Wedding Reception Timeline? We Can Help

Planning a wedding reception is one of the first big challenges a wedding couple faces – and they have to handle it before they’re even officially married!

In addition to the questions of food choices, décor and music, one of the big questions Lynne usually receives is “is there a set time for us to do each of the things we want to do during our wedding reception?”

wedding reception timeline sparklersThe answer obviously is no. It’s your wedding, and you can schedule it however you want. Want to cut the cake right after the ceremony? Sure. First dance before going off for pictures? Why not.

That said, after years of hosting weddings large and small, we’ve found a general wedding reception timeline that we feel comfortable recommending to couples planning their post-ceremony celebration. We humbly offer it here, with the caveat that it’s a recommended timeline. It works well here at the Phineas Swann, but if you’re holding your event somewhere else around the country, you may want to adapt it to your particular venue.

That said, feel free to take it as a jumping-off point for your big celebration. And that celebration starts right after you walk down the aisle. Ready, set, go!

Ceremony + 0:00 – The Reception Line

This is becoming less popular, and is definitely an old-school wedding touch: Lining up the wedding party to greet guests as they depart the ceremony. Bride and Groom should be first, followed by the parents of the bride and then parents of the groom. With LGBT ceremonies, the order of the parents is optional. The Maid/Matron of Honor is usually next, followed by the Best man. Then bridesmaids and groomsmen follow, in alternating order. Unless you expect a large percentage of your guests to be at the ceremony only and miss the reception, it’s not necessary. You’ll have plenty of time to devote to everyone. At the Phineas Swann, we don’t usually recommend this, and instead have everyone after the ceremony move to…

Ceremony + 0:00 – The Cocktail Hour

Wedding reception timeline – cocktail hourRight after the ceremony, the couple and wedding party are usually whisked off by the photographer and videographer. We have a number of wonderful photographic settings on the Phineas Swann campus, as well as some amazing historic covered bridges and mountaintops that serve as backdrops for your true Vermont wedding photos.

Your guests get to slowly head down to our large 100-plus person tent for cocktails and hors d’oeuvres. We usually recommend offering guests beer and wine, and avoiding serving hard liquor. It keeps the mood light and guests relaxed, without having Uncle Mortie asleep at his table before you even return from your photos.

wedding reception timeline - gamesDuring this time, our staff will serve either passed or stationary appetizers, encouraging guests to mingle and start enjoying each other’s company. We also set out some lawn games to keep the younger and young-at-heart guests entertained.

Ceremony + 1:00 – Newlyweds Arrival

This is your grand entrance. Designate someone (your DJ if you have one, or sometimes the Best Man) to be your announcer. Usually you announce the parents of the couple first, and then you have the announcement of the couple for the first time as husband and wife. Some couples follow this immediately with their the first dance, but we recommend waiting until after eating, as it encourages others to hit the dance floor when you’re done.


Ceremony + 1:15 – Thanks, Toasts and Speeches

Right after the entrance is a great time for the newlyweds to grab the microphone and take a second to thank their family and guests for attending. For a Vermont destination wedding at the Phineas Swann, it’s important to show your appreciation for those guests who traveled so far for your special day.

Weddings at Phineas Swann Bed and Breakfast InnMake sure to encourage your guests to take their seats for the next event, speeches and toasts. As guests are being seated, our staff will distribute champagne glasses to guests as they await the big moment – the champagne toast to the newlyweds. Traditionally, the bride’s parents, as the official or unofficial hosts of the event, will say a few words of thanks to the guests as glasses are being distributed.

Then comes the toast to the newlyweds. This has traditionally been the role of the Best Man, followed by the Maid of Honor, but the couple can select whoever they think will do a commendable job and is comfortable with public speaking. Whoever you select, encourage them to follow President Franklin Roosevelt’s maxim about speeches: “Be sincere, be brief, be seated.”

Ceremony + 1:30 – Time To Eat!

Now it’s time to eat! The bride and groom should make sure they’re seated, so that guests will do likewise and servers can begin bringing in the first course, usually a salad course, to each of the guests tables. At the Phineas Swann, we insist the couple get everyone’s food preferences and special dietary information well ahead of time so we can quickly get everyone served. Following the salad course, the main course will follow. The newlyweds usually sit at a special table where all the guests can see them, and we have a beautiful love seat for them to share as they eat. The newlyweds are always served first, immediately followed by the parents and wedding party, then the remaining guests.

In-between courses is the perfect time for the couple to travel from table to table, having one-on-one conversations with their guests.

Music can and should be played during dinner, but keep in mind the volume level should be low enough to encourage conversation, not drown it out.

Ceremony + 3:00 – Time To Party And Dance!

Wedding reception timeline– danceThe wedding couple must remember that their reception guests will always follow their lead. Your announcer should let everyone know that it’s time for the couple’s first dance, followed usually by a father-daughter and then mother-son dance. Then it’s important for each of the participants to grab someone and get them on the dance floor. Once you get the first four couples dancing, everyone else will follow!

Your DJ or band is charged with making sure everyone has a good time for the next two hours, so make sure if there’s a special song everyone loves to dance to that he or she has it in their musical arsenal.

Ceremony + 4:00 – Cake Cutting

Wedding reception timeline – cakeAbout an hour before the reception’s conclusion, your DJ should alert everyone that the cake-cutting is taking place. Our staff will bring the cake in with a little fanfare, carrying it through the tent so everyone gets a good look at it. At the same time, our staff will have coffee ready if you’ve requested it. If you have other events like a bouquet toss or garter toss, right after the cake-cutting is a good time. Immediately after it’s cut, our staff will briefly remove the cake, plate it, and serve it to your guests.

Be aware it’s a tradition that the top of the cake is usually saved, frozen and eaten by the bride and groom on their first anniversary, so try not to touch that when cutting your cake.

The cake-cutting usually signals to guests that it’s OK to leave, so don’t be surprised if your crowd starts to dwindle during the last hour.

Ceremony + 4:15 – More Dancing!

Your DJ or band should immediately start the music back up, for one more hour of fun and dancing.

Ceremony + 4:45 – Last Dance

You want to leave everyone fired up, so make sure your last dance song is a show-stopper, with lots of energy.

wedding reception timelineCeremony + 5:00 – Sparklers and Farewells

After the music stops, you may want to have a brief sparkler procession. Some couples do this earlier if their photographer isn’t booked to stay for the full reception.

Ceremony + 5:01 – After-Reception Relaxation

Sometimes the newlyweds turn in. Sometimes they want a quiet, low-key wind-down to the day. We offer guests the chance to have a small, informal campfire at the back of our property along the Trout River. Those staying at the Phineas Swann often enjoy a chance to sit around the fire pit and enjoy the night sky and some roasted marshmallows.

However you craft your wedding reception timeline, make sure you set aside a few minutes to be alone with your new spouse, and make sure you let them know what a special day it is for you.


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