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Your wedding reception timeline – what to do when

Plan your big day and order of service with our reception timeline examples

The key to a smooth reception is a carefully planned timetable. Use these sample reception rundowns as a guide to your own wedding celebration. You can shift these timings up or down, depending on what time your wedding ceremony is, and if it’s in a different location to the reception.

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When you’ve finalised your own sequence of events, make sure your caterer, photographer and entertainers have a copy of it too. Your chief bridesmaid, best man and other members of the wedding party can help everyone stick to the schedule while your guests – and most important of all, you and your new spouse – simply have a great time and let everything fall in to place.

Example 1 – Traditional wedding timings: Church ceremony followed by reception elsewhere

2pm – Church ceremony 

The duration of the church ceremony varies depending on what type of service it is (eg, Church of England, Catholic) and how many, if any, readings you have. Count an hour to account for any mishaps. After that, you might want to take time for some pictures before heading to the venue.

4pm – Arrivals

The wedding party arrives at the reception venue, ideally before the guests. The best man is in charge of wedding party transport arrangements.

4 – 4.30pm – Receiving

The bride, groom and main wedding party may form a receiving line to greet guests. Alternatively, they might decide to work their way around the room, welcoming guests. Guests should be greeted with a glass of wine or champagne, or even a cocktail and perhaps a few canapés. This is also a great opportunity for the bride and groom to have some photographs taken alone.

4.15 – 5.15pm – Cocktails

Welcome drinks are generally held away from the main dining room – perhaps outside if it’s a lovely sunny day. If you want to be super cool, serve themed cocktails and don’t forget to offer non-alcoholic alternatives. Keep this section of the wedding fairly short unless you have seating areas and plan to serve plenty of canapés – guests can only stand around for so long before they get hungry and in need of a seat.

5.15 – 5.30pm – Announcements

Dinner is announced and the wedding party and guests enter the dining room and find their tables. The bride and groom might choose to be announced, in which case they make their grand entrance once everyone else is seated. Couples who decide to serve their wedding cake for pudding will probably choose to cut the cake at this point.

5.30pm – Welcome

Once the bride and groom are seated, the father-of-the-bride, or another person chosen by the couple, welcomes the guest. A minister or parent might say a blessing.

5.40pm – Dinner

The first course is served to the wedding party and then to all the guests, along with the wine. If you are serving canapés before dinner, you might decide to skip the first course and go straight in to the main course.

6pm – Courses

The first course is cleared from the top table first, and then from the guests’ tables. Other courses follow in good, but not rushed, time.

7.30pm – Speeches and toasts

After pudding, champagne flutes are filled with bubbly and the speeches begin. If you’re following the traditional order of wedding speeches, the bride’s father makes the first speech and toasts the bride and groom. This is followed by the groom who proposes a toast to the bridesmaids. The best man replies on behalf of the bridesmaids, and his speech follows.

8.30pm – Cake

The newlyweds cut their wedding cake, which can then be served along with coffee. Some couples may choose to serve it later on in the evening. The top layer is traditionally put aside to celebrate the first anniversary or the christening of their first child.

9pm – First dance

The bride and groom take to the floor for their chosen first dance. The next dance is reserved for the bride and her father and the groom and his mother. Then the guests take to the dance floor and the evening party begins!

If the concept of a father-daughter dance is new to you, check out our suggestions of perfect songs for the father-daughter dance.

11.55pm – Last dance

Many wedding venues require music to stop by midnight, and you will probably be ready for bed by then after a long and exciting wedding day!

And finally…

Some couples may decide to offer more food during the course of the evening, especially if dinner has been at an earlier time. This could be a buffet, bacon sarnies, a wonderful cheese board, or perhaps a chocolate fountain. Consider offering guests a special cocktail before they leave. In winter, a hot toddy is sure to go down well. Traditionally, all the single women gather for the bride to throw her bouquet… before the bride and groom head off to their first night destination.

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Photo | Focus Visuals

Example 2 – Simplified wedding timings: Church ceremony followed by reception elsewhere

2pm – Church ceremony

2.45pm – Confetti & receiving line

4pm – Wedding party and guests arrive

4.15 – 6.15pm – Welcome drinks and canapés (this is a good time for the bride and groom to sneak away for pictures)

6.30pm – Dinner

8pm – Speeches and toasts

8.30pm – Cutting of the cake

9pm – First dance & party

9.30pm – Party food is served

11.55pm – Last dance

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Photo | Lisa Dawn Photography

Example 3 – Traditional wedding timings: Ceremony and venue in same place

2pm – Civil Ceremony

2.45pm – Receiving

3.15 – 4.15pm – Cocktails

4.15 – 4.30pm – Announcements

4.30pm – Welcome

4.40pm – Dinner

5pm – Courses

6.30pm – Speeches and toasts

7.30pm – Cake

8pm – First dance

9.30pm – Evening food is served

11.45pm – Last dance

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Photo | Shan Fisher

Example 4 – Simplified wedding timings: Ceremony and venue in same place

2pm – Civil ceremony

2.45pm – Confetti & receiving line

3.15pm – Welcome drinks and canapés (this is a good time for the bride and groom to sneak away for pictures)

5.15pm – Dinner

7pm – Speeches and toasts

7.30pm – Cutting of the cake

8pm – First dance & party

9.30-10pm – Party food is served

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11.55pm – Last dance