Planning any major event can be stressful, and weddings are certainly no exception.
With so many different moving parts to the arrangements, and so many people to cater for and think of, even the most organized person can be riddled with stress and worry at the very thought of it.
Even wedding receptions can be stressful to arrange, with everything from the venue, to the catering, to the drinks, and the guests themselves posing potential problems to the proceedings running as smoothly as possible.
But what actually is the best way to schedule a wedding reception?
Wedding Receptions: The Recommended Order
Whilst there is no fixed way to have your wedding reception, there are certain traditional timelines that work better than others.
This begins with the wedding guests being called into the reception (see also: How To Plan A BBQ Wedding Reception)area, where they will be directed to their corresponding seat placements.
Then comes the introductions. These are perhaps the most important part of the evening, if only from a ceremonial point of view, and there should be a specific order in which the key members of the wedding party are introduced.
This should go: parents of the bride, parents of the groom, flower girl/ring bearer, the wedding party itself, the best man and the maid of honor, and then the married couple.
Then comes the time for the first dance, where the married couple will be called to the dance floor to slow dance to their chosen song.
This will be followed by a welcome toast by the parents of the bride, parents of the groom, or indeed the couple themselves.
This will welcome all of the guests to the reception and will remind them of why they are there – to celebrate the coming together of the happy couple.
Then comes the blessing. This is where everyone will cheer on the bride and groom, and celebrate their coming together to bless their union.
This could be done by people coming over to speak to the bride and groom and to deliver their well wishes.
Then comes the time for the first courses to be served. This might be a salad of some description, soup, or small appetizers chosen by the guest.
After everyone has eaten their appetizers, the best man will then give his speech. This is a pivotal moment of the evening, and one that is usually a highlight for many of the guests.
Following this comes the maid of honor, who will give their own toast for the happy couple.
Whilst not as well known as the best man speech, this can follow the same format, keeping things playful, lighthearted and respectful.
After these speeches, the main course will then be served. This is usually some form of meat dish, with a choice for fish offered as well.
Alternatively, depending on the tastes of the guests, vegetarian dishes might also be served if arranged by the couple.
Traditional meals do not have to be served, and more extravagant or eccentric choices can be made.
Then comes the parents’ dance. This is often done right after the first dance of the couple, but can also appear later in the evenings proceedings, as this list suggests.
This is a great way for the guests and the couple to honor the parents of the bride and groom.
Then comes time to cut the cake. In many ways, this signifies the end of the formal festivities of the evening, after which the guests are welcomed to mingle, dance and enjoy themselves more casually.
Following the cutting of the cake, the bride will then toss the bouquet, or indeed her garter.
This is obviously a famed tradition in western weddings, and is used to signify which female member of the bridal party will be the next to get married – with whoever catches the bouquet or garter being the lucky individual.
Whilst not that common anymore, this is still a quaint, nice tradition that can be continued should you want to.
Following this the dancefloor is then opened up to the other guests, and the more casual part of the evening proceeds.
This is where the guests can freely mingle around the room, help themselves to drinks or further refreshments/desserts, and dance on the dancefloor to the music provided by the DJ or wedding band.
The last dance of the night is usually a slower dance, and is led by the married couple, who will then be joined by their family and friends.
This is a way of signifying that the festivities are coming to a close, and is great to wrap up a pleasant evening.
Following this, there is then a grand exit, usually where the married couple then go off on their honeymoon.
This is usually a grand affair, with the couple leaving before their guests, who are welcome to stay on longer if they should wish.
Whilst not everyone makes a huge fuss, some popular exits can include sparklers, confetti, or even glow sticks, and is entirely up to the tastes and arrangements made by the couple and the other people organizing the event.
The Introductions: Getting Them Right
One of the most important elements of the wedding reception is the introductions of the wedding party, and the order in which they are made.
These announcements are usually made by the DJ, or the leader of the wedding band, and are a nice way of acknowledging and welcoming the family of the bride and groom, and their close wedding parties.
The DJ will usually start with any grandparents that are present. Whilst there is no specific demand for them to stand, they can if they want to, or a simple acknowledgement can be made.
Next to be introduced are the parents of the bride, closely followed by the parents of the groom.
This is then followed by the flower girls, ring bearers, bridesmaids and groomsmen (often paired together in some fashion), the best man and the maid of honor, and then last but by no means least, the happy couple.
The best introductions are ones that are organized and rehearsed.
Each person might have different songs or pieces of music they would like to be introduced to, and these should be planned out meticulously beforehand, with the songs cued up beside the names of the guests.
The best pieces of music are ones that best fit the personality of the people being introduced.
These can be humorous choices if that is the tone of the wedding, or indeed they could be more poignant or beautiful pieces too.
Similarly, they can just be pieces of music favored by the person, and the significance could be as simple as that.
However, ultimately it is better to choose one song for everyone to be introduced to, if only to save time, and to get a cleaner result.
The most important thing is proper planning, and ensuring all members of the wedding staff are filled in on the details.
This not only means the band or the DJ, but also the videographer, photographer, and anyone else fulfilling a creative role.
This is especially important if you are planning to have different entrance music for each couple or individual, as they will need to be able to capture everything, and in the case of the DJ, cue up the right tracks in order.
The Introductions: Breaking With Tradition
Of course, not everyone wants to do what is traditional.
Some couples might want to introduce them all at once, or indeed in their selected groups – such as groomsmen altogether, and bridesmaids altogether.
Similarly, the entire party could enter at once, providing a separate introduction for the happy couple.
The Wedding Speeches: Getting Them Right
For most people, the idea of public speaking can be daunting, especially where there is emotion involved, and as such preparation is important if you want the whole thing to go off without a hitch.
The bride or groom should talk to their respective parents and friends to see if any of them wants to say a few words at the wedding.
Whilst it is common for the best man, maid of honor, and the father of the bride to say a few words, other people might want to as well.
The most important thing with the speeches is choosing the right time.
It is recommended that the speeches happen between the first course and the main course.
This way, people have had some food and refreshments, but also won’t be tempted to move or wander around because they haven’t had their main course.
If you do it after the main course, it is highly likely that people will be wandering around, going to the bar, or exploring the venue, which could cause disruptions to the proceedings.
The Wedding Dances: Getting Them Right
Almost as important as the order of introductions and speeches, is the order of which the wedding party, and the guests, are allowed to dance.
Bride & Groom
It should go without saying, but the bride & groom should always be the first to dance at their own wedding.
Their first dance should be done immediately after they make their entrance into the venue, as they are already standing up, and perfectly positioned to transition into the dancing.
Father & Daughter
The father and daughter dance is a particularly poignant moment during the proceedings, and can be a touching time for many.
As such, this should be given pride and place in the ceremony, either right after the first dance, or immediately after people have eaten dinner.
Mother & Son
While less common, the mother and son dance is also one that can be touching and important.
If this is to be included in the ceremony, it should take place directly after the father & daughter dance, either joining them towards the end of the song, or following them once they have left the dancefloor.
It should also go without saying that no two families are the same, and some might have special circumstances, or familial relationships that they wish to honor.
This could be between a bride and her stepson, or indeed between the groom and the bride’s daughter.
This can be a lovely way to welcome children and family members from previous marriages or relationships into the fold, and to make them feel included in your special day.
This can be a fun and interactive way to get everyone dancing.
Starting with everyone on the dancefloor, the announcer will call out numbers (corresponding with how many married years people have), with couples leaving the dancefloor accordingly.
This is especially nice and wholesome for the older members of the guestlist, and a great way of honoring the hopeful longevity of the union.
Reverse Anniversary Dance
Whilst not done at every wedding, this can be a fun way of getting everyone up and involved on the dancefloor.
Starting with the bride and groom, the announcer will then bring everyone onto the dancefloor table by table, starting with the wedding party and working from there, based on how many years each couple has been married.
The Dollar Dance
This is not an overly common tradition, but can still be incorporated as part of some religions and cultures.
This is exactly what it sounds like, and involves men paying money to the bride to dance with her, both as a way of paying tribute to the bride on her special day, but also as a sign of honor and respect to the union.
This can even be done with female guests dancing with either the bride or the groom, and can be a humorous experience for everyone involved.
The Last Dance
The last dance is not only a very romantic part of the night, but also one that is poignant and interactive for the other guests.
The last dance can be poignant for the parents of the bride and groom, as it signifies the end of the night, and marks their departure for their honeymoon – signaling the transition from being their children, to having their own married life.
Depending on the choice of song, this can also be interactive for the other guests, especially if the song is a singalong classic, or if there are specific dance moves that get everyone dancing around the bride and groom.
This is personal preference, and is down to the impact the happy couple want to make for their exit.
The Dance Floor
Once the DJ has opened the dance floor for all of the other guests, there are several things that are important to remember.
Once people are up, dancing, and mingling, it is best to keep the reception activities to a minimum.
This avoids confusion, and means that people are free to please themselves about how they spend their evening.
Too much regimented activity can make the evening seem dull and forced, and once all of the speeches, dances, and meals have finished, it is best to let people let their hair down, have a drink, and enjoy themselves in a way that is casual and natural.
Trust The DJ
Another good tip is to let the DJ do their thing. They are most likely well versed in weddings and similar functions, and they know how to read a room, and most importantly, how to fill a dancefloor.
While it’s fine to ask for requests, if you really want to keep the momentum going, then you have to let them follow their instincts when it comes to song choices.
They will know the natural rhythm of the room, and they can tell when to slow things down and when to speed them back up for maximum effect.
Wedding Reception Tips
Ultimately, whilst a plan is important, it is also best to acknowledge that plans can change and even go wrong.
It is for this reason that you should try and keep it as simple and organic as possible, and allow a certain amount of flexibility to the night’s proceedings.
The little mistakes and quirks are what make each great day special, and it is the uniqueness of the day that makes it memorable for all those who are in attendance.
The most important thing is to have your loved ones around you to celebrate the happy day.
And there we have it, everything you need to know about wedding reception timelines, and the best ways to organize them!
Planning receptions can be tricky indeed, but the best method is to plan what can be controlled, embrace what can’t, and to make the most of all the magical moments that the day will bring.