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Your wedding reception is your chance to celebrate! As with most couples, you also want all of your guests to have the time of their lives as well. Keeping things moving and on-time with a well scheduled reception can keep the party going and everyone happy. After all, no one wants to sit around waiting for something to happen with nothing to do.

As you begin planning your wedding, there’s probably a lot of activities you’re looking to include in your reception: toasting, speeches, first dances and cake cutting. It can feel like a lot to cram into a few hours! Couples have a tendency to get lost in planning colors, wardrobes and decor, while the less exciting stuff (like scheduling) gets pushed to the back burner and forgotten until the last minute. This can cause unnecessary chaos.

Instead of waiting to do it last, creating a schedule can help inform your other decisions right now. You wouldn’t want to pay thousands of dollars for flower arrangements people are only going to see for 10 minutes, right? You want to spend the majority of your time and money on the parts of your wedding that are going to last the longest. Sketching out a preliminary schedule can help you achieve this.

A wedding is typically made up of two main parts: the ceremony and the reception. The ceremony is normally the first thing and looks very different from couple to couple. The timing of the ceremony may depend on religion and culture. Many ceremonies take place at religious locations like chapels and temples. Today more couples are opting to hold their ceremony in the same location as their wedding reception. This option can cut down on travel and prep time and the added cost of a separate location. However, it can also present challenges when it comes to reception set-up. Leaving time buffers and plotting out guest flow can help.

The second half of your wedding is the reception. That is what we are going to take a deep dive into. The reception is usually the longest part of your wedding and that can make it a bit intimidating to plan. By asking a few questions, couples can plan a successful reception that works for them.

Don’t forget to equip yourself with the right resources to perfect planning. Having an experienced wedding planner can help guide your wedding reception scheduling. Whether you choose to use a planner or not, a resource like the Dream Wedding Checklist can help you plan perfectly with expert advice and a wedding planning checklist that will walk you through every step of the process.

How Long Is the Typical Wedding Reception?

The average wedding lasts between five and eight hours. The reception should make up the bulk of that time. Most wedding specialists say that four to five hours is the sweet spot for a reception. However, it is important to remember that this is just an average. Everyone's wedding is going to look a little different due to culture, religion and personal preferences. Check with your venue regarding an overall timeline as they will generally specify your options regarding start and end times. The important thing is that you are happy. That means doing what feels right for you both.

Having an overall idea of how long you want your reception to last will take away some of the planning stress. It can help you prioritize and finalize your schedule. While making this schedule there are a few things to keep in mind:

Ceremony Location

 If you are planning on the reception being at a separate location from the ceremony it will affect your schedule. Know what the driving time is going to look like especially for the day of the week and time you are considering. Be aware of any local events that might affect the traffic and drive times such as a big football game, concert etc. Always add in a buffer for small unexpected delays. This can also help you determine who might need extra time and how much wiggle room to leave yourself.

Reception Venue Close Out Time

The venue's schedule and close out times also must be considered. Having a clear idea of what your wedding venue expects and at what time is vital. This is going to determine when the ceremony and reception start. Consider going over your schedule with a person at the venue (preferably a wedding planner) and make sure that what is being envisioned is possible within the time constraints. Most venues will have a set time limit but may allow for extra time for an additional fee. Make sure you understand your venue access times with regard to set up and tear down. Most venues will be able to guide you regarding what a typical wedding timeline looks like in their space and can often help you with the schedule so that all parties can be happy.

What Time Do Most Wedding Receptions Start?

This is a question that you should be asking yourself. Again, every wedding is different so the start time of the reception is going to hinge on a lot of factors. In order to find out when you should start your reception you will want to start with the time your venue closes.

Couples need to know how long the venue is going to allow them for their wedding AND what is the latest time they can end. Also, is the ceremony being held at the same location as the reception? If not then need to allow for travel time between the two locations. Most civil ceremonies take less than 30 minutes. But ceremonies in places of worship can be up to one hour. Ask your officiant for guidance as to how long to allow for ceremony time.

Take time that is left and start listing things you want. You may find that you need to add or take away time for certain activities. Blocking out your schedule this way allows you to be flexible, make changes and gives a visual timeline to refer to.

The start time will also depend on what type of wedding you’re having. A winter wedding will probably start earlier and end earlier depending on weather. If doing an outdoor ceremony, sunset time may also be a factor. Some people like to party at a reception until the wee hours of the morning. As long as you have a solid ceremony start time and reception finale, the rest will come together piece by piece within these time parameters

What Time Do Most Wedding Receptions End? 

Most wedding planners use 10 p.m. as their recommended stop time. Use the ‘block’ planning method to get a good idea as to when you want your reception to end.

What Is the Typical Schedule for a Wedding Reception?

The beauty of ‘block’ scheduling is that it gives you a visual reference for your schedule. This sample schedule can help you formulate a schedule that won’t miss any detail. Refer to your wedding checklist often to ensure you don’t miss an important detail.

Sample Wedding Schedule: 

This schedule below would be for a wedding where the ceremony is taking place at a different location than the reception. It allows for the usual hour-long ceremony in a place of worship. Together with some time for photographs immediately afterwards and travel time to the reception.

For a wedding where the ceremony and reception are being held at the same location. It would look much more condensed. For example: 4:30 - 5:00pm Ceremony Then 5:00 - 6:00pm cocktail hour. Most civil ceremonies only block out up to 30 minutes.

Ceremony start time: 3 p.m. 

Hard ending time: 10 p.m.



What's going on?



Ceremony, vows and pictures


Cocktail hour

Guests can enjoy drinks and conversation. This is a great time for the reception room to get its final preparations. Cocktail hour is when a lot of photography is being done of the bridal party, immediate family and the couple.


Grand entrance.

This is your time to shine! Use the tail end of cocktail hour to get yourself ready for your grand entrance. Include the time needed to bustle your dress if applicable. You will also want to give your wedding party a chance to freshen up as well prior to introductions.


First dances

This time should be reserved for any special dances you want to showcase.



This may need to be adjusted depending on what kind of meal you’re having. If it is self service you may need more time. Consider doing toasts and speeches during dinner to allow more time for dancing.


Bouquet toss

Tossing the bouquet will happen quickly but you will want pictures of this moment and the person who catches it probably will too! This can be done at any point in the reception that works for you. But is usually after dinner service


Cake cutting and desert

Cutting the cake will only take a few minutes, but guests may want to take pictures. This also gives everyone a chance to eat dessert before the real fun starts!


Dancing and mingling

Make your rounds and visit anyone you missed during cocktail hour. You can also use this time to relax and take a break from the excitement of the day.



Add in time for giving out sparklers and arranging the crowd if you plan a grand send off. Perhaps have a last dance of the evening announced and then start gathering guests for the send off. End the last dance about 10 minutes too so there is time to get everyone together, do the big send off and finish on time. Make sure you communicate to guests what is going on so everyone knows what time the wedding is over. Have the DJ make announcements and perhaps a large sign on an aisle announcing grand sparkler send off at 10:00pma

Remember; This is only a sample schedule, but it gives you an idea of how blocking out a schedule can make it easy to digest. You can also make your own notes section to keep track of any ideas or changes that are made through the process of planning your dream wedding. Share your schedule with your wedding party and venue planner so everyone is on the same page. This will also help if you choose to make itinerary cards for guests.

Planning your dream wedding is an exciting part of getting married. By laying out the flow of activities and elements of your wedding reception early on in the planning process, you’ll find it much easier to make planning decisions and way less stress come the big day.

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