How to Time Your Reception

Wedding Reception Timing Tips
By: La Belle Fleur Events

One of the parts of planning that couples struggle with the most is how to lay out their reception. When you’re just beginning to think of the reception, make a list of the amount of events you will have taking place, for example, cake cutting, toasts and dances. After that, it’s important to consider how many food courses that will be served. Are you having salads, entrees or desserts? Or are you having an additional soup and intermezzo course?

I personally enjoy plugging in the non-negotiable elements when it comes to wedding planning. For example, knowing how long your cocktail hour is, and the end time of your reception. When you have those outlined, it’s time to start thinking of the flow of events.

There are two items to consider: whether you’ll wait to have all the dancing start after dinner or if you will have dancing during courses. I’m going to base this outline on a wedding that has dancing starting after dinner.


At the beginning of the reception, it will take guests about 15 minutes to get settled into the reception. Shortly after that, it will be time for your introductions. If you wish to make this easier on you, I say keep it simple, and only introduce yourselves.

Personally, I like the couple to go right from introductions into the cake cutting. I find that if you have it at a different part of the evening, most people miss it all together. There are some other ways you can do this, but this is what I see and suggest a majority of the time.

After that, we usually have a welcome toast, and, sometimes, a blessing. Then, it’s time for the first course. Typically, I prefer to have speeches during the salads, so if you have a soup and intermezzo course, you’ll hold off on speeches.

If you’re not working with a coordinator, ask the band or DJ to hold off on speeches until everyone has been served. It’s a lot less distracting for guests as well as those who are speaking.

After the speeches, most people will be done with their salads, and the catering team will begin to clear everything. If you wish to say hi to some guests, I find that in between courses is the perfect time.

Then, the staff will serve your entrees. As the couple, you’ll always be served first followed by your immediate family tables. If you have additional toasts, you’ll want to have those toasts start once everyone is served their entree.

Then, you’ll have another decision to make: cake served to the table or at a station. I personally prefer to have it at a station as it gets your guests up dancing sooner.

If you opt to serve cake to the table: You’ll have the cake served, then go into either a final toast, perhaps by the both of you, or right into your first dance. If you’re doing parent dances, we like the flow of first dance, parent dances into open dancing.

If you opt to have cake at a station: you’ll follow the above order, but start the whole process sooner. Instead of guests being served cake, you’ll start the dances at the tail end of the entree course, and the cake will open at the station around the time that open dancing begins.

If you decide to dance between courses, things will be quite different for you. Typically, you two will be introduced into the reception and go straight into your first dance. This is then followed by about a 10 minute dance set.

After that, you’ll have your welcome toast and perhaps a blessing. During salads, you could opt to have a few toasts as well as the cake cutting. Likely, you’ll have another short dancing set of about 10 minutes, and then have your entrees served. If you are doing plated dessert, you can save the final toasts and parent dances until that portion. If you’re opting to serve cake at a station, you’ll instead do those during entrees.

Additional items to keep in mind:


Talk to those who are giving toasts about how the length of the toast. This is important as if it’s longer than you anticipate, it will push the rest of the events and food service back.

If you’d like to make an effort to say hello to every guest, how you schedule the morning is important. This is part of the reason I love first looks because it gives you the ability to chat with your guests during cocktail hour, and then finish up during dinner. As always, make sure you discuss this portion with your band, caterer and photographer, so that they are all on the same page.

Hope that helps! If you’re looking for a planner or coordinator, we’d love to hear from you! Feel free to email me or say hello on social.