Trying to “wing it” with your wedding reception is never a good idea. There are simply too many activities that must be squeezed into this short time frame. But many soon-to-be newlyweds struggle when planning their reception. If you’re planning to tie the knot in the near future, keep reading for an overview of a traditional wedding reception timeline and its respective activities.

Cocktails and Snacks

After the ceremony, the bride and groom typically head off with the photographer for a round of pictures together. So rather than forcing your guests to wait, you should guide them towards the reception area for cocktails and snacks. Here, guests can enjoy champagne and hors d’oeuvre while they await your arrival.


Following cocktails at the reception typically comes dancing. Contrary to what some people may believe, there’s single “right” order for dancing. With that said, traditionally the bride and groom have the first dance. The DJ will announce to the crowd to that the newlywed couple are about to dance, at which point the bride and groom will dance to their chosen song. At the beginning of the second song, the bride’s father cuts in for a father-daughter dance, followed by a mother-son dance with the groom.  When the traditional family dances are finished, everyone else is encouraged to shake their tail feathers on the dance floor.


Next in a traditional wedding reception comes the toasts. The bride and/or groom may use this time to thank everyone for attending their wedding, after which the best man, maid of honor, and parents of both the bride and groom make their own toast and speech. If you plan on serving full-course meals instead of just finger food, you should do so immediately after the toasts.

Cake Cutting

After the toasts have been made, and roughly 30-60 minutes before the reception comes to an end, is time for the cake cutting. Designate either a staff member or someone in your wedding party to cut the cake. According to TheKnot, cake cutting signals to guests that the reception is almost over, in which case some guests may leave. This is why it’s a good idea to wait until the end of your reception to cut the cake.

Bouquet Toss and Sendoff

As the wedding reception begins to wind down, the bride should perform the bouquet toss in front of all the single female guests. Shortly thereafter, the bride and groom should both head to their getaway vehicle to depart the venue and begin a new chapter in their life.

Of course, this is just a general timeline of a typical modern-day wedding reception. Feel free to adjust your reception timeline according to you and your fiance’s own liking. After all, it’s YOUR wedding so plan it the way YOU want.