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Planning Your Wedding Reception: When to Do What

Planning Your Wedding Reception: When to Do What

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What happens when you arrive at the reception? Should there be some kind of order to the events? Can you just mingle and do things as the spirit moves you? As a bride you probably have a million questions about how your reception should go. From greeting your guests to making your getaway, this guide will show you what to do.

Candle-lit table setting.

(Photo by Craig Paul Studio)

The sweetheart table, set just for two.

The sweetheart table, set just for two. (Photo by Emily’s Images)

Greeting Your Guests

Guests are asked to write a note to the couple, which will be placed in their scrapbook.

This is another nice idea for the reception. Guests are asked to write a note to the couple, which will be placed in their scrapbook. (Photo by Garbo Productions)

Whether to have a receiving line is a decision based on several factors. If you’ve taken all your pictures before the wedding, you can easily receive guests after the ceremony and move on to the reception. If you haven’t taken all the photos, you have to decide if you want to take more time to do the receiving line. A normal receiving line with the couple and both sets of parents receiving 200 guests will take approximately 30 to 45 minutes. Add to that another 30 to 45 minutes for the photographer to finish taking pictures, and you’ve added 1 ½ hours to the time after the wedding.

If you have more than 200 guests, consider other options for greeting your guests. Perhaps you and your spouse could move from table to table at the reception greeting guests instead. Another idea is for the couple to come back into the ceremony site and release the rows as the ushers might do. The bottom line is that your guests expect to be able to say hello to you on your wedding day. They almost feel rejected if time is not built into the schedule for them to wish you the best.

This couple displayed several of their favorite photos, including one of their four-legged friend.

This couple displayed several of their favorite photos, including one of their four-legged friend. (Photo by The Wedding Casa)

Introducing Mr. and Mrs.—usually the first formal part of the reception.

Introducing Mr. and Mrs.—usually the first formal part of the reception. (Photo by Wyant Photography)

A Big Hand for Mr. and Mrs. …

Many couples want to be introduced as they arrive at the reception. Ask your band or DJ to do the honors if you aren’t using a master of ceremonies (MC) for the evening. Most are happy to assist. Consider whether you want your entire wedding party to be announced or just you, the couple.

Raise Your Glasses

When you’re finished eating, you might want to schedule a toast or two. Traditionally, the best man offers the first toast of the evening. He stands, gets the guests’ attention, and makes a toast to the new couple. The toast should be simple and sincere. The groom then should thank him and offer a toast to his new bride. After that, it’s an open floor—anyone can offer a toast, or it can stop there.

When a toast is proposed, all should rise—except the person or persons who are being toasted. Both the bride and groom would remain seated for the best man’s toast. For the groom’s toast, only the bride would be seated.

After all the toasts are made, sometimes the best man stands up and very seriously asks that all women in the room who have a key to the groom’s apartment please turn them in.

This is the aftermath of a game played at some receptions. After all the toasts are made, sometimes the best man stands up and very seriously asks that all women in the room who have a key to the groom’s apartment please turn them in. It can be very funny, especially when an elderly aunt or grandma drops her key on the table. (Photo by Raab)

This couple takes the first slice on their cake. Notice how their hands are joined together to make the first cut.

Cake-cutting time. This couple takes the first slice on their cake. Notice how their hands are joined together to make the first cut. (Photo by Garbo Productions)

Cutting the Cake

Following the toast, and depending on what you’ve decided to do, you can go right into cutting the cake. This is another place you will want formal photographs, so be sure your photographer knows the order of events.

Have a plate and napkin ready at the table to place the cake on and to wipe your sticky fingers. Then take turns feeding each other a small piece of cake.

Get Your Dancing Cards Ready

If your reception includes dancing, it can begin following the cake ceremony. The bride and groom are the first to dance at the reception, and some couples choose a favorite song for that first dance. The bride and groom can dance the entire first dance, or the bride’s father can cut in and finish that first dance with his daughter. Sometimes the bride will request the first dance with her groom and the entire second dance with her father.

When you have the first dance or two out of the way, it’s time to let loose and get the party moving. This is where the homework you did before you chose your DJ or band should pay off. If your dance floor is filled with dancers most of the night, you get an A for all your advance work.

Their first dance as husband and wife.

Their first dance as husband and wife. (Photo by Wyant Photography)

The end of their first dance.

The end of their first dance. The bride’s facial expression says it all. (Photo by Raab)

It’s a Toss-Up

Later in the reception, if you choose, the couple can throw the bouquet and garter. Here again, you’ll need help to make the announcement. Ask for all single women to join the bride on the dance floor. It’s customary for the bride to turn her back to the single women and, after a countdown, toss the bouquet. Tradition has it that the woman who catches the bouquet will be the next to marry.

Now it’s the groom’s turn. When the groom has the garter in hand, he moves off the dance floor and, with his back to his single male friends, tosses the garter. Again, the man who catches the garter will be the next to marry.

Hands up, ladies! Here comes the bouquet!

Hands up, ladies! Here comes the bouquet! (Photo by Emily’s Images)

Yes, he did take off the garter with his teeth!

Yes, he did take off the garter with his teeth! (Photo by Wyant Photography)

What Else?

You might want to incorporate other traditions or ceremonies into your wedding reception. Perhaps you’d like some religious customs or prayers recited (such as the prayers over the wine and bread at a Jewish wedding). Some sororities and fraternities have rituals they perform during the evening. Maybe there’s someone you want to honor with a special dance. This is your reception—make it personal.

At this wedding the friends of the bride and groom are lifting them in chairs as part of a celebratory dance, a Jewish tradition.

Always try to include your heritage in your wedding. At this wedding the friends of the bride and groom are lifting them in chairs as part of a celebratory dance, a Jewish tradition. (Photo by Wyant Photography)

Making Your Getaway

The time has come, my dears, to make your grand exit. You and your groom need to decide when you want to leave your wedding reception. Most of the couples I work with want to stay for the whole reception. After all, it’s a party for you, given in your honor—go for it.

Give your parents a hug, and thank them for this wonderful day and for all their support. Do the same with your new parents-in-law. Then, make your exit. If you have petals you want guests to toss as you make your mad dash to the waiting car, have one of your bridesmaids gather guests by the exit and pass out the petals. The showering simply means good luck and, according to legend, also promotes fertility.

A grand exit with sparklers!

A grand exit with sparklers! (Photo by Melanie Mauer)

The photographer will want to capture this moment on film. Give her time to get set up and then run—do not walk—to the car and wave good-bye. Now, you’re off. You’re alone for the first time since earlier that day, or maybe even the previous day. It’s now your time to enjoy each other, relax, and have a great honeymoon!

Table setting with flower arrangement.

(Photo by Brad Basker)

Remember, above all else, that this is your day, and your reception; the agenda needs to be of your choosing. Discuss your options and what you want to see happen, and set an agenda. Have a great wedding!

From The Complete Idiot’s Guide to the Perfect Wedding Illustrated, Fifth Edition, by Teddy Lenderman