How to Create a Wedding Reception Timeline

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Wedding Reception Timeline Bride
Source: Two Irises Photography

We could argue that creating a wedding reception timeline is one of THE most important things you can plan for your wedding day. In short, a wedding reception timeline is what you need to make sure every wedding vendor, wedding party member, and yes–even the bride and the groom–are where they need to be when they need to be there. It’s also a way to keep your wedding day nerves in check, making sure you allot enough time on the day of your wedding for you to relax in between hair/makeup, lunch, wedding party photos, and your “I Dos.” And let’s face it: It’s also a way to make sure your groom and all his groomsmen leave the golf course with plenty of time to get their butts to the altar! Lol.

The good news is if you’re hiring a day-of or month-of wedding day coordinator this is something they will take care of for you. But even if you are hiring a coordinator (something we HIGHLY suggest, at least for the day-of), you’ll want to know how it works and what to expect in terms of the pacing of your wedding day.

We’ve outlined two wedding reception timelines–one for a 10:30 a.m. ceremony and the other for a 4 p.m. ceremony–below. Looking for something later? Check out editor Lindsay Goldenberg Jones’ wedding timeline here for a 6:30 p.m. ceremony.

Wedding Day Timeline for a 4 p.m. Ceremony

12:00 p.m.: Hair and makeup begins

1:00 p.m.: Photographers arrive

1:15 p.m.: First look, couple portraits

2:00 p.m.: Wedding party portraits

3:00 p.m.: Family portraits

3:30 p.m.: Guests begin to arrive

4:00 p.m.: Ceremony begins

4:45 p.m.: Ceremony concludes and cocktail hour begins

6:00 p.m.: Cocktail hour ends; guests begin to take their seats at the reception dinner

6:15 p.m.: Emcee or DJ introduces the wedding party and newlyweds

6:20 p.m.: First dance

6:30 p.m.: Father-daughter dance, followed by mother-son dance

6:45 p.m.: Dinner playlist starts and dinner begins

7:30 p.m.: Toasts (Best Man, Maid of Honor and Father of the Bride) NOTE: Some couples prefer to do all dances prior to the toast, however you can also do them after the toast.

7:45 p.m.: Dance floor open

8:30 p.m.: Cake cutting

9:00 p.m.: Bouquet and garter tosses

9:45 p.m.: Last call

9:55 p.m.: Last song and couple’s exit

10:00 p.m.: Reception concludes; guests depart; begin breakdown; photographers depart

11:00 p.m.: Breakdown complete; additional vendors depart

Wedding Day Timeline for a 10:30 a.m. Ceremony

7:00 a.m.: Hair and makeup artists arrive

8:30 a.m.: Vendors arrive and begin set up

9:00 a.m.: First look and couple’s portraits

10:00 a.m.: Family pictures, guests begin to arrive

10:30 a.m.: Ceremony begins

11:00 a.m.: Ceremony concludes; cocktail “hour” begins; wedding party photos occur

11:45 a.m.:  Cocktail hour ends; guests begin to take their seats at the reception.

12:00 p.m..: First dance, Father-daughter dance, mother-son dance

12:15 p.m.: Lunch begins

1:00 p.m.: Toasts (Best Man, Maid of Honor and Father of the Bride) 

1:15 p.m.: Dance floor open

2:00 p.m.: Cake cutting

3:00 p.m.: Guests depart; breakdown begins

4:00 p.m.: Breakdown complete; all vendors depart

Here are some quick tips for creating your wedding reception timeline, no matter what time of day or type of event you’re throwing!

  • Plan everything around your ceremony start time. (Note that this should be roughly 30 minutes from the time you listed on your wedding invitation and when you expect guests to arrive). Then, talk to vendors like your photographer, makeup artist and florist and let them know your ceremony start time so they can fill you in on how long everything with take so you can plan accordingly. Next, pinpoint time estimates for all of the mini-events, from the time you put your dress on to the time you toss the bouquet.
  • Don’t hesitate to add in additional time for photos. Wedding photography will most likely be one of your major splurges, and you want to make sure there’s enough time to capture each photo you’ve pinned or dreamed of!  
  • Include enough time for travel. If you’re traveling to a salon, a special place for photos, or a different location for your cocktail hour and reception, double the amount of time you think you’ll need in case of accidents or bad traffic.
  • If you’re crunched on time, think about skipping the receiving line (one of those wedding traditions that feels a bit outdated at this point). The sooner everyone gets to cocktail hour, the more time for authentic mingling instead of making guests wait in line!
  • Make sure each vendor (and your wedding party!) has a copy of your timeline at least two weeks before your wedding, so there’s plenty of time for making adjustments as needed.
  • Stay flexible—timelines are meant to be guides, not strict rules. Things will get a little off here and there, so just stay calm and remember that the timeline is there to help things get back on track!
  • Consider making a timeline for Friday night as well, if you have last minute DIY projects (like centerpieces) that need to be scheduled around the rehearsal dinner!

If you still feel overwhelmed and aren’t naturally Type-A, there are plenty of sample timelines available on Pinterest—just search “wedding planning template” and get to planning! Here is a great example of an organized, easy-to-use wedding reception timeline as well, below:

Wedding Reception Timeline Friday
Wedding Reception Timeline Saturday
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