While planning your big day and trying to figure out the wedding reception order of events, you might be asking yourself questions like:
- What is the typical timeline for a wedding reception?
- What is the sequence of events at a wedding reception?
- Who gets introduced first at a wedding reception?
- Is the first dance before or after dinner?
- What order do the toasts go in?
- Which dance comes first at a wedding?
And so on…
I have photographed and helped plan over 500 wedding receptions. Here are some tips and ideas that I have learned over the last 10 years:
Covered in this article:
- Common or typical wedding reception order of events
- The order of wedding reception introductions
- Order of speeches/toasts for your wedding reception
- Wedding reception special dances (the traditional order)
- Timeline examples for a wedding reception
Recommended Wedding Reception Order of Events
This article is filled with lots of little tips and tricks on planning the best wedding reception timeline, but if you are short on time, here is a quick summary of what we recommend for most wedding receptions (an hour by hour timeline can be found at bottom of the article):
- Wedding guests are called to move from cocktail hour to the reception venue
- Introductions in the following order (parents of the bride, parents of the groom, flower girl/ring bearer, wedding party, best man/maid of honor, and the couple).
- First dance
- Welcome toast by the parents of the bride, parents of the groom, or the couple (or sometimes a combination of any of those).
- The blessing
- Salads served
- Best man speech
- Maid of honor or matron of honor toast
- Dinner served (main course)
- Parent dances (some couples prefer doing these right after the first dance while some couples prefer doing the parent dances right after dinner. Do what sounds best to you)
- Cake cutting
- Bouquet and garter toss (this is not as common anymore but if you want to include them, this is a great time to do them). Check out our favorite songs for the bouquet and garter toss.
- The dance floor is open (check out the best wedding reception songs to keep your dance floor filled).
- Last dance of the night
- Grand exit (sparkler exit, glow sticks, etc.)
Wedding Reception Introductions (Who Gets Introduced First?)
Who gets introduced first at a wedding reception?
If you want your wedding reception intros to be a little more non-traditional, feel free to move any of these around, but here is the typical order of introductions:
- Your DJ will introduce any grandparents first (or if they would prefer to stay in their seat, the DJ can acknowledge them to get things started)
- Parents of the bride
- Parents of the groom
- Flower girls and ring bearers
- Bridesmaids and groomsmen (paired up in reverse order of how they left the wedding ceremony)
- The best man and maid of honor
- The bride and groom
Note: We used the terms bride and groom but if this is a same-sex wedding, simply use the wording/terms that fit your situation.
Tips for the best wedding reception introductions
Here are a few tips and ideas for having stress-free and fun intros:
Stay organized for your introductions
Print out a list that includes the order of your introductions and the names of each person being introduced (include the song or songs that are going to be used for each group or person).
Your DJ will most likely help you with this, but it doesn’t hurt to come prepared.
Choose intro music that fits your personality
You want to choose intro songs that fit the personality of you and your wedding party.
If you are looking to save time, it will make more sense to choose one song (the same song) for the entire wedding party, and then a separate intro song for the newly married couple.
If you don’t mind taking a few extra minutes for your introductions, consider choosing a separate song for each pairing (each set of parents, the flower girl/ring bearer, each bridesmaid/groomsmen couple, the bride/groom, etc.).
You can really have a lot of fun with this by picking songs that go with each couple.
- Say one of your groomsmen is a farmer. You might have him enter the reception to “Thank God I’m A Country Boy” by John Denver.
- If your maid of honor is the life of the party, she could enter the reception to “Get The Party Started” by P!nk
You get the idea.
If you want some awesome wedding introduction songs ideas, check out these articles:
- 147 bridal party wedding reception intro songs
- The best intro songs for the parent entrances at a wedding reception
Non-traditional wedding reception introduction ideas
If you want to do something a little less traditional for your intros, you could have all of the parents enter together (including grandparents if they are being introduced).
Then you introduce the entire wedding party at once (either the whole group or all of the bridesmaids together followed by all of the groomsmen together.
The couple would then enter the reception separately.
This idea is perfect if you are looking to save time, or if you simply want to get the intros over with.
Tell your photographer and video team everything before the intros start
No matter how you choose to do your wedding reception introductions, make sure you let your photographer and videographer know ahead of time.
They will want to know how you are entering so they can make a plan to capture it perfectly.
If each couple entering the reception is going to do something fun, let everyone know. This way they can be prepared to capture it.
Additional intro ideas: 35 Fun Wedding Reception Entrance Ideas
This tip goes for every single part of the wedding day. Tell your photo and video team everything. You do not want to surprise them and have them miss something important.
Order of Speeches at Wedding Reception
Here is the typical order of wedding reception speeches or toasts (We used bride/groom for our example but if this is a same-sex wedding, simply use the terms that fit your situation):
- As soon as introductions and the first dance are finished, have your DJ introduce the wedding host or hosts (this can be the parents of the bride, parents of the groom, or the couple).
Talk with both sets of parents while you are planning your reception to see if any of them would like to say a few words at this time. Even if the parents of the bride paid for the wedding, you should offer the parents of the groom a chance to say a few words if they want.
- The blessing follows the introduction toast
- The best man should give his speech after salads have been served (before the main course).
- A toast by the maid of honor or matron of honor happens immediately after the best man’s toast.
Some DJs or wedding planners will tell you to spread things out and to have the best man and maid of honor speeches at the end of dinner.
We don’t recommend this.
If you wait until the end of dinner, some tables that were served first have now been sitting for a lot longer than the last tables to be served. Many of those guests might start wandering around, checking out the venue, getting in line for the bar, using the photo booth, etc.
By doing the speeches just before the main course, you know that everyone will be sitting at their tables and listening to the toasts (plus a full room with no empty tables will look better in photos).
Order Of Dances at Wedding Reception
What is the order of dances at a wedding reception (and at what point in the night do they happen)?
Like everything else with wedding planning, this is your night and you can do whatever you like.
But this is what we recommend:
- We recommend doing the first dance right after the couple makes their grand entrance into the wedding reception.
- The father-daughter dance (either right after the first dance, or immediately after dinner).
- The mother-son dance (right after the father-daughter dance)
- Any other special dances (children, other parents, grandparents, etc.). We recommend doing these right after the mother-son dance.
- The reverse-anniversary dance. We recommend opening your dance floor with the reverse-anniversary dance if you are including this as one of your wedding reception events. If you are doing the traditional anniversary dance, that can happen sometime after the dance floor is open (but earlier in the night since you want all of the older guests to be there).
- The dollar dance (If you are including the dollar dance or money dance, we recommend going this early since it’s best to have all of the older guests included).
- Last dance of the night (you can end the night with an epic singalong song that fills your dance floor, or a song that gets all of your guests in a big circle around the couple).
Here are a few articles that you might find helpful when choosing songs for your wedding reception dances:
- Our favorite first dance songs
- The best father-daughter dance songs
- Amazing mother-son wedding dance songs
- Anniversary song ideas
- Our favorite dollar dance (money dance) songs
- The best songs to use for your last dance of the night.
What is the reverse-anniversary dance?
The reverse-anniversary dance is when you start with only the newly-married couple on the dance floor. Your wedding DJ will start adding in couples by the number of years they have been married.
By the end of the song, the dance floor will be filled and the DJ can kick off the dance party with a fun upbeat song that is perfect for all ages.
The traditional anniversary dance is when all of the married couples start on the dance floor. The DJ starts removing couples based on the number of years they have been married. By the end of the song, the couple who has been married the longest is left dancing on the dance floor.
The problem with starting the reception like this is that you quickly empty your own dance floor (so we recommend doing the traditional anniversary dance after the DJ plays the first upbeat dance set).
The dance floor
Once the DJ opens the dance floor for the night, you want to keep the “reception events” to a minimum.
Let your DJ read the crowd and do his/her best to keep the dance floor filled.
If you wait until later in the night to do the bouquet/garter, anniversary dance, or other events, this forces everyone to leave the dance floor after your DJ worked so hard to get it filled.
Some guests will get annoyed and head to the bar or their seats.
We recommend getting all of the dances and events out of the way early in the evening.
Once your DJ opens the dance floor, it’s time to dance!
Recommended article: The best wedding reception songs for a packed dance floor
If your guests need a break from the action, your DJ can simply slow things down with a slow song for couples.
Wedding Reception Timeline Examples
What is the typical timeline for a wedding reception?
The best tip I can give when planning your wedding reception timeline is to keep it simple and keep your guests happy.
Here is the best wedding reception timeline (4 hours – 5 hours including cocktail hour):
- 5:00 pm – Cocktail hour (About 1 hour)
- 5:45 pm – Guests start making their way to seats in the reception venue
- 6:10 pm – Introductions
- 6:15 pm – First dance
- 6:20 pm – Welcome toast and blessing
- 6:20 pm – First course (salads)
- 6:30 pm – Speeches by the best man and maid of honor
- 6:40 pm – Dinner served (Many times the couple walks around during dinner and visits tables after they have had their meal)
- 7:30 pm – Parent dances
- 7:40 pm – Cake cutting
- 7:45 pm – Dance floor opens (If doing an anniversary dance, I recommend doing it at the beginning of the open dance floor)
- 9:55 pm – Last song of the night
Tip: If you plan on doing a sparkler exit, many wedding venues will instruct the DJ to play the last song 15 minutes befroe the scheduled reception end time. This gives the venue time to get everyone set up with a sparkler.
Many times, the venue will not tell you this ahead of time. So you might be surprised when your reception ends a little early.
An easy way to avoid this is to do a “fake send-off” with your wedding party. Your photographer can get your wedding party lined up outside with sparklers at around 8:00 pm.
You get awesome sparkler send-off photos, and your reception doesn’t end 15 minutes early. Win-win!
More Wedding Reception Tips and Ideas
Here are a few more articles that you might find helpful: