Guide To Planning a Wedding Reception


Every wedding reception carries its own unique charm, a reflection of the couple it celebrates. Yet, amid this diversity, there’s one common thread: the need for a structured timeline. While it might not sound particularly romantic, a meticulously planned wedding reception timeline is an essential logistical element for the festivities that surround your happily ever after. A typical wedding reception typically encompasses a one-hour cocktail party followed by a four-hour reception, often centered around a meal. However, within this framework, there’s ample room for personalization. Your individual preferences, cultural influences, chosen venue, and the size of your wedding all contribute to shaping the flow of your special night. The key is to tailor a timeline that fits seamlessly within these parameters. Although there’s no one-size-fits-all approach to wedding schedules, this “wedding reception guide” will help get you started on the planning for the 2nd half of your wedding day.

pittsburgh wedding reception guide couple

Take Photos With Your Guests

Now that the major photo moments like the first look, wedding party, and family portraits are likely complete, seize this opportunity to take relaxed, candid photos with your guests while you enjoy cocktails and engage in warm conversations! There’s always more than a handful of guests that leave a wedding reception mid-way through so capturing any and all photos early on is a helpful tip.

The Dances

If you plan to have your first dance early on in your reception, hold off and save the parent dances for later as a way to organically kick up the dance floor after dinner. Also if you want photography coverage of any other speciality dances (ex: money dance) be sure to tell your photographer ahead of time so that you can plan their photography coverage accordingly.

Get The Formalities Out of the Way

handle all of the formalities (toasts, formal dances, garter+bouquet toss, cake cutting) early on into the reception to swiftly transition into the celebratory part of the evening. Moreover, if you’re working within a time constraint with your photographer or videographer, prioritizing the key events early in the reception is crucial in making sure these moments are captured.

pittsburgh wedding reception guide couple

The Toasts

At this juncture in the evening, it’s a smart move to incorporate some extra time, around 10 to 15 minutes, as a cushion in case any speakers happen to be particularly talkative. It’s also a good practice to provide time limits to anyone delivering toasts, not only ensuring a smoother flow but also preventing speeches from becoming overly lengthy.

The Meal

After the wedding speeches & meal blessing, this is the ideal time for the caterers to serve the first course. While the cocktail hour can keep hungry guests satisfied during the welcome formalities, it’s advisable to kickstart the main meal shortly afterward. This way, guests can enjoy their food and be engaged before the dance floor opens up.

Conclude the Meal Service

To maintain the event’s flow and prevent dining from lingering, promptly transition to the next item on the program once the final plate has been served. This could be the toasts or family dances, ensuring that most guests have finished their meals, allowing the remaining attendees to wrap up their dining experience.

pittsburgh wedding reception guide couple

Cutting The Cake

It’s important to note that according to traditional wedding etiquette, it’s considered appropriate to depart a wedding once the cake has been cut. Therefore, it’s advisable to schedule this formality after all the other pivotal moments of the evening have taken place.

Outfit Transformation

Many modern brides opt for a wardrobe change when it comes to the reception. Switching into a more comfortable attire just before dinner concludes ensures a seamless transition for dancing the night away. Alternatively, some couples may choose to don (or doff) traditional cultural outfits during this stage.

Open The Dance Floor!

Family dances, like the mother/son or father/daughter dance, serve as an excellent segue into the open dance floor, given that the couple is already present or close by. As Chan suggests, “wherever the couple leads & mingles, the guests follow. So, if you want your guests to keep dancing all night, you’ll want to be on the dance floor, keeping that dance floor energy alive!

pittsburgh wedding reception guide couple

Late-Night Snacks

Late-night snacks have become a common feature at many weddings, where a second round of bite-sized goodies is circulated or even a food truck makes a cameo during the final hour.

Last Call

In nearly every bar or event, the “last call” serves as the universal sign that things are drawing to a close. While it’s not necessary to formalize it, if your venue has a strict ending time, announcing the last call can help guests prepare to wrap up the evening.

Planning Your Exit

For those planning a memorable departure, announce the exit plan during the last ten minutes of the evening. As the couple enjoys a private final dance, guests should begin exiting in anticipation of the grand farewell.

Where’s The After Party?

As your reception comes to an end there probably will be a handful of enthusiastic souls who will be eager to continue the party. The simplest way to transition into the after-party is to pre-select a nearby bar, share the details in advance, and let those who are up for it join in to keep the celebration going strong until the end of the night. Plan ahead and schedule transportation if there will be a large group of guests staying at a nearby hotel.

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Wedding Reception Guide | Matthew Blassey Weddings

Here are some reception photography tips to keep in mind

  • If you have a family member who plans to take extra photos during your reception, it’s a good idea to kindly request that they minimize their picture-taking during your first dance and parent dances to avoid unintentional photobombs of your professional dance shots.
  • For some beautiful bride and groom sunset portraits, consider setting aside time right after your dinner. This moment often provides an ideal backdrop for creative and romantic photos.
  • If your DJ plans to use “laser-style accent lighting,” it’s advisable to request that they deactivate it during your formal dances. This precaution helps prevent unwanted laser dots from appearing on faces during your first dance and parent dances.
  • To ensure your photographer captures all the essential moments before their coverage ends, try scheduling all your toasts, special dances, cake cutting, and other significant events during the first half of your reception. This allows them to capture those “must-have” photographs as part of their coverage.
  • If you have any specific group photo requests, such as pictures with friends, classmates, coworkers, or extended family members, make sure to provide this list to your photographer in advance.
  • If you and your partner lean towards shyness, consider the possibility of a private cake cutting ceremony. You can opt to have only your immediate family present without any formal announcement from your DJ or band.

If you have any additional questions that may not have been covered in this “wedding reception guide” please feel free to contact me.

Wedding Reception Guide | Pittsburgh Wedding Planning