Weddings are of course special occasions for not only wedded couples but also the myriad of friends and family members who often travel long distances and take time out of their busy schedules to be there to celebrate and support the bride and groom. It’s the experience and feeling of this day that guests will often remember most, long after the cake has been eaten, and the band has gone home. I’ve found in attending many wedding receptions (both as the planner and as a guest), the “flow” of the evening goes a long way in determining whether a guest remembered your wedding day as long and boring or fun-filled and beautiful.
Typically a wedding reception begins with a cocktail hour in which guests can have a signature cocktail and nibble on hors d’oeuvres while they wait for the couple to join the festivities. Often 45 minutes is sufficient and then allow 15-20 minutes for guests to find their seats. After everyone is seated, the wedding couple is introduced (sometimes including the entire bridal party) and I often feel this is a great time for the first dance as you’ve got everyone’s attention while guests are in their seats and it starts the evening on a fun note. Next, have someone introduce the evening and welcome everyone (typically this should be the “host” of the event which is often the father-of-the-bride or the bride’s parents but can be anyone close to the couple) however make sure this intro is no more than 5-10 minutes long as people will be anticipating dinner. After the welcome, either dinner is served or the buffet or dinner stations are opened to guests. It is important to keep a close eye on timing here as depending on the size of your guest list and the formality of the event, dinner can take anywhere from 30 minutes to 1.5 hours to fully serve each course to everyone. If the time allotted for dinner runs too long, guests can get antsy waiting for the next part of the evening to begin…dancing! If the Best Man and Maid of Honor are to give toasts, a good time for this is after the first course is served and finished as then guests will not hear their stomachs grumbling while waiting for dinner yet there won’t be too much silverware clanking.
In many of our events, we group the cake cutting, father/daughter dance, and mother/son dance together back-to-back because again you’ll have the guests attention and if you split the various activities too much, the night starts to feel choppy. Once the “special” dances are finished, it’s time to open the dance floor and let the real partying begin! At this point, you’ll be handing over the evening to your band-leader or DJ as they will be primarily responsible for keeping folks on the dance floor and having fun. Experienced vendors are worth their weight in gold because they will be able to move from slow dancing to upbeat music, or oldies to current hits, seamlessly and effortlessly and they will know exactly how to read your crowd. Later in the evening you can incorporate a bouquet and garter toss, any additional special dances or songs, and then finish with a final song or grand exit.
Here are some additional tips in creating a well-thought-out wedding reception timeline:
– Do not keep guests waiting long. Whether it be in deciding how long to take photos after the ceremony or what time to cut the cake, the key is to avoid long periods of time with nothing happening. Letting guests mingle for a while is great, but forcing them to stand through a 1.5 hour long cocktail “hour” in the June heat while you take all of your wedding party photos is problematic.
– Do let them know what’s happening and what to expect. This is why having a GREAT MC is important. Someone who can give announcements and introduce the various parts of the evening in a relaxed but upbeat manner is key in maintaining a smooth event. Also including event signage, menus, or even an itinerary of the evening will make guests feel comfortable and well taken care of.
– Keep the reception to no more than 5 hours (including the cocktail hour). You want guests to leave happy and wanting more, not tired and wondering when the event will be over. If you don’t want the night to end, consider planning a separate “after party” at a new location.
– If there are multiple rooms or spaces as part of your reception venue, try to limit moving guests from one space to another and back various times. Group any activities that must take place in one area together so guests won’t miss anything or constantly feel like they are “on the move”.
I hope you’ve enjoyed these tips and if you have any of your own, feel free to comment below!
Nashville Wedding Planner