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Wedding Reception Timings

Getting the timings right for an evening reception is often seen as a major factor your guests’ enjoyment of a wedding reception. As such sorting out these timings can be a significant cause of stress for a bride and groom in organising their wedding. We hope you find this brief guide useful in getting the evening of your wedding in order and running to time!

How Long Have You Got?

The timings of the rest of your day will have a significant bearing on your evening timings. If your ceremony is early in the day, you may be finishing the wedding breakfast by 5:30pm leaving around 6 hours before midnight. However, you may find that your guest are liable to flag a little around 9 or 10 pm, and need a little bit of a pick-me up! Conversely, if your ceremony is in the afternoon, your wedding breakfast may not finish until 7 or 8pm, leaving less time for the evening reception.

It’s worth noting too that, with the best planning in the world, it is always worth leaving a little slack in your timetable. We’ve seldom been at an intricately scheduled wedding that’s been running to time by our arrival at 6pm. This is never a problem, and every professional working in the wedding industry is used to making sure things keep running as smoothly as possible.

Elements of a Great Wedding Reception

You’ll no doubt be being told all the traditions that you’re supposed to uphold on your wedding day – but the great thing about the evening reception is that these start to become less formal and more and more fun! Don’t let anyone tell you what your wedding reception must include. This even holds for this article! It’s your wedding day, and once the formality of speeches are over it’s completely up to you what you choose to do.

Here’s a list of things you might consider having as part of your evening reception:

  • Speeches
  • Dancing
  • A first dance
  • The entrance of the happy couple
  • Cutting of the cake
  • Mother&son and father&daughter dance
  • Last dance
  • The exit of the newly weds
  • Throwing of the bouquet
  • An evening buffet
  • Cultural traditions
  • Fireworks
  • A band, and/or a DJ
  • Changing into a going away outfit

As you can see there is plenty that you could add to your evening reception. Deciding which items are most important to you is a key point in getting your timings sorted. There are couples we have known for whom the cutting of the cake was right up there – they had their hearts set on getting the perfect photo of that moment. As such, that was given extra time where other couples would have breezed by – knife in hand!

Often the most successful and enjoyable evening receptions at weddings we’ve played at have been those where not too much is planned and scheduled. The key elements as we see them are:

  • Speeches
  • Cutting of the cake
  • First dance
  • A live band
  • A buffet

Getting your timings right

With a wedding breakfast usually finishing between 6pm and 7pm, there are around 5 hours in which to relax and unwind. The key to keeping this stress free is simply not to plan too much! You yourself will have plenty to do; be it chatting with guests you’ve not spoken to, dancing, having a drink – even just sitting back and watching everyone enjoying themselves. For your guests, they too are likely to appreciate a few moments of ‘down time’, whether to get the drinks in, walk the grounds or explore the venue, or chat to old friends.

This is a list of approximate timings for some of the elements you might wish to include in your evening

Speeches – 1hr

The speeches are often one of the most memorable moments of any wedding. It’s a time that’s personal to you, so certainly worth giving plenty of time to. We regularly find that couples have allocated only 15-20 minutes to the 3 speeches, expecting that those giving speeches will only want to say a few words. For fathers of the bride it’s often their proudest moment since her birth, the groom usually has more people to thank than he’s realised, and the best man’s speech is a highlight of many wedding days.

Turning the Room Around – Setting Up – 60-90mins

In some venues, the evening reception happens in the same room as the wedding breakfast. In these situations, you will need to allow time for the venue staff to clear the tables, rearrange furniture, lay a dance floor and for the band or DJ to set up their equipment. Professional bands generally ask for between 60 and 90mins to get set up and sound checked. While this may seem like a significant gap in your schedule, you will find that people are quite appreciative of the unscheduled time to catch up with people, perhaps to get a drink or to check in at the hotel.

Cutting of the Cake – 15 mins

From the moment it’s announced to actually getting people gathered round and ready can take more time than expected. It does depend how much of a deal you wish to make of it, but it’s usually worth allowing time for people to get their photos!

First Dance – 15mins

Again, most of this time is spent actually gathering people around. We’ve played at a number of venues where the cake is brought to the centre of the dance floor for the cutting, then it is removed by venue staff and the first dance can begin. This is a great way to get both in without having to shepherd people around – though it does rely on moving the cake, which can be a precarious job!

Dancing – 2 hours

While it’s often the expectation that there will be constant dancing from 7pm until midnight, in our experience people are seldom ready to dance much before 8:30p or 9pm. In addition, even the most enthusiastic of audiences need a break now and then! As such, we always recommend to allow for 2 hours live playing time for a band, usually as 2 x 1hr sets, with a break for a buffet in between.

Buffet – 1 hour

The buffet is always a welcome moment in the evening, particularly if the wedding breakfast has been particularly early. People usually flock to a buffet, whether a hog roast, barbecue, finger food or sandwiches, so it’s worth leaving a suitable space in other proceedings for the evening buffet to be served. In addition, it’s worth leaving a little bit of time for the food to settle before getting back into the dancing!

Fireworks – 30-45mins

With fireworks displays often being very expensive, and priced per minute, the display itself – while spectacular – is often fairly short. However, the time spent ushering people to watch the fireworks, and for the congregation to drift back indoors can be significant. It’s also worth spending a few minutes waiting to make sure that everyone’s out and ready to watch.

In Summary

You’ll find all the professionals at the venue, and those hired in will be happy to advise you about the timings for you wedding. We would always advise giving yourself plenty of time to enjoy each aspect of your wedding – the day is likely to fly by! Most of all, have fun, and don’t get too worried if timings slip – they’re so often do. If you’ve hired professionals they’ll all do their best to keep the evening running smoothly, and allow you just to enjoy your wedding day.