / Music stops / Reception concludes
11:00 pm All vendors off the property

Some Frequently Asked Questions

My partner and I aren’t having plated dinner service, we’re doing a buffet. How will this impact timing?

If you’re doing a buffet, I allow 20-25 minutes per 100 guests to make it through the line. A couple of things to note: your buffet should be double-sided to ensure the most people are getting through at a time. Entrée and dinner plates should be at the guest’s place setting along with flatware (or available on the buffet line in a stack with flatware rolled inside the napkin for easy transport). Separate salad plates are not a necessity here, as guests will not have enough hands to juggle two plates and serving tongs.

We’d rather have our guests conduct toasts with drink-in-hand vs. having champagne poured tableside, is this okay?

That’s completely fine! In that case, I’d switch out the timing allotted for staff pouring champagne to be meant for your DJ or MC alerting everyone that toasts are coming up. This way, everyone will have a freshie just in time!

The idea of the bouquet or garter toss makes our skin crawl. What can we do instead?

Totally hear you! For couples opting to skip this, I always suggest adding in an anniversary dance. It’s kind of fun to see who in your crowd has been married the longest! Or, just nixing this piece altogether.

Our venue doesn’t allow sparklers. What else can we do for a send-off?

So many options here! There’s now eco-friendly confetti out there that dissolves completely in water. Alternatively, consider rose petals if your venue allows it. Some venues have strict rules around this, so be sure to ask! If the thought of having something thrown at you is less than desirable, you can invest in ribbon wands, bubbles, or glow sticks to have your guests wave as you pass through!

We don’t like being the center of attention! How can you help us with this?

No problem. Let’s consider a head table for you, or you seated with your family versus a sweetheart’s table. Let’s also just fade out your first dance and any other special dances after a minute and a half. Your DJ or MC will be instrumental in the execution of this, so be sure to let them know of your plans. Also, remember that during the ceremony all you have to do is talk. You’re not performing, just having a conversation with your person. Sometimes this little reminder helps take the pressure off!

Find more sage advice and checklists in our Wedding Planning section.

Ashley Lachney is the owner of Alston Mayger Events, a boutique wedding planning company in the Pacific Northwest creating timeless celebrations for couples from Seattle, Washington to Portland, Oregon. She resides in Southwest Washington with her husband Garrett, and their two dogs Martin and Theo.

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